At Holy Cross College you are required to take Theology 240, which includes doing a practical project during the semester. For my project, I chose to research catholic stereotypes. I wanted to make this project more formal, so I made a survey and had 60 people between the ages of 18 and 24 take it.

Growing up in the Catholic church had a lot of positive effects on my life and some negatives. Being a part of such a deeply rooted religion and having the traditions we do helped me have structure in my life and also allowed my relationship with God to flourish. One of the negatives I had growing up was being stereotyped by non-Catholics. Attending public school most of my life I was surrounded by more non-Catholics than Catholics. Some of the non-Catholics around me would call me a “Mary Worshipper," “Stupid Catholic,” “Virgin Megan,” “Cult Member” or “Gay Hater.” Some were said by friends who were kidding, others said by people who were too ignorant to actually learn about the Catholic faith. These stereotypes are what helped me come up with my practical project.

People outside the Catholic religion have certain stereotypes about Catholics. In my survey I included the most common stereotypes I knew about. These included: The Catholic Church discourages scripture reading, idolatry issues — worship Mary/ saints, Catholics are non-Christians, Catholicism being too strict, the Catholic religion is a cult, Catholics re-crucify Jesus every Sunday at mass, the Church tends to be too traditional. Also, I had a section for people to write down any stereotypes they had heard of. I was very surprised by my findings after tallying and calculating the results.

I found that 83 percent of people (both catholic and non-Catholic) who took the survey do not think the church discourages scripture reading. When asked about idolatry, 51 percent of non-Catholic people thought that Catholics worship Mary/Saints. When asked about idolatry, 73 percent of Catholics also believe we worship Mary. This surprised me a bit, but not as much when I calculated the results of the “Catholics are not Christians” stereotypes. The survey found that 79 percent of non-Catholics believe that Catholics are not Christians. This shocked me because all of the people surveyed were in college. You would think college students would be more educated than that. Believe it or not Catholics were the first Christians.

Another part of my survey was about the Catholic church being too strict and or too traditional. I found that 68 percent of non-Catholics find the religion to be too strict/traditional. Only 14 percent of the Catholics who took part in the survey thought the religion was too strict/traditional. These numbers coincided with the stereotype that the Catholic religion is a cult. Personally, I do not find the catholic religion to be too strict/traditional. Yes, we have a lot of guidelines and rules, but they are only set in place for us to grow closer to God.

To be completely honest, I do not really know where the cult stereotype comes from. We meet just as regularly as any other religions — Sundays, Holidays, Feast days, etc. The two aspects of the survey I was most interested in finding out about were the first and last questions: When you think of the Catholic Church, what is the first thing you think of? And do you know of any Catholic stereotypes not previously mentioned?

A lot of the things mentioned about stereotypes were that Catholics are alcoholics, women in the church are oppressed, the church is not with the times, and that we put Mary before God. I understand the alcoholic thing a bit more than the others. Yes, we have wine at Mass every week. But we are not drinking wine — it is the blood of Christ. Just like any other church using juice instead of wine.

Being a woman in the church I have not ever felt like a lesser person or a step below any man in the church and I would all catholic women would feel the same. If not, maybe you should try a new parish.

The church is very traditional, but we do keep up with what is going on in the world today. Look up Pope Francis’s ideas about homosexuals, transgender people, abortions, etc. all things that are current in today’s society that the church has a teaching on. One stereotype that has always angered me is that Catholics put Mary before God. I can completely honestly say that is not true. No one comes before God. Ever. That has been the catholic teaching and will always be the catholic teaching. God becomes before all else. So, for those of you who call Catholics “Mary Worshippers” please just stop. Mostly because that is a false assumption and name calling is just childish.

One of the most interesting things I found was that the church is too strict and what one person’s reasoning behind it. “Yes, why do children make a commitment in eighth grade?” What this person is referring to is the act of confirmation. All young Catholics get confirmed around the age of 13. Confirmation is the renewal of our baptismal vows and the gift of the Holy Spirit is given to us. Our parents choosing to baptize us and raise us in the religion, confirmation is the choice we get to make to stay a part of the religion. So my question to this person is, what is the difference of being confirmed at 13 in the catholic church and being baptized at 13 in a non-denominational church? There is no difference, it is still a choice made by the 13-year-old child.

My favorite part of this survey was reading answers to the first question: when you think of the Catholic Church, what is the first thing you think of? The most entertaining one was “Wine — real wine” (22 year old). She later mentions mass is “flatbread and free wine!” On a more serious note, one mentioned “gay haters” (21 year old). I just have to say Catholics do not hate homosexuals, and nor do we discourage them from the church.

The catholic church's teaching on homosexuals is that we love and accept all people. Being a homosexual is not a sin, acting on it is. I loved one person’s thought behind this who took the survey, “Many people think Catholics hate gay people. This is not true Catholics don’t believe a gay lifestyle will lead you to happiness and that the acts are often sinful. Hate the sin not the sinner” (23 year old). I could not have worded this any better. The rules and traditions of the church all lead us to God, who is the purest form of happiness.

Some heartwarming first thoughts people had, were mass, love, compassion, mercy, home, friends, and family. These all describe what the catholic religion is about. If you take anything away from this article I hope it is these three things. Catholics do not worship Mary, The Catholic church welcomes and loves all people; and we may have a lot of traditions but, they are only there to bring us closer to God — who will give us never ending love and happiness.