While the Pope claims to speak for a billion people, his beliefs and statements do not actually reflect the beliefs of those who call themselves Catholic.
Part of this is due to a lack of education, and part is due to a lack of a comprehensible, comprehensive compendium of Catholic dogma. Catholic tradition states belief should come from the top down; the idea that people can believe whatever they want is the least Catholic idea there is. Yet as a former Catholic and as an atheist who often wonders what the Church’s official stance is, I am very aware of a lack of such a compendium and the lack of the unity of belief the Pope would have us expect.
- The Vatican is not opposed to the theory of evolution, but only 58% percent of American Catholics believe man evolved, a priest on Fox news seems to take Genesis’ creation stories literally, and anecdotally some of my Catholic family members do not subscribe to the theory.
- A Sunday school (CCD) teacher once told me we could pick and choose which bits of Catholicism to believe.
- Many Catholics do not believe that the Host, or communion wafers, are actually non-metaphorically Jesus’ body, as doublethink-like Catholic dogma claims.
- It is common knowledge that the Pope prohibits the use of condoms and indeed all forms of birth control (besides the rhythm method, which they call Natural Family Planning; apparently the high error rate lets God to his thing). Yet it would be foolish to think that every Catholic considers their usage a sin.
- Even dead Popes disagreed with the current one on many issues, be they vulgate Bibles, limbo, indulgences, the Crusades, and Hitler’s Nazi party.
- (Update, early 2014): A full 60% of US Catholics “do not oppose” gay marriage, despite the Church’s stance. 76% say abortion is sometimes or always acceptable; 79% support the use of contraception; and 64% want to see women priests. In each of these statistics, the majority of Catholics disagree with Catholic dogma. (Source: Univision, as quoted in The Week)
Of course, this may all be a moot point since no Christian really understands how the Trinity is three separate people but one God. If the most basic of doctrines doesn’t make sense, it may be too much to ask for the rest to be believed with any consistency, as well.