Concise Lexicon of Christianity

Ken Collins’ Website

Teachings, worship, rites, sermons, and terminology

What Does the Roman Catholic Church Think of Protestants?

Quite a lot of Protestants and many Roman Catholics are mistaken about the Catholic Church’s position on Protestants, so some of you may be surprised at the answers.

Statements that are false:

Thee Roman Catholic Church allows its members to transfer their membership to Protestant denominations.
I do not believe that this is true. Since the Catechism of the Catholic Church limits the validity of Protestant churches to those who were born within them (paragraph 818), this implies that Roman Catholics are not permitted to become Protestants. Many Protestant churches will readily accept Roman Catholics as members, however.
Roman Catholics are not allowed to attend Protestant services.
This used to be true, but since the Second Vatican Council, Roman Catholics are permitted to attend Protestant worship services. They are just not allowed to take Communion in any church other than the Roman Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Protestants will go to hell.
This is not true, at least not since the Second Vatican Council. Keep reading for details.
The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the validity of Protestant baptisms.
This is not true. Roman Catholic canon law recognizes as valid any baptism that includes the following three elements:
  1. Water, applied by any means.
  2. The wording, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit from Matthew 28:19.
  3. The desire on the part of the baptizer to perform a valid Christian baptism.

In the case of an emergency baptism, it is not even necessary for the baptizer to be a Christian, let alone clergy, or a Roman Catholic. If the baptizer failed to use water, did it as a part of a game or a scene in a movie or a play (and thus did not intend to perform a valid baptism), or if the wording from Matthew 28:19 was changed, then the Roman Catholic Church won’t recognize it, even if the baptizer was a Roman Catholic priest.

Statements that are true:

Roman Catholics may not take Communion in Protestant churches.
Roman Catholics are supposed to take Communion only in the Roman Catholic Church.
The Roman Catholic Church welcomes Protestants as brothers in Christ.
This is true since the Second Vatican Council. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: …one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [i.e., Protestant churches] that resulted from such separation and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers. All who have been justified by faith in baptism are incorporated into Christ; they therefore have a right to be called Christians, and with good reason are accepted as brothers in the Lord by the children of the Catholic Church. (Paragraph 818)
The Roman Catholic Church cooperates with Protestant bodies on matters of worship.
This is true. Various organizations within the Roman Catholic Church are members of ecumenical organizations that deal with matters of worship, such as the Consultation on Common Texts. The Roman Catholic hierarchy also routinely works with leaders in other Christian denominations.
The Roman Catholic Church sees Protestant denominations as ‘means of salvation.’
This is true since the Second Vatican Council. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, …many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside the visible confines of the Catholic Church: the written Word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope, and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, as well as visible elements. Christ's Spirit uses these Churches and ecclesial communities as means of salvation… (Paragraph 819)

Source: Catechism of the Catholic Church, English translation for the United States of America, compiled by Libreria Editrice Vaticana,(Luguori: Liguori Publications, 1994).