The Real Alternative

The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition, 3 – Theological reasons


Soufrière Catholic Church

Soufrière Catholic Church (Photo credit: waywuwei)

1 – Introduction
2 – Theory and method
3 – Theological reasons
4 – Social and political reasons
5 – Psychological reasons
6 – Philosophical and historical reasons and conclusion

Sociologists and philosophers, alike, say the Catholic religion generates ‘truth claims.’ The idea of a truth claim gives us a convenient way to talk about a given set of beliefs without necessarily advocating or dismissing them. Non-Catholics often say that Catholic truth claims are not eternally given but, rather, culturally and politically motivated truths—that is, relative truths.


The notion of Papal infallibility is probably one of the biggest reasons why people dislike Catholicism. But educated Catholics realize that only two Catholic truth claims are deemed infallible while most others are less authoritative, and merely disseminated as general guidelines for good moral behavior. Many lay-critics of Catholicism don’t realize that not every Catholic teaching is forwarded as an eternal, unchangeable truth. Instead, Catholic theologians say the Church’s teachings have various levels of certainty. And Papal infallibility only applies to these two dogmas:

  1. The Blessed Virgin Mary’s sinless birth (Dogma of the Immaculate Conception)
  2. Her bodily assumption into heaven (Dogma of The Assumption)

All other Catholic teachings are not infallible.¹ So it’s just wrong to say that all Catholic teachings are infallible when they’re not. True, some Catholics say that infallibility includes all of the Church’s teachings. But these fanatics – and that’s what they are – are a vocal minority that the majority of sober scholars, Catholic or not, would readily dismiss.

Papal Authority

Some non-Catholics say that even two (allegedly) infallible declarations are good reason to dislike Catholicism, a religion that endorses Popes who, from the critics’ perspective,  are mere pretenders to the throne of truth. This is variation on the above reason why people dislike Catholicism. Some just don’t believe in any kind of Papal infallibility whatsoever. And the fact that only two dogmas are deemed infallible makes no difference. These people want none of it.

Christianity as a Stereotype

A third theological reason why people dislike Catholicism is based on a misunderstanding and, arguably, unclear thinking.

Many use ‘Christianity’ as  a blanket term for all different types of Churches, organizations and individuals calling themselves as Christians. If I say “I’m a Catholic,” sometimes it’s like waving a red flag in front of people who dislike Evangelicals, Fundamentalists and Televangelists, and who really don’t know the difference between these forms of Christianity and Catholicism. It’s just one big amorphous dislike for all things Christian.

However, differences among Christian denominations (and even among individual believers within each denomination) are tremendous. In Ireland, for instance, Protestant and Catholic youth gangs engage in violent clashes. And as CNN’s Anderson Cooper once pointed out, some Christians align themselves with the Green movement while others are out to make greenbacks.

Falling Short of the Ideal

People also dislike Catholicism because of churchgoers who inevitably fall short of the Christian ideal. Some Catholics sharply criticize and even denounce one another. Mean-minded gossip and talking behind another person’s back is not unheard of in Catholicism, even though Jesus tells us to love one another. As in most spheres of humanity, pettiness and hypocrisy are alive and unwell in Catholicism, which is a turn-off for many.

Private and Public

With a little probing it sometimes becomes clear that a given Catholic’s private beliefs are quite different from his or her apparent beliefs as publicly expressed at the Mass. After all, human beings are social animals and usually don’t want to rock the boat. But arguably just as important, most Catholics believe in the necessity of liturgical structure. Structure affords unity and continuity amidst inevitable points of disagreement.

So Catholics with their own private beliefs are not necessarily just toeing the line at the Mass. They could very well be respecting the need for structure while perhaps secretly believing in (and doing) their own thing—e.g. using birth control, engaging in homosexual relations, having affairs or premarital sex.

On the need for structure, learned Catholics point out that even the very first Christian disciples disagreed on certain issues (Acts 15: 1-21; Galatians 2: 11-14; 1 Corinthians 3: 1-23). So there’s a need, they believe, to outline a clear set of teachings to carry the Catholic ship of salvation through all storms of disagreement.

