Identifying and Responding to Catholic Imposters

This column first appeared on Catholic Stand.

Since returning to the Catholic Church nine years ago, I have listened to Catholic radio, read Catholic articles, discussed the faith with others, and listened to questions, comments, and criticisms, presented by a multitude of people. I have witnessed the difference between Catholics who genuinely seek truth and those who simply show up to argue, defame the Church, and muddy the waters of truth with superficial assertions designed to lead others astray.

This latter category of people I refer to as imposters. Their sole intent is to create confusion and division by presenting disagreements with Church teachings, often using misinterpreted Bible verses, words taken out of context, emotion, and inflammatory comments to persuade their audience.

In this article I will detail a recent conversation I had with a self-identified Catholic who I will call “Jim” as an example of disingenuous Catholics who outright reject the Church’s teachings. I should note that not every Catholic who rejects Church teachings is an imposter. Many, like myself nine years ago, simply do not understand why the Church teaches certain doctrines, or they may be misinformed as to what the Church actually teaches. This article does not address these types of people except to say that we all have a God-given responsibility to seek the truth at all costs.

Definition of an Imposter

According to Merriam-Webster, an imposter is “one who assumes a false identity or title for the purpose of deception.” For this article, an imposter simply refers to non-Catholics pretending to be Catholics, or Catholics who, with full knowledge, intentionally reject central Catholic doctrines (e.g. Purgatory; Papal Infallibility; the Church’s Marian and moral doctrines, etc.). These are Catholics in name only. So, why would someone choose to be an imposter Catholic?

Imposters typically want to derive some benefit from the group on which they are imposing themselves (e.g. business owners who use church gatherings solely for networking, politicians who claim to be Catholic for the sole purpose of getting votes, etc.). They may also want to appear loyal while simultaneously sowing seeds of division (Acts 20:29-30 and 2 Peter 2:1).

Think about people in the Church, to include certain leftist politicians and some in the Church’s hierarchy, who want to change the Church’s teachings on abortion, homosexual unions, and transgenderism. Knowing that the Church, due to its size (1.33 billion) and origin, is one of the single greatest influencers in the world, these people want it to reflect, rather than change, the current culture.

We know, however, that the Church, by virtue of its being the Mystical Body of Christ, is designed to be a contradiction to the world (Luke 2:34) and that Jesus came not to bring peace but the double-edge sword of truth and love (Matthew 10:34). The Church’s teachings will not change, but as long as people believe they can change them, they will continue to try. All this leads me to my conversation with Jim, whom I believe, based on ample evidence, to be an imposter.

Imposter Behavior

In September, I wrote an article titled How Counterfeit Churches Devalue Christianity – Part 1 and Part II. My central thesis was that Jesus founded the Catholic Church and gave it His preeminent authority. Consequently, Protestant churches, I contended, are counterfeit versions of the true Christian Church that do not have Christ’s authority to arbitrate on matters of faith and morality. Jim responded to my article with imposter behavior: that is, multiple logical fallacies and diversions.

Jim began his arguments with, “As a fellow Catholic and Christian, I have some questions about your recent 2-part article. Since the church started with several Jews in Jerusalem (who recognized Jesus as the Messiah) after the ascension of Christ, why is it that you proclaim the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church? In the beginning, it was the Jerusalem Church.”

Not only had I answered that question in my original article, Jim’s question also betrayed his intent. Notice that after he claims to be Catholic, Jim asks, “…why is it that you proclaim the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church,” as if to say he does not proclaim this. If Jim were a Catholic and sincere in his quest for truth, he would have simply asked, “Why do we proclaim the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church?”

Jim could be someone who refers to himself as Catholic but not as a Roman Catholic. There are a few of these types out there, but they are no more Catholic than a Southern Baptist.

Imposter Hint #1: Using factious language.

Your interlocutor uses terms such as “you Catholics,” “those Catholics,” “you” instead of “we” or “us,” etc. This language will clue you in to their intent.

Following his first assertion, Jim wrote, “Peter did not have sole authority,” to which I responded, “I never said Peter had/has sole authority. I said Peter alone was given the keys to the kingdom. I said the other apostles were given a subordinate authority via Jesus’ instruction to them to loose and bind.”

You can see how Jim took my words out of context. If this were the only example of a diversion, I would not have thought much of it. However, Jim asked, “You contend that Protestants have deviated from the Truth. But haven’t the Catholics done the same?”

I answered, “My argument is not about individual Catholics and Protestants deviating from the truth. My argument is that Jesus founded the Catholic Church and that this Church is protected from TEACHING error. Protestant churches, by contrast, are founded on erroneous, contradictory teachings. It’s part of their essence.”

