Who is a “true” Catholic? What constitutes authentic Catholic belief? I have often met claims in the comments threads on a range of Catholic sites that one cannot claim to be part of the Catholic faithful unless that includes faithfulness to Catechism, that loyalty to the Church necessarily implies, indeed requires, loyalty and automatic obedience to the pope and to Vatican doctrine. How sound is the claim? I know, of course, what the Catechism says, but this is circular reasoning: we must believe the Catechism, because it says so. (This reminds me of Scott Pomfret’s delightful observation: “How do we know the Pope is infallible? Because he said so. In 1879“). I could equally well argue that you must believe me, “because I say so.” It is true that the argument summarised above is far more complex, with the doctrine developing over many centuries, but at its essence, the argument remains: believe the bishops, because (over many centuries) they have, collectively, said so.
James Alison likes to respond to Vatican teaching by saying “Yes, but is it true?“. I like to respond by checking claims not against theory, but against empirical evidence. So I repeat my questions, and ask ou to pay attention to the precise words: not what should Catholics be or believe, but who are the, what do they really believe?