In the 2016 Presidential election, both vice-presidential candidates are Catholic. In circles of faithful Catholics, both have been referred to as “Catholics in Name Only.” One journalist has labeled them both “Catholic-ish.” Pundits in the Catholic media say that Mike Pence is an “ex-Catholic,” and remind us that Tim Kaine can’t really be Catholic and also be pro-choice.
It’s obvious that Mike Pence and Tim Kaine have strained relationships with the Catholic Church. Pence, who worships at an evangelical church and professes an evangelical’s faith, seems to have rejected the authority of the Church’s Magisterium. Kaine, who supports abortion rights and the redefinition of marriage, might believe that the Church has authority, but he has obviously chosen to defy that authority.
But there really is no such thing as an “ex-Catholic.” Catholicism is not a congregationalist religion. Membership is not a self-defining proposition. Grace—the grace of baptism—makes one a Catholic. The Church teaches that “by baptism, one is incorporated into the Church of Christ and is constituted a person in it.”
Catholics believe that baptism has certain objective and unalterable consequences. That Catholic identity is not the subject of self-definition. Nor is it the consequence of proper Catholic behavior, or assent to the Church’s teachings, or even obedience to the Magisterium.
In 2009, Pope Benedict affirmed that Catholicism comes without an escape clause: Once a person is baptized or received into the Church, there is no getting out.