Raised Catholic

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"I'm not a religious man, right, I don't even believe in God. But still Catholic, obviously."

Dara Ó Briain (Irish comedian)

There are many who were raised Catholic, and—even though their life has moved away from adamantly following Catholic doctrine—are still really concerned with their Catholicism and/or cite it often. This comes up very frequently in any Good Girls Avoid Abortion conversation, as when a female character will suddenly be revealed as a "good Catholic" who just can't do it.

This also pops up a lot with many comedians, directors, and musicians. Even though they may be lapsed, converted to another religion, or are now atheists, Catholic imagery and topics often still appear in their works. There are also certain N-Word Privileges. A comedian who tells you he or she was raised Catholic, is probably going to make a lot of Catholic jokes or observations about the Church, that might be deemed more offensive if it came from someone else.

Somewhat Truth in Television, although it's a matter of debate among more faithful (or, if you prefer, more doctrinaire) Catholics as to what extent nominal Catholics can really be regarded as "good" ones.

For whatever reason (perhaps because Christianity Is Catholic), there seems to be no common Protestant or Orthodox equivalent to this trope, even though people paying lip-service to their family or culture's religion is as old as religion itself. However, you can compare Informed Judaism as a kind of Hebraic counterpart. A possible explanation for this is that Catholicism and Judaism, much more than Protestantism, are considered by some to be a part of one's heritage in addition to being a religion, especially to those whose national heritage is tied to religion, such as people of Irish, Italian, or Hispanic descent.

There are shadings of this- a "Christmas and Easter Catholic" is someone who attends Mass only on those holidays regardless of how closely they hold to Church doctrine; a "cafeteria Catholic" is someone who chooses which teachings to follow or ignore, regardless of frequency of attendance; an "ex-Catholic" or "recovering Catholic" has left the Church, may or may not self-identify or have formally converted to another religion, but still has the cultural baggage of having been raised Catholic; a "cultural Catholic" or "non-practicing Catholic" still identifies as Catholic due to family or ethnic heritage but really doesn't adhere to the religion itself; and a "lapsed Catholic" or "fallen-away Catholic" is the Catholic Church's own term for all of the above.

Anyone who was born and raised in the church - regardless of their current status - might also be described as a "cradle Catholic."

Examples of Raised Catholic include:

Comic Books

  • Catwoman from Batman. Her sister's a former nun, too, but has some mental health issues and believes that Selina is possessed by some sort of cat-demon. This leads to problems when she becomes possessed by an actual demon and attempts to perform a lethal exorcism on Catwoman.
  • Huntress, aka Helena Bertinelli, of the Batman family and Birds of Prey, doesn't bring it up often, but she wears cross jewelry and prays before she fights Lady Shiva, possibly to the death. Her faith has varied in strength over the years, from non-existent (an important plot point in one story) to firm (but never devout). The strength of her faith is used as a symbol of how much hope and optimism she has for the future. In bad times, her faith declines. For example, after causing the death of a mob boss who knew her identity, she throws away her cross. In good times, her faith is stronger. For example, she plans on attending mass after getting her teaching job and feeling accepted by the Birds of Prey.

Fan Works

  • Douglas Sangnoir of Drunkard's Walk, even though (technically) he's ethnically Jewish. It actually becomes story-relevant in the course of Drunkard's Walk V.

Films -- Live-Action

  • The Boondock Saints
  • Silent Bob, according to Chasing Amy. In a moment where he exemplifies The Silent Bob he explains how he ended up breaking up with his girlfriend after finding out about her previous sexual experience -- not from any disgust, hatred or anything but because...

"Now this just blows my mind, right? I mean, I am not used to this sort of thing. I mean, I was raised Catholic, for God's sake."

  • In Dogma, at the beginning, Bethany doesn't believe in God and works at an abortion clinic, but still goes to Mass on every Sunday.


  • There's a joke where a man goes to his first confession in several years, and after rattling a list of sins, stopping short of murder, the priests asks if he ever knowingly ate meat on a Friday. "I may have sinned," says the man, "but I didn't become a Protestant".
  • And there's another one about a woman going to confession, and the hard-of-hearing priest being greatly relieved when she makes it clear that she became a "prostitute" rather than a "Protestant".
    • The same joke was also told about a man who calls off an engagement when his fiancée tells him she had to become a prostitute to survive once, thinking she said "Protestant" (she clarifies, and the engagement is back on).
  • A similar story is told of James Joyce, who, after he left the Church, was stopped on the streets of Dublin by a woman who congratulated him for becoming a Protestant. "Madam," he said, "I have lost my faith; I have not lost my reason."
  • A Protestant nod towards this trope goes thus: There are two kinds of people in the Church of England, those who believe in God and those who don't.


  • Cole St. Clair in Wolves of Mercy Falls Series is heavily implied to be this, without the title "Catholic" ever being used. He is seen holding a rosary, "Fingers grasping the beads as if the gesture was familiar" and later, an interviewer questions his belief in God, quoting Cole's former role as a choir boy. Given that Cole is now a Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll poster child, he is very much the lapsed sort.

Live-Action TV

  • Booth on Bones.
  • DS Matt Devlin in Law and Order UK.
  • Henry Fitzroy on Blood Ties.
  • A lot of the characters (noticeably not the lead, though) on Saving Grace.
  • Kate on NCIS.
  • Michael Garibaldi on Babylon 5.
  • Jack Donaghy on Thirty Rock. One of his temporary love interests was a deeply religious Catholic, resulting in him trying to hide from her the fact that he wasn't really religious anymore. Hilarity Ensues.
  • Det. Elliot Stabler on Law and Order SVU
  • Peggy Olson on Mad Men—her father was apparently Norwegian (whether Catholic or Lutheran is never made clear, seeing as he's long-dead), but her mother seems to be strongly Irish-Catholic, and rather disappointed with/scared of Peggy's modern, "Manhattan" lifestyle. This is a key theme of Season 2, when a young priest wants to bring her back into the fold.
  • Scully on The X-Files starts out the series as a devout Catholic, having been raised as one along with her siblings. She then struggles to strike a balance not only between her faith and work as a scientist, but her faith and her new knowledge and experiences surrounding the paranormal. There are several episodes that deal with the issue.
  • Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory.

