When I was away from the Church there was a sentiment I encountered multiple times: Catholics aren't Christian.
Even though I had a loathing of Catholicism while living outside of its teachings, I never adhered to this belief about Catholics not being Christian. It always felt misguided from wrong information. But since I was on their side at the time (adhering to Protestantism) I didn't argue or offer clarification. I allowed the misconception to stand, and I regret it now. Though in my defense, I never thought I'd be Catholic again so I saw no sense in offering guidance and correction of this view.
While away, I heard a Protestant on stage, in front of about 10,000 people or so, bring up purgatory and his rejection of it. His perception of purgatory was that it was a "waiting room" of sorts and that the Catholic Church believes that souls stay in this waiting room until God decides if they're "going up or going down". Sounded silly to me because I knew that was incorrect. I'm not sure where he got that from, but I knew he had just misled thousands of his ardent followers into accepting this misconception of a Church teaching. It was frustrating that he clearly didn't take time to look into it before sharing his points for a planned talk. Purgatory will be for another post, but if you are interested in the direct Catholic teaching of Purgatory, then in the meantime you may refer to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1030-1032.
There are many misconceptions about teachings of the Church that I've heard over the years. When it comes to rejecting Catholicism, it would do you better intellectually to reject what the Church actually teaches rather than rejecting misconceptions. By rejecting the misconception, you're not rejecting the Catholic Church like you may think you are. Though I pray you don't reject the actual Church teachings, it's more respectable, for me at least, that you reject based upon actual facts of something rather than your perceptions. Though I suppose that does require research on your part, and I admit it's easier to accept what is told you.
If you reject the actual teaching even after seeing it yourself, then we can work from there to see if better understanding can be accomplished. But if not, then first there must be correction of confusion, then ascending together up to what the teaching actually is. Not all but most times when I hear, read, or come into contact with an objection or reasoning behind rejection of the Church, I'll find myself thinking or saying: I agree. I reject that as well. Good thing Catholics don't believe that.
When I reverted, my conversations with the Protestants in my life, coming from all types of theological backgrounds, began shifting. No one overtly attacked me, but there were questions, and this belief about Catholics not being Christian began resurfacing, but now I had to be an apologist.
I remember when a friend of mine, who is a Pentecostal preacher, heard that I was going to Mass and Confession frequently, and that I was no longer attending the Protestant church I often used to speak about. So with a tone of curiosity and no maliciousness he asked me: So, as a Catholic now, do you believe in God and in Jesus?
I was taken aback. That was new. I had heard Protestants ask if we believed in Jesus or wondering if we were saved, but not if we believed in the the God of Abraham. I told him that we most certainly do believe in God, and that it's a very intimate relationship that the Catholic Church has with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And then he himself was taken aback:
"Oh, I thought y 'all worshiped Mary as your deity"
"Oh, most certainly not. We honor and love Our Mother but she is no deity. Christ is Our Lord and Savior. Mary is His mother who bore Him, nursed Him, raised Him, cared for Him, and took on tremendous pain as she witnessed her own son undergo scourging and crucifixion for us, for she knew what Christ was here to do. Christ told the Apostle John while on hanging on the Cross to behold Mary as his mother, and to His mother He said to behold John as her son. So John took her into his home for that reason, to care for her as his own mother like Christ asked. We as Catholics try to echo the actions of St. John in our lives by taking Mary into our homes and hearts and show her love since she is the Mother of Our Lord. Christ loves His Mother, and so do we. We have respect for Mary because she willingly said yes to God by her fiat ("be it done") to the angel Gabriel and she became the Theotokos (God-bearer) which led to our salvation because the Word became flesh. Look to the angel Gabriel's greeting "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women." What other human receives a greeting like that? This is what the Hail Mary prayer is: Scripture. And then we are simply asking her to pray for us. In the same way that you would ask me to pray for you, and that I would ask you to pray for me, or as a child you would go to your mom to ask for something that she would run by your dad, we ask Our Mother to pray for us and to come to the Son and the Father with our intentions on our behalf. Look to the Wedding at Cana, where Christ performs a miracle at the request of His Mother even though His hour had not yet come. Because of this we go to her as well with our prayer intentions for we know that Christ loves and respects His Mother. But all of our worship is to the One God" I replied.
"That's beautiful. I hadn't heard it explained like that before" he said. Praise God. In hindsight, I'm thankful for my Protestant brother being concerned enough for my soul to want to come speak to me based upon this misconception he had.
The basics of Catholic beliefs can be summed up by the Nicene Creed professed at Mass:
I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible. I believe in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Only Begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages. God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the Father; through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate, he suffered death and was buried, and rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, who has spoken through the prophets. I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. I confess one Baptism for the forgiveness of sins and I look forward to the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. Amen.
I've seen and heard it claimed that the reason some Protestants think that Catholics aren't Christian is because they say we believe in a false Christ and a false Gospel. Some attack the Eucharist claiming it to be idolatry, saying we worship bread and wine and that we think the physical elements are what save. The Catechism, nor any saint or orthodox theologian, ever claimed that we worship "bread and wine" and that Calvary and the Eucharist aren't connected (CCC 1324-1327, 1333-1344). Some claim and believe that the pope is an aristocratic theological tyrant who we must unconditionally obey and abide by every word he mutters and that infallibility means "perfect in act and word". Some claim that we worship Mary, or in the least hold her to be on the same level as Christ and therefore Christ wasn't enough. The Catechism, nor any saint or obedient theologian, ever claimed these to be the views of the Church (The Episcopal College and its Head, the Pope CCC 880-896 ; Mary CCC 963-975). Some call our belief in baptism misplaced, saying we think that the water saves us. The Catechism, nor Pope Peter, nor any saint or ratified theological explanation ever claimed that the water itself saves us (CCC 1229-1245). So it goes so on, and so forth.
