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Catholic or catholic?

If you do not know the blog Get Religion, you should, especially if you have any interest in reporting on religion in secular media, or any interest in how religions present themselves to the world through the secular media.

There was a recent post discussing the terms Catholic and catholic, and what they mean. While doing a good job of looking at catholic as universal versus Catholic as referring to the Catholic Church, it left a few vagaries intact, that I have always struggled with, especially in secular reporting on the Catholic Church.

Briefly, the most misunderstood aspect of secular reporting on these terms is to always conflate ‘Roman Catholic Church’ and Catholic Church.

I have mentioned it before, but, simply put, the Catholic Church is the Catholic Church. It is not the only church that is catholic, nor is it the entire church catholic, but there is only one church called, officially, the Catholic Church., and it is the 1.1 billion member church in communion with Rome.

Roman Catholic, at most, indicates only a part of the Catholic Church – one of the 23 sui iuris churches that make up the Catholic Church. Roman Catholic and Latin Catholic are basically synonymous. However, Roman Catholic Church and Catholic Church are not synonymous. A Ukranian-Greek Catholic, a Chaldean Catholic, or a Maronite Catholic are all Catholic, but none are Roman Catholic.

More strictly, as I write from Rome, Roman Catholic means those Catholics who belong to the Church of Rome – that is, the Diocese of Rome. There are less than 3 million. Neither should the entire Catholic Church be referred to as the Roman Church – that would be like referring to the Anglican Communion as the Church of Canterbury, or to the Lutheran World Federation as the Augsburgian Church.

Yet, the AP style manual still insists on using ‘Roman Catholic’ instead of simply Catholic. In the end, admitting that the Catholic Church is properly called Catholic and not Roman Catholic does not mean it is, or thinks it is, the only catholic church, nor that it is the entire church catholic, but it is ecumenically appropriate to call a Church what it calls itself. The Catholic Church is the Catholic Church, and no high-church Anglicans were harmed in the making of this statement.

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