Roman Catholic Church

The Occom Circle

Roman Catholic Church

Name (variant)

Papist's Religion


The Roman Catholic Church is one of the three major branches of Christianity, along with Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism. It numbers around 1.1 billion adherents world-wide and is a complex institution ruled by the Pope at the top (hence the variant names Popish or Papist, which denote a follower of the Pope––in Italian "Papa") and descending ranks of archbishops, bishops, cardinals, and priests at the local or parish level. It traces an unbroken history to Jesus Christ and his Apostles, in particular Peter, the "rock" upon whom Jesus said he would build his church (Matthew 16:18-19) and Paul, who spread the gospel in Rome. The RCC locates the elements of its "catholicity"––doctrine, authority, universality––in the New Testament and became associated with Rome as the capital of the Roman Empire and principal city of the ancient world. Several Popes, acting like imperial monarchs, consolidated and extended the jurisdiction of the RCC to remote areas of Gaul (France), Spain and Africa. Eventually, the Eastern Orthodox Church split off and developed its own structures, and in the 16th and 17th centuries, Church reformers in Europe split off into various sects of Protestantism, which had a particularly violent relationship with Roman Catholicism. These two branches disagreed profoundly on key issues of doctrine and practice: the Trinity, the role of the Virgin Mary, church governance, baptism and the sacrament, to name a few. The RCC began what it called the Counter Reformation to turn back the tide of reform and also redoubled its evangelizing efforts, sending priests and monks to the Americas to convert Native peoples, largely in French- and Spanish-held territories. Congregationalists who settled New England were particularly wary of "Papists," associating their beliefs and missionary activities with the Devil and persecuting them mercilessly. There is no explicit religious toleration for Catholics, or others, until after the American Revolution. Wheelock complains of competing with Catholic Jesuit missionaries active among the Senca Nation and Canadian Indian tribes. Protestants associated Catholicism with hierarchy, hypocrisy, and outward, empty show as does Occom in his bitter letter to Wheelock of July 24, 1771, in which he calls the "semenary" that Wheelock has relocated to New Hampshire with very few Indians in attendance, "too alba mater to Suckle the Tawnees, for She is already adorned up too much like the Popish Virgin Mary" (771424).


"Roman Catholicism." Encyclopedia Britannica.