Catholicism on tolerance and a family problem



I am writing here to seek a possible solution within the doctrines of Catholicism to a very grave problem in my family. I’ll give the short version and forgive me if this is the wrong forum (it seems to discuss doctrine though).

I come from a traditionally Catholic family, only a few actual Catholics remain, but baptism of newborns is still a tradition held. I have never been Catholic and converted in my teens to another religion (about ten years ago). Recently, my aunt became aware of my conversion and has been aggressively harrassing me about it. She believes baptism permenantly makes me Catholic whether I believe or not. She has not particularly bothered the non-religious in our family but has targetted me for, I believe, my non-Christian religious beliefs

I have been discussing this problem with Catholics and I was pointed to several places, finally here and to this document ( as a statement of the Church’s support for my religious freedom. My aunt eventually countered with points 1739 and 1740, claiming that my freedom is limited and fallible and I’ve deviated from moral law by rejecting Jesus (in her language, I never rejected Christianity as I never accepted it).

I want to leave aside how all of this, both her behaviour and the resources I’ve uncovered, has made me feel about Catholicism, I’m here to ask, for the sake of my family’s stability, is there any Catholic catechism or statement that either expressly denies any Church authority over my person despite the baptism or my right to be free of these repeatedly and often aggressive attempts at conversion? Our family, if it came down to out and out conflict, would take my side, but if I can resolve this peacefully via some doctrine of the Church, I would prefer that.

Thank you.


The document, Dignitatis Humanae, of the Second Vatican Council support religious freedom. And yes, according to Church teaching, you are forever Catholic by your baptism. You cannot change that.

Points 1739 and 1740 point out that freedom is not unlimited. So, not all beliefs can be tolerated. But, this is only in extreme cases. If, for example, the religion advocated the extermination of all black people, obviously, we should limit the practice of that religion. If these points were referring to rejecting Jesus, then there was no point in issuing the document.

I highly doubt you converted to a religion that advocates something other than peace.

Your aunt should not be discriminating against you because of your religious beliefs. She should be praying for you, instead.



She is correct. You, if baptized a Catholic, are always a Catholic and the Church does indeed have authority over you.

Authentic freedom is not the freedom to do “whatever you want”. Authentic freedom is freedom to do the good.

That is too bad. While she is certainly right, she is not being prudent by her aggressive posture and by bringing dissent and discord into familiy relationships.


God, our Creator, has ultimate authority over all of us be the mere fact that He created us from nothing in order for us to share His love and bring us eternal happiness. It seems to me that you are having Catholic doctrine and ideas held over you like a club. God respects your free will. He wants to share His love with you in such a way that you freely accept it. Yes, you are baptized and by virtue of that baptism you are a member of God’s family. God is your Father, Jesus, your redeemer, and the Holy Spirit,your sanctifier. Because of the choice of your family members, you are part of our family, along with all baptized Christian who were baptized in the Name of the Blessed Trinity. Now as an adult you have the opportunity to take a deeper look at this relationship. Right now, it sounds like you are exploring that relationship in another Church. You are free to do so. My hope and prayer is that you will keep God’s unconditional love for you at the center of your life, constantly growing closer to God is the mystery of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May you be at peace.


Tell her that you do not want to talk about this unless she behaves respectfully and is willing to politely discuss your beliefs. Tell her that even if you are wrong her actions show disrespect towards your choices and thoughts as an adult. Then enforce it - walk away if she doesn’t follow the rules.


It’s not so easy. If it was a friend, I believe I could do that as ultimately they would be putting our friendship in jeopardy. If it was a co-worker then there would be formal and legal procedures that would protect me from harrassment. She’s a family member, it’s far more complex to avoid someone who continually attends the same family events, socialises with a lot of the same people and remains relentless when things like being kicked out of the house by my grandmother once when we both there because of her attitude problem.

All said and done, I don’t want her to discuss religion with me anymore, politely or otherwise. I want her to simply drop the subject. When she started talking to me, I think she felt concerned more than angry. I was happy to talk a little at first, it seemed more intellectual sparring, but it descended into this horrid situation when she became more frustrated at the fact she wasn’t gaining ground.

I’ve said I want to leave out how all this, the things I have discovered about Catholicism as well as her behaviour, has affected my attitude to Catholicism, but I don’t think it’s a huge leap for anyone here to fill in a lot of those blanks, especially with statements like 1ke’s being so frequent. When all this is over, my study of and interaction with Christianity (and especially Catholicism) completely and permenantly ends. My reasons why and my feeling about Christianity, no matter how obvious they must be to some, are best left unspoken here.

I’m here, if she is truly too far gone into all this to work to repair our personal relationship, to prevent her from doing something that is having a deepening effect on her relationships with us all. I’m not here to build apologetics, I don’t need them, I’m here to find a way to prevent a family member hurting herself emotionally as well as others. If she closes the door on our relationship, I cannot but respect that, but I’ll not lock the door either. I hear so many mixed messages from within your religion, both from individuals and sources such as the Catholic Encyclopedia and the Church itself, but I must remain true to the principles of my faith which does clearly and with no ambiguity teach me to approach this situation with reason and virtue.