Judging a Book by its Cover

Another reason people dislike Catholicism has to do with their perception of what it means to be ‘alive in the spirit.’ Some non-Catholics say the Catholic Mass looks or feels quite dead. Catholic parishioners apparently behave like robotic victims of a Roman cult, just going through the motions, not really thinking nor believing in what they profess during the Mass.

With few outward signs of ecstatic joviality or other emotional displays, critics wrongly assume that apparently wooden Catholics are spiritually dry and unhappy. These critics really have no appreciation for the possibility that Catholics may experience a very high and delicate kind of interior sweetness, healing and joy.

By way of contrast, Catholics, especially contemplative ones, may see non-Catholic forms of easily recognizable joy as commendable and perhaps even of Christ. But these manifestations of the spirit are usually subjected to the analysis of discernment, which tries to determine if they’re possibly of a different interior quality than the sacramental graces afforded through the Catholic Church.

Catholics are instructed to respect other religions. And the late Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said that she “loved” all religions while being “in love” with her own. Along these lines, the existence of worldwide Catholic Missions speaks volumes. Why would Catholic missions exist if the majority of Catholics did not believe that their religion was best? And would not many of these Catholics base that belief on how their religion made them feel?

Jesus as another teacher

Another theological reason many non-Catholics dislike Catholicism is that Christ is taken as just another teacher, not unlike the Buddha or the Hindu god Krishna. This critique often comes from contemporary Gnostics. For them it’s a mistake to insist on Jesus’ uniqueness. And the highly structured Catholic liturgy just gets in the way of their supposedly genuine, gnostic spiritual experiences.

In response, the Vatican recognizes any partial truths in non-Christian religious figures and their associated teachings but firmly disagrees with the belief that Buddha or Krishna, for example, are equal to Christ. It’s as simple as that and no politically correct or sugar-coated interfaith dialogue will change this fundamental point of disagreement. From a Catholic standpoint, it’s possible that some non-Catholic critics have yet to reach a point in their spiritual formation to appreciate the fullness of Christ as experienced through the sacraments.

Mary and the Saints

Another theological reason why people dislike Catholicism relates to Saint Mary and the rest of the Catholic saints. Misinformed Christians often dispute the supposed Catholic ‘paganism’ of praying for the saints’ intercession.

As outlined at

Some Protestants and Fundamentalists complain that Catholics have got it all wrong because, so they say, Jesus Christ is the only mediator between God and Man. But these very same people freely ask their friends and associates to “pray for them” which to any thinking person is clearly a request for intercession.

The Catholic reply to this contradictory Protestant and Fundamentalist charge is that if you can ask souls on Earth to pray for you, why not souls in heaven?²

Catholicism clearly outlines its stand on intercession. Asking the saints to pray for us does not elevate them to the status of gods and goddesses, as so many non-Catholic detractors will say. This is just theologically wrong and represents another groundless reason for disliking Catholicism.

¹ Dr. Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Rockford, Illinois: 1974 [1960], Tan Books, pp. 8-10 » See online discussion at

² See in context.

Copyright © Michael W. Clark, 2012.

4 – Social and political reasons

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3 thoughts on “The Dislike of Catholicism: Understanding the Holy in the Catholic Tradition, 3 – Theological reasons

  1. I have a question to why when saying the rosary you have 9 hail Mary’s to one Lords prayer? Why is Mary the only saint used in the rosary? I don’t think praying to saints is biblical. If I am wrong please give me the verse to refer to. I feel it takes away from the worship of our Lord Jesus.

  2. Hello…I stumbled on this. While I agree with your points, I just wanted to mention that the Church IS infallible in regards to the Church Councils.

    So, your comment that “All other Catholic teachings are not infallible” is incorrect as in actuality, all Church teachings from Church Councils (e.g. Trent, Vatican, Nicea, etc.) are on the contrary all infallible.

    • Hi, actually, the RCC is only infallible as outlined here:

      “The doctrine of the infallibility of ecumenical councils states that solemn definitions of ecumenical councils, approved by the pope, which concern faith or morals, and to which the whole Church must adhere are infallible. Such decrees are often labeled as ‘Canons’ and they often have an attached anathema, a penalty of excommunication, against those who refuse to believe the teaching. The doctrine does not claim that every aspect of every ecumenical council is infallible.”

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