Are Catholics required to believe everything the Church teaches?

You’ve probably heard of ‘cafeteria Catholics’—those who pick and choose which Church teachings they want to believe. But how serious a matter is this? Must we accept all of the teachings of the Catholic Church in order to receive the sacraments?

Bill in Wilmington, North Carolina, called during The Patrick Madrid Show to ask Patrick the following question: “Are Catholics required to believe everything the Church teaches regarding faith and morals in order to properly receive Communion? For example, in regard to a faith issue: let’s say they didn’t believe in Mary’s Perpetual Virginity. Or in regard to a moral issue, they didn’t believe in the teaching regarding abortion even if they never had one or helped someone else get one.”

“Two good examples,” responded Madrid. “The short answer would be: they should not receive Communion if they are openly defying a teaching of the Church that is on an issue on faith and morals and is doctrinal in nature and it is solemnly or formally proposed by the Church.”

The answer usually isn’t so cut and dry, however. “Now, somebody may say, ‘Well, I didn’t know.’ Or … maybe the person is rejecting something other than what the Church really teaches and because of ignorance doesn’t really understand it. It’s still a rejection, which is objectively wrong, but subjectively maybe that person would not be culpable or not very culpable because of things like ignorance. But the bare bones answer would be, if somebody were to reject a de fide teaching of the Church—something the Church has declared definitively that we should all believe—then, no, that person should not receive Communion because he’s not really in communion with the Church. And he’s in an informal sort of way flirting with schism and heresy in the case of a denial of a truth of the Faith,” says Madrid.

But what if that person isn’t publicly denying a teaching, or simply has doubts about an aspect of the Faith? “But somebody may say—let’s pick an example—‘I don’t believe that God sends anyone to hell. I believe that God is too good and too loving and he would never do that because I love my children and I would never send them even if they were bad,’” said Madrid. “So somebody’s struggling with that and just deep down inside they cant get their mind around this teaching of the Church that hell really does exist and people really do go there. In a case like that, somebody can have difficulties, somebody can have doubts, somebody can say, ‘I just can’t understand this.’ But if the person, through an act of the will, says, ‘Nonetheless, I assent. I give my religious assent to the teachings of the Church even though I personally have a problem with this.’ That would be a different story. That person could receive Holy Communion because he’s not actively intending to do something seriously wrong.”

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Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.