“The Catholic Church has too many rules.”
This is a cliché and does not stand up to examination.
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First, how many rules is “too many”? People never propose a number for how many would be appropriate. They just repeat a stock claim to criticize the Church.
Second, the rules the Church has are much fewer than those of any group of comparable size.
The Church has a billion members, the large majority of whom belong to its Latin rite. The main legislation governing the Latin rite is theCode of Canon Law, which is one volume that runs a little over 500 pages in a standard English edition.
By comparison, the United States has around 300 million citizens, but the main federal legislation governing it—the United States Code—is thirty-four primary volumes in its 2012 edition, totaling more than 45,000 pages!
Third, most laws the Catholic Church has exist to deal with situations an ordinary member will rarely encounter. Such situations happen but so infrequently that an ordinary Catholic is not expected to know the details of the laws dealing with them. They can be briefed as the situations arise (e.g., what you need to do when being confirmed, a once-in-a-lifetime experience).
An ordinary Catholic is expected to know comparatively few rules, such as the Ten Commandments and the five precepts of the Church (CCC 2041-43). They should also know how to prepare for the sacraments they regularly receive (primarily confession and the Eucharist).
This doesn’t include everything a Catholic needs to know, but it does indicate the relative modesty of the rules that apply to an ordinary member’s experience.
Fourth, Catholics should know basic moral principles, but so should everyone. Everybody should be a moral person.
This leads to the real reason that the “too many rules” charge is made. It isn’t about the number of rules. Instead, it is about specific moral rules.
Almost invariably, the person making the charge doesn’t like one or more rules of a moral nature—usually dealing with personal gratification (e.g., don’t have sex outside of marriage, don’t abuse alcohol or drugs).
But these are basic moral principles that belong to human nature. The Catholic Church is merely pointing them out, and the “too many rules” charge is a smokescreen to mask personal temptations.
By Jimmy Akin