12 Simple Differences Between Catholics and Protestants

By Wendy Thomas Russell | June 10, 2013 | 122 comments

The rapid rise of the “Nones” — those unaffiliated with religious groups — was back in the news this week, when the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life released its most recent study on American religiosity. Here’s what Pew had to say:

The number of Americans who do not identify with any religion continues to grow at a rapid pace. One-fifth of the U.S. public – and a third of adults under 30 – are religiously unaffiliated today, the highest percentages ever in Pew Research Center polling… Their ranks now include more than 13 million self-described atheists and agnostics (nearly 6% of the U.S. public), as well as nearly 33 million people who say they have no particular religious affiliation (14%).

In addition, the group emphasized that, for the first time in history, there is no Protestant majority in the United States. That is, Protestants have dropped to 48 percent, whereas they comprised 53 percent of the public as recently as 2007 — a drop of 5 percent in five years. (Catholics, by comparison dropped 1 percent during the same time period — to 22 percent). As you all know, Protestants are Christians who broke off from the Catholic Church 500 years ago. Although there are more than 33,000 (!!) Protestant denominations, all of them still operate in ways that are separate and distinct from the Catholic Church. But what are the differences, really? I mean, all Christians Churches hold the same core value: Jesus Christ was the son of the God who died for our sins, arose from the dead, and ascended to heaven. Isn’t the rest just window-dressing?

Well, here, you decide.

Twelve Differences Between Catholics and Protestants:

1. The Pope. Catholics have a Pope, which they consider a vicar for Christ — an infallible stand-in, if you will — that heads the Church. Protestants believe no human is infallible and Jesus alone heads up the Church.

2.  Big, Fancy Cathedrals. Catholics have them; Protestants don’t. Why? Well, Catholicism says that “humanity must discover its unity and salvation” within a church. Protestants say all Christians can be saved, regardless of church membership. (Ergo… shitty, abandoned storefront churches? All Protestant.)

3. Saints. Catholics pray to saints (holy dead people) in addition to God and Jesus. Protestants acknowledge saints, but don’t pray to them. [Note: There is much debate about the use of the word "pray" in this context, so let me clarify: Saints are seen by Catholics as an intermediary to God or Jesus. Although Catholics do technically pray to saints, they are not praying for the saints to help them directly but to intervene on their behalf. They are asking the saints (in the form of a prayer) to pray for them. It's like praying for prayers. Hope this helps.]

4.  Holy Water. Catholics only.

5. Celibacy and Nuns. Catholics only.

6. Purgatory: Catholics only.

7. Scripture: The be-all, end-all for Protestants is “the Word of God.” For Catholics, tradition is just important as scripture — maybe even more so.

8. Catechism: Protestant kids memorize the Bible. Catholic kids get catechism.

9. Authori-tay: In Catholicism, only the Roman Catholic Church has authority to interpret the Bible. Protestants hold that each individual has authority to interpret the Bible.

10. Sacraments: Catholic are the only ones to have the concept of the seven sacraments (baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, penance, anointing of the sick, holy orders, and matrimony). Protestants teach that salvation is attained through faith alone.

11. Holidays: Catholics have 10 Holy Days of Obligation (which mean they must go to Mass). Protestants are more like, “Just come to church on Christmas, that’s all we ask.”

12. Communion: In Catholicism, the bread and wine “become” the body and blood of Jesus Christ, meaning that Jesus is truly present on the altar. In Protestantism, the bread and wine are symbolic.

This post originally appeared in October 2012.


  1. Austin says:

    I noticed that the article does kind of throw the protestant church to the side instead of being equal… “Ergo… shitty, abandoned storefront churches? All Protestant.” Also, no resources? I know I am Christian and I like to know this for sure. It’s not right to say all this with no real visible proof as to say all this of Christians. God knows it all, and what is right and wrong. I am not to correct, but to recognize and point that out. God knows it all, as I said, and something tells me something up the there is way off for both views.

  2. khay says:

    its not about the difference and the similarities of the church it about the faith that we have on through God and jesus .

