Have you ever wondered what your non-Catholic friends think of your faith? The Catholic Church must be confusing for people who haven’t experienced church life or been exposed to any religion. There are mysterious rites, priests, and clergy of all ranks wearing different clothes depending on who they are and what they do. There are also miracles and Mary, and the saints and all our statues and rosary beads. Stepping into a Catholic Church is a feast for the senses. Little wonder, then, that people are so intrigued.
In Dan Brown’s “Da Vinci Code,” the Catholic Church is described as mysterious, which piqued people’s interest even more. However, there are still some myths surrounding Catholicism. Here are seven commonly heard myths surrounding the Catholic faith that aren’t true.
"The Pope is always right."
This myth centers around the doctrine of Papal Infallibility. This doctrine shouldn’t be confused with impeccability or the inability to sin. Like every other human on earth, the Pope is a sinner. In 2019 on a trip to Mozambique, Pope Francis said that he’s a sinner and remains a sinner. Papal Infallibility means, however, that a belief held since the early church by Christians can be formally pronounced and defined by a Pope under his office as supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful. There are four necessary conditions for a pronouncement of the pontifical Magisterium to be infallible:
That the Pope speaks as universal Doctor and Shepherd
That he uses the fullness of his apostolic authority
That he expresses the will to define
That the matters defined deal with faith or morals
Any pronouncement that does not meet these four criteria is not immune from error. Of course, these four conditions are not met in most of the words spoken by Popes in their daily lives. The Constitution Pastor Aeternus establishes the limits of papal infallibility: “The Holy Spirit was not promised to the successors of Peter that by His revelation they might make known new doctrine, but that by His assistance they might inviolably keep and faithfully expound the Revelation, the Deposit of Faith, delivered through the Apostles.
"The Catholic Church hates gay people."
This myth is wrong because the Church does not hate any group. Jesus commanded us to love everyone, including our enemies. That kind of radical love has no room for hatred. The Catechism of the Catholic Church holds that gay and lesbian people “must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity.” However, the Church distinguishes between sexual orientation and the homosexual lifestyle.
"The Church is against sex."
The Catholic Church is not against sex. It affirms that sex is good because God blesses humanity’s sexuality on the sixth day of creation in Genesis 1:28 by saying: “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it.” Indeed, the Song of Songs is full of the joy of sex between a man and his wife, illustrating and reflecting the love Christ has for His Church. The Church doesn’t purely see sex as an act between two people who feel physical attraction.
Instead, the Church acknowledges the deep purpose for sexuality as willed by God in the beginning, that it be expressed solely within a marriage between a man and a woman who have given their whole selves unreservedly to one another so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. The purpose of making love is for procreation and for uniting a couple. It can reinforce the permanency of the marriage vows a couple made on their wedding day. Some people mistakenly view the Church’s stance on sex as restrictive, but upholding God’s design shows us the life path lived in the greatest freedom.
However, the Church does care about everyone’s salvation and gently leads all people away from sin and towards a closer relationship with God. That includes everyone – straight, gay, married, single, parent, and priests. Sexuality falls within the areas of sin that the Church cares about because God created sexuality for a purpose that would most benefit us on our journey through life towards unity with Him in Heaven. For this reason, all sex, whether heterosexual or homosexual, outside of the covenant of the sacrament of marriage is a sin against God because it rejects God’s original will and purpose in his design for humanity.
"The Church is misogynistic."
Because the Church does not allow women to be priests, some people misinterpret the Church’s stance as being misogynistic. It could not be further from the truth. According to the Church, women were created equal to men in value in God’s eyes. They were, however, created differently with different strengths and skills. God made men and women to complement each other and be partners on an equal footing, which is why Eve was made from Adam’s rib, his side. Indeed, humanity’s destiny was redeemed and secured for all time by the ‘yes’ of one young woman to God, Mary- 2000 years ago.
The Church must follow Christ’s pattern and example, even when it doesn’t fit with our modern secular standards. Christ did not ordain women as priests or apostles, yet had he wanted to; he had the perfect candidate in Mary. Some people argue that Jesus was acting within the societal norms of his time. However, Jesus regularly turned societal expectations upside down, such as washing his disciples’ feet or performing healing miracles on the Sabbath.
Pope John Paul II comprehensively affirmed the role of women in his 1988 apostolic letter, Mulieris Dignitatem (On the Dignity of Women). He wrote: “Therefore the Church gives thanks for each and every woman: for mothers, for sisters, for wives; for women consecrated to God in virginity; for women dedicated to the many human beings who await the gratuitous love of another person; for women who watch over the human persons in the family, which is the fundamental sign of the human community; for women who work professionally, and who at times are burdened by a tremendous social responsibility."
"Catholics worship Mary."
The Church’s devotion to the Blessed Virgin dates back to the first believers. The Catechism states that “although it is ‘very special,’ Marian devotion ‘differs essentially from the adoration which is given to the incarnate Word and equally to the Father and the Holy Spirit.” It goes on to say that “prayer to the Blessed Mother of God always remains centered ‘on the person of Christ manifested in his mysteries’. All that we believe about Mary is based on our faith in Christ
God gave Mary a unique role in His plan of redemption. She is seen as the New Eve, preserved from original sin and set apart from all sin by divine grace. The Catechism makes clear: “But this privilege does not place the Virgin outside the universal sphere of redemption. Mary has received all that she is from Christ. She is the first to be redeemed by the blood of the cross.” A simple way of understanding believers’ relationship with Mary is one of imitation – we seek to imitate her openness to and acceptance of God’s will in our lives. In turn, as the Queen Mother of Christ’s Kingdom, she hears our petitions and presents them to Jesus, in the same way, that she asked Jesus to provide wine at the wedding at Cana.
Catholicism is a misunderstood religion. People outside of Catholicism believe that it’s a strict religion that doesn’t care about women and despises gay people. However, Catholicism is just like every other religion. All religions have some misunderstandings, but it’s not the people’s job to pass judgment. Instead, people who want to know more should research the faith. They may be surprised.