Who belongs to the Catholic Church?


I’m new to the forum. Sorry for my English. I hope you will understand me.

I do not understand one thing.
For what I try to understand: Protestants and Orthodox Christians are part of the Catholic Church. They are not fully incorporeted into Catholic Church but valid baptism makes them members of Catholic Church. Am I right?

CCC 838:

(…) those “who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in a certain, although imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church.” (…)

So… if any statement of Church teaching tell about salvation of people who belong to the Catholic Church… does this statement tell about catholics, protestants, orthodoxs or only catholics?

For example:

If protestants belong (or are ordered) to the Catholic Church, does this statement refer to them or not?

CCC states:

Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it. (CCC 846)


  1. This statement does not tell about protestants: because they are members of the Catholic Church (because they entered Catholic Church through baptism)
  2. This statement tell about protestants

Please help with understanding that…

This is a VERY thoughtful post. I have been on this Forum for many years, and I have never read a first post that was this well reasoned.

Part of your confusion comes from the label, “the Catholic Church.” This what the so-called “Roman-Catholic Church” calls itself. The “Roman Catholic Church” does not officially refer to Herself by this distinction - it is merely the “Catholic Church.”

But the “Roman Catholic Church” does not reserve the distinction of “Catholic” to Herself alone. The “Roman Catholic Church” fully recognizes the Catholicity and the validity of all seven Sacraments (including valid Holy Orders, including Episcopal (Bishop) Ordinations) of the Orthodox, the Old Catholics, and the Polish National Catholic Church (PNCC). And other Christian communions may be fully valid as well, such as certain traditional Anglican communions whose Bishops have been conditionally ordained by PNCC Bishops, but their validity has not been formally recognized by the “Roman Catholic Church.”

The “Roman Catholic Church” considers anyone who has received valid Christian Baptism and identifies him/herself as a Catholic (in any recognized communion) to be a Catholic. Other Christians who have received valid Christian Baptism but do not identify themselves as Catholic are in a state of Grace (unless they fall into mortal sin) and are just as “saved” as any Baptized Catholic CCC 1263], but they are not in full communion with the Catholic Church and are not considered “Catholic” by the Church. If they die while in a state of Grace, they go to heaven just like any Catholic Saint. But they have no ordinary recourse to Sacramental Confession if they fall into mortal sin. So, for their sake, I hope it is “hard” for a person of good-will to fall into mortal sin. The Church has not taught about this one way or another. It is probably the biggest debate among modern Catholic theologians.

That’s what I think the purgatory has been (and remain) full of protestant believers. It’s a great irony that many protestants, who don’t believe in purgatory, are going to feel what purgatory means. Because to stay in state of Grace all along your life since the baptism is very difficult. Protestants who commited mortal sins after baptism if they sincerely repent, those post-baptism mortal sins will be forgiven (Acts, 3:19), but without the confession many protestant aren’t informed about restitution for the wrong they have done (penance). If they don’t make restitution of those sins they probably will go to Purgatory to purify themselves and to complete the penitence.

But that’s my opinion. I cannot say this is the Catholic Church teaching.

This is who is Catholic [FONT=Arial]837[/FONT]

Protestants aren’t Catholic. If they were by virtue of baptism they could walk off the street and receive all the sacraments in the Church. Catholics could also worship in protestant assemblies as if it was mass. None of that is true. Let’s take one example
Also there would be no need to receive protestants into the Church if they were already in the Church.

Re: Orthodox 838 , refering back to 837, I would add this answer from Bp John, a Melkite Catholic who in their history, moved from Orthodox to Catholic.

Getting back to 837 your observation and question describes why Protestants and Orthodox aren’t Catholic nor are they in the Catholic Church.

Great post, and you English is better than that of many Americans. Where are you from?

I think you’ll like this:

The Necessity of Being Catholic
by James Akin

That’s a comforting thought, but it is not the explicit teaching of the Church. The Church teaches that only those who die in a state of Grace but are guilty of unconfessed venial sins (which tarnish us, but do not remove us from a state of Grace) are in purgatory.

HOWEVER, the Church teaches that it is possible for a non-Christian (a person who has not received water Baptism) who leads a morally upright life to yet be saved through something called “invincible ignorance.”

The problem with invincible ignorance is that the Church has absolutely no idea how it works. The Church does not know the criteria that God uses to make this determination. The Church does not know if many have attained salvation this way, or few, or even if ANYBODY ever has (just because it’s possible doesn’t mean it has actually happened).

But, some folks reason that, if someone can attain salvation who was never actually Baptized, protestants who have received valid Christian Baptism must surely have a better chance of salvation.

