Types of Catholics?


So what is a liberal Catholic, a conservative-orthodox Catholic, a moderate Catholic, and a progressive Catholic? Is one type more faithful than the other? Is the other more dissenting than the rest? Aren’t we all Catholics, for better for worse and called to be one Church, saints and sinners?


There is only one type of Catholic and that is a Catholic. For example, if you ask me if I am liberal or conservative, moderate or progressive in regards to my membership in the Catholic Church, I will say, none of those; and if you ask me what I am than, I will tell you I am just Catholic, a Catholic Christian. I do not apply political tags to Catholicism because neither do the Church Fathers, nor dose the Magisterium of the Pastors of the Church. But if you wish to discern true doctrine from false doctrine, you can use such terms as orthodox and heterodox, Christian and new, traditional and modernist, as these have been used in different times and cultures by different Catholic churches and rites.

There is one Catholic, one Church, one Eucharist, one Chair, one Word, one Creation, one God, one life, one resurrection, one eternal Kingdom.


On the surface, those titles might seem out of place in the Catholic realm, but most people know what you mean when you say conservative or liberal Catholics.

The problem is that the definitions are too fluid. Someone who loves the Latin-language liturgy might be considered conservative. But the Latin liturgy is well within the bounds of Catholic life. But to say that Vatican II was invalid is also called conservative, but that belief is not even Catholic.

At the other end, most people might think that a liberal Catholic is someone who supports the ordination of women. But that’s not even possible under Catholic teaching, so in a sense they are thinking outside the bounds of the Church.

Bottom line: if you’re in the ballpark of Catholicism, it’s perfectly fine to play right field (emphasize Latin or wear a head veil to Mass) and it’s perfectly fine to play left field (emphasize the end of capital punishment) but if you say abortion is OK you are out of the ballpark and shouldn’t even be wearing the team uniform.


I don’t know if this fits, but recently I was using the google and found something called the Liberal Catholic Church. I didn’t spend a lot of time looking into it but it seems like a spin off type Church. Whadda you know about that?


I looked into it for you. It is not related to the Catholic Church, in spite of the word “Catholic” in it’s name. This is from their website: “Established in England in 1916 through a reorganization of the former Old Catholic Church in Great Britain, the new movement quickly spread to other countries, and in 1918 adopted its distinctive name, the Liberal Catholic Church.” (The Old Catholic Church is itself not in communion with the Catholic Church, so the Liberal Cathoic Church is a break away church from a break away church.) The Liberal Catholic Church believes in reincarnation and extrasensory perception! Enough said.


I love how you expressed this!



Pope Benedict XVI said that everyone should stop giving labels. We are all Catholics. The only “type” would then be in a state of mortal sin or in a state of grace!
Of course this applies to the Catholic Church and not to these nutcase groups who call themselves catholic but have nothing to do with the Catholic Church.


While I would not argue with Pope Benedict, I think a few labels might be needed when we hear those polls saying that X percent of Catholics voted for a pro-abortion candidate.

Don’t we all know many “cultural Catholics” as opposed to “practicing Catholics”? I can’t stand those polls – someone who was raised Catholic and still claims to be Catholic but never goes to Mass, confession, and constantly parties, swears, and surfs for porn can just stroll out of a polling place and claim to be Catholic to the pollster. So a label might be needed in such a case to avoid giving scandal to non-Catholics about how we should be living our lives.

I’m not saying I’m perfect. But if I really scoffed at the precepts of the Church and the Ten Commandments, I would hope to at least have the honesty to not claim to be Catholic.


Good Morning! :slight_smile:

thank you muchly… I asked the question because I have heard these terms thrown around on this CAF and on Catholic radio; with a disparaging tone specifically towards Vatican II, priests of Vatican II, now tempered to say “misinterpretation of Vatican II,” etc. And I have said this in PM to some people that I was very disturbed last year when I heard a Cath. radio commentator answer a viewer question with the following: “The older liberal priests are getting older now. They will be dying off soon and the next generation of priests faithful to the magesterium will be taking over. It is an exciting time for the church.” The first sentence, the first part of the second sentence, and the third sentence are exact. I was that horrified to remember them. The second part of the second sentence is the gist.

I lived through that era. I feel that generation is literally under attack with a letter-of-the law mentality, especially with regard to issues of birth control, homosexuallity, etc. I personally accept all Church teachings but sometimes I feel those labels and the force of which they are thrown around does more to drive away perceived “sinners in mortal sin” than to welcome them even though they struggle with these issues. Example: “agnostic Catholics should not call themselves Catholic.” Why would we not welcome a doubting Catholic? St. Thomas doubted until he had concrete evidence of Jesus’ resurrection… something we will never have in this life in the same way.

So I asked this question. In my mind, cultural Catholics, cafeteria Catholics, "liberal, “Vatican II” Catholics, and questioning Catholics who feel that not ordaining women is discrimination and it doesn’t matter what birth control you use because the intent/motive is the same, are still Catholic.

