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How can one tell if one needs to convert in order to be a Catholic or if one is already Catholic?

Would one's or one's ancestors' conversion to another religion or their lack of knowledge about Catholic change anything?

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    Being Catholic is not a matter of one's birth (race, caste, etc.). People must go through a process of learning and examination before they are officially baptized and accepted as members of the Church. Even children that are born to Catholic parents must learn (catechism) and then go through a Confirmation ceremony (typically in early teens). This is a confirmation of the vow to live within the Church that was made on behalf of the newborn baby by its Godparent(s). Dec 30, 2022 at 22:14
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    Being a Christian is primarily about being in an active relationship with God our Father, first through reconciliation once our sin is dealt with, and then through listening to him speak (in the scriptures), praying to him, and living like his children. If you don't know if this applies to you, then the answer is it must not.
    – curiousdannii
    Dec 30, 2022 at 22:44
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    @RayButterworth Catholicism practices infant baptism routinely so "a process of learning and examination" is not a strict requirement. Adult converts would do so. Despite common believe "confirmation" in Catholicism does NOT mean the person confirming the promises made by godparents -- that is, there is no "rejection" which amounts to a negation of those promises.
    – eques
    Dec 31, 2022 at 16:19
  • @eques, so someone that (for whatever reason) doesn't go through the catechism/confirmation process is still officially Catholic even though they either have no knowledge of the religion or have decided to reject it? Dec 31, 2022 at 16:40
  • @RayButterworth correct.
    – eques
    Dec 31, 2022 at 16:45

3 Answers 3

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Unless one has been baptized into the Catholic Church or was previously validly baptized and then received into communion later, one is not Catholic. You cannot inherit it explicitly.

Thus, if you don't know already somehow, only people who knew you as a child might be able to tell you if you had been baptized and if so, by whom -- this is not an impossible situation although it's also not especially common.

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    Note there should be records of any baptism. I'm not sure how the CC handles inquiries re records of baptisms. Dec 31, 2022 at 0:48
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    @OnlyTrueGod indeed there are, but they are kept first at the parish that did the baptism and secondarily at the diocese that parish is located in, so if you don't know where you may have been baptized, it's hard to just find those records.
    – eques
    Dec 31, 2022 at 12:44
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    In event of doubt, there might be a need for a conditional baptism.
    – Mary
    Jan 1, 2023 at 19:31
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How can one tell if one needs to convert in order to be Catholic or if one is already Catholic?

The answer is quite straightforward: ask your parents whether you were ever baptized in a Catholic church as an infant. The parish should have kept a baptism record. The diocese for that parish should have the record or at least help you to locate your baptism record.

  • If you find out you have been baptized, you can be practicing Catholic again by going to confession and receive communion regularly.

  • If there is no record of baptism, you can become a Catholic by participating in your parish's RCIA program which will prepare you for baptism, confirmation, and first communion.

  • If you are still not sure, including not knowing the parish where you might have been baptized, you can be conditionally baptized after going through RCIA.

Could one's Catholic status be obtained or lost by inheritance?

No. Being a Catholic is an individual decision, not inherited. If your parents or grandparents later converted to another religion or to become Catholic, their conversion doesn't affect your status at all.

Would one's lack of knowledge about Catholicism change the status?

If you have been baptized (maybe as an infant) you are a Catholic regardless whether you know about Catholicism or not. Ideally, your parents should have prepared you for confirmation & first communion when you reached the age of reason. But if that didn't happen, you are still a Catholic. If you don't go to church you are a lapsed / non-practicing Catholic.

Would one's conversion to another religion change anything?

What is clear is that you are no longer in full communion with the Church (see Canon Law 751). But it is possible you are still considered a Catholic. See the 2022 Catholic Answers article 'Once a Catholic, Always a Catholic'? by Jimmy Akin.

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    Just in case the OP can't find out if they were baptized, a conditional baptism may be done. It might be worth adding to their answer
    – Belinda
    Jan 1, 2023 at 9:36
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    @Belinda Thanks, added to the answer. Jan 1, 2023 at 18:53
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I am writing this because I see some inaccuracies in the other answers.

