When does one cease being Catholic?


I’m always bothered by people who say that they are Catholics but they also hold one or more heretical believes despite the fact that they are aware that they are going against Rome. Some support female “priesthood”, some say that contraception is OK and some believe that abortion in acceptable in some case. But these people, by their disloyalty even further deny the true nature of the Church.

So am I correct to say that a Catholic is only the person who believes* to be 100% faithful to the teachings of the Magisterium? And the person who is simply not a Catholic but perhaps some pseudo-catholic protestant?

This seems to be supported by the Baltimore Catechism (#554):

Q.Could a person who denies only one article of our Faith be a Catholic?
A: A person who denies even one article of our Faith could not be a Catholic; for truth is one and we must accept it whole and entire or not at all.

  • A person who holds who is ignorant of a certain teaching and is willing to chance once he finds out is a totally different case.


One ceases to be Catholic when they resolutely decide to deny what is held as absolutely true by the Catholic (universal) Church. A faith is defined by its beliefs. If one chooses not to believe, one is not a member of that faith.

Now, the circumstances may be hazy. Catholics who were not properly educated by their priests, teachers, parents, etc. on matters of the faith may be “invincibly ignorant”, and perhaps not culpable. Excommunication is not cut and dry. Persistence in heresy while exposed to the true teachings, and an unwillingess of one to form their conscience to the doctrines of the faith obviously increases culpability.


The key word there is denies. Are most of these “heretical” statements/acts truly denying statements? Or, more than likely it is a debate on those articles?

Articles of Faith are not cut and dry in day to day life and there are many, many interpretations of them.

I would say the latter is the case in most instances. It is not so much a denial of them as a different interpretation of them. No two theologians(people) (lay or ordained, amateur or degreed) are alike.

That is one of the strong points of our church, growth through differences of opinion.


I honesty don’t know why folks who stubbornly defy Catholic teaching still call themselves Catholic. I think some of it may have to do with reluctance to forgo communion (which they should not be taking – but hey…).

I am more comfortable with them remaining in the Church community these days because I believe they are the tares among the wheat. They provide opposing points of view which challenge the rest of us and which in the end benefit us by requiring us to clarify what the Church teaches.

Now there are obedient ways to challenge the Church. And there are disobedient ways to challenge the Church. Either way, the Church gets to clarify Her teachings.

The folks who lose out are those who stubbornly dig in their heels and refuse to let in anything which calls their opinions into question and those innocents who are inadvertantly influenced by heterodoxical teaching.


Despite what the Baltimore Catechism says, it would seem that the only way to become a non-Catholic once one is Baptized in the Catholic Church is to withdraw with a formal notice to the Ordinary of the diocese. Just joining another denomination apparently no longer cuts it. If I recall correctly Canon Law requires the formal notification. Otherwise they may be Catholics in bad standing but apparently still Catholic.

On the other hand maybe it is not only the military that deals in "catch 22"s.


yes, I heard this the other day on EWTN…along with someones comment that who, when they no longer believe in the authority of the Church, bothers to fill out paperwork?

If the numbers of global Catholics quoted refers to those baptised…I suspect they don’t come near to representing the true number of believing Catholics.


There are three sins that make one no longer Catholic:

CCC 2089: “*Heresy *is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; *apostasy *is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; *schism *is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”

In the case of women priesthood, contraception, or abortion, the potential sin of separation would be schism–refusual of submission to the Roman Pontiff and/or one’s lawful pastors.

Those are not dogmas, but only *tenenda–*they do not have to believed with a divine and Catholic faith, but merely “held” (which means heresy does not apply; the very specific sin of not holding them would be “error.”) Dogmas have to be believed with a divine and Catholic faith. However, even things that a Pope, Council, or Universal Magisterium definitively says must only be held (rather than believed with faith) are still protected by the charism of infallibility.