I do not fit those categories, by the way. And I do not seem to fit conservative Catholicism as it is practiced above. In that I do feel quite isolated and that says a lot about labels. And I do feel a strong need to defend priests who are sent the message that their 30 and 40 years of service to the Church and remaining in the priesthood during the great exodus of the 70’s are now worthless because their lives lived in priesthood were lived under the “mistaken” notion that Vatican II was a move to “open the windows of the church.” Many of those priests had and still have a missionary spirit and a spirit of compassion in the application of the letter-of-the-law and because of that are being called unfaithful. Statistically, they are the most depressed category of priests of all of them. And I don’t blame them if the “new generation” is waiting for them to die off so we can have a purer, more faithful to the magesterium church. I think that is why Benedict said “get rid of the labels.”

So that is why I asked the question and I welcome more comment because I think this is important for the unity and inclusiveness of our Church. The majority of those who call themselves Catholic fit under the questioning category and the minority who do not question and call themselves faithful (implying the rest are not) are in a way, dividing the Church. But maybe I feel this way because I am from the generation from that mistaken era, which probably inspires the actions I took giving up a lucrative career to work with the poor. Again, I welcome more discussion.


Bailey, you are asking a very good and timely question, basically: What is a Catholic?

Bishop Tobin addressed this issue in a public letter to Congressman Patrick Kennedy in response to Kennedy’s comment “The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” The Bishop’s response is of course tailored to address Kennedy specifically, but it does shed some light on the whole idea of what it means to be Catholic. Please read the whole letter (it is not long) to get a full understanding of what Bishop Tobin said.

But here are some excerpts:

“The fact that I disagree with the hierarchy on some issues does not make me any less of a Catholic.” That sentence certainly caught my attention and deserves a public response, lest it go unchallenged and lead others to believe it’s true. And it raises an important question: What does it mean to be a Catholic?..

What does it mean, really, to be a Catholic? After all, being a Catholic has to mean something, right?..

Well, in simple terms – and here I refer only to those more visible, structural elements of Church membership – being a Catholic means that you’re part of a faith community that possesses a clearly defined authority and doctrine, obligations and expectations. It means that you believe and accept the teachings of the Church, especially on essential matters of faith and morals; that you belong to a local Catholic community, a parish; that you attend Mass on Sundays and receive the sacraments regularly; that you support the Church, personally, publicly, spiritually and financially…

In your letter you say that you “embrace your faith.” Terrific. But if you don’t fulfill the basic requirements of membership, what is it exactly that makes you a Catholic? Your baptism as an infant? Your family ties? Your cultural heritage?..

It absolutely diminishes your communion with the Church."

So, we learn here that we need to understand that not accepting all that the Church teaches does mean we are in less communion with the Church. That doesn’t necessarily condemn us, but neither should we disregard that as insignificant.

The labels people assign to Catholics are attempts to describe how more or less in communion with the Church that person is. I don’t like labels; they are divisive and tend to lead to holier-than-thou. We all need to accept that we ALL need to work on becoming more in communion with our holy mother Church.


The labels people assign to Catholics are attempts to describe how more or less in communion with the Church that person is. I don’t like labels; they are divisive and tend to lead to holier-than-thou. We all need to accept that we ALL need to work on becoming more in communion with our holy mother Church.

This has got to be the best letter I have ever read by a bishop on the issue of Catholic identity. :thumbsup: It is a perfect description of group dynamics even from a secular viewpoint. A member of a gang cannot disagree with the precepts of the group he/she has sworn allegiance to. A soldier, also the same. Consequences ensue if those mandates are defied.

The bishop uses the word “diminish.” This implies more or less not Catholic versus non-Catholic in a black and white application. And I absolutely love what he says about labels (of course, that is what I said; we all like our sayings :D)

This is probably better posted on the section of morality rather than spirituality but the bishop also said “issues of life and death.” That would not include traditions: celibate priests, for example. Rules that can be changed through discernment on the part of the members of the hierarchy.

But actually, my issue isn’t with doctrine or public statements of the teachings of the church. My concern is for those people who have terrible angst because in their particular situations (unknown to those on the outside) they feel they cannot comply with some teachings (not abortion, mind you). They know they are already considered less Catholic because of what is perceived as “dissent” and therefore they suffer in silence or become angry in their hurt and attack the teachings themselves. For example, I just heard of a situation where a distraught woman whose husband left her for another woman asked a priest if she could file for divorce. His response? No, the Church says marriage is forever. She should do all she can to make the marriage work. I need not say, “Hello? He left her!” In this case, thank God, she had a friend who brought her to another priest lest the Church lose another soul because of feelings of being rejected by that same Church.

These things are very different from Kennedy’s overt public stance as if he were some authority, setting up a new “progressive” religion. And these people need to be able to come out in the open to a compassionate welcome; one that respects their situation, their thoughts, their struggles, their choices of conscience, rather than “teaching” them the “right” way.

As for our older priests? I bleed for how they are being treated.

My, my, I have issues, no? :eek:

I love our Church but I do feel sometimes we are becoming too much Church militant and less Church mercy. And I feel labels are political (and a backlash against the sex abuse scandals but that’s another story too).

