Can someone become Catholic even if he/she doesn't agree with all doctrine?

Is someone able to become Catholic - for example, go through RCIA and be baptized – if they believe the Catholic Church has most of the truth, but not necessarily agree with every doctrine? That is, the individual accepts most of what the church teaches, or thinks it corresponds with the truth more than any other religion.

Obviously, many people join the church without believing in all aspects of the faith. Some may end up practicing contraception, for example. This is just how it happens, sometimes.
But objectively speaking, is someone able to become Catholic without accepting all doctrines? So if a priest found out that someone didn’t believe in the Immaculate Conception, would that priest have to suggest the individual not become Catholic until she accepts the doctrine?

Ideally, one should become Catholic if he or she accepts the Catholic Church as having the authority to authentically teach all of Christian truth. But what if someone is unsure of this, or its implications, and just accepts that Catholcism is the MOST faithful representative of the Christian Faith?

Would, for example, it be a complete and final denial of the Immaculate Conception? Or would it be something not fervently opposed to but just not at a point where a person can place a belief in it?

I suspect there will be mixed thoughts on this. In my view, being a Catholic is a life long conversion process. Baptism and Confirmation are not ends, but initiations, and we persevere in our faith until the day we die, struggling towards the goal of sanctification, which is easier said than done. You don’t have to be fully formed.

That’s more than I intended to say. And as I’m sure will be said many times, as it’s really the best advice, spiritual counseling with a priest or deacon, or at least a discussion or two, would be wise.

If someone does not believe in all of the Church’s teachings, such as the Immaculate Conception, then they should not become Catholic since they will be a heretic. I assume that a priest would not let someone become Catholic that denies a teaching of the Church.

This is a good question. I can answer it simply.

A person who believes that he knows better than the Church on certain matters of doctrine is not fit to become part of the Church, because by joining the Church, one surrenders his own will and accepts that the Church teaches the WHOLE truth infallibly. To deny any single teaching of the Church is to act out a contradiction and commit a sin.

So a conversion really does require a complete change of heart. A person can join the Church even if he still feels really uncomfortable about certain doctrines, though, so long as that person is willing to yield to the Church’s teaching on that matter.

It is best, though, to fully believe in the Church’s infallibility in matters of faith and morals before joining.

Well, in order to join, one has to make a profession of faith. I believe it currently says “I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.” If one cannot say that statement in good faith or if it would not be true, then no, one should not become Catholic.

So I would assume, that if you cannot believe and professes that the immaculate conception has been revealed by God, then one should probably not become Catholic.

What is required is to believe that the Church has the truth, and that our inability to understand certain things is a fault within ourselves, rather than a fault in the Church; therefore, you leave the question open until you can acquire more information. You cannot outright reject the teaching; you just say, “I don’t understand it yet.”

Whether they are able to vs should are two different questions. For me it comes down to the profession of faith that candidates make:

I believe and profess all that the holy Catholic Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God.

If someone were to make that statement and do so without meaning it??? Well lets see, they would have made a bold face lie just minutes before receiving the sacrament of confirmation. Not exactly a glowing way to start off.

In theory if a member of the RCIA team, a candidates sponsor, or the clergy know that someone obstinately holds view contrary to Catholic teaching they should encourage the person to wait to be received. There are supposed to be interviews along the way to check a person’s readiness also. Does that happen very often? I can’t say.

why would the immaculate conception be problematic to you?

What percentage of the truth is sufficient for membership? What if you agree with most but say have trouble with the Immaculate Conception and Abortion? Are you saying that membership is based on an intellectual acceptance of doctrine? As a wise post says, membership comes with Baptism which is a gift of faith. What you do with it determines your continuance in the race that Paul would have us run to the end.

The Church teaches the truth. Some may find that the truth on contraception is too hard and they find excuses for ignoring this part of the Church teaching. The Church has declared the Immaculate Conception an infallible truth and requires acceptance of this fact to maintain your claim to be a true Catholic. Many politicians claim to be Catholic and yet support the right to abortion. They are hypocrites that do little for their honour.

You can claim to be a Catholic because you have been baptized into the church, however you cannot make a public claim of membership whilst continuing to hold beliefs that are completely contrary to the church’s teachings of infallible truths or morals that are against the moral teachings of that Church. This would be scandalous and does nothing for the individual who wishes to cherry pick from the buffet.

One should be careful to apply the label of “heretic”. Anyone who struggles with a doctrine isn’t automatically a formal heretic, atleast.

The Church’s moral theology has always distinguished between objective or material sin and formal sin. The person who holds something contrary to the Catholic faith is materially a heretic. They possess the matter of heresy, theological error. Thus, prior to the Second Vatican Council it was quite common to speak of non-Catholic Christians as heretics, since many of their doctrines are objectively contrary to Catholic teaching. This theological distinction remains true, though in keeping with the pastoral charity of the Council today we use the term heretic only to describe those who willingly embrace what they know to be contrary to revealed truth. Such persons are formally (in their conscience before God) guilty of heresy. Thus, the person who is objectively in heresy is not formally guilty of heresy if 1) their ignorance of the truth is due to their upbringing in a particular religious tradition (to which they may even be scrupulously faithful), and 2) they are not morally responsible for their ignorance of the truth. This is the principle of invincible ignorance, which Catholic theology has always recognized as excusing before God.

I would ask that individual…do they accept most of what Jesus teaches?

extract from : John Pacheco, The Catholic Legate, June 7, 2002

Sententia Probabablis - Theological opinions of lesser grades of certainty are called probable, more probable, well-founded. Those which are regarded as being in a agreement with the consciousness of Faith of the Church are called pious opinions (sententia pia). The least degree of certainty is possessed by the tolerated opinion (opinio tolerata), which is only weakly founded, but which is tolerated by the Church. (Example: Rigorist (strict) view of “No Salvation Outside the Church”, or the existence of Limbo.)

