The term Roman Catholic is rather confusing. It creates a certain degree of misunderstanding. In the English speaking world it was invented by Protestant  Elizabethans when they were trying not to be too aggressive in their references to the Faithful but were nevertheless unwilling to concede the unqualified use of the term Catholic to them. Accordingly Catholics refused to use it of themselves. It seems the approach of the Faithful softened a little when the prospect of emancipation was dangled in front of them but then they hardened again in the Second Spring. The difficulty came with the insistence of officialdom upon the use of the ‘Roman Catholic’ expression.

The 1912 Catholic Encyclopaedia defines the term rather well, “A qualification of the name Catholic commonly used in English-speaking countries by those unwilling to recognize the claims of the One True Church.” It notes that in 1901 the English Hierarchy found they would not be permitted to address Edward VII on his accession unless they accepted the label. Cardinal Vaughan finally agreed so long as it was understood that he would clarify its meaning in a later public statement.

He made this statement in speech given at Newcastle upon Tyne that September where he told the Faithful,

“I would now say to you all, use the term ‘Roman  Catholic’. Claim it: defend it: be proud of it; but in  the true and Catholic sense. As the African Fathers  wrote some fourteen centuries ago, ‘To be Roman is to  be Catholic, and to be Catholic is to be Roman’. But I  would also say, Like your English forefathers and your  brethren on the Continent, call yourselves habitually  and especially when the word ‘Roman’ is misunderstood  simply Catholics, members of the Catholic Church.”

The problem is the use of the term ‘Roman’ as a specific difference as if there were other Catholics than those in communion with Rome. This problem is magnified outside (and now to an extent inside) the English speaking world by the Empress Maria Teresa’s invention of the term ‘Greek Catholic’ to describe Catholics of the Byzantine Rite. This causes enormous confusion. The term is inoffensive in itself although the increasingly popular ‘Byzantine Catholic’ is perhaps better (resolving the difficulty of the Greek Greek Catholic Church and of Greek Catholics who are not Greek Catholics). The problem is the tendency it creates of using the term ‘Roman Catholics’ to describe Catholics of the Roman Rite which then reintroduces the sense that ‘Roman’ names a sub-group and is not a universal quality of all Catholics.

The absurdity is put into relief by the fact that the pre-1453 (or pre-1261) Byzantines themselves insisted that they were Romans and scorned the term ‘Greek’ as equivalent to ‘Pagan’. Were one to accept the qualifier ‘Roman’ for Latin Catholics while respecting the claims to continuity of the Byzantines and Vaughan’s essential point that to be Catholic is to be Roman and to be Roman is to be Catholic, then a Byzantine Rite Catholic from Istanbul would be a Roman Greek Roman Catholic.

So….. the term Roman Catholic should not be used to describe Catholics of the Roman Rite as distinct from Catholics of the other Rites. A Catholic of the Roman Rite is a Roman Rite Catholic or a Latin Catholic. There is no such thing really as the Latin Rite (unless you mean the Gallican) as the Roman Rite was not originally in Latin nor when it was was it exclusively so. The term Greek Catholic is really not very helpful (but not a big problem so long as it isn’t contradistinguished from ‘Roman Catholic’). The term Byzantine Catholic is better. The term Roman Catholic should only ever be used in Cardinal Vaughan’s sense of Catholic simpliciter and with the caution he added that Catholic is almost always the better choice.

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