What Protestants think about Catholics (Flunking Sainthood: Day 3)


Please share this post as widely as possible, because it relies on audience participation.  At the end, I want you to “comment” and give me some of your thoughts.  Protestants only please:  Catholics, you’ll have your turn.  Please re-blog, post on FB, share anyway you can.  I’m really interested in the feedback.

Growing up in a devout Roman Catholic family, I think it is unlikely that I draw a breath or have a thought in my head not seasoned by my rich upbringing in the Church.  A family of eight, Irish Catholic, all six children’s names from the mother land (Maureen, Shannon, Michael, Sheila, Kathleen, Colleen), all six children attended Catholic grade school and Catholic universities.  Dad was president of the parish council and church historian, mom with a masters degree in theology and another one in adult spiritual development.

The rhythm of our life was mass, the sacraments, prayer, and study.

It’s been years since I attended mass regularly or participated in the sacraments, but the reasons for this are  pragmatic as well as theological.  As a result of our upbringing, Ann and I have both had the opportunity to feel loved and loving, accepted and accepting, in both Catholic and Protestant settings.

I am not oblivious to the fact that some on each side of this divide have strong feelings about the heathens on the far shore, but I have also had the opportunity to see loving, humble servants in each camp.  My gut feeling is that “God”, whatever we make of him, is having a good chuckle at any party that thinks they have Him completely contained in their particular box.

About six times a year, our team here at Kijabe gets together to have a discussion on a Friday night.  One member leads a discussion on a topic of personal interest.  We’ve talked about Islam, spiritual disciplines, and Biblical justice.  The evenings are social, low-key, fun, and interesting.  This Friday, I’ve volunteered to talk about my upbringing in the Catholic church.

My reasons for this are several.  I have fond memories of spiritual mentors, the comfort of liturgy, and unforgettable direct experiences of the divine.  But perhaps more than this, I’ve come to understand that most Protestants’ understanding of Catholicism comes from their Protestant pastors.  These pastors, in turn, get their understanding of Catholicism from their reformation history classes in seminary or bible school.  These classes, in turn, are taught from the perspective of 16th century Church corruption and scandal.  Missing are the counter-reformation, the Council of Trent, true Catholic theology, Vatican I, Vatican II, and the fact that billions of Catholics over the last two millennia have served Christ humbly in the best way they knew how.  Once the cobwebs of the last 500 years are cleared away, the two camps look very much like earnest, truth-seeking followers of Christ.

Here’s where you come in:

I’m looking for open, honest, uncensored, thoughts, questions, opinions, conclusions, and vitriolic diatribes regarding Protestants’ views of Catholics or Catholicism.  Here’s your chance!  If it’s too nasty or profane, I won’t “approve” it to be read on the blog, but my intent is to find out what people are thinking.

To get you started:

Catholics worship Mary, pray to dead people, the Pope is perfect, and you can party all you want on Friday as long as you go to have your sins forgiven by a priest on Saturday.  The whore of Babylon, the Pope as antichrist….

Many, but not all of these ideas have kernels of truth which give them credence, and are great starting points for discussion of commonalities and differences.

Please respond, engage, participate.  And remember Catholics, you’ll have your turn!

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12 thoughts on “What Protestants think about Catholics (Flunking Sainthood: Day 3)

  1. Michael, I was raised Baptist and had no clue that anyone other than Baptists of our particular sub-set of Baptists were actually Christians! :<) I was also born curious, so during my time in the US Army, I attended Mass with a Catholic friend, and participated in non-denominational Christian services in Vietnam. I came home with a much broader perspective of Christianity.
    I was involved in the Jesus People movement in the 70's, and lived and served overseas as a non-denominational missionary in the 80's and 90's. Jean and I have worked with scores of churches from dozens of denominations over the years in the US, Jamaica, the UK, and Africa.
    I frequently attended Friday evening Mass at Westminster Cathedral in London and still take occasional retreats at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Oregon. I have learned much from Brennan Manning and Thomas Merton. One of my current key influencers is Fr Richard Rohr of CAC in New Mexico.
    And I think Pope Francis, like his namesake St Francis, is a rock star!
    But I think if I were on the inside of Catholicism, I'd have a hard time with the hierarchy and the system. But that's just me.

    • Thanks Jim, hope you’re doing well. What a rich history in the faith. Traveling now in non-denominational circles, it seems a lot of people are scooping up bits of the baby that got thrown out with the bath water. (that was a creepy phrase, sorry). There’s great wisdom in these wounded healers, regardless of their particular stream of Christianity. I have gung ho evangelical friends who really value Merton, Henry Nouwen, and Manning. I long for the day when we can accept that we have theological differences but keep our eyes fixed on what we have in common, which is Christ.

