Struggling with Catholicism

I am a convert and I feel like I am struggling with my Catholicism.

I know why I converted, I know all about the Church being one, holy, Catholic and apostolic and being passed down from the apostles and all that jazz, and why I don’t believe in Bible alone, etc.

The thing I struggle with is inconsistency in the Catholic Church.

I feel like when I have to answer people’s objections to what the Catholic Church has done in history I am having to nitpick, backflip, and reason around reality rather than face it. The whole argument that the pope is only infallible on matters of faith and morals seems to kind of be a way of excusing everything that the church has ever done wrong. I start to feel like I am making excuses for the Church instead of actually defending it.

One example is the issue of slavery. I remember hearing someone argue that the Catholic Church once permitted human slavery. I turned to the apologists who vehemently disagreed and proudly declared that the Catholic Church had always opposed slavery. When I did actual research, I found that in fact while there were individual Catholics who did indeed oppose slavery all the way throughout history, the actual Holy See was very wishy washy on the subject, and it was only with great reluctance that the Church gradually began to accept teachings that were somewhat in line with the modern view of slavery, all the while making sure to make moral provisions for those who still wanted to own slaves, saying for example that it’s OK to own slaves as long as you treat them well, and even going so far as to excommunicate abolitionists. Only when abolitionism was common belief did the Holy See actually come out and condemn slavery altogether. I guess my point on this matter is that it is not impressive to hear a Catholic to say that the Holy See has the teaching authority of the Holy Spirit when really it seems to change its teachings all the time and generally go with the flow of whatever happens to be popular at the time and whoever happens to have the most power. And it’s equally unimpressive to point out the fervor of the abolitionist Catholics such as Bartolomeo de las Casas, and argue that the work of the holy spirit is in the Catholic faithful as much as the Holy See, as this might as well be the argument of a Protestant against having a Holy See in the first place.

Inconsistency seems to be rampant in Catholic teaching. When I read what the Catholic Church taught in the year 1300, versus what it teaches in the year 2015, it’s like comparing two different religions. For example, just take the “extra ecclasium nulla salus” thing. In 1302 Pope Boniface’s papal bull Unam Sanctam declares the following:

“We are compelled in virtue of our faith to believe and maintain that there is only one holy Catholic Church, and that one is apostolic. This we firmly believe and profess without qualification. Outside this Church there is no salvation and no remission of sins, the Spouse in the Canticle proclaiming: ‘One is my dove, my perfect one. One is she of her mother, the chosen of her that bore her’ (Canticle of Canticles 6:8); which represents the one mystical body whose head is Christ, of Christ indeed, as God. And in this, ‘one Lord, one faith, one baptism’ (Ephesians 4:5). Certainly Noah had one ark at the time of the flood, prefiguring one Church which perfect to one cubit having one ruler and guide, namely Noah, outside of which we read all living things were destroyed… We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff”

Then in 1962 Vatican II writes this:

“But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Muslims, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.”

The intellectual backflips I have to do to reconcile this to people who have trouble understanding it…
The list goes on. There are so many inconsistencies. Not to mention legalisms. The Catholic Church is against birth control, I get that. I can understand that. But it supports NFP, which in all honesty is a form of birth control. It really seems sometimes like there is moral nitpicking involved in this.

Now at the same time my younger brother is an evangelical Protestant. He is in seminary. I know that his faith tradition is not rooted in history or tradition. But the difference between him and me is that his faith has actually made a difference in his life. He has a passion that I have never seen before. He really tries to live out the gospel. I strive to be a faithful Catholic and frequent the sacraments and follow the teaching authority of the Church. And I feel that I am lukewarm at best. Some days it is hard even to pray. I feel bogged down.

What are your thoughts?


Sorry to hear that you are struggling. But that is often a normal stage on our spiritual journey. Just accept this and move forward by keeping your eyes fixed on the cross.

Apologetics can be tough. One thing that you should keep in mind is that today people demand that all historical events must be assessed thorugh our modern eyes and meet our modern standards. Slavery used to be a globally accepted system. So was human sacrifice and a number of other dispicable things. God is always teaching us lessons and today we are more humane about some issue than were people in the past.

Look up development of doctrine. In essence it doesn’t change but we learn more and things are clarified along the way, to put it simply.