  3. Greg says:

    sorry typo “Godwinks”

  4. ashli says:

    helped me on my history homework.

    • Greg says:

      Why not, God knows each one of us personally, as if noone else existed but you and God. I believe there is a book called “Bodwinks”, – happenings or coincidences that lead the believer with faith to say “God just introduced himself into a certain context of my life”. I call them spiritual miracles – they cause me to think about and praise God.

  5. Spandana says:

    I believe in life after death!!!
    I believe that the saints were very close to God n Jesus when they were alive n are closer to God even after their death!!!
    I ask my family n friends to pray for me… Similarly… I don’t think it is in anyway wrong to ask the saints to pray for me!!!
    If u really want to know what is right n wat is wrong… Why don’t u ask Jesus??? He will tell you!!! Why argue??? Why condemn????
    Ask the holy spirit to guide you!!
    God never wanted separation amongst his children!!! I wonder when we all will together call ourselves “CHRISTIANS” instead of Catholics and Protestants!!!!

    • Ali says:

      the saint and pious peoples was to follow, following their actions and teachings.

      They came as role model, to show right path.

  6. Glenn says:

    God paid too big of a price by the sacrifice of Jesus so we can have intimacy with Him. We are called children of God those who have accepted God’s gift for payment for sins. He did this so we could come directly to Him. He (God) is welcoming our approach to His throne. Can you imagine a Father that would receive request only by other siblings. He wants your heart (thoughts) to be made known.The Bible said that we are to call Him, Abba.

  7. Savio says:

    As Scripture indicates, those in heaven are aware of the prayers of those on earth. This can be seen, for example, in Revelation 5:8, where John depicts the saints in heaven offering our prayers to God under the form of “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” But if the saints in heaven are offering our prayers to God, then they must be aware of our prayers. They are aware of our petitions and present them to God by interceding for us.

    • Crankypants says:

      Savio, from what I read the bowls of incense are all the prayers that have been made by all the saints (you and me and those who believe in God). BUT, this is an event that will take place at a future time. It is not an on going event.

      • anonymous says:

        God is always in the present…therefore, God’s Eternal Word is always in the present.
        There is no “time” with God and prayers.
        Prayers said long ago don’t have a time limit from the “past” and are not held to the “future.”

  8. Protestantism is far easy;simple;short to understand;follow than Catholicism.It’s
    more open;liberal;& welcomes & respects all other faiths religions like Hindusm.

    • anonymous says:

      Catholic means “Universal”…so indeed it is a TOTALLY welcoming Faith to ALL.
      “Protestantism is far easy, simple, & short”
      Catholicism mostly focuses on Spirituality…to raise our heart, mind, and total being to God. After all, we are primarily Spiritual beings…and we should be primarily concerned about our eternal after-life than this fleeting, temporary world.
      Understanding Catholicism comes through the grace of the Holy Spirit and the person’s willingness to accept His grace. It’s really not difficult at all.
      Unlike some Protestant faiths that actually teach their members to openly criticize and judge Catholics to condemnation, Catholics respect and do not bash other faiths.
      “open & liberal” is the opposite of “straight and narrow.”
      The pathway to Heaven is straight and narrow / God’s way….not man’s way.

      • Greg says:

        Yes, I used to watch the Billy Graham Crusades when they were live. Always deeply moving, as the whold stadium would rise to their feet and come down to Reverand Graham – “do you want to be sure, sure that you are saved, then come down now, because Jesus always wanted an open and public proclaimation that he is Lord.” And, I, being Roman Catholic, agree but, down deep, in my core, and in my reason, I feel I need to take it one step further. The Catholic religion seems to support this core sensability I have. The Protestant Religion seems to say “nope, you’re good, you made the conversion and yeah try to live a good life. But, the conversion is enough.” Not for me, I need to satisfy this spiritual craving I have that I believe was put there by God, (would this feeling come from the devil?)to find ways to live a life that openly problaim that I take seriously the words of Jesus when he says “take up your cross and follow Me”. Aah, and there’s the rub. “Follow Him”, what does that mean? The lives of the Saints, humans like us, are spiritual studies on their one special way they tried to take up a cross and folow. I will even go back to David, it is written “he was a man after God’s own heart.” Oh, how I want to be like him! I ask you, Did David love God, of course, did he do more than make a person conversion? The Holy Scriptures that his life reflected his desire to pursue and penetrate the wisdom, knowledge and love of God” I ponder this Protestant question “where in the bible does it say that Saints can answer prayers” to see where it goes wrong. The Saints, by their lives, can instruct us so we too can be called friends of Jesus. And, then, just as we read about the intercession of Saint Mary, the Mother of God, (Jesus from the cross, “Behold Thy Mother”,) at the wedding of Cana, sees the need of her friends and asks her son, the Saviour of the World, Jesus, to help them. I ask you, do you really believe, Saint Mary, Our Mother, in Heaven, has stopped being the intercessor for us that she was on earth I find great spirtiual comfort and inspiration believing that Saint Mary is even more so in Heaven.

        • anonymous says:

          Greg, such lovely, refreshing comments!..deeply faith-filled and strongly witnessing! I read them several times!
          I’m probably “singing to the choir,” but anyway…
          I love our Faith, and I thank God for giving me this precious Gift. And I thank God that you received and accepted His precious Gift too!
          Our Faith is tremendously rich in graces, blessings, and Spirituality. Our Dogmas are untainted and firm.
          There’s no need to wander or feel like we are wandering.
          And, yes, our Blessed Mother is a VERY special Gem!
          God bless you always!

          • Crankypants says:

            I realize posting comments leaves a lot to be desired because we always can’t say what we mean. I know this is my downfall.
            However, when you say ” our Blessed Mother is a VERY special Gem!” and never stated God’s sons name Jesus I wonder where your focus is.

            1. God sent his only begotten son Jesus to die for our sins ..not Mary.
            2. As the apostles were chosen so was Mary
            3. “Our Dogmas are untainted and firm” Be careful there. Much of Roman Catholic dogma was instituted by man not God.
            4. If God hears all prayers why ask Mary?
            5.Look in Wikipedia and see the history of Maryism. All developed by man.
            6. Follow what Jesus and the Apostles recorded in the Bible.

          • anonymous says:

            Crankypants, I’m getting more convinced that you are only trying to disprove Catholic beliefs…with your clear lack of knowledge about them…moreso than you really want clarifying answers. But, again, you NEVER will disprove our beliefs because they are strictly from the Catholic Holy Bible, aka, God’s Eternal Word.
            As Catholics, we believe in God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit…the Holy Trinity…the mystery of 3 Divine Persons in One….and Mary, the Mother of God.
            I have been a Catholic for over 60 years, I know my Faith very well, and I love my Faith.
            So I have no need for you to tell me what to believe or how to believe or what to research about our Blessed Mother (Wikipedia of all ridiculous places)…especially since our dogmas are NOT tainted and have survived firmly intact…since the pre-announcement of Christ’s Birth…and the founding of our Faith by Jesus Christ Himself in 33 A.D….until the end of time.
            I can answer your questions and statements VERY well, but if you TRULY want to know the One, True Faith, Catholicism, then I suggest that you join a RCIA program in your nearest Catholic Church….which will clarify any and all erroneous beliefs that you have learned in what ever your denomination is…which was founded by man.

        • Crankypants says:

          Your quote “Protestant question “where in the bible does it say that Saints can answer prayers” to see where it goes wrong.   The Saints, by their lives, can instruct us so we too can be called friends of Jesus.  And, then, just as we read about the intercession of Saint Mary, the Mother of God.” But I do not see where you quoted scripture to support your stance.

          My interpretation of how the word “saints” is used in the Bible means followers of Christ.

          As far as prayer goes: romans 8:26 says “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” and 1 Timothy 2:5 says: For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

          I can’t really see where asking deceased saints to pray for us or where asking Mary to intercedes for us is valid. Wouldn’t the Bible state that?