  2. Karen Farley

    OK. I’m a “born again” one of the ones I used to think was weird. Now I’m one of them. I was mostly raised in a non- Christian home, until I was born again out of Gods word, not in a church but then later and now I’m deeply involved in my ” non- denominational” bible based church. My perspective is that I consider Ann one of my best friends, who had a catholic upbringing, so I don’t want to offend her in my response. (I know I won’t, because we’ve had these discussions) 😉

    My mostly alcoholic dad’s side of the family did not consider themselves ” Christian” and certainly wouldn’t go around saying they were. They never attended church, but boy were they Catholic and don’t you dare insinuate otherwise. My dear grandparents were devout Presbyterians and the most important human influencers in my life. I know they prayed for me for decades, but looking back, never actually saw them pray regularly. I know they believed the bible devoutly and had a strong belief, but I don’t remember seeing time in Gods word regularly. The ” Pastor” would read the little scripture on Sundays and talk about God, but there was a lot of repetitive stuff going on. Without any biblical knowledge, I had no appreciation for the words. I only went when I visited with them. The Protestant priests dressed in robes a lot like the Catholics, and it felt pretty formal. My dear husband was raised in a very Catholic huge church on the east coast, went to Catholic school, and his mom attended something faithfully up until she died. At that that time, most of it was in Latin and my husband had no idea what they were saying. They all became non- believers ( or would think that “Christians in the US are freaks”) not support Biblical beliefs, but would probably consider themselves Catholic when attending a funeral. My husband is a born again now (after much partying most of his life) but is disappointed he was not taught the word in the Catholic Church.

    And yes, when I was in France, when I went into the completely empty (beautiful) church, there were bones and a bunch of little candles in corners and it did feel somewhat like a ghost/cult placing a quarter to pray with dead bones all around? And the Catholic Churches here in places, East coast, it seemed like everyone was worshipping Mary and the Saints, and sorry, I don’t trust most men anyway, so I certainly don’t trust Popes. But again, only God knows what is in the heart, including mine, so please forgive me, I don’t want to judge anyone. I also felt nervous when I went to a Catholic Church because I never knew which order to do my finger/ hand gesture with the Father/ son/ Holy Spirit and thought for sure everyone would realize I wasn’t a true Catholic. I also only knew about Christmas and Easter which was the only time I went, so it was boring going to the same message and creepy with the guy dying on the cross. But that was when I was a non-believer. The opening of the bible and reading Gods word was what turned on the lights for me. It seemed that studying the word is, or was, lacking in the Catholic Church.

    I’m not naive and think that Catholics are all non believers. I have met a handful who I’m sure are, but I’m not the one to judge. Only God knows the heart. It has totally FREAKED me out the whole child/ sex scandal in the Catholic Church, but I know that probably happens on all sides everywhere. It’s just the cover up and the feeling of “secrecy” within the Catholic Church that doesn’t feel right. I’m sure that stems from the hierarchy system which also feels suspicious because on top of that, you’ve got a bunch of unmarried men who also are in charge of lots of money.

    I have a feeling based on conversations with people here and there that there are more bible studies going on within the Catholic Church today.

    I think the whole topic goes back to ” it is by faith that we are saved, not our works, but at the same time, It is by the “fruit of repentance” (thank you to my pastor Phil at Grace Bible, here in Bend Oregon for teaching on that this weekend – pug -plug) the “fruit of repentance” will be displayed by works/fruit in our changed lives. So without the faith/ repentance, how can you be saved and do the works, which is evidence of a truly faithful heart. Without the works your faith is dead, but works without true faith is just as dead. That’s the division here we are talking about, right?

    So I think Ann is a nice blend of both. She sure has a sweet, giving, faithful heart, but thanks to her Catholic upbringing, boy, does she know how to have fun! 😉

    I’m not on Facebook, so once I push the send button, I have no idea what happens. I’m not on any blog except this one. Good conversation idea.

    Miss you guys!

    Karen Farley
    Bend, Oregon

    • Karen, great to hear from you, we miss you guys. Thanks for your insights. I was laughing when you said you were freaked out not knowing the secret hand motions. They have spies in the crowd looking for fake Catholics, you know. Once we get the faith/works thing worked out, we’ll be famous.