That is great that your brother is on fire for the Lord. But because you are rooted in the tradition and a part of the church that Jesus established you have an even better foundation for being a good Christian. But maybe you are just going through a difficult stage and are slowly moving towards that point of joy. I went through that and it seemed that it would never end. But it did.

Please don’t feel down and don’t lose hope. I will pray for you.

as a convert I can empathize with you in some ways.

what seminary is your brother in - what church does he belong to?

I still feel the Catholic Church was started by Jesus and holds the Truth.

Praying to the Holy Spirit to give you guidance & direction in your time of need.

My thoughts: It is understandable that we would want a perfect Church, with no apparent contradictions or times in history that we now consider scandalous, but that would require eliminating the human element in this relationship of God and man. It is understandable that we might want a static Church, one that never needs to reconsider her teachings, but this world and nothing in it is static. We are constantly on the move, whether we like it or not, and with motion comes change, not in the core of doctrine which is eternal truth, but in our understanding and implementation of these things, as the poster above pointed out.

The examples provided by the OP have all been acknowledged and explained many times over, perhaps not to the OP’s satisfaction or understanding, but they have been addressed (I’ve seen it done many times here at CAF and in the archives). But again, for me at least, the real stumbling block is a kind of perfectionism that is simply not possible when flawed humanity interacts with the divine. Accepting this, I have not found any other religion or derivative of Christianity that comes closer to getting it right than the Catholic Church, and maybe that’s the gift of faith.

Faith is a journey, my friend. Just as you understanding of the world has changed considerably from the time when you were three years old, 12, 20, 30 etc, each imperfect human individual goes through this same process. Your understanding of dogma, doctrine and teachings are also going thru a process of deeper understanding. Keep your eyes on Jesus Christ who came to earth and took on human flesh to be our Savior, our teacher and our high priest. He gathered the Apostles and spent years teaching them the will of the father and the way we are to accomplish it. None of the apostles were perfect and had moments of fear and doubt. Jesus left us His Church and prayed that we may all be one. The Lord has truly blessed you by giving you the gift of faith and led you to His church to be your guide. You went thru RCIA to begin to learn and understand the basic beliefs. however, your work must continue for the rest of your life. Faith is not static. Try reading some of the books written by people of great faith who felt called to protestant ministry like Scott Hahn, Marcus Grodi, Alan Hunt and watch EWTN’s program “The Journey Home”. Hearing the testimony of very learned men who ultimately came into the Catholic Church as their true home will help you at this time. May God bless you on your journey of faith.

He goes to Covenant theological seminary in St. Louis. He is a reformed Christian, which means he has Calvinist leanings. We were brought up reformed Presbyterian (PCA). I had left faith behind when I went to college, then began to rediscover it toward the end of my undergraduate studies and entered the Church when I was in grad school.

I have heard about the development of doctrine thing. The thing is, this isn’t very impressive in the light of secular reasoning. Secular humanists believe that morality is developed as we gain a greater understanding of how our actions affect those around us and also the world we live in. The Church, on the other hand, claims to have a special connection with the Holy Spirit and teach infallibly on matters of faith and morals. If, then, the Church changes its moral attitudes about things like slavery, then what does that say? Either the Holy Spirit changed its mind, or we weren’t listening very well. A secular humanist would probably argue that the clergy were simply influenced by modern morality, and came around albeit very slowly.

I am quite familiar with Scott Hahn, I have read his Rome Sweet Home book. I am also very familiar with the Journey Home. It used to be my favorite program. When I was first converting to Catholicism I used to listen to it on walks every evening. I listened to it a lot after debating with my dad over the phone about theology, and it would give me a sense of reassurance that I was making the right decision.

Hey man. I read you loud and clear. Fellow convert here. :wave:

K. Got that said.

Now here’s the thing.

You’re looking at the giant Sequoia that is the Church. And you’re sort of sawing through it a bit. And pointing out that when it was a mere sapling it wasn’t anywhere near as high. Or rooted. Or strong. Or straight. Or whatever.

Yeah. I get all that. I mean we always want things to be born full grown. Because our lives are so short. So temporary here on earth.

But the thing is that God really likes seeds. He really is a process oriented kind of guy.

