Friday, May 26, 2017

Veiled criticism: What does it mean to be Roman Catholic?

Holy Door open for Year of Mercy in St. Peter's in Rome.
Melania Trump is Roman Catholic. Or not?

I'll admit I was surprised to see the news flash by on Twitter today that Melania Trump is Roman Catholic, after her office confirmed that she identifies as Catholic, though a little digging shows that it was on her Wikipedia entry as early as February. I posted a link to the story on Facebook with a "What?!" which provoked a conversation about the rules for a valid Catholic marriage and what makes someone Catholic. Are you Catholic if you say so?

I'm going to start with Pope Francis' advice: Who am I to judge? Because when it comes to deciding who is Catholic, or a real Catholic, or a practicing Catholic, particularly when you are a public figure there's a lot of judging to go around.

There are three things required to be Catholic:  be baptized with a Trinitarian formula (though not necessarily baptized in a Catholic rite), believe what the Roman Catholic Church believes (minimally the Creed), and acknowledge that the Pope and his bishops are charged with keeping the faith, such that you owe them obedience in matters of faith and morals. Generally these last two are done formally, professing the Creed in public with the intention of being a visible member of the Roman Catholic Communion, but it is not clear that they must be (though I'm no canonist).  I'm thinking of the crypto-Catholics in Japan, were they not Catholic?

We Roman Catholics have a lot of rules about who can receive sacraments, or be godparents or lectors, or whose children may be baptized or receive first Eucharist, who can be married within our walls and not -- and how that all might happen. Some are well rooted in the theology of the Church and the sacraments and others not so much, some are just barriers, walls to keep out...who I am never really sure. Do we want to be keep out the child of the single mother who must work two jobs and therefore cannot attend the 30+ required Saturday catechetical classes so her child can receive First Eucharist? (Note these classes are for the parents, there is another set for the kids, and this isn't my parish!)  No exceptions.  No kidding.

We make up a lot of stories, too, about who is a good Catholic and who is not. Wearing a veil - when visiting the Pope or at Mass - doesn't make you more or less Catholic, or a better or worse one.  Nor does praying the rosary.  Go to Mass twice a year, or twice a week or twice a day. Receive the Eucharist, or not.  Is your marriage valid in the eyes of the Roman Catholic Church or not?  It does not matter. There is no more or less when it comes to being a member of the Body of Christ.  There is only grace, and grace in abundance. Because we are all sinners, all undeserving of that grace.

"Who are you?" someone asked Pope Francis early in his pontificate. "I am a sinner," he replied.

Who I am to judge?


  1. It is all about the love and mercy and grace of God which is given in great abundance. Thanks Michelle!

  2. Nicely done, Michelle!

  3. It doesn't surprise me a lot that Melania identifies as Catholic because she is Slovenian. Of course not everyone in Slovenia is Catholic, but it borders Italy and was part of the HRE. It's common to find the Catholic faith there.

    What did surprise me was her uncovered head in Saudi Arabia, but then her chapel veil at the Vatican. That was a pretty clear choice.

  4. Beautifully and thoughtfully written. Oh, if only the world could think like matter how you label your faith in God. Thank you for being a sane voice in an angry world.