Religious Misconceptions and the Catholic Church

NOTE: This column appears in full at Spokane Faith & Values. It has graciously been given permission for reposting at

When I think of religious misconceptions and the Catholic Church, I legitimately have to stifle a laugh as I think to myself, “Where do I even start?”

It’s almost as sure a thing as death and taxes, in my experience, that misconceptions abound about the Catholic Church — what she believes, the ramifications of her members behaving badly, whether or not her teachings are outdated. One could look anywhere and find them.

A quote from the late Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen has always said it best for me:

“There are not one hundred people in the United States who hate The Catholic Church, but there are millions who hate what they wrongly perceive the Catholic Church to be.”

It’s a very intriguing statement, when you think about it, and I believe it’s profoundly true.

There should be no doubt that the Catholic Church is a tour de force in our world, and has been for centuries. For better or for worse, everyone who’s been to a university, been treated in a modern hospital, or lived virtually anywhere in the world has been affected, directly or indirectly, by Catholicism.

One example is Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last September; for those days, the American public was treated to the “most positive news week I have ever seen,” as one writer put it.

But two questions still remain: Why should I care? And how can the good things matter when so much bad has been done by the Church over the centuries?



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Ignatius of Antioch quote (3)


Declining American Catholic Numbers is a Call to Action

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A survey is an interesting thing.

Though valuable in its ability to grasp the perspective of vast groups of people, a survey nevertheless holds no bearing on the inherent truth of something – it exacts precisely zero influence over the rightness or wrongness of a particular issue.

For example, if the Pew Research Institute existed in the late 3rd and early 4th centuries, a poll of religious beliefs about whether or not Christ was divine would have resulted in a two-thirds majorityamong bishops of the day in denying the divinity of Jesus. That information, though giving the reader a sound testament of the persuasive capabilities of the chief evangelist of such a belief (Arius), stands in direct contrast of the truth of that particular matter; for Jesus is, always has been, and always will be, the begotten Son of God, who is both fully divine and fully human.

And so, as a Catholic, the 2014 Pew study on America’s religious landscape, while interesting and informative in a certain respect, wasn’t terribly troubling to me on the whole.

I wasn’t surprised to see the continued decline in religious practice and belief on a generational level. From my own experience in the Catholic world, I know that those in my parents’ generation were taught the motions and the rules by their parents, but weren’t often taught why those motions and rules mattered; they were catechized, but not evangelized. They knew Jesus’ church, but they didn’t know Jesus.

And so, it’s no surprise that their children have sniffed out something that’s not being done out of a place of understanding and intentionality. Doing something “because that’s what we do” is rarely good enough for kids, because kids want answers to their questions. So, when no good answers are offered — and when the Sunday practice often contradicts the rest of week’s activities — they’ll call B.S. faster than you can say “transubstantiation”.

But the story isn’t over, and the last thing the church is doing is giving up. So, what that survey does do is reaffirm the call to action and identified priority on evangelization that we’ve heard for decades, first from the Second Vatican Council (“Vatican II”), from Pope St. John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI, and now from Pope Francis.

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#AskACatholic – What Happened Before Adam & Eve?

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Q. What do Catholics believe happened/existed prior to Adam and Eve?

catholicA. Loosely speaking, what happened prior to Adam and Eve is recounted in the creation story of Genesis, namely, that the universe began to exist out of nothing at a finite point in the past, and that God has created and designed all things, including humanity.

The church infallibly defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870, and thus binds its members to believe, “that the world and all things which are contained in it, both spiritual and material, were produced, according to their whole substance, out of nothing by God” (On God the Creator of All Things, Canon 5)

On this point, the Catechism of the Catholic Church reads:

“The account of the fall in Genesis 3 uses figurative language, but affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man. Revelation gives us the certainty of faith that the whole of human history is marked by the original fault freely committed by our first parents” (CCC 390).

What the church has yet to define infallibly, however, is when the universe was created. So,  technically, Catholics can be “Creationists” and believe the universe was created 6,000 years ago in six 24-hour days, or believe the universe was created 13 billion years ago at the Big Bang, just as long as they ascribe to the belief that God created the universe out of nothing and willed all creation into existence one way or the other.

The reason for this — the church not infallibly defining when the world was created — is due to the church’s practice of taking tremendous caution before defining something absolutely to be true. Case in point, it took until 1854 for the church to define as dogma (an irrevocable adherence of faith to a truth contained in divine Revelation [CCC 88]) that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin.

With regard to human creation, the Church believes and teaches that Adam and Eve are historical figures, meaning they actually existed as our first parents. Adam and Eve would have bore the first human souls, created “immediately by God,” as Pope Pius XII declared in his encyclical Humani Generis in 1950.

Necessarily, no living thing bore a human soul prior to Adam and Eve, even creatures resembling humans prior to Adam and Eve, we might go so far to suggest. And yet, there did exist a period of time between their creation and the creation of the universe from nothing. Though extensive research has been completed on the origins of the universe (Fun Fact: the Big Bang Theory was proposed by a Belgian priest) and what has happened until human creation, the exact definition of the specifics, so far as the Church is concerned, is still up for discussion.