Matthew Hennessey writes in First Thoughts: When an alcoholic finally gives up his booze, he no longer refers to himself as a drinker. When a nicotine addict quits puffing, she no longer calls herself a smoker. Yet for some reason, when a person who was raised Catholic stops going to Mass, ceases to accept the teaching authority of the Church, and publicly charges the institution and its hierarchy with both moral and criminal failures, that person is entirely free to continue calling him or herself a Catholic. He is referring, of course, to Nancy Pelosi and others who have defected from established Roman Catholic teaching and practice and yet still refer to themselves as "Catholics." But by extension we could probably include tens of millions of Americans who in identity and name think they are "Catholic" but who do not attend Mass. It is a conundrum.
I admit to having the same problem with Lutherans who insist they are Lutheran but have not darkened the door of a Lutheran congregation, knelt at the rail to receive the sacrament at a Lutheran altar, or done anything else that might identify them publicly as a member of a Lutheran parish. It is a growing problem. The numbers of those who think they are Lutheran but are not counted as members of any Lutheran congregation continues to expand (as it does with Roman Catholics). They are called by ex-churched or de-churched or even the un-churched. It matters not what you call them, what do we do with them?
It does them or us no good to have them think that they are Lutheran but have chosen to make membership or practice optional. We have an inflated sense of our own size -- which is not good. They have an inflated sense of their own identity -- which is not good.
Sometimes I get a cruel and malicious sort of delight when those non-practicing "Catholics" grab the media to exert their "Catholicism" -- we Lutherans are fortunate that so few of our ilk are in the public eye that we can largely avoid this public poke in the eye (and when they do get exposed - Michele Bachmann - they tend to quickly switch their membership). But I have no room to gloat. We have the same problem -- only more hidden.
If you are going to claim the name, then you need to be in the game. Being Lutheran or Roman Catholic or whatever is no private affiliation which is known only between you and God. Being Lutheran or Roman Catholic or whatever is a public identity -- in the pew, at the rail -- or no real identity at all.
I will let Mr. Hennessey have the final word:
These pseudo-Catholics are having a laugh at the expense of all those
who attend Mass, are committed to their faith, and respect the
magisterium. For Nancy Pelosi to call herself a Catholic, while accusing
actual Catholics of opposing abortion out of some desire
merely to hurt women simply beggars belief. The onus should be on Nancy
Pelosi and those like her to substantiate their claims of faith. To
paraphrase the Marx brothers: Who are you gonna believe, me or your