          • anonymous says:

            Our teaching: Catholics are not in the habit of quoting Scripture…not because we don’t know it…but because it can lead to arguments / debates, “weapons,” and misinterpretations taken out of context by others.
            I’m not sure if you really want to know the answers or are you trying to disprove our beliefs –which will never happen– because the entire source of our Faith is the Catholic Holy Bible.

          • Greg says:

            Anonymous – I have had similar experiences – and when you do provide citations, well then, now the focus becomes interpretation. Our Lord encountered this many times, there he stood in front of the self righteous and they refused to believe, “they will have ears, but will not see, they will have eyes, but will not see.”

          • Greg says:

            With due respect, CP, it stated in the bible, in order to have eternal life, you must eat the body of Jesus and you must drink the blood of Jesus. Citations are numerous, yet Protestants interpret this language as symbolism. I believe that when the crowd walked away, knowing exactly what he meant, Jesus, turned to his apostles and said, will you too walk away. And then words of Peter, that revereberate in my hear constantly, “and where would we go?”

          • Anonymous says:

            TO GREG…..I really appreciate your support…especially Jesus’ quote. His quote was / is SO right on!
            I wish we could get connected to have a nice chat.

            Yes, it gets very exasperating when quotes from Scripture are especially right in front of them (in articles online); and they still cannot…or will not…see the true foundational, solid, factual reason for our TRUE beliefs.

            I guess you and I are getting a small taste of what Jesus experienced…and He was in Person yet!
            God bless you always!

  9. anonymous says:

    It doesn’t say anywhere in the Holy Bible that I know of that saints can answer prayers….and neither do Catholics say that.
    We pray to the saints (our favorite saint, a spiritual friend) to ask them to pray to God for us, our needs sometimes…since they are most in favor with God.
    If something is granted through them, we thank God.
    The saints’ lives were dedicated to serving God, helping others…and they don’t stop helping just because they are not on earth anymore.

    • Greg says:

      Yes, I believe it would be nice to spend time with you talking about our faith. Lately, I wandered over into the atheist area of the blog and I got roughed up, but I really appreciated getting the other side’s point of view as well. It’s nice to come back over to this area and so happy to see your posting. Please let me know your idea on the when and where to chat.

      • Anonymous says:

        Hi, again, Greg, (lol) I hear ya!
        I had just been dealing with a VERY exasperating atheist online too for days off and on. Then it was time for me to shake the dust off of my sandals.
        So reading your post today was SO refreshing to me! : )
        I don’t know if the creator of this site will do it, but…
        >>>I give Wendy Thomas Russell permission to give you my email address.<<<
        If not, you can go to Belief.net
        …I'll find you on there…and we can go from there. : )

  10. chris says:

    Quote from above: [Protestants are more like, “Just come to church on Christmas, that’s all we ask.”]

    Question: Where on earth did you get your information from?

  11. Crankpants says:

    it is an admission by the Roman Catholic Church that the Scriptures do not teach in any direct way their dogma of praying to the saints.  The Roman Catholic Church must infer this from scripture and read it into the text in order to support its error.
    It is only God who knows all things, and only God can grant anyone to hear or know what the prayers are of those who pray in silence.  Let’s not give the saints superhuman powers similar to omniscience

    • Greg says:

      Your response lacks a maturity of spirit and knowledge of our Lord and his holy Scritpure. In the next few months, I will try to help you grow in your holiness as I sense this is what has drawn us all to this blog.

      • Crankypants says:

        I got my info from the internet which I admit can be a little “doggey”.

        However Greg, I look forward to what you have to say.

  12. Greg says:

    Jesus said feed my lambs to Saint Peter.

  13. paul says:

    Catholics pray all the time to Saints for help. Many pray to St Anthony for lost items, which I pray directly to Jesus. Where in the Bible does it say that saints can answer prayers?

    • Debbie says:

      To paul, from 8/29/14 (reply button not working)

      The Bible doesn’t say that saints can answer prayers. Why do you ask your friends to pray for you in time of need?

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