A Liberal Catholic’s take on the comparison of Catholicism and Armstrongism


I am darn glad that I have been getting new and enthusiastic posters on this blog and James Thoughts and Musings James Pate’s mother, Janice fits that bill to the T. She has been responding to a past Intelligent Quote of The Day post (Dec. 2, 2007) where FYI Again describes the similiarities between Armstrongism and Catholicism. Janice believes there is no comparison and it is simply to errant to make some comparisons. She believes the Catholic Church today is multi-faceted as opposed to being monolithic. Interesting enough while former WCG(or XCG) members who are now practising Catholics like Darren Carrey (who is a conservative Catholic in the John Paul II tradition) and Jared Olar and apparently a “Jordan Potter” (who are very no-nonsense conservative in the Benedict VI tradition)—Janice takes more of  a liberal and progressive approach in Catholicism and submits to some degree the Roman Catholic Church has been like that because the RCC has been no means been static. Here again is Janice comments in it’s own post:

As an ex-Radio Church of God, aka Worldwide Church of God, aka Church of God International member, who is now a Roman Catholic, I must disagree with many of the insinuations out there that those who embrace Catholicism, particularly Roman Catholicism, are simply trading one “evil” for another. Yes, the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church–all churches have their physical heads. And, in many countries, the “give till it hurts” situation and historical power of the Catholic Church (especially in South and Central American countries) has created poverty and social ills which have had quite devastating effects (but no more so than religious imperialism in other non-Western countries)–that said…
There are issues with my current, and chosen, religion with which I (and my husband, a Roman Catholic from birth who happens to be from South America) disagree, among them the following: I am pro-choice, although abortion is not a route I would take; I have never felt the need to go to confession, but I do believe confession is “good for the soul” if one chooses to do so; I would argue against the perpetual virginity of Mary based upon Judaic marriage tradition; I believe priests should be allowed to marry, and women should be allowed to become priests. Many of these are issues that the Roman Catholic Church, itself, is examining. There are others, but I think I make my point. The difference between the two religions, Armstrongism (a cult) and Roman Catholicism (a mainstream organization) is that, despite the fact that I do not adhere to some of the established beliefs, I am never turned away at the door, I am not refused communion, I am not “marked”, nor have I ever been called on the telephone, e-mailed, or visited by a priest to “warn” me of my impending doom and ex-communication if I do not adhere to policy and authority. I am encouraged to think for myself, to question doctrine, to spiritually examine myself (at this season of Lent, especially). I chose to become Catholic when I met my then-future husband–it was not forced upon me, therefore I cannot see how I was, or am, a “victim” or “prey” in any way. To the contrary, I attended the RCIA classes, which consisted of very open-minded and educated individuals, of my own free will. I was constantly reassured that I did NOT have to become Catholic to attend church OR to be married in the Church, or to continue with the meetings OR TO BE SAVED. I have never heard a priest say he was “always right”, or even hint at such a thing, any more than any other mainstream minister–it depends, I suppose on the area and the individual. There was, and is, absolutely NO pressure whatsoever. The choices are, ultimately, between myself and my God. I made the decision to be baptized, married, confirmed, etc. in the Roman rite because it has brought me a peace I had never before felt. Yes, the Roman Catholic church has a troubled past–Vatican II addressed many of these issues. The Roman Church of today is NOT the Roman Church of the middle ages, or even of the early 20th century. And one has only to look at the late John Paul to conclude that not all of the popes were “evil” as they were portrayed by the Armstrongites, although the fact that there WERE those who were, certainly, of questionable character is readily admitted to by the Roman Catholic Church of today. Papal infallability does not presuppose humanity, but only pertains to official scriptural interpretation. The Roman Catholic Church and tradition continues to grow and change: they admit to mistakes, and they admit to error–including public apologies to those whom they have hurt in the past. Please, before we compare Armstrongism to Roman Catholicism (or any other mainstream religion or form of Catholicism or Orthodoxy) research, research the researcher, and do not allow old bias and prejudice to influence the results of that research. Apples and oranges may both be round, but they are definitely not the same fruit.