Again, comment welcome since I have issues.


No one fits into one cookie cutter, and I do not think that anyone should. Catholic and orthodox – universal and “correct” – are the chief characteristics of Catholics. When you separate yourself from the universal and correct teachings, you are not a catholic. Now, there are many aspects that are open to interpretation – to use something banal: modern musics, traditional hymns, or no music during the Mass – but the core has to be accepting of the doctrine to remain Catholic. many labels – Liberal Catholic,
Progressive Catholic, Traditionalist Catholic – seem to be justifications/excuses for being hetrodox. it raises one’s disagreements and problems with the catholic faith into the realm of valid flavors rather than schism.

As for difficult situations: the woman whose husband left her but one priest said “too bad”, that is more of insensitivity rather than anything else. Fortunately there are other priests. As for the comment on the radio concerning liberal priests, I too heard that and I was heartened by it. I know of far too many priests who advocate heterodoxy in the name of liberalism or ecumenicism, or political correctness. There are “catholic” priests who perform homosexual marriages, who condone abortion, et al. They survived the exodus of the 1970’s but their spirit, if they had one, left. We have a new generation of priests coming up. Not as many, but more zealous in their vocations.

This is the last generation of “children priests” in the US – men who entered seminary when they were 13 or so and were expected to be priests out of family pressure. When I was going through RCIA, my parish priest said something heart breaking. He said “I don’t know if I had a vocation or my mom had one for me.” Despite this he was basically a good priest – most priests are – but there are some older men who, though priests, undermine the faith by their actions. it is towards these men that the speaker was referring. And I agree with him 100%.


I don’t even know what to say to that except that you have put me in my place. Except I have a temper. Most older Vatican II priests are* not *dissidents. Most struggling Catholics do not have a non-judgmental place to work out their issues with church teachings. And “correctness” never converted anyone. In fact it drives people away. But I’m sure Our Lord would be pleased with that because his Church would be more orthodox-correct, without them.

“Not one iota of the law will be changed” Jesus
"I desire mercy, not sacrifice." also Jesus


I want to thank everyone for their responses to this thread. Most were kind, informative and I even printed out that bishop’s letter to put in my file of things. :slight_smile: But, I think I better move on…


I hope that my message did not come accross too judgemental. I did not mean it in that spirit. Nor did I mean it to chastise you in any way – I am in no position nor do I have the right to chastise anyone!
I believe that the Bible and the Church calls us to walk a very fine line. We are to call to conversion all and “demand” (poor word here) proper behavior, yet we are also to be loving and embracing. I would re-read Acts and most of the Epistles since the early church encountered a lot of this. Often times the authors of these works call for (or report, in the case of Acts) the “expulsion” of heterodox people.
There is more that I could say, but I’m fighting the urge to put my foot in my mouth. I’d just remember that the Church is administered by imperfect humans but with the promise that God will never abandon the Church. We are called to constant conversion, so we must realize that no one is perfect – even the saints are made up of people with failings. Even Jesus himself said things that drove people AWAY from his teachings, which seems to me that his call is hard to accept but nonetheless perfectly loving. I wish I could live up to God’s desire for me.
Anyhow, I have gone on far too long and rambled. I just pray that my rambling stream of consciousness did not offend.

Yours in Christ.


(I had to peek at this even though I was going to leave it ;))

Bad day yesterday. Took the whole thing too personally; my fault.
But… I do have a problem with letter-of-the-law applications of church teaching. And I have a* real* problem with waiting for people to die so that an orthodox church will rise.

Little persecutions already take place, here on this forum towards questioning Catholics and to priests I know who have had their retirements scrutinized or been forced to leave parishes they have been at for 20 yrs (one that died of a heart attack because of the stress): all in the name of orthodoxy and correct application of rules. I’m sorry. I have a real problem with that as this new generation of priests take over leadership…and I have a problem with some Catholic radio people dim wittedly promoting insecurity, guilt, and a number of other things by talking in such subtly condenscending ways towards those not “there yet.” I think that is wrong use of authority and leadership. There are better ways to uphold truth.

My own acceptance of all the church teachings came only through a bunch of small compromises along the way. And as far as I am concerned I was a Catholic the entire time. It is a journey, not an either/or chasm to be jumped across. Had I met up with some of these orthodox priests coming out of seminary now, good chance I would not have had the grace to come to this point. Life is not either-or.

I understand you and others here are into all this orthodoxy stuff and have all kinds of scripture to back it up. Contrary to what you may think, I know scripture backwards and forwards… but bottom line is that charity and mercy come first, not rules, correctness, or orthodoxy. It has been my experience that honey, not vinegar coaxes people to conversion.

See? Now I have done the rambling. If we weren’t so opposite in stance, we probably would be good friends! Now I really think I shouldn’t get back on this thread since I wasn’t intending it to digress so. But, I didn’t want to leave it with a flavor of any division because then I’d be the hypocrite.



A hypocrite; no judgment intended the first time… just wanted to be sure :smiley:


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