Web Comics

Web Original


The Chick: [to the audience] "There is one surefire way to combat Catholic guilt: Catholic shame. [to Nella] Sorry about that. How's your sex life? That I know you have."


Western Animation

  • Ren from Ren and Stimpy is revealed to have been raised by a Catholic father in "Ren Seeks Help".

Real Life

  • Kevin Smith, who makes foul movies filled with all sorts of cussing and donkey shows, is still obviously obsessed with his Catholic upbringing. And made the movie Dogma.
    • However, he goes to Mass only before commencing the filming of a movie, and before the premiere. He's also pretty open about being a Cafeteria Catholic.
  • Martin Sheen has been quoted thus: “I'm one of those cliff-hanging Catholics. I don't believe in God, but I do believe that Mary was his mother.” His screen/stage name (Sheen) is also an intentional reference/homage to a Catholic archbishop, Fulton Sheen.
  • Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie has described himself as "this indoctrinated Catholic even though I haven't been to church of my own volition in 10 or 15 years now."
  • Pete Jones, the winner of Project Greenlight's first season, made a movie about a young Catholic boy trying to convert a dying Jewish boy to Catholicism.
  • Luis Buñuel, even though he is obviously anticlerical, it's impossible to point out one of his films that doesn't include a reference to Catholicism.
  • Guillermo del Toro is an atheist, who was also raised Catholic and uses a lot of Catholic imagery.
  • This is an extremely common practice in Ireland, and presumably in other majority-Catholic countries as well. Catholicism is a huge part of the national psyche, whether one believes in it or not.
    • Thanks to the removal of the Defection process, it's no longer possible to stop being Catholic in the official sense. (In Ireland anyway.) It's also hard to get into most primary schools (97% of them) without a Catholic birth certificate.
      • Common misconception, ahoy. While the vast majority of schools in Ireland are run by the Catholic Church (and the majority of the remainder have some other religious ethos), they are forbidden to discriminate based on religion, and all parents have the right to have their children exempted from religious education, if they so wish. One finds a good chunk of non-Catholics in virtually every Catholic school here, and This Troper speaks as an Irish Protestant.
    • It also may have something to do with the fact that Catholics are taught Baptism leaves an indelible mark on their soul.
    • This is particularly true in the Philippines as well. While Catholicism is a part of local culture and that there are groups of pious devotees, actual religious practice in general (at least in formal terms) varies considerably.
  • A poll from a religious magazine directed at Catholics in France has concluded that 48% of them don't believe in God. Not 48% of the French, 48% of the Catholics.
    • And in contrast to Ireland, France enjoys the world's most ironclad separation of church and state so getting your kids into school isn't an issue. This is purely a matter of belief and self-identification.
  • Madonna was raised Catholic, and a lot of her songs, music videos, and albums (particularly from The Eighties) allude to this.
  • Lady Gaga was also raised Catholic and even attended an all girls Catholic school. Her video for the song Alejandro features strong Catholic imagery.
  • Martin Scorsese said "I'm a lapsed Catholic. But I am Roman Catholic - there's no way out of it." His films often deal with Catholic concepts of guilt and redemption.
    • It's been suggested that his 1988 film The Last Temptation of Christ, which offended many in the Catholic Church (and many other churches besides) can be chalked up to a vague sense of self-loathing or alienation on Scorsese's part.
  • Jimmy Carr, who references his upbringing in his stand-up routine despite being an anti-theist.
  • Joe Rogan, who makes references to his Catholic School education and Catholic upbringing despite being an atheist now.
  • Richard Hammond of Top Gear fame—it seldom shows, but he looked very annoyed when Jeremy Clarkson and James May were joking about the Catholic priest sex scandal.
  • A number of Catholic writers, such as John Caputo and his "religion without religion," deconstruct this trope by rethinking what constitutes religion and belief in the first place. Hence to press the "Cafeteria vs Faithful" Catholics issue (especially in terms of "piety") would be missing the point of actually believing in something.
  • Denis Leary goes so far as to found the Lapsed Catholic Church at the end of his second album, Lock'N'Load. He also admits that he couldn't remember the Hail Mary prayer during a scene when his character in Rescue Me has to recite it, but can name the starting lineup of the 1967 Red Sox off the top of his head.
  • And Dara Ó Briain, who provides the page quote.
  • George Carlin's massive hit show Class Clown was all about being the class clown of a Catholic high school. A prominent joke: "I used to be Irish Catholic; now I'm American."
  • Stephen Colbert, while himself a Catholic in person (and in fact teaches Sunday school), views it differently from his persona.
  • Dan Savage is openly atheist and a supporter of the skeptical movement, but considers himself "culturally Catholic".
  • Brazil is a Catholic-majority country. Brazilian Catholics are Non-Practicing-majority Catholics.
  • In the United States, it has been estimated that approximately three-quarters of Catholics don't attend Mass regularly. And in the last fifty years, the number of American nuns has dropped to one-third of what it was in the 1960s, despite population growth, and the percentage of Catholic elementary school children (not all children, just the Catholics) who attend Catholic schools (rather than public schools) has dropped from 51% to 14%.