Former Atheist Struggles with Catholic Morality


I would like to preface this with the statement that I accept all of the Church teachings:

I went through RCIA from 2014-2015 when I received the sacraments of initiation. But there are some vestiges of my old self that I can’t seem to shake.

  1. I lived most of my life as an atheist and some of my thought patterns and behaviors that have been conditioned in me through those many years I have some anxiety related issues that feel like betrayals to the faith: I feel uncomfortable praying out loud. I feel uncomfortable speaking openly about the faith - unless that is to challenge a misconception about or maligning of the Church by an ignorant party. I feel uncomfortable about saying grace in front of people at public meals.

  2. Masturbation and pornography. While I think I’ve made progress over the last few years I can only make it 2 or 3 weeks before I fall to temptation.

  3. Alcohol and drugs. I’ve lived with depression and anxiety for most of my life and I used to frequently self medicate. While I don’t do it nearly as often as I used to I still find myself falling to the temptation.

  4. I’ve always dealt with issues of anger and profane language. These things I haven’t made so much progress with. I’m quick to anger and I’ve been swearing like a sailor since I was a kid. It’s hard to break the habit.

  5. Prayer. I’m just plain terrible at it. Often I feel like I don’t even deserve to do it, like I’m profaning God.

How can I be this immoral and still claim to be Catholic? I know that we’re all sinners but to me this seems beyond the pale. I know I’m not the worst human being to have ever lived but it often feels like I’m one of the worst.


We are all on the journey of life and often we insist on making that journey more complicated than it needs to be. I have suffered from many of the “diseases” you’ve mentioned in your op and have been able to let go of most of those addictions. This takes time and patience and you have the rest of your life to practice. Nothing occurs overnight. You’ve behaved a certain way for a long time and since you were very young in some cases. Realize that and be gentle and forgiving of yourself.
As a catholic I believe you are taught that with god’s help and love you can overcome anything so start there. You are taking steps-the right steps. Don’t be discouraged as you backslide just start again where you are.
I continue to practice and backslide in some areas. Eventually we will both become the persons we believe we can be or at least we’ll know we tried instead of giving up.

 May you be filled with loving kindness. May you be well. May you be peaceful and at ease. May you be happy.


Hello and welcome home! I want to start by saying first, it’s ok and try to relax. These struggles you listed are all very common, and through the graces of God over time, with your continued movement/conversion to becoming closer to Christ they will resolve more and more. Masturbation, I won’t say it’s not a sin, and yes confession is the remedy when you fail, but it’s also INCREDIBLY common. I can attest personally that confession and the Eucharist works to help rid yourself of it but it is not overnight. “Cursing”, if you mean the usual “bad” words is not a sin really at all. Taking the Lord’s name in vain absolutely is, work to rid yourself of it. The other “dirty” words have a lot more to do with vestiges of Victorian English class prejudice than anything sinful, sure they’re impolite and its best to work to reaching a state of not using impolite language, but again do not beat yourself up. Prayer and such never comes easy for some, but just remember through all of this you are on a journey, one that takes a lifetime, and you are on it in part because you recognized that God is God, you are not, and that He LOVES you just as you were even at your worst time. He calls us out from our worst into life with Him because He truly, simply loves us. Don’t let discouragement and self-doubt rob you of the peace and joy that comes with that knowledge, especially not at this time of the season.

Hit confession if you need to, attend a good Christmas Eve mass, and just let the wonder of this Advent and Christmas season fill your heart. A merry Christmas to you!


I would encourage you to get some professional help for the anxiety and depression, because it might also be fueling your feelings of unworthiness and self-loathing over your struggles.

Everyone struggles with sins, and you sound like you are making progress in all areas of your life. Baptism definitely imparts grace and infuses our soul with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, but it doesn’t magically make us change our personality and longtime habits.

You’ve been Catholic for a little over a year. I’ve been Christian my whole life and Catholic for 24 years. I still fall. I still struggle. My prayer life still needs some oxygen now and then, or most of the time! It takes time. You will continue to build new habits. You will continue to grow in holiness. That’s what virtue is-- the habit of doing good.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. You are doing the right thing when you do fall-- going to confession and starting again.


It is not beyond pale, nor do your prayers profane God. Set aside some time to pray each day, and do it no matter how you feel. Five minutes a day is probably a good place to start. If no words come to mind, say an Our Father, Hail Mary, and a Glory Be. Or do a decade of the Rosary or of the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Or even just the Jesus Prayer (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner). Sometimes, when I feel I have nothing to say, reciting a known prayer is like a key to allowing me to pray in my own words. But I digress, don’t overthink it. And if no additional words come, that’s okay. I think a simple five minutes a day of prayer is very important, and however you pray will be great.

As for stumbling, I think the only thing to fear is giving up and despairing of God’s mercy. It’ll trap you in a loop of defeat. God knows you are not perfect, but He desires to make you so, in this life or the next. All He asks is that you turn to Him. If you fall, make use of Confession, and frequent the sacraments. So long as you strive for Christ, He will embrace you, no matter how much you fall.

You may wish to speak to a confessor/priest about feelings of unworthiness. He may be able to provide good, pastoral guidance.


I heard Bishop Robert Barron explain it like this: If there is dust and smudges on your eye glasses, you won’t notice it if you’re in a dark room, but when you turn towards light, you are immediately aware of all the imperfections. Imagine that your glasses are your soul, and a Christian is someone who has turned towards the light.