I mean look at all of human history. People didn’t just land on their feet with all of the technical know-how we have today. In fact most would argue they didn’t land here first thing at all. But evolved after a really, really long time. So even with God wanting a personal relationship with mankind He was still willing to wait billions of years for that to happen. Or at least thousands. So is the fact that His Church takes a bit of jump-starting here and there really all that surprising? I mean God’s got an infinitude of time. I think He likes to stretch moral lessons back a pace. I think He likes to remind us that we’ve still got a lot to learn. By showing us how far we’ve come already.

That serves both to keep us humble. And to keep us alert.

We’re supposed to keep our heads up in this. We’re supposed to be able to grow. Christ only planted a seed that was to be His Church. He never lifted a single stone himself. He wanted this thing to grow. To develop. To discover itself. With guidance. And help. But not with straight up interference.

I mean it’s a lot like a parent watching a child learning to walk. There will be missteps. The kid will fall down. But each time it does it gets up a bit more cautious. It takes a bit more time to balance things the next step out. And I mean the parent’s still watching. But just has to let the kid learn on its own.

So with the Church we just have to recognize that it was meant to grow. To become something rooted and deep. Tall and majestic. But to have started from humble beginnings.

Because God even plunked His own son down like that. He even made His own son grow up from a helpless baby until the time for perfection was right. So it really should come as no huge surprise that He’d treat His Church the exact same way.

Peace CompSciGuy. Flaws can be found in even the greatest works of art with a big enough magnifying glass. This world isn’t about perfection. That’s what heaven’s for. This place is all about grading for effort. It’s the process that matters.


Indeed. The Church is a living and breathing organism. truth does not change. Doctrine does not change.
How people write on subjects of impact for the faithful can and always does.
Be at peace.
You don’t have to explain away anything.

Don’t forget the scandal caused by Peter (the First Pope) regarding the gentiles as recorded in Galatians. There is a big difference between “officially teaching” on faith and morals and living it or permitting something to the contrary. The issue of slavery is somewhat confusing primarily because many times what was called slavery in the past was much different from our modern understanding of it.

The issue of no salvation outside the Church is not all that difficult. Vatican II is not inventing a new interpretation to the Church’s teaching.
See also Romans 2:14-16

St. Augustine of Hippo: Letter to Deogratias (AD 408)
“Yet, from the beginning of the human race, sometimes obscurely and sometimes openly, He never ceased to prophesy. Before He appeared in the flesh there were men who believed in Him, from Adam to Moses, among the people of Israel, by divine ordinance the prophetic race, and among other peoples also. In the sacred books of the Hebrews there is mention of many from the time of Abraham who were not of Abraham’s stock nor of the Israelite nation and who were not joined by any kind of alliance to the people of Israel but who were participants in His worship. Why, then, should we not believe that betimes there were other men, here and there among other peoples, who worshipped Him, even if we find no mention of them in those same sacred books? The salvation which belongs to this religion, the only true religion through which alone true salvation is truthfully promised, was never wanting to anyone who was worthy of it.”


PIUS IX 1846-1878 (From the Encyclical, "Quanto conficiamur moerore” Aug. 10, 1863)
“And here, beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, We should mention again and censure a very grave error in which some Catholics are unhappily engaged, who believe that men living in error, and separated from the true faith and from Catholic unity, can attain eternal life. Indeed, this is certainly quite contrary to Catholic teaching. It is known to Us and to you that they who labor in invincible ignorance of our most holy religion and who, zealously keeping the natural law and its precepts engraved in the hearts of all by God, and being ready to obey God, live an honest and upright life, can, by the operating power of divine light and grace, attain eternal life, since God who clearly beholds, searches, and knows the minds, souls, thoughts, and habits of all men, because of His great goodness and mercy, will by no means suffer anyone to be punished with eternal torment who has not the guilt of deliberate sin. But, the Catholic dogma that no one can be saved outside the Catholic Church is well-known; and also that those who are obstinate toward the authority and definitions of the same Church, and who persistently separate themselves from the unity of the Church, and from the Roman Pontiff, the successor of PETER, to whom “the guardianship of the vine has been entrusted by the Savior,” cannot obtain eternal salvation. (Denzinger 1677)

I was bothered by a few things before becoming Catholic- the Unam Sanctam encyclical being one of them. I’m not a theologian so I don’t grasp all the explanations all the time. I can’t explain why certain things don’t bother me anymore. Faith journeys/ spiritual journeys are just hard for everyone- I think even in other religions. I will pray for you.

