The answers and comments to this question have made it clear that transubstantiation is a Roman Catholic Dogma. Of Dogma the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

The Church's Magisterium asserts that it exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging Catholics to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

Every Roman Catholic is obligated to irrevocably adhere to Dogma in order to remain 'in the faith':

If a baptised person deliberately denies or doubts a dogma properly so-called, he is guilty of the sin of heresy [...], and automatically becomes subject to the punishment of excommunication". - Ott, Ludwig (n.d.) [195X]. "INTRODUCTION — §4. Concept and Classification of Dogma – 1.". In Bastible, James (ed.). Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma. Translated by Lynch, Patrick

This 2019 Pew Research Center survey indicates that only 1/3 of self described Roman Catholics in the United States agree with the Catholic Dogma of the transubstantiation of bread and wine into actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.

The survey goes on to say that 69% of those surveyed personally believe that during Catholic Mass, the bread and wine used in Communion “are symbols of the body and blood of Jesus Christ.”.

Availability and reception of accurate teaching does play a significant role but it is not solely explanatory: Of that 69% who hold memorialist views, 43% do not know or understand the Church's teaching on the matter. Of the 31% who do believe in transubstantiation, 28% know the Church's teaching.

However, of the 69% that hold memorialist views of the Eucharist, one-in-five Catholics (22%) reject the idea of transubstantiation, even though they know about the church’s teaching.

It is this last category, the 22% of self declared Roman Catholics in the United States who know about the Catholic Dogma of transubstantiation and yet reject it in favor of a memorialist view, that I ask about:

According to the Roman Catholic definition of heresy and the Pew Research survey, are 22% of Roman Catholics in the United States heretics and automatically subject to excommunication?

2 Answers 2


According to the Roman Catholic definition of heresy and the Pew Research survey, are 22% of Roman Catholics in the United States heretics and automatically subject to excommunication?

Assuming that the survey is entirely accurate (and there are reasons to question the results at least in part), we still have to make further distinctions before we can say they are heretics and subject to excommunication.

The first distinction is whether the 22% can be said to obstinately hold it. Knowing what the Church teaches may suggest that they do obstinately since they choose to hold to something the Church rejects, but there's some nuance here. If they hold to it despite knowing the Church not only teaches transubstantiation but also that the Church considers it dogma necessary to believe in for salvation, then we would say they would fall into the category of heresy.

In other words, a mere material heresy from holding a mistaken idea doesn't typically fall under canonical punishment.

The second distinction is whether a particular person is canonically liable to the penalty. Canon 1323 and Canon 1324 list many exceptions.

Canon 1323 exempts certain people from penalties including due to age, acting from fear, out of ignorance of the law, etc.

Canon 1324 diminishes penalties in other circumstances (age, lack of reason, heat of passion, etc).

However Canon 1325 notes:

Ignorance which is crass or supine or affected can never be taken into account when applying the provisions of cann. 1323 and 1324

Thus, even if they are heretics in the sense above, they may not be liable to the law due to circumstances such as minority in age or ignorance of the law or its penalties.

  • Thank you. Regarding your first distinction (not sure if this is going to have to be a separate question) are there dogmas that are not necessary to believe for salvation or would this simply be a matter of not knowing the critical nature of dogma? Commented Apr 15 at 17:21
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    It's knowing the critical nature. That is, if you know the Church teaches X but you don't know that it teaches it as dogma/necessary to believe, there's some degree of lack of culpability.
    – eques
    Commented Apr 15 at 18:17
  • Thanks again. Does any culpability fall upon the church or the individual teacher for not accurately teaching the critical nature? I imagine it's hard to discern whether it was taught poorly or just received poorly. Commented Apr 15 at 21:46
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    Morally speaking, pastors have the responsibility to ensure their subjects learn and know the faith, but the moral culpability is based on intention rather than efficacy.
    – eques
    Commented Apr 16 at 1:15

As @eques explains there are some nuances to be taken into account. But in general I think it is more than fair to refer to the Second Vatican Council for some context. In this council the Church has said:

This Sacred Council wishes to turn its attention firstly to the Catholic faithful. Basing itself upon Sacred Scripture and Tradition, it teaches that the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.

They are fully incorporated in the society of the Church who, possessing the Spirit of Christ accept her entire system and all the means of salvation given to her, and are united with her as part of her visible bodily structure and through her with Christ, who rules her through the Supreme Pontiff and the bishops. The bonds which bind men to the Church in a visible way are profession of faith, the sacraments, and ecclesiastical government and communion. He is not saved, however, who, though part of the body of the Church, does not persevere in charity. He remains indeed in the bosom of the Church, but, as it were, only in a "bodily" manner and not "in his heart." All the Church's children should remember that their exalted status is to be attributed not to their own merits but to the special grace of Christ. If they fail moreover to respond to that grace in thought, word and deed, not only shall they not be saved but they will be the more severely judged.

Source: Lumen Gentium, chapter II, §14 (my emphasis in bold)

So if you are Catholic and you believe as the Church teaches, in a way, it doesn't matter too much if someone is excommunicated for heresy or not. What is very important is to help people to find the truth (again).

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    "So if you are catholic and you believe as the Church teaches, in a way it doesn't matter too much if someone is excommunicated for heresy or not" Huh? Is the pronoun switch intentional? How does my belief relate to someone else being excommunicated? Or did you mean the same person is both believing and excommunicated?
    – eques
    Commented Apr 15 at 16:22
  • My apologies, I do have to watch out better when writing in English. The "you" in this case would be something like "someone who". In Dutch that is a specific word, I thought could be translated to "you" in English. SO no, I did not refer to you, @eques
    – ABM K
    Commented Apr 16 at 10:32
  • In English, we can use "you" in a quasi-generic way, similar to saying something like "one could..."; the confusion was more the change in pronoun from you to someone.
    – eques
    Commented Apr 16 at 11:35
  • Okay, I will be more careful next time!
    – ABM K
    Commented Apr 16 at 15:06

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