16 thoughts on “A Liberal Catholic’s take on the comparison of Catholicism and Armstrongism

  1. Cool! She sees a lot of grey areas and is mature enough to see that not everything is in black or white. The strident partisans and ideological purists would have tough time with your mom. I say, it is about time!

  2. I like the fact that, in the Catholic Church, there is a lot of room for personal speculation.

    But I also like that there are definite boundaries as well. On the issue of whether abortion is morally acceptable, there is no room for disagreement. There is no questioning the perpetual virginity of Mary. That confession is a sacrament is not up for review. Of course such things can be personally questioned, and that’s okay if “questioned” means digging deeper around the issue to satisfy doubts; but if questioning means choosing to disbelieve, then that is unacceptable, and requires repentance.

    I addressed this very issue about the Church being a monolith here: http://www.catholiccomments.com/2005/04/is-catholic-church-monolith-yes_23.html

  3. Thank you, and yes: in agreement with James, I am conservative on some issues–my husband and I consider ourselves to be morally conservative, yet politically and ideologically liberal.
    It has been said that American Catholics are “cafeteria” Catholics, picking and choosing what they wish from the religion; however, we’ve both spent time in Catholic countries and have noticed it is much the same, and much more liberal, nowadays. The majority of American Catholics I know practice birth control, as do many in Europe (albeit surreptitiously) argue that priests should be allowed to marry, feel women should be allowed in the priesthood, and a not insignificant number are pro-choice (such as John Kerry, who said that he was Catholic but does not uphold all of the beliefs in the last election).
    There are a lot of grey areas in all belief systems; there is much to be learned from all of them. But freedom to do so, in my own humble opinion, is of utmost importance. Far from being “cafeteria”, if one uses insight and wisdom in “picking and choosing”, change and growth are encouraged.

  4. Yes, I have studied the Catachism, as well as the Vatican II documents. Our RCIA classes were quite lengthy and intense–the instructors were professors and deans of colleges, the bishop, himself, and nuns w/master’s and doctoral degrees–and the program lasted well over a year. But, as well as being a Catholic, I am also a historian–and some issues (such as perpetual virginity) are quite cloudy on a historical basis: Mary was, after all, a Jew. However, I do believe Mary was without sin, and do not question the immaculate conception OR the virgin birth. I do believe in transubstantiation. I do believe in confession BUT in the dioceses of which I have been a part, as well as in the Catholic school where I taught, it has always been a personal option–I consider it TOO sacred to go to confession for what I would term “non issues”–and until I feel I have something to really confess, I do not feel I need to do so. That does not mean I will not because it IS sacred. The priest, however, is no longer considered to be a “go-between”, but a helper, a servant, a counselor–and confession IS “good for the soul” and an important sacrament.
    On most issues, yes; of course, there are boundaries. However, and this is a big “however”, ideas and boundaries change as the world changes, and I feel that questioning, even of 2000 year-old “open to interpretation” dogma, is normal and vital to growth–for example, it is no longer a “sin” to believe the earth is round and not the center of the universe! It wasn’t a “sin” in the first place…but it took open questioning and intellectual growth to eliminate the inherent dangers of the times when it was tantamount to a death sentence to believe the Church to be in error–intellectual growth and questioning led to change. That danger no longer exists–the Church has changed and people are no longer put to death for questioning. As well, we must remember there are many different groups of Catholics, not just the Roman rite; indeed, on the “marrying of priests” issue, we had a priest on staff in one diocese who was from a different Catholic rite which allowed priests to marry. So some dogmas of RC are not adhered to in others–although the Pope remains the ultimate authority in most.
    On abortion, as I stated, it is not a route I would personally take. However, many people would take that route–if they do not believe it to be a sin, that is between they and their God. Would I discourage it? Of course. But, morality really cannot be legislated–that legislation can well be attempted, and should be. A simple example: murder is against the law of the land as well as the law of God, but it does not stop murder–and “legal” murder, such as in warfare (which was, incidently, “ordered” by God in the first testament) is “morally” acceptable. Is one right and the other wrong? Abortion is the same; however, under anti-abortion legislation, women resort to dangerous practices to terminate pregnancies and many will die–including Catholic women in second and third world countries who simply cannot afford another child even while abiding by the doctrine of the non-use of birth control.
    People will do as they will do, even after all is said and done. Personal choice is personal choice, whether it pertains to the choice to sin, the choice to believe, or the choice not to believe. We ALL have that choice and use it (openly or not) on a regular bases with or without dogma or legislation to guide us (that does not eliminate the need for either). Repentance, however, is between the sinner and their God, not between the sinner and an intermediary.
    Terry made a good point: “even cafeterias have been known to change their selections now and then”. For me, it is about not being a “habit” Catholic or Christian, in general, but questioning for the purpose of growth–which was certainly not allowed in the Armstrong or Armstrong influenced cults. The inherent danger in “habit” Christianity, Catholic or non, is complacency. What one believes (or does not believe) at one point may change with that questioning. And, I reiterate: within the Catholic Church I am allowed to question for the purpose of growth and if I am not ready to accept a specific dogma, I am not turned away–with the possible exception of transubstantiation, which is vital to accepting communion within the Church and separates Catholic communion from Protestant– even then, that would be my personal choice to not take communion, as it would, to me, be a sin as a Catholic–not a Christian. In that case, I would be a member of a Protestant organization.