De Fide means “of the faith”. A Dogma is a De Fide article of faith. In Catholicism, there exists what we understand to be a “hierarchy of truths”. Some doctrines have been formally defined by the Church (i.e. dogmas) and are essentially irrevocable and non-reformable. Other doctrines do not carry such a weight but are generally believed to be true by the majority of theologians.

De Fide - The highest degree of certainty appertains to immediately revealed truths, due on the Authority of God revealing. If these truths are solemnly defined by the Magisterium, they are “de defide definita”. (Example: The Dogma of the Trinity)

The remainder are De Fide and are doctrine to be believed.

Fides Ecclesiastica - Catholic truths or Church doctrines, on which the infallible Teaching Authority of the Church has finally decided…

Sententia Ad Fidem Pertinens - A teaching pertaining to the Faith is a doctrine, on which the Teaching Authority of the Church has not yet finally pronounced…

Sententia Fidei Proxima - A teaching proximate to Faith is a doctrine…

Sententia Communis - Common teaching is doctrine, which in itself belongs to the field of free opinions…

Sententia Probabablis must be considered in accordance with proper reference to Catholic teaching and clergical opinion. The researcher must always and in all things properly discern and seek the truth from approved(Nihil Obstat) literature and ecclesial circles.

Reading: The Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ludwig Ott

I would talk to a priest you trust, or get recommends from those around you. As I understand it, there are indeed certain areas where “I believe, Lord help my un-belief” is accepted for new members if it is accepted with certainty that the RCC is the true church. In other words, time and mercy are given to new converts on certain things. But again, this is coming from a protestant who has just had conversations with various Catholics and have heard popular converts say such things (such as Grodi on ETWN and Hahn).

In situations like this, its good to remember what Jesus said:

MATT 18:3 "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.

Sometimes its a good idea to let the learned theologians and priests of the catholic church decide whats right rather than we, with our limited theological knowledge, second guess this or that and what we think is right or wrong doctrine. Be like children.

It’s good to know, also, if you are the type of person who is teachable, rather than stubborn or capricious. In those cases it might be better to extend the studying period, perhaps go through another round (or more) of RCIA. A lot of people in our touchy-feely culture bail when they run up against a difficult teaching because all their lives they’ve been conditioned to respond with the emotions rather than the will. So they assent to what feels good at the time; when it makes them uncomfortable, they’re out the door.

This is not to say it can’t work, but that they and their sponsors should take their time to really get to the heart of who the potential convert is as a person, how they’ve handled inner conflicts in the past, and whether they can grasp the concept of submission of will, and be okay with accepting something in obedience rather than being their own judge of each teaching, picking and choosing what they will or won’t accept.

You may not fully understand all doctrines or even know all doctrines but you MUST accept that what the Church teaches is correct. You can then study more to get to know all that the Church teaches and what underpins the teachings.

It’s perfectly normal for someone to wait to enter the Church until he believes all the important dogmas and doctrines. In fact, that’s part of the process.

OTOH, if you’re the kind of person who can say, “Yeah, I don’t really understand this stuff but I’m willing to believe it and take the rest on trust,” you can probably enter sooner.

It’s not about what’s “fair,” but it is about the way people’s minds work. People who really worry about theology are people who really need to have all the ducks in a row before they can move. Once they have it argued out, they can really go go go. (Like the Ethiopian eunuch on the road: “Here’s some water - is there any reason why I cannot be baptized?”)

I’m the kind of person who has to know that there’s no contradiction, so it was God’s mercy to have me raised Catholic instead of making me study up as an adult! But it’s not fair to these kinds of people to tell them not to study up and argue it out first.

OTOH, you have to make sure that it really is an important doctrine. If you’re staying out of the Church because you’re worried about the thinking behind an old fresco of the Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine, you probably don’t need to write a doctoral thesis before you enter the Church. (And actually being baptized would probably help you understand that legend better…)

They should not, because:
**Can. 205. **Those baptized are fully in the communion of the Catholic Church on this earth who are joined with Christ in its visible structure by the bonds of the profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical governance.

Can. 212 §1. Conscious of their own responsibility, the Christian faithful are bound to follow with Christian obedience those things which the sacred pastors, inasmuch as they represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or establish as rulers of the Church.

This is the clearest summation of the requirements for both dogma and doctrine:
**The three levels of teaching from Ad Tuendam Fidem (ATF) are:
**1) Dogma – infallible (Canon #750.1) **to be believed with the assent of divine and Catholic faith.
**2) Doctrine – infallible (Canon #750.2) **requires the assent of ecclesial faith, to be “firmly embraced and held”.
**3) Doctrine – non-definitive (non-infallible) *and requires intellectual assent (“loyal submission of the will and intellect”, Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 25), not an assent of faith. See the Explanatory Note on ATF by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith
Rome, from the offices of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, June 29, 1998, the Solemnity of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul.

  • Joseph Card. Ratzinger

  • Tarcisio Bertone, S.D.B.
    Archbishop Emeritus of Vercelli
    [This commentary was issued coincident with the promulgation of “Ad tuendam fidem” by Pope John Paul II, modifying the Oriental and Latin codes of canon law.]

Thus no dogma has to be affirmed, nor anyone anathematized, nor the word “define” or “definition” be used for an infallible papal teaching – only that the Pope is handing down a certain, decisive judgment for the whole Church, that a point of doctrine on faith or morals is true and its contrary false. The words *ex cathedra *are never included.

Well said, Mintaka, and Abu, thanks for the handy references. :thumbsup:

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