Should you ever advise someone not to become a Catholic?

This is the question that Fr Z. asks on this post here. He gives an example of an Apostolic Nuncio who advised a Russian Orthodox seminarian

“You must not become a Catholic. You have to keep your faith in order to better serve your Church. Now you know us you can dream about going to Rome. You can go to Rome one day in order to study but you should remain a Russian Orthodox.”

Fr Z. also cites the case where St Jose Maria Escriva once told a young jewish girl that she would do better to live in obedience to her parents than to seek to become a Catholic against their will.

It is a good question, and, assuming you, dear Reader, are a Catholic, I would be interested in your answer (I can understand a hundred reasons – most of them wrong – why a non-Catholic would want to disuade a person from converting to the “Roman Church”).

I have only ever once advised someone against becoming a Catholic. That “someone” was my eldest daughter about 5 years ago when she expressed an interest. The reason? As I told her then: “That is a good thing to want to do, but if you become a Catholic, you must come to Mass with me every Sunday. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep going to church with Mum at St Paul’s Lutheran Church, but it does mean that you also have to go to Mass each Sunday.” She didn’t pursue the topic then, and hasn’t asked again.

There were several other reasons I had for disuading her:
1) The fact was I didn’t think she was yet old enough yet to make that decision. If she asked again now, I would be more encouraging.
2) I actually think, given how good St Paul’s catechetical and youth programs are, that she has a better chance of being a practicing Catholic when she is 25 if she continues to be a practicing Lutheran now.

In the mean time, I try to teach them the Catholic faith simply and clearly. They come to mass with me on occasion, both go to Catholic schools, and they have learned to pray as Catholics. Over time, my children are beginning to realise the difference between their church and mine – and this will become clearer to them as they continue their catechesis at St Paul’s. But it has to be a decision they make on the basis of real conviction and knowledge of what they are doing.

This may sound like a “I’ll let them decide” sort of parenting which is so prevalent these days in regard to religious upbringing. But the difference is that I am not failing to teach them in the mean time, so that they will have the proper basis upon which to make that decision later in life. I pray that they do, of course!

So, is there any time when you have dissuaded someone from becoming Catholic?

I think the test is: would conversion profit their salvation? I do believe that everyone who truly knows that the Catholic Church is the Church that Christ established and that it is necessary (to be faithful to Christ) to seek to enter into Catholic communion would do wrong to remain outside it. Then they would indeed be endangering their salvation NOT to convert at the earliest possible opportunity.

But in the case of the Orthodox seminary in Fr Z.’s example, I think we need to take into account that the Orthodox Churches are true Churches with true sacraments and so on. That young man could probably do a lot more good for the Catholic Church as an Orthodox priest open to unity with the Catholic Church than as a convert per se. And I am sure that St JME would have happily baptised the jewish girl if her parents had given their permission. I have no doubt that if one of my daughters were (God forbid) to die tomorrow, they would be assured of their salvation also. But when the time comes, when to act against their conscience in this matter would indeed endanger their salvation, I would be the first to say: Convert now!

About Schütz

I am Catholic, married to Cathy, father of Maddy & Mia. Since 2002, I have been the Executive Officer of the Ecumenical & Interfaith Commission of the Archdiocese of Melbourne. I was once a Lutheran pastor, but a "year of grace" and soul-searching led me into the Catholic Church. It was a bumpy ride, but with the support of my (still Lutheran) wife, I was finally confirmed on June 16, 2003.
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3 Responses to Should you ever advise someone not to become a Catholic?

  1. To make the appropriate decision requires, I think, a real knowledge of the person’s state in life. When a minor wants to convert but his parents oppose it, the will of the parents must be respected. When someone is considering converting because he or she is (or soon will be) married to a Catholic who takes the faith seriously, then extreme caution is in order; no one should come into the Church based on the faith of another, even a spouse.

    But then there are examples of discouraging someone to come into the Church which flatly contradict Catholic teaching. For example, I know an Episcopal priest who some years ago had come to the conclusion that he needed to become a Catholic because he believes that the Catholic Church is what she says she is, and this man’s Catholic spiritual director — a Jesuit priest — urged him not to leave the Episcopal Church for the sake of his public ministry and witness. In my estimation, the advice of that Jesuit was a grotesque abdication of a serious duty, one for which he is answerable.

  2. Gareth says:

    A word about Saint J M E.

    As much as I admire priests of the Work, I would not trust hearsay stories such as found within this post.

  3. catherine says:

    Well I certainly have advised someone not to become a Catholic because I knew that so much of their lifestyle would not fit with the teachings of the Church. (NB. they did seek my opinion otherwise I would never have volunteered it).They were considering becoming a Catholic as their partner was a Catholic and they were getting married in a Catholic church. When I asked them did they believe X, y, nd Z they said No, and I said well Catholics are supposed to believe in /adhere to certain things so did they want to sign up for that. They decided they did not but pointed out that their Catholic partner didn’t follow any of those teachings either!!

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