From a Catholic perspective, which is the lesser evil?

Let’s say a member of the Catholic Church doesn’t believe certain Church teachings. But let’s say the reason for unbelief is not because of a rebellious spirit (ie. the person isn’t seeking birth control or some other sin or the person isn’t looking to be entertained at a so-called lively Protestant church service). Let’s say the Catholic person is sincerely feeling led by God to a more Sola Scriptura belief system and that person no longer believes in some doctrines.

Which is the lesser evil from the Catholic perspective:

(a) the Catholic person leaves the Catholic Church and becomes a Protestant;

(b) the Catholic person remains in the Catholic Church but still doesn’t believe certain Church doctrine?

I’m curious about the answer because I suspect the person is condemned either way. From a Catholic perspective, isn’t it true that Muslims and Hindus, etc. might have some hope of entering Heaven but a person who leaves the Catholic Church is anathema and condemned? At the same time, isn’t it also true that if a Catholic doesn’t agree with all Church doctrine, then he or she no longer in communion with the Catholic Church and is thus condemned?

What on earth would a person do in this situation? I’m sort of asking hypothetically because I would think anyone who leaves the Catholic Church isn’t too worried about being anathema since he or she doesn’t believe certain doctrines anyway. And there are tons of people in the Catholic Church that pick and choose their beliefs (I’m not endorsing or condemning this practice, I’m just pointing out that “cafeteria Catholics” do exist) and they would technically not be in communion, yet they don’t seem too worried.

This is a difficult question to which we have no real answers. You are really questioning God’s judgment of an individual soul, which with our punitive minds cannot begin to grasp. Personally, I think it would be easier for someone to stay despite their objection. The sacraments have a great power and can soften even the hardest of hearts. I also don’t think every Catholic who leaves to Protestantism is condemned. It depends on their knowledge of what they are doing.

In hypothetical questions like this, we can only give hypothetical answers. I think, ultimately, it is all in a person conscience. In principle it is lying to oneself if one is doing things that one does not believe in. I think it is no different in the Catholic Church. If one does not believe in her, the only logical move is for the person to go to a place that he/she believes in.

However, in reality it is not always that clear cut. It really depends on the nature of that disbelief. Often times it happens that the particular Catholic simply does not fully understand the concept that she does not believe, or there are those who would take many of Catholic teachings lightly and as a result do not really practicing. For such people, leaving is not the answer but to look for the Church for more understanding in matter pertaining in faith and the Church is always in compassion for such cases.

No. Nobody is condemned. The Catholic Church does not condemn as we do not know who are condemned and who are not. Only the Lord knows. Even if a person leaves the Church today we still do not know what happen tomorrow.

Again the answer is no. Condemned is not the right word. If the disbelief is in his/her heart but does not show it in his/her action, we would never know that he/she is a disbelieving person of which whether he/she is still in the Church or not does not figure much. But if that person makes the disbelief known and live in sin according to the disbelief, in certain case especially if that person holds some office in the Church like clergy or religious, he/she may be excommunicated – a situation outside the Church where he/she can have a time of examination and repentance on his/her own. The door for returning to the Church is not closed.

My advice would be is to seek knowledge and wisdom of what the Catholic Church really is and why the disbelief. Look at the Church with a paradigm shift. It is a Church that Jesus has started since two thousand years ago and is still standing strong today. That much one can ponder on. As Christians we are to be submissive to the authority above us. We see their authority over us as a gift of shepherdship and teachings from Jesus for our spiritual well being. Therefore we take a disposition of love toward them and learn to understand them of which there are plenty of avenues for that within the Church.

Many such ‘cafeteria Catholics’ after undergoing better catechizing or attending certain seminars and courses within the Church have become believing ardent Catholics. So the problem is usually in oneself that has not been sort out and not the Church.


In principle, that’s basically true. I doubt it’s true in practice though. In the modern age I really doubt that there are more than a tiny number of people who have not heard that the Catholic Church claims to be founded by God and is the sole means of salvation. If you’ve heard it, you’re not ignorant, and if you’re not ignorant, you’re not invincibly ignorant!

Yep, for the very reason I mentioned in my last sentence above.

I’m reminded of a story of a journalist who asked a bishop of the Orthodox Church if he thought it was possible that God saved all men. The bishop’s reply was a very gruff “Mind your own business” (the fate of eternal souls being God’s ultimate concern, not man’s). Words to live by here!

