“Roman” Catholic

Aren’t all Catholics “Roman” Catholics, whatever their rite may be?

There is apparently some confusion as to the phrase “Roman Catholic.” In Church documents, you will not find the phrase “Roman Catholic” used to describe the universal Church. Instead, the only phrase used to describe it is simply “the Catholic Church.”

For instance, the recent Vatican document Dominus Iesus says the following in paragraph no. 16: “This Church, constituted and organized as a society in the present world, subsists in [subsistit in] the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him.”

Nowhere does this document refer to the universal Church as the Roman Catholic Church. Likewise, the DOGMATIC CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH, Lumen Gentium, nowhere uses the term “Roman Catholic.” Nor is it used in any documents of comparable authority. It does not appear in any code of canon law. From a strictly canonical standpoint, there is no “Roman Catholic” Church.

However, you will sometimes encounter the phrase “Church of Rome” in Church documents. This phrase is used to denote the actual Diocese of Rome. Sometimes it is also used to denote the bishop who presides over this diocese, the Holy Father.

In Church legislation and canons, the Western Church is referred to as the Latin Church. However, in everyday usage members of the Latin Church refer to it as the “Roman Catholic Church.” For instance, in the small town of Toronto, Ohio there are two Catholic parishes. On one side of the town is St. Joseph’s Byzantine Catholic Church. On the other side of town is St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church. That’s exactly what the sign says in front of the parish. And everyone knows that this parish is part of the Latin Church.

Here’s another pertinent example. In the city of Pittsburgh there are two Catholic dioceses. There is the Byzantine Catholic diocese, and also the “Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.” That is the actual name of the diocese. Everyone knows that this diocese is part of the Latin Church because it calls itself the “Roman Catholic” diocese. If a Byzantine parish were to advertise itself as St. Nicholas Roman Catholic Church, there would be endless confusion. That’s because, in popular usage, Roman Catholic has become synonymous with the Latin Church.

This matter is further complicated because there exists in canon law a “Roman Rite.” The Roman Rite is used exclusively by the Latin Church. Eastern Catholics object to being called “Roman Catholics” because we do not use the Roman Rite, as Latin Catholics do. It seems to us that the term “Roman Catholic” is best reserved for Catholics who use the Roman Rite.