Imposter Hint #2: Repeatedly taking statements out of context.

Typically, your interlocutor will build arguments against these statements (straw man arguments) rather than your actual statements.

After this, Jim presented another diversion: “Our church is being more devoted to Mary and praying to the Archangel Michael,” to which I responded, “Please prove this. …nowhere/no place does the Catholic Church teach that we are to have a stronger devotion to Mary or Archangel Michael than Jesus. In fact, it teaches the opposite (CCC, 2096-2097).

Catholics offer Christ to the Father at every Mass as a perpetual and perfect offering for our sins. The effects of His once and for all sacrifice on the cross are perpetually received by everyone who turns to Him.” I should add that we also receive these effects when we consume the Passover Lamb in the Eucharist.

Imposter Hint # 3: Using diversions in an attempt to escape your thesis.

One diversion is okay, although you should call your opponent out on it, but additional diversions should, at a minimum, cause you to question his intent and sincerity.

Imposter Hint # 4: Reshaping the original argument.

Above, you saw Jim’s remark about Peter’s “sole” authority and my response. The next day, Jim asked, “If Peter was given the keys to the kingdom, does that imply that he is in control?” I answered, “There is a big difference between sole authority and control. Sole authority means no one else has authority. But as I stated in my response, Peter does not have sole authority. He has prime authority, and the other apostles share in this authority via Jesus’ command to loose and bind.  Peters’ primacy, or ‘control,’ governs the way loosing and binding are discussed and executed. Why do you reject Peter’s authority?”

As you can see, I ended my response with a question just to probe whether Jim would answer it. He did not. I continued asking other questions to which he did not reply. This leads to:

Imposter Hint # 5: Dodging questions he or she cannot answer.

As well as…

Imposter Hint # 6: Attacking papal or church authority.

Jim wrote, “Is the Catholic Church protected from error? The history of the Catholic Church is littered by mistakes and wrongful actions.” I countered, “The Church can make mistakes and individuals in the Church can and do sin. This has nothing to do with the Church’s official teachings on faith and morality. The Church cannot err when it teaches a dogma or doctrine to the universal Church. Why do you think that the Church, Christ’s mystical body, is not protected from error?” He never answered this question. Finally:

Imposter Hint # 7: Employing personal attacks/threats when all else fails.

Rather than discussing anything remotely close to my thesis, Jim decided to question me about my former profession, as if searching me on the internet in an effort to dig up some non-existent derogatory information was going to intimidate me.

No doubt, some people will attack or try to intimidate you when you share the faith. So, please remember Jesus’ words, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you” (John 15:18).

Bonus Imposter Hint: Refusing to be straightforward.

Additionally, Jim admonished me for calling him a liar. I did not call him a liar, however. Rather, I asked Jim if he was lying about being a Catholic. He never answered this question either. Finally, how should we respond to these people?

Responding to Imposters

In California, many people are hypersensitive and have been raised to believe that sensitivity and confrontation avoidance are paramount virtues. They are wrong. Although, our default demeanor should always be one of love and respect, we must not give in to the false moral philosophy that sensitivity and harmony-by-relativism outweigh truth.

Even though Christ always shared the truth lovingly, He did not always speak it gingerly. In fact, He was often blunt and forceful with his words. For instance, He called the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes hypocrites (Matthew 15:7), white-washed tombs (Matthew 23:27), brood of vipers (Matthew 3:7), vessels of extortion and wickedness (Luke 11:39), and fools (Luke 11:40). In other words, there were times when Christ did not coddle His critics with sugar-coated words and hand-holding. He got down to business and told them what they were.

Following Our Lord’s example, sometimes the direct approach is also a loving approach.

Therefore, my advice to anyone who encounters an imposter is to begin conversations about the faith by respectfully commenting and answering questions. Always use seven key techniques: 1) listen; 2) evaluate your interlocutor’s arguments; 3) identify personal attacks and repeated diversions/evasive comments; 4) ask questions and assess answers; 5) try prompting your inquisitor to deal with the arguments presented; if you identity an imposter, 6) go direct and call him or her out; and always 7) pray for your interlocutor that his/her heart and mind will be opened to the truth.

By going direct, you are revealing to them that you know their malicious intentions and calling them to a rational conversation based on truth. This is an act of love no matter how direct you are in your approach.

By grace, some imposters will wholeheartedly convert to Christ and his Church, while others, by perpetually rejecting grace and truth, will remain in obstinate opposition to Christ’s Church. Regardless, we have a duty to share the truth and love of God with all and to persevere in the faith. Imposters come and go, but our responsibility to proclaim the truth will always remain.

This column first appeared on Catholic Stand.