God does not lead to division. The Holy Spirit is the great Unifier. If you are feeling lead away, it is not of God and could be a spiritual attack. If you could actually see the spirit that is behind all such things, you would flee to the Tabernacle for protection. But, we cannot see them, so we are called to test the invisible spirits to see if they are of God 1 John 4:1. This test is easy: when you are lead to unity in Christ and humble submission, it is always the Holy Spirit. When you are “feeling” lead to division, it is some other spirit - a spirit of this earth - a spirit which appeals to your emotions. Just as we must cooperate with God’s grace as given by the Holy Spirit, so also we must not cooperate with other spirits.

It is written that for those who were given much, much is also expected of them. A catholic has been given the gift of the truth of the Catholic Church. So much is expected of you more so than others.

I would like to recommend to you the story of Catherine of Sienna…she was a church reformer prior to Luther. Her cries for reform were ignored by the Pope, cardinals, bishops…but she remained steadfast and did not diminish in her trust in God. Her writings are contained in a book called Dialogue.

I think a catholic with doubts can do the same…continue working on one’s doubts…trusting that with God’s help…you will eventually overcome your doubts…and not take communion in the meantime. Or you can leave His Church entirely.

Anyway…ponder on this passage too:

1 Samuel 15:22-23
22 But Samuel replied:
“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
he has rejected you as king.”

I would hope any Catholic would speak to a priest before leaving the Church. Perhaps expressing their specific doubts regarding specifict doctrines/disciples could be answered by the priest and further resources, such as books, given.

Peace in Christ,

no salvation outside the Church. This however isn’t as harsh as it may seem (probably)
Firstly, this means you NEED to be baptized. BUT, the Church teaches that there is

  1. Sacramental baptism (with water, according to the proper form)
  2. Baptism of desire (if a person wants to live correctly and to not turn against God, etc)
  3. baptism of fire (think the Holy Innocents.)

so really, it’s up to God to decide if people meet these criteria.

I’d give the choices about equal billing…Can’t see one being much worse than the other.
If I have to pick one as worse…I’d have to say “a” would be worse.
The one who goes to a protestant communion is less likely to learn more deeply about their Catholic faith. Plus they will be losing many graces available through the Sacraments.
The one who stays in the the Church, and continues to study, is more likely to come into agreement with the teachings they had problems with in the past.

Of course it will depend somewhat on what specific teachings the person is having problems with…The one thing you mention is Sola Scriptura…and the fact is that if one really looks at Scripture correctly they will find that it points directly to the Church and her authority to teach.
This is something that the errant Catholic will never be exposed to in a protestant communion…

All that said…The Catechism speaks strongly to the matter of conscience. It speaks not only to the freedom of the conscience, but also to the responsibility connected therein…The necessity of developing a “Well Formed Conscience” is paramount.
So while there is a freedom that must be recognized and respected…and thus we cannot really say “that person is damned”…there is also a responsibility connected to that freedom that mus never be taken lightly.


To answer, one must first understand that being a catholic in full communion with the church does NOT mean that one harbours no doubts whatsoever about every single Catholic teaching out there. A good Catholic in full communion with the church does not have to BELIEVE all catholic teachings wholeheartedly. HOWEVER, they must SUBMIT to all Catholic teachings.

To wit, one must follow their own properly formed conscience, but where the conscience disagrees with what is divinely revealed by the church, they are to recognize the need for a review of the formation of the conscience. So I would expect such a person to remain in the church, to not preach sola scriptura or otherwise contradict the church, and to privately research their position to understand what the church teaches and why. Ultimately, if the church is right about sola scriptura being a false doctrine, then they will arrive at that conclusion given proper research.

So, bottom line, the person who leaves the church is an apostate and in grave danger of cutting themselves off from grace. The person who privately struggles with doubts and works them out within the church incurs no sin whatsoever.

Excellent response…:thumbsup:


They are both Protestant and have rejected Church teaching to one degree or another. Being a Catholic necessitates believing all that Holy Mother Church holds true.

I don’t believe that one could ultimately stay with a church that he or she believes is wrong so I’m not entirely sure that I believe example “B” is an option. At least for those who are serious about their faith.

I have already discussed with you the reasons why I left so I won’t bore or anger you with repeating all of them.

However, one of the reasons why I left is due to a subject seems to be keeping you in. That is the subject of the Eucharist. In fact, the subjects of the Eucharist and Scriptural authority are probably the two subjects that keep most that question in the RCC and as it should. Those who believe in transubstantiation and or the fullness of Scripture that is based on multiple authorities have nowhere else to go. The RCC is alone in these very important theological points.