There are several points to make.

How can one tell if one needs to convert in order to be a Catholic or if one is already Catholic?

Case 1. If you already have a Christian baptism where specific words were used:

"N., I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

because there is only one baptism to be Christian, including Catholic.

In the number CCC 1271 we can read

"Baptism constitutes the foundation of communion among all Christians, including those who are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church: "For men who believe in Christ and have been properly baptized are put in some, though imperfect, communion with the Catholic Church."

Baptism is one of the few sacraments that can be administrated by a non-ordained priest. As we can read in the Catechism 1256, it can even be administrated by a non-Christian given some specific circumstances.

But for administrative purposes, you can ask the specific procedure to regularize and officialize it. The baptism certificate is required for some other formalities.


Case 2. You are not Christian and converting from another religion or atheism.

This is indeed the real definition of "conversion".

The conversion itself is an internal decision, but the formalization implies, as an adult, that you need to learn sufficiently about the catholic faith. The term is catechumenate. Which then is formalized in baptism.

We can read about it in CCC 1248

Even if the catechumenate dies before the formal baptism has already the benefits of it. CCC 1259.

But we need to understand some concepts about Catholic baptism. There are different ways to have baptism. In CCC 1258 we can read that people who die in a persecution of Christians receive what is called the baptism of blood. And also mentions the desire for baptism.

This "desire" for baptism, which is necessary for salvation, includes people that never heard of the gospel because God provides mechanisms for everyone to be saved. CCC 1260.

Case 3. If you were baptized as a baby, you are already a member.

CC 1272 says:

Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character) of his belonging to Christ.

But as you are already a baptized person, baptism can be received only once, you either track in the parish where your parents lived for the certificate or you ask your local parish for the procedure to have a new certificate in case you need it.

There could also be the case, where you do not have relatives that know this. Then the catechumenate way would be in order. Although there is the possibility that you are already a member, (by either baptism as a baby or by desire) conditional baptism is the one the user Mary commented on the other answers.


Even if you are excommunicated, you are still a catholic, because of "the indelible spiritual mark" but in order to return to the church you need the sacrament of reconciliation. This is another way we can understand "conversion", returning to Christ.


Second question

Would one's or one's ancestors' conversion to another religion... change anything?

No.

Baptism and life in Christ is personal. Jn 21:22

If I want him to stay alive until I come [again], what is that to you? You follow Me!


Third question

or their lack of knowledge about Catholicism change anything?

Yes and no.

In the case of Catholic infant baptism, it is the responsibility of the leader of the house. Acts 16:31-32

And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” And they spoke unto him the Word of the Lord, and to all who were in his house.

But as the person grows, you have your own responsibility in following Jesus if you know him, and your right conscience if you do not know him (which is not the case)

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    Which inaccuracies? Or do you perhaps mean imprecisions?
    – eques
    Mar 15 at 13:57
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    :) You are forcing me to learn more and more about my vocabulary! I was thinking about your answer "then received into communion later". Although we could make the distinction between practicing Catholic or just Catholic, "Baptism seals the Christian with the indelible spiritual mark (character)", regardless of what happens after the Baptism (until death, where you are separated from militant and then either become triumphant or suffering) And on GratefulDisciple "The answer is quite straightforward". I understand that he is referring to the administrative aspect...
    – Rafael
    Mar 15 at 16:09
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    ...but the spiritual aspect is a bit more profound. Including the baptism as an adult in some other denominations as I commented in my answer, or the baptism of desire.
    – Rafael
    Mar 15 at 16:09
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    The question is about conversion vs hypothetical inheritance, which suggests more of a concern about the juridical state. This is somewhat independent of the more metaphysical question of is a non-practicing Catholic really Catholic. Similarly, baptism of desire doesn't make one Catholic in that sense but it allows for salvation.
    – eques
    Mar 15 at 16:27
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    "the baptism as an adult in some other denominations " Which isn't excluded in my answer. Adult converts who have been baptized are "received into communion" as I stated.
    – eques
    Mar 15 at 16:31

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