You may be repulsed by the imperfections, but the good new is that Jesus is there to wipe your glasses for you! It’s not a guarantee that they wont be smudged again, but Jesus never tires of doing the cleaning. Just keep asking.


Also, ask our Blessed Mother to pray for you. She is the magnificent gift her Son gave to us at the foot of the cross.


Also, ask our Blessed Mother to pray for you. She is the magnificent gift her Son gave to us at the foot of the cross.


  1. this will come over time. many cahtolics struggle with this kind of stuff

  2. you should think about getting professional help with this, it has likely become an addiction for you. or set up proper filters and blockers on your computer and phone so that when you are tempted, it is harder to acess the stuff

  3. again, there are many good professional programs and therapies

  4. maybe set up a swear jar and every time you say a bad word, put a certain amount of money in it and donate it to charity after a month or so. see if that works.

  5. we all need to work on prayer, don’t fall in to the sin of despair. God think you are worth dying for


It can’t be said enough, prayer is very important, and really the only way of over coming this and all sin and the memory and consequent imaginations of sin caused by those memories. We come before God acknowledging who He is and who we are. We have to acknowledge how helpless we are when we try to repair the damage we have done to our soul through sin and know that it is impossible for us to heal ourselves. They are like thorns in out hearts and God wants to heal us of these things, and all things are possible for God. We need to ask him and to continue to ask him.

As much as you are able at this time reject these thoughts and temptations and let God do the rest. He will strengthen you!.

Create in me a pure heart oh Lord.


You are on the right track! Ike is correct though; you could benefit from some professional counseling. Get in touch with Catholic Charities in your diocese and ask them to recommend a good Catholic therapist.


I personally had a very hard time the first 3 years in the Church as a convert. Though it was a culmination of a lifetime of abuse and bad choices which eventually brought me to the doorstep of the Church, I still had the buildup of the consequences of all of that to deal with. And in light of teachings and sacraments of the Church, all of the painful things were brought so much more into the light to the point that it brought on a lot of despair. I struggled too, much with what you listed. I got into immorality with more women as a Catholic than prior to my conversion. We as people are more fragile than we realize and need a very patient Great Physician to heal us. Sometimes my worst relapses would be when I was trying so hard to be the perfect Catholic. I’m planning on next Lent doing a very light Lent; last Lent I planned very harsh practices and ended up in a huge crisis of faith. Removing all forms of comfort and distraction brought so much pain to light that I wasn’t ready to face all at once and be able to handle.


I think you’re doing great. Even posting all that stuff shows a real desire to grow. Just keep going to confession with a sincere and contrite heart. ***Jesus NEVER tires of forgiving us! *** Never ever ever. Don’t let the evil one discourage you. He temps us in this way:
*]Before we sin, he tells us that the sin is not that bad.
*]After we have done the sin, he tries to condemn us for doing it.
You see the trick he plays? Don’t fall for it. He lies on both counts. Just go to confession each time. You can go to different parishes and kneel behind the screen. Just do it and don’t be afraid to go over and over and over if you need to! God will meet you and the sacrament will help you when you repent with sincerity and humility.

And yes you are a Catholic! You’ve had your initiation sacraments, and are doing a good job going to confession! Goodness yes. Don’t even go there.

Regarding prayer:

*]Do you have a Catholic prayer book? I’ve found them very helpful. You don’t have to make up your own prayers. Just pray what somebody else has already written.
*]Remember that mass is a prayer. So pray along with the mass when you go.
You have come a very long way in a short time. Be gentle with yourself, and always remember that He never tires of forgiving us.

I will pray for you. Have a blessed and peaceful Christmas! :thumbsup:



I appreciate the kind and wise words. I remember talking to my mother, a non-Catholic, about my experience at confession one day where the priest heard my first sin, we talked about it, and he told me to make an Act of Contrition before I could finish my confession (something I plan on doing today) and when she asked me why I didn’t insist that the priest to listen to my other sins I told her that I was so taken aback I said the Act of Contrition and walked out but and that I had to trust in the mercy of God until my next confession - it only just dawned on me that while sacramentally I may be in the wrong - I don’t know - but I realized that God’s mercy is infinite. I think your words helped a great deal, people of Catholic Answers Forum.

Merry Christmas, and God bless you. It feels like I’ve been given a gift.


Remember that God called you to be a member of Christ’s body knowing full well every sin that you would ever commit and every struggle that you would encounter. You are not surprising Him and still He sought you and rejoices in YOU, broken and weak. I would recommend not giving up with prayer as this will move you closer to God who continues to wait for you. Read the story of the Prodigal Son in Luke 's gospel. (Luke 15:11-32)


I would like to comment on your choice of title for this thread. If we perceive church teachings as “Catholic morality” it eases the path to dissent. After all, if Catholic doctrines are really nothing more than the accumulated opinions and judgments of her teachers (great as they may be), it may be valid to believe they got this or that point wrong.

The church does not see herself as having invented her doctrines, but as correctly setting forth God’s law.*The knowledge which the Church offers to man has its origin not in any speculation of her own, however sublime, but in the word of God which she has received in faith. (Fides et Ratio #7)

As Teacher, she never tires of proclaiming the moral norm…The Church is in no way the author or the arbiter of this norm. (Veritatis Splendor #95)

…the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ. *(Dei Verbum #10)
If you can accept what the church says about herself then you can accept that her doctrines are not actually hers, but God’s.



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