But I thank those of you who have offered help or support, especially presenting the Dignitatis Humanae. Maybe I am approaching this incorrectly by trying to find support from within Catholic teaching, but I have to try anything to end this nightmare for my family.


She is correct, when you were baptized you received a spiritual mark from God which nothing can take away, not even open apostasy (i.e. converting to a non-christian faith). One is free to seek the truth of God in their own way yes, but we are bound and judged by the truth that we have received. I don’t want to sound unduly harsh, but there is no other way to say this. When one decideds to apostatize from one faith and go to another you must be fully convinced the former faith is false. The reason why is because there is typically consequence for doing such things, spiritually that is (on earth we can debate tact). If Christianity is correct, then leaving it is a terrible choice.

So this leads into another question, what faith have you now accepted. On what basis do you accept it as true as compared to the Christian faith, especially the Catholic Christian faith.


I will not lower myself to this, I am not here to discuss anything but the situation I’ve described and its solutions. I’ve kept my feelings and views about Catholicism to myself to be as respectful as possible even in the face some horrid comments. It would be vicious and hypocritical to feel the way I do then launch vitirol here, where Catholics have come to discuss their own faith in peace, even if there are attempts to goad me, even if only for the Catholics who have been helpful and respectful in return.

If this is not enough, think of it like this: you are not helping me defend my faith against Catholicism, that is unncessary, think of it as you are helping me find something in Catholic doctrine to prevent one of your fellows doing something that may ruin her life for a long time. Is that not enough?


I understand your frustration. You don’t want to be preached at, you just want a simple answer, yes? :slight_smile:

Whether or not your aunt is technically correct is not really the issue, as I see it. It’s her behavior, yes? No matter what she believes or you believe, she is crossing boundaries she shouldn’t. It sounds like she has a real problem with this, so much so that your grandmother had to ask her to leave her house on one occasion. So, I don’t believe reasoning with her will work. Therefore you have to put your foot down with her and tell her point blank that you will no longer discuss the subject with her and then, as someone else suggested, you walk away. This may cause some temporary ripples in the family, but in the long run it will stop her badgering you. You may want to let your family know in advance that you intend to tell her once and for all to leave you alone, just so they are prepared for the fall out. :slight_smile:

It would be one thing if you had asked her opinion or asked for clarification on some theological point, but to continually hound you is not right nor condoned by the Church. If and when we are to offer correction to a fellow Catholic we are to do it with agape love, which is not easy nor to be done lightly. You aunt is not doing this, she is using you as her whipping boy for her own frustrations–I think that is apparent. This is so unfortunate for you both. Really, this has nothing to do with Catholic teaching and everything to do with your aunt’s inability to control her need to bully others. She needs professional help, IMHO. Anyway, don’t let her do this to you, even if you have to be socially “rude” about it. She needs to stop this and only you can set the boundaries with her. All the best to you and your family.


I would encourage you to stick around these forums, whether or not this issue is resolved, and we can talk about your beliefs to give us some perspective on the lives of others and to keep the dialogue open. This is the best way to come to understand each other.


Religion and politics two things that probably cause most passion in people when having discussions. I have had to say to friends “I’m not going to change your opinion and your not going to change my opinion. We are not getting anywhere with this discussion and I won’t discuss it anymore.” I won’t say it completely stopped the discussions but they don’t get nearly as heated anymore. Just my two-cents worth.

On her side I would hope she realizes prayer might be more helpful at this time.


Believe me, I have lived with this behavior. My own mother treats me this way over my faith. There are no magic words that will make a person acting like this see reason. The only thing that works is to stop the discussion whenever it starts to get out of hand. You’re not closing the door - she is. All you are doing is setting boundaries that need to be respected; if you can’t get those there will be no true relationship.

It it proper and reasonable to avoid an unreasonable discussion. Catholicism teaches respect for the individual. Tell her that she is being disrespectful and you aren’t going to help her go against her own faith! (Ok probably not that last one.) Plus this has the added benefit that if you are quietly and calmly saying “I will not be harassed,” it looks much better on you to the rest of the family.


I realize what you were getting at and like I said I’m not trying to be unduly harsh. I don’t like to go out and attack people for their beliefs, but I do also strongly believe and accept the Christian faith as presented by the Catholic faith to be true. As such, I have relatively limited options in the context of Catholic doctrine to help you with what you specifically want.

You can’t use the doctrine of free religion to do what you want, because the faith doesn’t pretend to accept that all faiths are equal and that we’re just on different paths. That idea has formally been rejected and been called the heresy of indifferentism.

