Say that I am not a Catholic, but am interested in learning more about the faith. However, I am not yet sure if I actually want to become Catholic. Would it be possible to participate in a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class in order to learn about the faith, even though I am unsure of if I will join it at the end of the class? Or does participating in RCIA require an initial commitment to formally become Catholic at the end of it?
You are not signing a contract as an Inquirer
Does participating in an RCIA class require an initial commitment to convert to Catholicism?
Absolutely not. If you find that it isn't working, you may leave
The beginning of the RCIA process is the inquiry phase. (Officially referred to as "The period of Evangelization and Precatechumenate" in the cited reference below).
Page 15: It belongs to the conference of bishops to provide for the evanelization proper to this period. The conference may also provide, if circumstances suggest and in keeping with the local custom, a preliminary manner of receiving those interested in the precatechumenate, that is, those inquirers who, even though they do not fully believe, show some leaning toward the Christian faith ...
During this time, as an inquirer, our deacon likes to put it this way: "you check out the Church and the Church checks out you." This assessment continues even in the following phases of the preparation for entry into the Church, as either catechumen or candidate (candidates are those already baptized but not yet Catholic) right up until the Rite of Initiation takes place.
There are checkpoints along the way; self-evaluation is included
Two intermediate rites act as milestones toward your answer of "yes, I'll keep going through with this" or "no, I am not ready yet" (or similar decision to demure).
The Rite of Acceptance -- where one accepts certain tenets and agrees to proceed
The Rite of Election -- where the local ordinary will (during the early part of Lent) identify those who are eligible and willing to receive the sacraments at the Easter Vigil.
- In our experience, the Rite of Acceptance took place about 3 months after we started the class, but timelines will vary a bit by parish and based on the needs of the person(s) involved. For those who are already well versed in Scripture and Christianity, for example a Lutheran or a Methodist, the inquiry phase may well be a lot shorter.
There are also three scrutinies.
All of the above represent potential decision points for you, and in some cases for the Church, on whether proceeding is in everyone's best interests.
The two rites and the three scrutinies all precede the capstone event of baptism / confirmation / receiving communion at the Easter Vigil. (Or such other time as is chosen by the local ordinary / bishop). If at any point along the way the prospective Catholic finds, inside their heart, that this just isn't their path to Christ (yet?) then it is best and honest to step aside. (Usually that decision will include a one-to-one discussion with the pastor and / or deacons where they are undergoing RCIA).
I found that even after the Rite of Acceptance, it was not uncommon for people who were on this journey to find that it isn't for them, and so they moved on to other things or other churches. (In our parish, when this happened they went with our prayers and our blessings, and an invitation to return any time in the future if the time became right, or if they'd heard a new call).
Would it be possible to participate in a Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (RCIA) class in order to learn about the faith, even though I am unsure of if I will join it at the end of the class?
Yes. I've seen that quite often, with varying results in terms of who chose to take the whole journey and those who didn't complete it. I offer you a caveat, however. There is more to RCIA that "a class." It's supposed to combine instruction with spiritual formation in a harmonious fashion.
If during your journey toward being received into the Church you find that you are not moved to join, or that you cannot commit yourself honestly and without reservation, it would be wrong (and it would feel wrong in your gut) to accept the invitation to be received into the Church at the Easter Vigil.
As a point of reference, the restoration of the Catechumenate after Vatican II was inspired by the original conversion/initiation process from the early church, which sometimes took years before a person was ready to enter into the Faith. (Or before the Faith was ready to let them in).
Basis for this answer:
Catechist serving in the RCIA ministry for 6 years, mostly informed by RCIA in America; I cannot speak for the flow in other countries, but I suspect it is similar. What we did was governed by this USCCB endorsed publication: Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults (Study Edition). The long form ritual edition of The Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is here.