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“Ask a Priest: Could I Become a Baptist But Remain Catholic at Heart?”
Q: Will I go to hell if I become a Baptist? I’m a cradle Catholic who was in a relationship with a Baptist. He broke up with me because I was too Catholic — he only wanted to marry someone who was Baptist. Now I still regard Catholic teachings as the highest truth, over Baptist teachings. And I was wondering, in a hypothetical scenario, would I be damned if I “become a Baptist” but still hold Catholic values in my heart? Why I would consider doing it: 1) As far as I know, Catholics and Baptists are 90% similar. We’re all praying to the same God. 2) I don’t want to lose someone I care about. If God became man out of love, is changing denominations out of love also bad? I don’t want to lose out on love by being too legalistic. 3) Honestly, it’s also coming from a place of fear and desperation. I dread the idea of being single indefinitely. We share a lot of core values, and in this day and age it is nearly impossible to find a man who wants to wait for marriage like he would. I’ve had depression for years and I’m tired of being miserable. Even if I was a Catholic my whole life and adhered to all its teachings and commandments, there is still no guarantee that I would go to heaven. And so, would my attempt for love, although misguided, be damned? Why I wouldn’t consider it: 1) I’d be giving up my religion and a part of my identity for this man. It’s not exactly “meeting in the middle.” 2) I want a marriage that is considered valid in the Catholic Church. 3) The idea of renouncing Mother Mary and the saints and the sacraments is a difficult one. Would it be cheating if I pray to them in my heart? 4) I would lose respect for myself and perhaps he would, too, if I just give up on my convictions so easily. Basically, I’m sounding out the idea. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this. – D.
Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC
A: Your core question — sorry if this sounds blunt — seems to be whether it’s OK to live a double life.
You ask whether you can become a Baptist but still hold Catholic beliefs in your heart. I think you already know the answer to that.
Part of being a Catholic involves witnessing to our faith. And our faith tells us that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus. It’s his Church. He is its Head. He gave his life for his Church. He didn’t establish the Baptist sect.
As for Catholics and Baptists sharing 90% of beliefs: It’s good not to underestimate the gap between us. Baptists don’t believe in the Eucharist or confession, much less the papacy, the priesthood, the role of Mary, or infant baptism. These are no small differences.
Moreover, you seem to be posing a false dilemma. Either it’s become a Baptist or you spend your life alone and miserable. Sorry, but that argument doesn’t hold water. In any case, we aren’t ever justified in renouncing our Catholic faith.
You mention that you want to enter a marriage considered valid by the Church. In a mixed marriage, the Catholic partner has to promise to raise the children Catholic. How could you do that if you publicly become a Baptist? If that is your intention, then the Church wouldn’t OK the marriage. And if you kept your intentions secret from the Church until after the wedding, that would likely invalidate the marriage, since you entered it on false premises.
Now, I don’t want all of this to come across as heavy-handed. The questions you raise, however, seem to indicate that you are trying to rationalize why you could bolt from the Church.
It might be good to step back and remind yourself that unless your relationship with Jesus is right, nothing else will bring you happiness. If you leave his Church, what will you have to pass on to your children?
Perhaps you might want to take a different approach with your sweetheart. Consider trying to live your Catholic faith fully, period. Maybe your example could inspire him to consider joining the Church.
In the meantime, it might be good to seek out a regular confessor who can help you. As you mention, the things you are thinking about are not about “meeting in the middle” — they are about compromising the one, true faith.
Perhaps you might want to take some of this to prayer. And you might want to see if you can network with faithful Catholics somehow, either through volunteer work or Bible studies. There are faithful Catholics out there — folks who could help you live your faith well.
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Dear Fr. Edward McIlmail,
Thank you for having the courage to address this question directly and clearly, not dodge around it. I will certainly pray for the lady who wrote this letter, as it took courage to write it. Sadly, a lot of young people do not get the truth they need to hear.
Yours in Christ,