Well, there are things that we must believe and then there is everything else. We must for example believe that women can’t be ordained to priesthood but we don’t have to believe that the world was literary created in 7 days.

Interpreting the first care differently (that is not how the Church interprets it and defines it) is basically following a heretical teaching. There is no way around it.

Those are only tenenda, they do not have to believed with a divine and Catholic faith, but merely “held” (which means heresy does not apply; the very specific sin would be “error.”) Dogmas have to be believed with a divine and Catholic faith. However, even things that a Pope, Council, or Universal Magisterium definitively says must only be held (rather than believed with faith) are still protected by the charism of infallibility.

I’m pretty sure that male only priesthood is a dogmatic teaching.


Is there a list that contains all things that “must be believed” by Catholics?


The Cathechism of the Catholic Church is a pretty good and large list.


Is non-female ordination a tenenda or a dogma?




Is it not correct that a Catholic who is excommunicated is still a Catholic, but an excommunicated Catholic. Certain rights and previledges are withdrawn, but that Baptismal seal remains in place. A person procuring an abortion for example is excommunicated, but the sin can still be forgiven by the proper authority upon confessing it. If excommunication meant “no longer” Catholic how would one even be able to seek the sacrament of confession. I am thinking this business of being “drummed out of the Church” for heresy or what ever does not remove the effect of Baptism else we would have to re-baptise anyone who returned. In the early Church even the Apostates were allowed back without re-baptism. Or are we saying that Baptism in the Catholic Church does not make one a Catholic. OK, OK I am struggling with this concept because I don’t think the canonical fact and the “boots on the ground” situation are in sync. Get Baptized in the Catholic Faith, leave and join the Lutheran Church and get married by the minister, come back to the Catholic Church and your marriage is not valid unless the Bishop got that formal letter of resignation. Similarly, deny the Immaculate Conception, get married by a JP, try to practice your original Catholic Faith and now accept the denied dogma, is the marriage valid? No, because you were a Catholic and required to be married with the proper form. :confused: :confused: :confused:


rwoehmke, you are absolutely correct. Once a Catholic, always a Catholic, no matter how much that might horrify someone who has fallen away from the Church.

Baptism and Confirmation (and Holy Orders) are indelible marks on our soul. They can’t be “undone.” If you have done something for which you are excommunicated, then you are an ex-communicated Catholic. But still a Catholic.


Hmmm…didn’t see anything about females being barred from the priesthood.


Has a Catholic female ever applied for the priesthood? :hmmm:


tenenda, but infallible all the same.

From Pope John Paul II’s letter:

“Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful.”

That’s an infallible proclamation, but not a definition of a dogma. Compare the above with this dogmatic definition from Bl. Pius IX:

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and **therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”**29]

Now, the exact words “held” or “believed” don’t always need to be used. Context is key. Usually, if it must be believed, the opposite will be declared heresy or it will be stated that those who do not believe it are separated from Catholic unity. Point being, however, there is no set formula or magic words that give us the Supreme Pontiff’s intent.


You have to look at this in two ways. A person formally is no longer Catholic when they following Canon Law formally notifies their Bishop. A person stops practicing the Catholic Faith when they stop living out the Catholic faith. They separate themselves to different degrees, but do not totally cut themselves off from the Catholic Church by Sin, such as denying an article of faith or disregarding a moral teaching. Even a person who is excommunicated is still considered a member of the Catholic Church and still under her laws and precepts.


Thank you Brother, this is a very clear answer.


The data I’ve seen showing the size and growth rates of various religions is based on what people report themsleves as being. Not on how many people were reported as baptised by the Church.

The numbers I’ve seen from the church, when I’ve sceen any, have all been based on registerd parishioners, again not the number of baptised.

From what data do you find the estimated number of “Catholics” based on the number baptised by the Church?

This number would obviously be off by the number of converts to the church who were baptised outside of the Church, those who have died and those who have left the faith. (All three of which number in the millions per year if I recall correctly.)


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