The best help I can offer you for your purposes is this, your aunt could in the name of charity have better tact. I agree with this position. But I do suggest you stick around these forums, I even encourage you to challenge Catholics (tactfully) when you have points of disagreement and I certainly pray faithful catholics will return the same charity back.



Rinse and repeat as needed.


Thank you. I’ve been talking about this to my family, as you suggested and they think that I do need to push back a bit. My grandmother does not believe herself that any Catholic doctrine will dissuade unless it clearly states my aunt should not act this way with no ifs or buts. Given that there are people here and elsewhere who, despite what’s been said, have asserted the Church has authority over me and can limit my freedoms (as well as documents like this whose contents seem to reserve a lot of power for the Church over my rights) I cannot realistically expect my aunt to change her course with any claims of my rights. I’ll try what my grandmother suggests and meet her at my grandmother’s house, with a few others there.


Well, while the Church considers you a member of the Body of Christ due to your baptism (confirmation, as well?), this does not limit your freedom to decide to leave the Church. That’s up to you. No one can make you believe/practice any religion. It’s a matter of canon law that you are a Catholic not of your rights as an individual, you see.

Even if you were to go to another Christian ecclesial body of believers, your baptism, as does theirs, would still mean you are joined to the Church, if imperfectly. All who are baptized with the Trinitarian rite of baptism intending what the Church intends by baptizing, are imperfectly joined members of the Church even if they are not Catholics. This is because Christ founded one Church, one body, one baptism. Baptism leaves an indelible mark on the soul that no one can erase. This is meant to be a help to us, not hinder us in our freedoms. :slight_smile:

If you want to convince your aunt you need a priest to tell her that her hounding you is not the right thing to do. One can be canonically right and still be wrong in the way one does something. She is never going to convince you to return to the Catholic faith by badgering you. But I don’t think she told her priest that’s what she’s been doing. People often tell their priest only their side of the story, and often on the run, so he doesn’t get the full picture. So, your family should contact him to let him know what is going on so he can add his voice to yours.

All the best to you. Please forgive my presumption, but if you are leaving over social issues or don’t fully understand Church teachings, I urge you to read what the Church teaches and ask some pertinent questions of the right people before leaving. I only say this so you won’t leave thinking the worst, and then have to work your way back years later. Many on CAF have done that and they all say they wished they’d had a better understanding of the faith they were baptized into before leaving. It would have saved them many years of frustration. Anyway, I hope and pray for your complete happiness. God bless you and your family.


You talk of freedoms and it depends on what you consider Freedoms. The teaching of God through the Catholic Church are true freedoms. They represend a loving heavenly Father who has given us the guidlines to live a happy and free life. The first is to put Him first in your life. When you love God above all else, the rest is easy to follow.
You are confusing freedom with the free will that God has given you. The free will allows you to turn from God and His teaching, even turning to other faiths that do not contain the fullness of His message.
You Aunt is correct, once Catholic always Catholic, but if you don’t follow the teaching’s of the church you are cutting yourself off and as such cannot participate in the sacramental life of the Church. Often Catholics who have gone thier own direction are upset to find out that they are not allowed to be godparents in for a catholic baptism, or a confimation sponser. Most often they find that they are outsiders when in comes to funerals or weddings and they cannot recieve the Eucharist. If you marry outside the church it considers your marriage invalid. Non of this effects your “religious freedom” unless you to be part of the Church.
Your aunt is correct in another matter. She is working to evangelize you and as a Catholic she is called to do so. He concern comes ot of a love for you, not out of condemnation. She understands that all faiths are not equal, that only the Catholic Church contains the fullness of God’s message, and that is what it seems she wants for you.

Deacon Frank


All this is true, but I still maintain that the aunt is out of line in the way she is pursuing her concerns about her nephew. There’s a right way and a wrong way to correct others/evangelize. From his reaction, it’s clear she has chosen to use badgering, which never really works and is an infringement on his personal liberty. He has to decide to remain in the Church or not. No one can force him to do so. :slight_smile:


I can’t assume that it is badgering, or that she is some how evangelizing in wrong. If she where to hog tie him and drag him to church, that would be considered an infridgement on his personal liberty. Otherwise she is expressing her religious freedom to preach to him. It sounds as though he does not what to hear the message given.
We don’t know what other dinamic exist in this relationship. We are hearing his side of the story that he doesn’t want to be bothered by his aunt. She may have some very grave concerns about him and her “badgering” is for his own good.


The lady has been so persistent and annoying even his grandmother had to ask the aunt to leave her home. Sounds more like she’s got a problem with personal boundaries than mere concern. He wrote that she corners him at every family gathering to preach at him. I wouldn’t want a family member doing that to me, either. I agree that her intentions may be the best, but her methods certainly aren’t making a change for the better. So, it would best, even if she isn’t being as annoying as he says–it’s his impression of the situation that matters, IMHO, if she dropped the topic for now and simply prayed for him. :slight_smile:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit