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Catholic Conversion Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

We have received various questions about converting since we started our Catholic Conversion page. We always get great, thoughtful, questions that will benefit others, so we thought we would formulate and answer some questions here, based in part on the questions that we have received. If your question is not here, please feel free to contact us

1. I Want to Become Catholic. Where Do I begin?
Call your local parish or diocese. This is usually the best place to start. Different parishes have different approaches to helping people become Catholic. Some have classes designed just for seekers, and all parishes have programs for bringing non-Catholics into the Catholic Church. The most common program is called the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults). If you live in an area with multiple parishes, find a good one, and call someone there.

2. Will I have to Go Through the RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation)?
The RCIA is technically designed for non-Christians (unbaptized) who wish to become Catholic. However, most parishes in the United States tend to throw everyone who wants to become Catholic into an RCIA program. However, many parishes offer private instruction, or other programs, to educate the baptized, besides RCIA. It is our hope that if it is logistically possible, parishes evaluate a person's knowledge, background, etc, and not simply throw everyone into a generic program.

3. What is a Candidate? What is a Catechumen? Should They Be In The Same RCIA Program?
A candidate is someone who has been validly baptized in another Christian denomination, who is becoming Catholic. A catechumen is an unbaptized person who is becoming Catholic. As mentioned above, the RCIA is ideally meant for the unbaptized (catechumen). However, it is sometimes logistically difficult for a parish to have two separate programs for candidates and catechumens, so they put both into one program. If this happens, official guidelines dictate that a clear distinction be made between candidate and catechumen. One reason for this is that candidates are already Christians and it is insensitive to lump those who have spent years following Christ with those who are not even Christian. Official guidelines suggest that candidates not be baptized at the Easter Vigil along with catechumens, in order to preserve the distinction between candidate and catechumen.

4. Are You Saying the RCIA Program At My Parish Is Wrong?
It is not our intention to undermine or criticize local RCIA programs, which are usually run by dedicated and faithful Catholics. Many local RCIA programs are doing the best they can given the logistics of the parish (e.g. lack of time and money), even if they are not being carried out exactly the way the bishops intend. These programs may still be providing excellent education and formation in anticipation of eventual reception and confirmation. However, we, like the bishops, believe that it is ideal for candidates and catechumens to be placed in separate programs.

5. I Have Been Divorced And Remarried; Can I Become Catholic?
Yes, but you will have to seek an annulment. The Catholic understanding of marriage is that it is permanent. Thus, if you have divorced and remarried civilly, you are, in the Church's eyes, still married to your original spouse. In order to remedy this situation, the first marriage must be annulled (declared that it was invalid from the start). We are not experts in the annulment process, but your local priest and parish are probably very familiar with annulments. We recommend contacting your local parish or diocese to inquire about the process.

6. I Have A Sinful Background; Will The Catholic Church Accept Me?
Yes. The beauty of Catholicism is that while Christ calls us to holiness, he is also merciful. Christ can forgive every sin that we throw at him! It is our hope that all Catholics are accepting of repentant sinners within their midst, and that they do not judge anybody's past mistakes. Sadly, since the Church is made up of imperfect humans, some parishes may not be as welcoming as they should be.

7. Do I really Have to Believe All That The Catholic Church Teaches To Become Catholic?
Becoming Catholic means that you consent to all that the Church teaches. If you have deep reservations about Church teaching or morality, you should probably sort these out before becoming Catholic. The Catholic Church is not set up as a pick-and-choose, buffet style, religion. While we are always glad to welcome new members into our Church, it is important to join the Church on her own terms, and not one's own terms. Does this mean that we aren't allowed to ever have private difficulties and concerns about Church Teaching? No. Struggling with belief is natural, and everyone struggles in this way. The key is to continue to have faith that God has preserved Truth through the Church even when we may be struggling personally.

8. Okay, I Believe What The Church Teaches, But Is There More?
Yes, there is more. Being Catholic involves entering into a culture. Catholicism is very diverse, and there are Catholics of all ethnicities, races, classes, backgrounds, etc. In other words, being Catholic is more than just holding to a series of beliefs. While many Protestants (especially from Calvinist backgrounds) tend to view Christianity as a series of tenets to believe, Catholicism is much more than this. Some Catholic converts tend to frame the Catholic faith as a mere series of doctrinal, moral, and political tenets. This can lead some converts to become, quite literally, "more Catholic than the pope" in their adherence to what they believe constitutes pure Catholicism. They also approach life and culture the way a Protestant would. Recently, some converts criticized the pope for not being more like them politically. This, unfortunately, shows that many converts have not quite grasped what it means to be Catholic. While we are orthodox Catholics who believe in all that the Church teaches, we encourage converts to move past a mentality in which the new convert acts as judge over the entire Church. We commend the zeal of converts, but misguided zeal is counterproductive, and, quite honestly, annoying.

