How To Respond To A ‘Recovering Catholic’

Half of the adults in the United States who were raised Catholic leave the Church at some point. Some, though not all, refer to themselves as ‘recovering Catholics’ if they have left the Catholic faith and still feel ill will toward the church of their upbringing.

Recently on The Patrick Madrid Show, Patrick read an e-mail from a self-described ‘recovering Catholic’ who is now a Protestant. The listener holds a negative opinion of the Church, but in his response, Patrick gave a great example of how to defend the faith against a former Catholic who attacks the Church. Below are the listener’s e-mail and Patrick’s response:

I am in my 50th year as a ‘recovering Catholic.’ I am now a Christian, a Bible teacher, and a volunteer prison chaplain. I have started writing e-mails to you multiple times, but erased each one for a host of reasons. Rather than list a litany of reasons why Catholicism does not meet the standards of the Bible or Christ, I have only one question: If Christ returned to Earth (not a second advent, just a hypothetical question) and saw the Catholic Church as constituted today, would He approve or disapprove?

The Catholic Church is Full  of Humans
It would be both/and. Jesus would approve and disapprove of the things He would see. … To take your hypothetical, I would turn it around and ask you this: if Jesus came to Earth right now, would He approve or disapprove of you? I’m going to assume that you would say He would approve, but does He approve of every last thing of you? Are there things about you that are incompatible with an all-holy God?

I’m hoping that you’re going to say yes, because the Bible says that if you say you are without sin you are a liar. St. John says that if you claim to be without sin you’re a liar, because we all have sins. Some great, some small, but all of us are sinners. All of us are in need of God’s grace and mercy. If we’re still in this life, we’re not perfect yet.

So if I were to turn the question back to you, you’re probably going to have to say both/and. There will be things about you that He’ll approve of and there will be things about you that He won’t approve of. And that’s the right answer with your question in regards to the Catholic Church.

The Catholic Church Was Established By Jesus
But it’s not as though, suddenly in the 21st century, the Church is somehow different than what it was before. Keep in mind that Jesus came to establish a Church – a specific Church. He didn’t come to establish Christianity as a loose confederation of like-minded people who kinda, sorta (but not really) believe everything in common. He didn’t come to establish a philosophy of Christianity, where people are free to do their own thing and do what they want, as long as they don’t get in each other’s way, and as long as they believe in the ‘essentials.’

Jesus didn’t come to do that. He came to establish a Church. He came to save us, first and foremost, and the means by which our salvation is played out to us in every generation, is announced to us, is provided to us through Scripture and the sacraments, is through the Church.

Scripture Was Given Through the Catholic Church
So you say that you’re a ‘recovering Catholic,’ but I think what you mean by that is you’re getting over what you regard to be the ill effects of having been Catholic. … Maybe I’m the first one to tell you this, but the fact that you even have a Bible at all, the fact that you have a New Testament, you wouldn’t have that if it were not from the Catholic Church.

Because God didn’t reveal those books to you as inspired Scripture. You have them in your Bible because it was in and through the Catholic Church that God revealed to all of us that those books are inspired. And when somebody would pop up, like Marcion or one of the other early Church heretics and say, ‘Well I don’t think this book should be in the Bible’ or ‘I think these books over here should be in the Bible’ it was the Catholic Church that said ‘No, it’s these 27 books from Matthew to Revelation.’

So aside from the fact that you hold to a view that is completely untenable as far as the Bible is concerned – saying that you go by the Bible alone when the Bible doesn’t even tell you which books belong in the Bible – you have to rely on the authority of the Church (that you believe does not measure up to the standards of either the Bible or Jesus Christ) in order to know what’s in the Bible.

You wouldn’t have a New Testament to attack the Catholic Church with if it were not for the Catholic Church that made sure that you had it.

Test Everything, And Hold Fast To What Is Good
You say that the Catholic Church doesn’t measure up to the standards of the Bible, but I wonder if your theology does. I would respectfully invite you to consider doing a survey of what the early Christians believed. … Test your beliefs and how you interpret the Bible. I gave you three or four doctrines that I’m pretty sure you hold to that are not in the Bible. And also test your beliefs against how the earliest original Christians understood the Bible. I wonder if maybe then you might make your way back home to the Catholic Church. I am always here for you – I am your friend, not your enemy – and I would be delighted if you ever wanted to discuss any of these issues.

Listen to Patrick’s full response below:

The Patrick Madrid Show airs weekdays from 6:00 – 9:00 a.m. Pacific on Immaculate Heart Radio.

Stephanie Foley serves as a Digital Media Producer at Relevant Radio®. She is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where she studied journalism, and she has worked in Catholic radio for 12 years. Stephanie is a wife, a mother of three boys, and in her free time she enjoys reading, running, and really good coffee. You can find more of Stephanie’s writing at and on the free Relevant Radio mobile app.