The Best Way to Combat Catholic Stereotypes


I know we’ve all run across them, whether in person or in the media, from friends and family members or from strangers on social media. How often have you heard those tired but sometimes convincing Catholic stereotypes?  Whether it’s about our ignorance of Scripture on one side or our anti-science beliefs on the other, they are almost too numerous to list.

Do you know why they are sometimes convincing? Because people see them played out in real life.

The best way to fight these stereotypes is to be proof they’re wrong. What is critical to being able to do that? Continued, on-going formation.

Let’s face it. There are a lot of Catholics who are ignorant of Scripture. Yes, we hear a lot of Scripture at Mass every week. But that’s not enough. You should be reading Scripture as part of your personal prayer life and falling in love with the Word of God. Once you fall in love with Scripture, you’ll realize that hearing Scripture on Sunday and hearing a single homily the whole week is not enough to satiate your desire. Even if you have the greatest homilist in the world for your pastor, you’ll want to be seeking Scripture study in other places.  And guess what? There are plenty of Catholic resources out there to help you. (Ascension Press, Formed, and the St. Paul Center are great places to start.)

Why has the culture been able to portray one of the first institutions to defend the rights of woman and which elevated a woman as the model for all life as anti-woman? Why have they been able to label the Faith of Gregor Mendel, Louis Pasteur, Nicolaus Copernicus, Georges Lemaître, and Alexander Fleming as anti-science? Perhaps it’s because we haven’t explained Church teaching well.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what the Church teaches and why She teaches it.

Why is Catholicism sometimes depicted as a cultural religion made up of people who are Catholic only because they have a certain last name or grew up in a certain neighborhood? As a religion full of superstition or funny traditions? Perhaps because people have witnessed that.

It’s time for them to witness something else.

There are 1.2 billion Catholics in the world.  There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to control the narrative. But we need Catholics, living as Catholics, who know their faith. Who know what they profess and why they profess it.

In his Apostolic Exhortation on catechesis today, Catechesis Tradendae, John Paul II reminded us that catechesis, religious formation, is not just for children or those converting to the Catholic faith.  He said that one of the central problems in catechesis is that adults are not seeking continued education and formation in the faith. He pointed out the futility of trying to raise and educate children in the world today if the very people responsible for their education have ceased to seek formation.

Adult formation, he said, “is the principal form of catechesis, because it is addressed to persons who have the greatest responsibilities and the capacity to live the Christian message in its fully developed form. … The world, in which the young are called to live and to give witness to the faith which catechesis seeks to deepen and strengthen, is governed by adults. The faith of these adults too should continually be enlightened, stimulated and renewed, so that it may pervade the temporal realities in their charge.”

Sadly, there is not a culture of adult education in our Catholic parishes. You will find it in many Protestant churches, where the adults attend Sunday school or Wednesday night studies. We need to begin to cultivate that in our parishes.  After all, as John Paul II pointed out, “for catechesis to be effective, it must be permanent, and it would be quite useless if it stopped short at the threshold of maturity, since catechesis, admittedly under another form, proves no less necessary for adults.”

How can we fight Catholic stereotypes? By reading and studying Scripture. By continually educating ourselves on what the Church actually teaches and why. By reading good Catholic books or listening to Catholic podcasts. It’s time to be the proof that Catholicism is alive, intelligent, rational, loving, and life-giving.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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