The problem is mortal sin. Invincible ignorance applies to those who have lived a morally upright life. The Church doesn’t know exactly what that means, but a person who has committed mortal sin likely falls short of this standard. The Church teaches that a Catholic who has committed mortal sin (and does not have the Grace of his Christian Baptism renewed by Sacramental Confession) is condemned. If a Baptized Catholic is condemned by unconfessed mortal sin, how could a Baptized protestant expect any better treatment? Would God be more lenient for those who refused to be part of the Church that Jesus established, and not avail themselves of the forgiveness that Jesus entrusted to the Church (John 20:23)?

Mortal sin is a complex topic. There is no such thing as an offense which is always mortally sinful.

All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that is not mortal. [1John 5:17]

In order for any wrongdoing to be mortally sinful, it must be done with full knowledge of the sinful nature of the act, and with complete freewill consent. Some modern theologians believe that it is unlikely for a person of goodwill to commit an offense that rises to this standard. This is probably the biggest debate in modern theological circles. I ran a poll on this Forum a few years ago asking people if they thought it was “easy” or “hard” for a person of goodwill to commit mortal sin, and the overwhelming majority voted that it was easy. In another thread, one respected Forum member seemed to suggest that a person who died even a short time after Confession would be condemned, because s/he would surely slip into mortal sin in just a few hours.

For the sake of Baptized protestants, I hope these people are wrong. I hope that it is “hard” for a person of goodwill to commit an offense that rises to the standard of mortal sin. Alas, the Church has never taught one way or another.

Baptism is a 100% guarantee, and Sacramental Confession is a 100% guarantee. Protestants only have one of these guarantees. Let’s hope that’s enough.

Who is a Catholic?

“All persons baptized in the Catholic Church are considered Catholic. And the general principle of canon law is: once a Catholic, always a Catholic”.


This of course would also include those received into the Catholic Church.

I agree with your comment. But I see this subject like the “parable of the talents”. Christ gives the catholics ten talents (of knowledge), protestants five talents and non-baptized (only one talent). We, catholics have more responsabilities because we “enjoy” all sacraments. The demands probably will be bigger to catholics. But that’s my opinion

If I’m not wrong the Catholic Church teaches when a catholic is in danger of death if he/she cannot confess their sins because there isn’t any priest present he can confess his/her sins to God directly. If there is true contrition the sins are forgiven and this person won’t go to hell (but probably will go to Purgatory). Many protestants and all non-baptized are in similar position (but not equivalent). There is the impossibility of a sacramental confession although for another circumstances (invincible ignorance). However that invincible ignorance cannot be applied to those protestants and non-baptized people who knowing the Catholic Church teachings, reject the sacrament of confession even in the moment of danger of death, because then there isn’t a true contrition (a sincere but impossible desire to confess the sins to a priest)

It may help to keep in mind the distinction between belonging to the Catholic Church, and belonging to the Catholic Faith. They usually coincide, but not always. You have people who have mostly rejected the Catholic Faith, but remain in the Church, sometimes in influential positions in the parish, diocese, or an institution. They may be in religious life. You have other people, including G. K. Chesterton for several years, and others for various reasons, who have embraced much of the Catholic Faith, but not - yet - ready to formally enter the Church. They may feel they are already in the Catholic Church anyway, through the church they are currently going to, and see no reason for switching to “Rome”; or they may want to “swim the Tiber” but there are family reasons at present why they can’t.

But again, the distinction between Belief and Membership is useful. One might also consider whether one is a “practicing Catholic”, usually defined as someone in union with the Pope, and receiving the sacraments currently.

I’ve often wondered how Catholics define practicing. So all it takes is for one to be a baptized member of a rite in communion with Rome, attending Mass regularly. going up for Communion, at least once during Easter season, with obligatory confession once a yr for serious sins? I realize the latter 2 are minimal.

All souls may choose to belong to the Catholic Church and are invited through the Sacrament of Baptism that Jesus told us was the Way. He began His Church choosing His apostles to carry on His teachings. He also told us that He is the Way to the Father, the only Way through Him. If one follows His teachings contained in the Catholic Church, has fed the soul with Holy Sacraments and practice of Faith - you belong!

Remember the thief that was hung on a cross alongside Jesus? He believed in Jesus and asked for His forgiveness. He was told he would be in Heaven that very day.
Our Lord always knows what our soul longs for and grants us His Love. Its an extremely “narrow gate” and “rocky path” to get to Him without the Church He founded. Who or what else brings you the Truth?

Which is slightly more, I think, than simply saying the Sinner’s Prayer at a tent revival and then having eternal security - once saved, always saved.