  3. Lynda Corbin

    As a child I was raised Methodist as my great-great grandfather was a Methodist minister and that was the religion that flowed throughout my Father’s family. My Mother’s father was an Irish Catholic, but not the best follower of the religion do to the fact the Catholic church would not accept his marriage to my protestant Grandmother. My Mom attended parish school until something happened and she refused to go back. This is a subject for another day. I spent my growing years visiting different churches, including my 1st marriage in a Catholic church. Our priest was modern and I was able to be open to him. I told him first I didn’t need the priest, Pope or anyone else intervening on my relationship with my Lord. I also told him the church had no right to tell me how many children I should have. I’m pretty sure the Lord doesn’t believe we should have children we can’t afford. One of my pet peeves growing up was my Catholic friends, running 2 blocks down from our high school to St Boniface to confession only to go out that night and the next and repeat their sins. A bit hypocritical I think. During my divorce a Lutheran pastor friend helped me get through it, later married Johnny and I and baptized our 2 daughters. I was most comfort in our beliefs. Pastor taught the most wonderful adult new member class. He had a PhD in theology and we hit the high points of all the major religions giving us some other views. I believe most religions believe in the same God and the most important we need to do in life is be good, thoughtful and care for one another. You don’t have to be in church every minute. Many of the most giving wonderful people I know were or aren’t church goers. It’s how they treat others and live their lives. The only religions I have a problem with are those that take biblical readings out of context and don’t accept the fact that the Lord has given us certain talents and abilities to make a better life. You and I as medical professionals understand that only too well. I could write a book, but will cut it off now. Michael, you never cease to amaze me. Many blessings and much love to you, Ann and the children. Lynda

    • Lynda, thank you! Amazing history in the church. You’ve not just seen it all, but lived it, on both sides of the fence. Doesn’t it sometimes come down to whether the priest/pastor/minister is a real human or not, compassionate, loving, with an ounce of common sense?

  4. Alexandra Thiessen

    What I know about Catholicism is largely general: belief in purgatory, confession of sins to a priest for absolution, prayers to the deceased saints, etc.. I have been passionately triedto discover the Biblical basis from which these principles stem, but whenever I question Catholics I know about the Biblical foundation of uniquely Catholic beliefs and practices, they cannot give any Scripture that support their practices. I also am well-studied in the Scriptures (albeit not the Apocrypha) and find no basis for these practices in my own reading of the Bible. So, to me, from the outside looking in, Catholicism seems unbiblical in many ways. I hate to say that in such stark terms, but I sense you’re looking for candid thoughts so those are mine. Wish I could be in Kijabe for your discussion Friday night- it sounds as though it will be enlightening and a good way to build mutual understanding of Catholicism and Protestantism between people who all love JESUS which is great!

    • Thanks Alexandra! Great points. I think purgatory is a tough one for a lot of people. The popular conception of purgatory, even among Catholics, is a hellish place where people suffer for a while before going to heaven. This idea comes from Dante’s Divine Comedy, not from Catholic theology. Purgatory in Catholic theology is not a time or a place, but the process by which we are purged, or cleansed, of our sinful nature after death, and prior to meeting God.
      Confession of sins to a priest, while not a Protestant practice, traces its roots back to John 20:21–23 and other verses. Prayers to deceased saints comes from 2 Macabees, which was part of the cannon for the first 1500 years of Christianity, but dropped after the reformation. So a lot of these beliefs are biblical, but not from the protestant bible! Thanks again for your response.

  5. Whorls of Babylon, all of them.

  6. Bwahaaaaa! Damn autocorrect!

  7. KimP

    First, all of my Catholic perceptions are from a distance – I have had no close contact with the church or any members. That said, there are several things I just don’t get.

    — Latin? Jesus spoke to the people in simple parables even children can understand. Why in the world would spiritual teachers speak in a dead language?

    –Mary? I don’t guess Catholics actually worship her, but it seems to be such a huge part of the focus and while I think the place she filled was necessary and she filled it well, I don’t understand the emphasis on her.

    –Sainthood? Where does the Bible talk about people being made saints in the church because of “miracles they performed” after their own death??? Can’t even begin to fathom that one.

    –the Rosary? What is that modeled after? I can’t think of anything in the Bible that would be the source document for this practice.

    –Money was never a focus or even had the beginning of an important place in the ministry of Jesus. In my opinion, there is far too much wealth in property, etc. in the Catholic church.

    All of that said, I’m not judging individual persons or their service. I’m SO thankful God knows the hearts and judges righteously. I will leave all of that piece to Him. 🙂

  8. Jeff and I both grew up Catholic but have chosen the Protestant route for our family. General stereotypes: Catholics are more focused on works than grace, more on Mary than Jesus and more on religion than relationship. CCD is boring and Sunday services ritualistic rather than sincere. On the other hand, Catholics revere and honor God as Lord with respect and honor, while Protestants generally demonstrate lack of due respect for our King and Savior. I know these stereotypes are just that…..stereotypes! I
    Stereotypes aside, I’ve found that we are much more alike than we are different. There are saved and unsaved in both camps; and we have one, no two things that are identical in each faith: we are all sinners and we all have One Lord and Savior. Either way, I consider Catholic believers my brothers and sisters in Christ. I love the way Matt Maher sums things up in this video message after worshiping with the Pope at the World Youth Day in Brazil:

    I highly recommend watching the moment live here:

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