Roman Catholic is a title given to the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church.
By this definition, therefore, the term Roman Catholic explicitely excludes the Eastern Rites of the Church, even though these are fully part of the same religion, in full communion with the Bishop of Rome, and are distinguished only by a different structure to their prayers and services. They have the same beliefs. However, the Anglican Ordinarates, which also have a different liturgical calendar and worship structure, nonetheless count as part of the Latin Rite (and therefore, presumably, as Roman Catholic):
While the personal ordinariates preserve a certain corporate identity of Anglicans received into the Catholic Church, they are canonically within the Latin Church and share the same theological emphasis and in this way differ from the Eastern Catholic churches, which are autonomous particular churches.
Hmm. So what is a generic term for this religion? We can’t call it simply Catholicism, because that has a broader meaning, including Christians who definitely do not accept the authority of the Pope:
I am an Anglican. Specifically, I am an Anglo-Catholic, which means that I believe the Anglican Church is part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, that its threefold ministry is the threefold ministry of the Catholic Church, and that I am just as Catholic as you are. If you say “Catholics believe the Pope is infallible when speaking ex cathedra”, I’m going to be in the corner with my hand in the air jumping up and down shouting “excuse me, I don’t”.
We seem to have come to an impasse.
Wikipedia resolves the impasse by saying that Roman Catholic is not in fact a synonym of Latin Rite Catholic.
Catholic Church most often refers to:
- The Roman Catholic Church, i.e. the Latin Rite (Western) and the 22 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Bishop of Rome (the Pope)
- Those churches which, collectively, claim apostolic origins and historical traditions of Catholicism, but not necessarily in the Roman tradition, including the Orthodox and Anglican churches
- Most broadly, the Christian Church in general (in English the uncapitalized form of “catholic” is used in this sense; this is the sense that some attach to the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed)
By this definition, the Roman Catholic Church includes both the Eastern and Western branches of the church in communion with the Pope. This contradicts the opening quote. It also gives us an answer to the question: Christians in communion with the Bishop of Rome are Roman Catholics. This makes sense, but is it how the language is actually used? Certainly Peter Turner seems to disagree: he uses the term differently. Perhaps a well-referenced dictionary would be the best source for this. I certainly wouldn’t take the Wikipedia definition as definite fact, not least because it’s hotly disputed on the article’s talk page.
For what it’s worth, Collins gives:
Roman Catholic Church: the Christian Church over which the pope presides, with administrative headquarters in the Vatican Also called: Catholic Church, Church of Rome
- short for Roman Catholic Church
- any of several Churches claiming to have maintained continuity with the ancient and undivided Church
This seems unhelpful.