Tuesday, September 09, 2014


"Roman Catholic" has an interesting history. It's not our official name, which is "the Catholic Church." Most of our rites are Eastern, but 98% of Catholics are Roman Rite. "Roman Catholic" was originally an Anglican putdown of us, as they claimed to be THE only legitimate successor to the medieval church in England, the ONLY lawful church in the realm. You still hear echoes of that from Anglicans, because they claim they're Catholic too: they call us "the Roman Church," "the Romans," and "the RCs." (Me? A Roman! I'm part Latin but not Roman. "You're nuts! N-V-T-S, nuts!") Now, though, after Vatican II, when some liberals started calling themselves "American Catholics" to show how enlightened they were vs. the Pope, some good Catholics have adopted "Roman Catholic" with a vengeance. As I was born Anglican, so I know where it came from, what it originally meant, I avoid it, and also because I don't want to offend Eastern Catholics.
Yes, that makes sense, Catholic Church, but most of these are in the Roman Rite! So does that mean these 98% can therefore call themselves Roman Catholics? .... just testing!
Yes. And in America in the '40s, for example, you saw it used, probably a polite concession to our Protestant hosts such as the Episcopalians: "St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church" or "St. Mary's R.C. Church."
We're still 'Roman Catholics' in England and the term still feels a little pejorative — a bit 'foreign', not 'one of us', don't you know? Converting to Catholicism was always called 'going over to Rome' (or 'swimming the Tiber', or 'Poping'!) in the last century, as in the Autobiography of Father Knox and the lovely novels of Barbara Pym.
Of course England is where "Roman Catholic" comes from, but from what I remember, there, as here, "Catholic" means us, no matter what the Anglicans say. Telling the taxi to go to "The nearest Catholic church!" won't get you to the nearest C of E parish church, no matter how old or charming. "Roman Catholic" is still better than "the Italian Mission to the Irish." (I guess now they'd say "to the Polish.")
That's true. A taxi-driver would be unlikely to understand the nuances of Anglo-Catholicism! I always found it rather unconvincing (to myself as well as others) to say that I was Catholic according to the laws of the Church of England so ended up swimming the Tiber myself.


  1. You're probably right, but (IIRC) the Catechism of the Council of Trent adds "Roman" to One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic as one of the "notes" of the Church; and then, too, at one point (again, IIRC) papal documents sometimes used to use the phrase "Sancta Romana Ecclesia" for the Church of Rome and all in communion with her. So the origin of the appellation "Roman Catholic" may be a bit more complicated.

    IIRC, the Maronite church in Easton, PA has, or used to have, a sign outside it reading "St. Anthony Maronite Roman Catholic Church."

  2. Ah, yes. I remember "American Catholic" from RCIA.


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