Which is Worst Kind of Catholic?

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Is it better to be an ex-Catholic or cultural Catholic? An ex-Catholic is on the outside of the fullness of faith while a cultural Catholic is on the inside but not getting it–or rather not accepting it.

An ex-Catholic has left a church he probably didn’t understand.  Otherwise, he would not have walked away from all the gifts Christ left for us — his Body and Blood being foremost.   A cultural Catholic identifies himself as Catholic without faithfully adhering to the faith. He hasn’t left the Catholic Church, but whether through ignorance or rebellion, it’s not his inner compass.

One of the most unfortunate things about ex-Catholics is that they criticize and chip away at the body of Christ. One of the most unfortunate things about Cultural Catholics is that they criticize and chip away at the body of Christ. So, in that respect, it’s a draw.

The Catholic Brand

In spite of those who have left the Church, one in four Americans call themselves Catholic. However, many merely like the brand name but it’s more of a knock-off variety they practice. 


In a survey of 1,442 U.S. Catholic released Oct 24 this year, of those identified as Catholics, an overwhelming majority, 88%, say, “how a person lives is more important than whether he or she is Catholic.”  Forty percent say you can be a good Catholic without believing that the bread and wine become the Body and Blood of Christ during Mass. Yet, that is at the core of our faith.  The survey, Catholics in America: Persistence and change in the Catholic landscape, is part of ongoing research by sociologists led by Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio. It is the fifth survey since 1987.

These results likely explain the decline in Mass attendance. Since 1987, it has fallen from 44% attending at least once a week down to 31% in 2011.  Those attending less than monthly went from 26% to 47%. The number one excuse for not going? Forty percent of those not going say they are simply not very religious.

Here are the things respondents did believe are important.

  • 73% Jesus resurrection
  • 67% helping the poor
  • 64% Mary as the Mother of God
  • 63% The sacraments
  • 45% Daily prayer
  • 40% Against abortion
  • 36% Devotions such as rosary
  • 35% Against same-sex marriage
  • 30% Accepting Vatican authority
  • 29% Oppose death penalty
  • 21% Male celibate clergy

 Having taught CCD classes for nine years, those numbers don’t surprise me. Disappoint, yes; surprise, no. Whether it’s a case of an ex-Catholic or cultural Catholic, this issue revolves around understanding Catholic teaching. Knowing the faith leads to loving it and practicing it.  In recent years access to that information abounds and is growing, through TV and radio, books, tapes, speakers and conferences. Still, it’s proverbial: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”

 I am very aware that writers and speakers are churning out excellent Catholic material.  Often it’s a matter of preaching to the choir, but still there are many newbies and reverts heading our way.

In the end — and the beginning — it takes prayer. We need to pray for the body of Christ to grow stronger and bigger. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see this trend reverse?  Our Lord told us, “Ask and you shall receive.”  Join me in asking.

Patti Maguire Armstrong, is the mother of 10, and has a B.A. in social work and M.A. in public administration. Her newest book is Holy Hacks: Everyday Ways to Live Your Faith & Get to Heaven. Others include Big Hearted: Inspiring Stories from Everyday Families and the Amazing Grace Series. Follow her at @PattiArmstrong and read her blog at PattiMaguireArmstrong.com.

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