With nearly one quarter of the U.S. population Catholic, they make up a huge part of society and the largest Christian denomination. Yet with so many, how is it they are so misunderstood and characterized by films, television shows, etc.?
Failing to do the proper research explains a great deal of it. With a simple search on the internet, we were able to find many interesting answers to the top 15 misconceptions about Catholics. They are both from official sources, reporters, academics, and more.
1. Priests Are More Likely to be Pedophiles : The most dangerous of all myths concerning Catholics, this can lead to many negative and unfair consequences. Recently in a book entitled Pedophiles and Priests, an extensive study – and the only one of it kind – took a look at the pedophile statistics of over 2,200 priests. It found that only 0.3% of all Catholic clergy are involved in any pedophilia matter, guilty or not. This number is actually very low and according to Counter Pedophilia Investigative Unit, who reports that children are more likely to be victims of pedophile activity at school with nearly 14% of students estimated to be molested by a member of the school staff.
2. Everything in “The Da Vinci Code” is True : Even author Dan Brown himself doesn’t agree to this. In this free film from Hulu, Mr. Brown admits to writing his novel as a step in his own spiritual journey. As he confesses to being swayed by his extensive research, the experts behind the research weigh in with facts. Simon Cox is the author of “Cracking the Da Vinci Code” and tells more about his work in this documentary. If you don’t have 90 minutes to view it, you can get the real story behind Opus Dei, the villain organization in the novel, from ABC news.
3. Women Are Oppressed in the Catholic Church : Although women are still not eligible to become priests as explained by Pope John Paul II, they were still acknowledged as valued members of the church as far back as 1947. In a Papal Directive from then Pope Pius XII, he expressed his admiration of women “to take part in the battle: you have not sought to do so, but courageously you accept your new duties; not as resigned victims nor merely in a defensive spirit.” Also, in 2004 then Pope John Paul II historically appointed two women theologians to the International Theological Commission and named another as the president of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences.
4. Catholicism and Science Don’t Mix : It has been theorized that science leads down one path while religion, such as Catholicism, leads down another. However, in the mid 1200’s Saint Thomas Aquinas was preaching just the opposite: that all paths lead to God. In fact, one of his most notable quotes “The truth of our faith becomes a matter of ridicule among the infidels if any Catholic, not gifted with the necessary scientific learning, presents as dogma what scientific scrutiny shows to be false” is listed on Brainy Quote. A modern day professor from Columbia University also gives his take on the subject.
5. Catholics Place Too Much Emphasis on Jesus’ Mother : Believing in the Immaculate Conception – the virgin conception of Christ – is a key factor in Catholic belief. But does that mean that she sits above or even at the same level as the Son or the Father? This article by Bishop Pivarunas details her role in the church and even uses actual scripture to explain why.
6. Catholics are Cannibals : The Eucharist is a sacred part of the Catholic mass and in it, followers are asked to eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. But is it a figure of speech or is there actually flesh and blood involved? In this article from Catholic Answers, two church officials certify that the answer is in keeping with the Catholic faith. The meaning of the scripture quote “”I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst” is discussed thoroughly.
7. Catholics Don’t Believe in Dinosaurs : In a popular Catholic forum, the question of the dinosaur comes up. Expert Apologist Michelle Arnold tackles the age-old question in a four part answer, which acknowledges the existence of dinosaurs. It includes universal death, life after death, the opportunity to question one’s own faith, and reassessing one’s own beliefs.
8. No Meat on Fridays : Until 1983 Catholics were required to abstain from eating meat on Friday for the 40 days of Lent and the following Holy Week. However, the rule was changed to “abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays.” Which basically means that instead of foregoing meat on Fridays, Catholics can choose to give up something else. In addition, abstinence and fasting are required on both Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
9. No Alcohol for Catholics : Although a certain sense of moderation is present, Catholics are actually encouraged to feast, have joyous processions, and an elated thanksgiving for God’s grace. In fact, this priest from Saint Mary Magdalen in Brighton proclaims that champagne is the preferred drink of Catholics.
10. Catholics Worship Saints : Father Jeff explains the myth behind saint worship in this video from YouTube. He explains how prayer is different from worship and how the lives of saints are remarkable. He also uses the more modern comparison of a Prayer Line in his explanation.
11. Purgatory is Another Hell : Catholic belief in purgatory can be confusing and perplexing. More a belief on the afterlife, purgatory is believed to be where sinners go to “purge” themselves of sin before entering heaven. This encyclopedia article from New Advent has more.
12. Catholic Mass is Really Just a Homily : Father Z. is a popular Catholic blogger and priest in Philadelphia. In answering a reader’s question, he discusses the issue of the importance and meaning of the homily in Mass. In short, a homily is a sort of summary by priest or deacon after a reading and before the Procession of Faith. Father Z. explains exactly what it is and why it is important.
13. Catholics Can Confess Anything Away : A belief that confession is just a formality with no real consequence is a myth. In fact, just the act of admitting a sin can be doubly cathartic and reconciliatory. This article tells more on what is expected of a good confession. However, even the Vatican warns that a confession is not a counseling session.
14. The Pope is Perfect : Even Catholics don’t believe this and state that papal infallibility has its limitations. In an article from Slate, papal infallibility is explained as pertaining to when the pontiff is ruling on a spiritual or moral manner. There is a similar infallibility belief when ecumenical councils are ruling on similar issues. Other than that, the pope and the rest are just as fallible as the anyone.
15. Children Aren’t Allowed at Mass : In another answer from Father Z., he tackles the question of what to do with “wiggle aged” children at Mass. He addresses the positives and negatives of bringing these kids to church, what should be done, and what can be done as an alternative. Over 160 comments were left after the blog entry and tell even more on the subject.
Even if you disagree with any or all of the top 15 misconceptions about Catholics, it is important that you understand them fully so as to know why. Whether writing a paper, dating a Catholic, or just looking to understand the faith more, there is much to know and much damage to undo caused by myths.
There is also loads more to be found on the internet and a good place to start is these Twelve Catholic Myths where Michael Voris tackles even more misconceptions on Catholics.