But for clarity’s sake:

The Precepts

**1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and on holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor. **

We must “sanctify the day commemorating the Resurrection of the Lord” (Sunday), as well as the principal feast days, known as Catholic holy days of obligation. This requires attending Mass, “and by resting from those works and activities which could impede such a sanctification of these days.”

**2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year. **

We must prepare for the Eucharist by means of the Sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). This sacrament “continues Baptism’s work of conversion and forgiveness.”

3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.

This “guarantees as a minimum the reception of the Lord’s Body and Blood in connection with the Paschal feasts, the origin and center of the Christian liturgy.”

**4. You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church. **

“The fourth precept ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” See below for more about fasting & abstinence.

**5. You shall help to provide for the needs of the Church. **

“The fifth precept means that the faithful are obliged to assist with the material needs of the Church, each according to his own ability.”

(These quotations are from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, in its section about the Precepts of the Catholic Church (#2041-3).)

It goes without saying that this is accompanied by ongoing conversion. I will be a “work in progress” until I die. I as a person, not just me belonging to a rite, am in union with the Pope, and his bishop in my home diocese. To be in union with the Pope affects my daily life and priorities in many ways.

Living up to the sacraments is not a burden, but it is a challenge. I have received Baptism, Eucharist, Penance, Confirmation, and Matrimony. Responding to the sacraments affects my daily routine, what I watch on TV, my choice of friends, how I use my time and money, and other things. I don’t say I perfectly respond to the sacraments I receive, but I try. Holy Orders affects me, as I interact with priests and deacons. Anointing of the Sick will impact me, and relatives I visit have already been blessed with this sacrament.

Yes, Jesus tells us that “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48]
Of course, Catholics ARE expected to take on more responsibilities than the average protestant. For one thing, we are expected to follow the five precepts of the Church.

But I don’t think God is more lenient for protestants in purgatory because they had no recourse to Sacramental Confession. Of course, every person has recourse to this - it’s called RCIA. I don’t think God is more severe to Catholics because they could have gone to Confession but didn’t. And this is certainly not the teaching of the Church. The Church is very clear on this - if you are not in a state of Grace at the time of your death then you are condemned (with that nagging caveat of invincible ignorance, which I’ve never heard applied to protestants - but since we don’t know how it works, I suppose there is hope there).

This is why I hope that it’s “hard” for a person of good will to commit mortal sin. Because a Baptized person who never commits mortal sin will be saved - a 100% guarantee.

If I’m not wrong the Catholic Church teaches when a catholic is in danger of death if he/she cannot confess their sins because there isn’t any priest present he can confess his/her sins to God directly. If there is true contrition the sins are forgiven and this person won’t go to hell (but probably will go to Purgatory).

You have stated it correctly. But it’s still the Grace of Sacramental Confession that saves the person, only without actually attending the Sacrament. It is similar to the teaching of Baptism of Desire (and its subset, Baptism of Blood) where Baptismal Grace is applied without actually getting wet.

But the really hazardous part of this teaching is “an act of true contrition.” That means we are sorry for our sins ONLY because they offend God, and not in any way because we fear his just punishment. We cannot even know if our act of contrition was “true” - only God knows.

By the way, the person must firmly resolve to attend the first available Confession (and actually do so) if he survives the situation.

Many protestants and all non-baptized are in similar position (but not equivalent). There is the impossibility of a sacramental confession although for another circumstances (invincible ignorance).

Again, I have never heard of invincible ignorance being applied to a Baptized person. It may be possible, but the Church does not teach this (or teach otherwise). Obviously, a non-ignorant protestant in a state of mortal sin is gonna be in bad shape.

There is one Church of Christ which subsists in the Catholic Church, and none of the the non-Catholic particular churches or ecclesiastical communities have the fullness of the Catholic Church. The word subsistit expresses the singularity and non-multiplicability of the Catholic Church. There can be salvation of anyone that is baptized validly (water, blood, or desire) into the Church of Christ but there must be the state of grace at the time of death. For that reason, without access to the sacrament of penance, it is questionable if there will be a state of grace.

I don’t “belong” to her, yet I defend her and am a visitor.
worry less about how others are not a part of this
and more of how you are

As I get closer and closer to Easter Vigil of 2015, I have been reflecting on all this too and I find what you’ve said and summarizes my thought and feelings quite well, thanks.

That is what 837 is saying, and it then makes a further distinction between body and soul.

When it refers to persevere in “charity” that’s waaaaaaay more than just taking care of the poor.

Charity is a big word with lots of applications for the soulccc.scborromeo.org.master.com/texis/master/search/?sufs=0&q=charity&xsubmit=Search&s=SS

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