  5. Janice, it looks you also got a new friend in Gavin Rumney who has a blog called Ambassador Watch.

    Oh by the way, I just want to name two more former Worldwiders who are Catholics. One is Dennis Embro (conservative in the JPII/Darren Carrey sense), the other is Steve Dalton (…and you think Mel Gibson and his father are tough…). Dennis has a website and a book published. I have had contact from both men via the internet.

  6. Yes, ft, I discovered that…
    “Liberal” Catholics, whether former Armstrongites, from other traditions or organizations, or “from birth” are out there, and probably more numerous than many think–giving “voice” to that liberalism is largely dependent upon the diocese–but , thankfully, there is room for everyone–ultra-conservatives to ultra liberals. That is the beauty of freedom, isn’t it!! I must also admit that I am a proponant of “liberation theology”, which truly makes me a liberal in more than one sense of the word (note that liberation theology is more concerned with the inhumanity of mankind against mankind than with unbelief, and–while it has its weaknesses–is more concerned with the “now” than the past). We are all on a different path towards the same goal, and trying to weed out the tares from the wheat. May all of our journeys be blessed, and known by their fruits.

  7. As Felix mentioned above, I’m an orthodox “conservative” Catholic, but I unhesitatingly agree with Janice on the Armstrongism vs. Catholicism comparison. It’s only ignorance and/or strong prejudice that would cause one to see any comparison at all. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t certain superficial similarities or analogous beliefs and practices, but anyone who spends a little time looking at Catholicism and Armstrongism up close — looking at how Catholicism and Armstrongism are lived today and in the past — will have to conclude that the differences are vast and far more significant than the similarities.

    I guess it tells you something about how “broad” the Catholic Church is that someone like Janice and someone like Steve Dalton both profess their allegiance to Catholicism. (For the record, Steve has effectively “excommunicated” me after I took him to task for his anti-Judaistic and anti-Semitic tendencies, something far too common among so-called “traditionalist” Catholics, among whom Steve counts himself.)

    P.S. A spelling correction — it’s Dennis Embo, not Embro. I think there’s a Canadian town or city in Ontario named Embro, where some of my wife’s ancestors lived in the 1800s, but Dennis’ surname is Dutch or Belgian, I think.

  8. You are correct, Jared—it is Embo, not Embro. The name sounds Italian. Well anyway, his book is called The God That Prevailed is on amazon.ca at a nice low price of $3.39! I’ll probably get a copy soon. He seems like a very helpful and nice guy.

    About your dealings with Steve Dalton, brings me to what I said in my previous comment, “If you think Mel Gibson and his dad are tough…” Sad to know that he’s put on his list of “burn at the stake heretics”. I shared Steve’s hatred of Armstrongism but had little use for his “anti-Judaistic and anti-Semitic tendencies” as you aptly described. I guess that makes two of us on his list. Sigh! LOL!