Very interesting.

I returned to the Catholic Church a few months ago after being a Presbyterian ministerial candidate. I’m still enrolled at Covenant Theological Seminary online- and their courses are solid. Since I’m practically starting from scratch, it’s difficult to transition into a Catholic seminary, since I have zero Catholic references. Most of my friends and acquaintances are from my previous 14 years of church life.

I counted the cost, though…

You’re not alone. I find theology & philosophy very hard to understand - I’ve no training in them. My theologically & philosophically trained husband tries to explain things to me - I end up more confused then ever.

It does seem that the Church has from time to time been controlled by lunatics. The need to explain everything to the point of making up stuff - limbo was the subject of a recent conversation. People in the Church were not comfortable saying “we don’t know” to the question of what happens to unbaptized babies. So someone made up limbo and for years & years Catholics were taught that unbaptized babies went to limbo. Never mind that it wasn’t a doctrine - it was taught as if it were.

Because of that - & a lot of other things - I’m very cautious now when people say something is Church teaching. Or excuse bad behavior by bringing in philosophy.

I stick to the basics - the Eucharist, confession, the rest of the sacraments. I don’t get into private revelations. If I like a particular prayer or devotion I use it - but I don’t necessarily believe the tales about the “apparitions.”

It’s hard to be a rational, pragmatic Catholic - but I think it would be even harder to be a rational, pragmatic Protestant. :wink:

That’s a good model to live by. :thumbsup:

Think about the logic of the Incarnation: God became man, giving us a visible sign of his presence. He left his presence visible on earth through the Church, which has a visible point of reference (unlike Protestants and Orthodox) in the Bishop of Rome.

I agree. There was a caller on Patrick Madrid’s radio program this morning that was obsessed with Fatima to the exclusion of all common sense and Catholic teachings. Newcomers to the Faith would be horribly confused by the various personal devotions that abound in our Church. Keeping to the basics is very much wonderful advice!:slight_smile:

Dear OP, your post brings up 4 different things it seems:

  1. You don’t like the inconsistencies that you see in the church and can’t defend them.
  2. You don’t like the position of the church on slavery in the past and what you see as flip flopping bothers you.
  3. The church seems no better than secular humanists who react to social changes to define their morality.
  4. Non-Catholics are more on fire for the Lord.

Since you are a new Catholic, don’t try to defend the Church. You need a lot more time to learn before you can do that. Otherwise, you may just end up spreading the same misinformation around that you don’t like.

Regarding slavery in the past, you need to realize that systems of economics and employment have changed over the years, but in all cases (including today) there were people who were legally and economically bound to be employed by others. Our systems for employment have become more moral over time but that only goes for people who are ‘citizens’. The US is currently addicted to cheap labor to provide for inexpensive food. We simultaneously want to think that we do NOT have slaves, while we also keep or immigration laws such that it allows us to exploit the undocumented workers for cheap labor. We are no better than the folks who had slaves in the past. Secular humanism seems blind to people that are not citizens. That is because its goals are utilitarian and practical, not considering of the spiritual needs of all of God’s children. The Church has always defended the person behind the slave, or the employee, or the immigrant. Only the Church has looked after the spiritual needs of the exploited. But keep in mind that the Church is also part of the same economic structure, it is part of the material world and has to live within it.

In the 1960’s the church reacted to dwindling numbers and sought to preserve itself. It contemplated the future without a Church at all. The secular humanists were winning and were rejecting the need for Christ, or God completely. So, it intentionally opened its doors to all people. This is in full agreement with Christ’s mission and in no way contradicts the notion that there is ONE true church. It is just a matter of making salvation a process that is for all people.Think of it like a big funnel. You have to go through the small opening at the bottom, and that hasn’t changed. But the mouth has been widened to include all people to come in. The Gospel is for ALL people. A Church that is open to all will bring more people to the Gospel.

Finally, read some Scott Hahn. He is so on fire too. Focus on the common ground between you and your Brother and don’t focus on the differences. Over time you will see that the Catholic church contains ALL that is in the protestant faiths, and adds more.

Thanks guys/gals, I appreciate your posts. This is why I often will come to CAF, because I can put down whatever concerns/frustrations/etc. and hear good responses from wise people who have had the same concerns/frustrations/etc. and can give reassuring advice.

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