The argument against Catholics being Christian goes as such: since some perceive that we have established "supplemental" means outside of direct grace from the Passion of Christ on the Cross it is that we then view the Blood spilt at His death as insufficient for our salvation. Those who hold this view word things in such a way that it seems as if there's a numerical value being placed on Christ's Blood; as if it can't cover a vast and infinite multitude of avenues for grace to come to us, seeing how it is the Blood of the Infinite and Everlasting God.
Catholics are criticized upon the charge that we don't go directly to God, and that we keep things in between us and the Father - i.e. priests, Mary, sacraments, saints. God doesn't always directly communicate or interact with humanity. He's used prophets and priests, angels and saints, missionaries and Apostles. He even became Incarnate, taking on flesh to become fully Man while remaining fully God in order to establish His Church (CCC 871-879) and undergo His Passion. He didn't appear solely as God and snap His fingers and establish the New Covenant, but came down to us and became Man and lived for three decades in order to do so. The God of the Old Testament is still the same God of the Gospels. He is unchanging. He is constant. He established a physical and accessible priesthood and a hierarchy in the Old Testament through the Law of Moses. Knowing this, why would we be led to believe that His New Covenant and everything therein has to include only direct contact with God; and that it can not include multiple avenues of grace even though the Law of Moses had been fulfilled through Christ? Show me Christ's words that this is so; that there are no earthly means that Christ uses to bestow the Spirit and graces onto His fold.
God came down to us and appealed to us by human means. How is it impossible for God to have a visible and accessible order to His New Covenant when He Himself became visible and accessible and sent out beings of the earth to spread His Gospel? Why did Christ establish Apostles, these physical and human messengers given authority to judge the tribes of Israel from twelve thrones (Matt 19:28, Luke 22:30)? Why did he have these fallen humans communicate the Gospel to the Jews and the Gentiles rather than doing it Himself while alive if we should only come and go directly to God and no other? Seems like a recipe for disaster. We know that Christ has ability to appear in order to bring about conversion of heart (Acts 9). Why couldn't He do this for the nations He sent the Apostles out to? Why is God relying on mankind to spread His Gospel? Why go through that trouble? Why are you going to a church and listening to your pastor and how he himself interprets scripture rather than going to God and having Him tell you everything you need to know? Why are you relying on a book of compiled documents that was ratified by Catholic men and declared as inerrant if we need only direct contact with God in this New Covenant? It all seems rather indirect to me.
We Catholics are told that we place too much faith on traditions of men, yet all of Protestant beliefs stem from men, and men who in fact all disagreed - i.e. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Huldrych Zwingli, Thomas Cranmer, etc. Yet this vast disunity is meant to be appealing and the way Christ intended? We don't claim that anything administered within the Catholic Church stems from anything other than the infinite merits of the Cross and Christ Himself. The Eucharist that we consume makes no sense outside of the context of the Passion and the Old Testament sacrifices and their fulfillment through Christ.
Let it not be forgotten that all of the foundational Christian teachings were formulated by the Catholic Church: the compilation and then ratified canon of Scripture that was determined inerrant, the doctrine of the hypostatic union, and the definition of the Trinity. It was the Church that defended the Faith against major heresies such as Docetism, Arianism, Monothelitism, and Gnosticism; actions I assume are approved of by majority of Christians, and it was all to defend Christ and His Bride the Church. All the martyrs of the Church died in Christ's name, suffering tremendous pain and gruesome deaths. We seek union with Christ through the sacraments and by our lives, desiring to grow in virtue and live out His Will; desiring to be justified in the eyes of God. We pray that we receive all the graces that we need in order to live a virtuous life glorifying God so that when we cry out "Lord! Lord!" Christ will recognize us before the Father. Yet we are told we are not Christian?
We don't worship bread and wine, we consume the Eucharist believing Jesus Christ is truly present under the appearances of bread and wine as the Early Church did (St. Ignatius to the Church of Smyrna 104AD). We don't believe water saves. We follow Pope Peter's teaching (1 Peter 3:21). It is grace stemming from the Passion poured out onto us by the Spirit by our cooperation with God's Will to be baptized. We do not hold the pope's words to be binding in all instances, nor do we believe a pope is perfect - i.e. Pope Peter denying Christ; his sin at Antioch and being confronted by Paul; telling Christ he would not let Him be crucified and being rebuked, etc. We do not worship Mary or any saint. It has never been Catholic teaching to do so.
Though there are differences in how we all read Scripture as Christians, Catholics still profess that Christ is Lord, that He is our Savior, that it is by His Passion and its merits that salvation is possible; that Jesus has no equal (CCC 422-429, 430-435, 436-440). We hold that the Blood of Christ covers infinitely times over; we place no numerical value on its application to mankind or to the accessible graces. We don't change or twist anything of the nature of Christ or His life. The difference is in how we interpret Christ's teachings. Telling us that we aren't Christian seems harsh and uncharitable, not just to current Catholics, but to Catholic Christians from the Apostolic Age of the Church all the way up until now.