In regards to the Eucharist, when we read chapter 6 in the Gospel of John, we read the argumentation of transubstantiation. I have to admit it is very easy to come to the conclusion that Jesus is being literal in this chapter. However, I would ask you to first take a look at the many, many examples throughout the Old and New Testaments that compare the Word of God as being food for the Spirit. These verses are not separate.

Additionally, John also compares the flesh of Jesus as the Word in John Chapter 1. When you read John chapter 6, try reading it by thinking of Jesus as the Word that became flesh. I believe you will start seeing the true meaning behind this passage.

I can go on… Please also take a look at Jesus’ statements, such as “For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed” (John 6:55). This may sound confusing to some and many may want to take it literally, but again, look at this statement in the context of what John wrote in the beginning of his gospel. It may prove fruitful.

Also, Jesus tells the people that the physical manna that came from heaven was, surprisingly, not of God but from Moses and those that had eaten of the manna are dead. Jesus is speaking of the importance of spiritual as opposed to physical food. The Israelites complained and sought for physical food and they got it, however they didn’t care about spiritual food. Because of this, their lack of faith caused them to die without going into the promised land. This is one of many Old Testament pictures that can help us look at the Eucharist.

I could go on but I will finish by saying that the end of Jesus’ controversial conversation is probably the most important in that Jesus clears up in John 6:63 any doubt to what He is talking about. Disciples were leaving after Jesus had told them these things. He described Himself as the bread which came down from heaven and if you eat of Me you will have eternal life. However, many people were thinking that he was talking about the literal consummation of His actual flesh. Many could not handle this. On the other hand, the RCC church today embraces this thinking and believes that the Eucharist is transubstantiated into the actual body (flesh) of Christ. However, Jesus clears up these things by finally stating that “It is the Spirit who gives life: the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63 NKJV). It’s the Word, it’s the Word, it’s the Word, it’s the Word, it’s the Word.

This is just some of the examples about how we should view communion. I would like to go on but this comment is way too long and dangerously off topic so I must digress. God Bless!

There is no contradiction between Jn 6:55 and Jn 6:63. In fact it points to the Eucharist for it is the Spirit that changes the bread and the wine, during the consecration of the mass, to body and blood of Jesus to give life. And it is certainly not only that the RCC today embraced this. I has been embraced since the apostles.

As for those who left because they felt it was hard teaching, the Bible tells us that it were those who were left behind with Jesus that became the true believers. Jesus never did rescind the teaching that his body is real food indeed. The word says so. It is the word, the word, the word, the word.

Sure. One would be lying to oneself to stay in a religion that one does not believe in. Having said that there are many ‘cafeteria Catholics’ who do not care that much about those disbelief, perhaps that’s why they are ‘cafeteria’, and still be Catholics. These need better understanding about their faith. They can do that by learning the truth about their faith from the Church and become better catechized.

No offense taken. You are merely saying what you believe in and so are we.:thumbsup:


In the scenario you propose, not only would it not be a sin to leave the Church, it would be a mortal sin to remain in it. Protestantism is false, but, as St. Thomas explains, we are obliged under pain of sin to follow our conscience, no matter how false it is.

Question 17, Conscience, article 4:

“[O]ne who has a false conscience, whether in things intrinsically evil or in anything at all, believes that what is opposed to his conscience is contrary to the law of God. Therefore, if he decides to do that, he decides to act contrary to the law of God, and, so, he sins. Consequently, conscience, no matter how false it is, obliges under pain of sin.”

“According to Damascene: “Conscience is the law of our understanding.” But to act contrary to a law is a sin. Therefore, it is also a sin to act against conscience in any way.”

“[C]onscience is said to bind in so far as one sins if he does not follow his conscience, but not in the sense that he acts correctly if he does follow it.”

“Moreover, it does not seem possible for a man to avoid sin if his conscience, no matter how mistaken, declares that something which is indifferent or intrinsically evil is a command of God, and with such a conscience he decides to do the opposite. For, as far as he can, he has by this very fact decided not to observe the law of God. Consequently, he sins mortally. Accordingly, although such a false conscience can be changed, nevertheless, as long as it remains, it is binding, since one who acts against it necessarily commits a sin.”

“However, a correct conscience and a false conscience bind in different ways. The correct conscience binds absolutely and for an intrinsic reason; the false binds in a qualified way and for an extrinsic reason.”

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