  9. As a former WCG member turned Catholic, I can totally relate to your experience. It was my choice to become Catholic and I was never threatened in any way with “loss” of salvation or excommunication if I didn’t come under “God’s authority”. I receive communion every time I attend mass. There is no judgment about my individual views. Armstrongism was filled with heavy bias and the WCG used fear to keep its members in line. They had to do this in order to keep the money rolling in. As a Catholic, I am free to give as I am able and am never turned away if I don’t give an offering. No church is perfect and mistakes are made. Once we realize this, we begin to understand what Christianity is all about. If we were perfect, we wouldn’t need Jesus.

  10. I was a WCG from my teens in the early 60’s until my late 40’s. My wife and I, both former Catholics, returned to the Catholic Church in Aug. 2000. My experience reflects what other former WCG have said about comparing WCG with Roman Catholicism — only superficial comparisons can be made.

    For my personality, I find the devotional depth of the Catholic Church to speak to my soul more deeply than anything I’ve experienced in all my years in the WCG. AND the devotional very naturally flows out of the theological understanding of the Church. From the Trinity flows the sanctity of marriage – from the Incarnation flows our communication with Christ as understood in the theology and devotion to the Sacred Heart. As one comment above stated – the sacramental life of the Church brought her a peace that was previously unknown; I perfectly understand that comment and add to it the devotional life made present to those who seek it in Catholic piety.

  11. Hi, I came across this blog when researching the pro-CHRISTmas agenda. I, myself am a Catholic and loves being one. I read this post and it deepened my faith. I do disagree with some of your views on abortion, the priesthood, etc. However, it’s the fact that I can disagree that I love. As you said, the Catholic Church allows you to think for yourself and be yourself with God. I remember in history class some time ago, we discussed the Catholic Church during the Medieval Times, Renaissance, and Reformation. Maybe I was paranoid, but I felt very strongly that the book placed more importance on the Church’s mistakes than the steps it took to fix them. I gradually saw my beloved faith being ‘beaten up’. However, I took that experience to grow in my faith and see that the Church (as you said) is not what it was then.

  12. I’m glad the author of this article didn’t have the kind of unpleasant experience with Roman Catholicism I did. I was born and raised catholic and found the rules upon rules attitude of the Church to be oppressive. The faith didn’t speak to my heart and I found its rituals to be empty and meaningless motions. My mother, a non-practicing Methodist had to sign a feakin’ contract that all children had to be raised Catholic to marry my father. If the Church or the Vatican thinks they can own-my-ass in that kind of way they need to think again. I think my mother deserves an apology for that crap. Not to say that evangelical groups are much better. In fact I’ve noticed that numerous fundamentalist and evangelical groups are moving closer and closer to Catholicism. Perhaps this would be a good article for my blog at some point.

    While I don’t have personal experience with Armstrongism, I find the Strong-Armism if the Vatican and the Pope and his alleged “infallibility”, Priests and their false-sanctimony to be insulting and even borderline cult-like. Having said that I can same about the same things regarding Rick Warren, James Dobson, Pat Robertson and many others. I don’t mean to pick on Vatican and Catholic leaders any more than anyone else and I recognize there are many caring and fair-minded Catholics.

    Any group that tells it’s unmarried adults that a condom is a “provision for sin” is performing an unacceptable disservice in my view and that is pretty much all such groups. I currently choose and recommend the church of sleepin’ in on Sunday morning and have no guilt about it.


  13. First and foremost “The Scott”, I give you my “hearty” welcome to my blog. Thank you very much for your comments above. I do agree that Evangelicals are becoming like Catholics (we’re talking about it’s worse aspects here). I sure like your church of sleeping in on Sunday. At least you save 10 % of your income. Please visit and comment often and I look very forward to talking to you in a more personal and private setting. Keep up the good work.

  14. Thanks Felix, I appreciate someone out there who doesn’t want to kill me for giving a contrary message on the “sexual purity” issues I discuss. I really don’t want to recommend the Church of sleepin’ in, but as an unmarried adult I have taken all the ‘Bible’ beating I’m going to take on the premarital sex issue. I will now beat them back with their own Bibles. Unfortunately this makes me “not welcome” most places. It’s not because I believe differently on that issue, its because I speak my mind about it.

    Anyway, I’m on facebook if you want to connect to me, or drop me a note from my email. It’s on the about page of my website.

    God bless contrarian bloggers!


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