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4 Things Catholics Do that Rightly Scandalize Non-Catholics


Brantly Millegan - published on 12/26/14

We need another Catholic reformation

“Most Catholics don’t know the Bible,” “most Catholics use contraception,” “the religion of most Catholics is dead,” etc.

There’s nothing new or shocking about these and similar criticisms, especially if you’ve spent any time defending the Catholic faith on the Internet or elsewhere.

But they still sadden me, for at least one important reason: they are absolutely, undeniably, and scandalously true.

And they make it easy for non-Catholics to dismiss the Catholic faith they need for their salvation.

Yes, we Catholics are sinners just like everyone else, and nominalism plagues every every religion.

But we can do better. We have the fullness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and full access to his infinite grace. We should be held to a higher standard.

Now, it’s important to note that none of the problems I list here are inherent to Catholicism itself, but come from Catholics not living out their own faith. Further, none of them apply to all Catholics, at least not in a significant way. Nonetheless, all of these things apply to enough Catholics that they cause scandal to non-Catholics, giving them easy reasons to not take Catholicism seriously.

I also do not pretend to not be a part of the problem. I am. But I’d also like to be a part of the solution. So here are four things that we Catholics unfortunately do that rightly scandalize non-Catholics – and that we need to improve to better bring the Gospel to the world.

1) Not talking enough about Jesus

He’s depicted on the cross front-and-center in most Catholic churches, it’s his Gospel we are charged to take to the ends of the earth, and he is mysteriously made present on the altar at every Mass. Jesus is the absolute center of the Catholic faith, the beginning and end of everything.

At least he’s supposed to be.

This problem is huge and can’t be overstated. Even among otherwise faithful Catholics, it sometimes seems we can spend a lot of time talking about the Church, the clergy, the Pope, the Mass, moral teachings, the Sacraments, and yes, Mary and the saints – all important things – but hardly ever mention Jesus.

Yes, I’m saying it: evangelicals sometimes have a point when they say it seems all these things can be a distraction. And they are right to be scandalized by it.

Of course, the solution isn’t to throw the baby out with the bathwater, reacting to the other extreme and engaging in a certain sort of minimalism, but to have a proper ordering of things. Catholics must follow the teaching of their own Church and put Jesus first, for he is God incarnate and the only one who can save us. Everything else is only meant to help bring us closer to him and must be regarded as such.

2) Not knowing Scripture

“Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.”

This isn’t a quote from some fundamentalist Bible-only preacher, but from the 4th century Catholic saint and Doctor of the Church Jerome. It’s also quoted in Dei Verbum, the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation promulgated by the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

It seems, then, a lot of Catholics are ignorant of Christ.

The Catholic Church agrees with our Protestant brothers and sisters that the Bible is the inspired Word of God and final in all that it teaches. It is a primary way that we learn about Christ and the way of salvation. We Catholics have the Bible and are encouraged to know it, but most of us don’t.

3) Dissenting from Church teaching

This might seem counterintuitive, but this especially applies to those teachings with which other Christians or non-Christians disagree. Because why should they take Catholic teaching seriously when it appears that Catholics themselves don’t take Catholic teaching seriously?

And though I’m just a layperson, I’ll also humbly offer this thought, since I’ve had many Protestants express this to me: it’s hard for some non-Catholics to take seriously the supposed authority of bishops (an essential aspect of Catholicism) when it seems they allow so much dissent. When I talk to my evangelical friends about the faith, I can point out all the confusion and disunity sola scriptura causes for Protestants and then show that the Catholic magisterium offers a solution – at least in principle. This is because it appears as though our bishops often allow just as much dissent, confusion, and disunity on important issues as Protestants have with sola scriptura. What good is a bishop, they say, if he doesn’t actually guard the faith and maintain a semblance of order? This can make it easy for Protestants to dismiss the need for the Magisterium, saying that Catholics really don’t have it any better than they do.

4) Not living out Church teaching

This is similar to number three, and it comes down to this: No one is attracted to hypocrisy.

This message is not earth-shattering, but we Catholics can always use the reminder. Yes, we all have sin, and no one is perfect regardless of their religion. But are we even trying? Does our faith make any difference?

It’s an understatement to say the Church has countercultural moral stances. But her witness is greatly reduced when we Catholics don’t seem to be trying to live them out. It doesn’t inspire non-Catholics to rise to the heroic virtue called for by the Church’s teachings when Catholics don’t seem to be trying.

We Need a Reformation

I don’t mean to get people down on the Church herself. The Church is the Church of Christ regardless of the faithfulness (or lack thereof) of her members at any given moment. And there are faithful Catholics who are doing a lot of great things.

But we are in need of a reformation. Not a reformation of schism, but a true reformation, the kind modeled by the saints in which we renew our dedication to the Catholic faith. It’s then that we can most effectively fulfil Christ’s commandment, and the first purpose of the Church’s existence: to bring the Gospel of salvation to the whole world.

Brantly Milleganis an Assistant Editor for Aleteia. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Editor of Second Nature, Co-Director of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity, and is working on a M.A. in Theology at the St. Paul Seminary School of Divinity. He lives with his wife and children in South St. Paul, MN. His personal website is This article originally appeared on on April 3, 2014.

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