9. Are Catholic Morality and Practice Difficult?
While some Protestant denominations tend to emphasize mental assent to the exclusion of actions, the Catholic Church, like the early Church, expects both faith and action of her members. Some of the more difficult parts of Catholic faith and practice, at least to modern persons, include:

- Expected attendance at Mass every Sunday, and on Holy Days of Obligation, unless sick, etc.

- Abstaining from meat on certain Fridays, and fasting during certain days of the year

- Not using birth control (birth spacing for just reasons is permitted)

- Confessing mortal sins before receiving communion

While these things we have just mentioned actually draw many into the Church, because they reflect early Christian teaching and are truly radical and counter cultural, they may be too much for some people. We are not discouraging you from joining the Catholic Church, nor are we implying that our readers cannot handle the Church's requirements. We just want everyone to be aware of what is expected. We may not always live up to what God expects of us, but as Catholics we are expected to make an effort, and certainly we are not to dismiss the Church's morality and requirements as out-of-hand.

10. How Much Time and Effort Does It Take to Become Catholic?
As we mentioned previously, different parishes have different programs for bringing non-Catholics into the Catholic Church. Programs for the baptized may be shorter than those designed for the unbaptized. Generally, RCIA programs tend to last from Advent until the Easter Vigil, although many programs are longer. If you are unbaptized, or were baptized in a manner not recognized as valid by the Catholic Church, you may have to be baptized before joining. This means you must willingly accept Jesus as Lord, and profess this before the Church and world at your baptism. So yes, becoming Catholic requires some time and effort. However, as the saying goes, "the best things come to those who wait." Don't feel too badly though, because in the early Church the catechesis process was three years long and very intense!

11. Why Doesn't My RCIA Program Accurately Convey Actual Catholic Teaching?
Unfortunately, some RCIA programs water down, or even downright deny, basic Catholic Teaching and morality. We have been told of other programs that, while otherwise orthodox, are overly emotional. All of this is probably done to make the faith more "attractive," or because the teachers do not accept Catholic Teaching themselves. However, the result is that many faithful converts become frustrated with RCIA, because they are joining the Church because they believe that Catholic Teaching, even the controversial parts, are true and worth following. While being involved in this type of RCIA setting can be frustrating, there are ways to take a more positive and productive view of the situation. First, act as a charitable witness to true Catholic Teaching, offering a faithful and factual perspective to counter incorrect teaching. Second, remember that no RCIA program is perfect, and be willing to recognize the positive aspects of your RCIA program, even if there are many negatives. Third, pray for your teachers, priests, sponsors, and fellow candidates/catechumens. Fourth, if you feel the problem is particularly bad, discuss the issue with the parish clergy and explain your concerns. Finally, after becoming Catholic, volunteer your time and talents in order to improve the situation.

12. I am a Freemason. Can I Become Catholic?
For many, being a Freemason means hanging out with other guys, drinking some beer, and doing service projects. However, ultimately some principles and practices of Freemasonry are incompatible with Catholicism. While the 1917 Code of Canon Law mentioned Freemasonry specifically, the newer 1983 Code does not. However, it still mentions that Catholics are forbidden to join associations that plot against the Church (see Canon 1374). Quaesitum Est, a 1983 declaration by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, clarified that current Canon Law still forbids Catholics from becoming Masons. This means that Freemasons should leave the organization before becoming Catholic. Quaesitum Est specifically states:

Therefore the Church's negative judgment in regard to Masonic association remains unchanged since their principles have always been considered irreconcilable with the doctrine of the Church and therefore membership in them remains forbidden. The faithful who enroll in Masonic associations are in a state of grave sin and may not receive Holy Communion.

If you are a Mason and wish to become Catholic, please talk to your local priest. Fortunately, many fraternal organizations operate within the Catholic Church that provide friends and fellowship. One such group is The Knights of Columbus.

Last updated 02-22-2010

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