What are some strict Catholic rules?

The Catholic Church has many rules and guidelines that are considered strict or conservative compared to modern society. Here are some of the major Catholic rules that are seen as quite strict:

Rules Around Sexuality and Marriage

The Catholic Church has very traditional views when it comes to sexuality, marriage and gender roles. Some of the strict rules in this area include:

  • No sex before marriage. Premarital sex is considered a sin.
  • No contraception. Artificial contraception like condoms or birth control pills are not permitted.
  • No masturbation. Masturbation is seen as sinful.
  • No homosexuality. Homosexual acts are considered sins.
  • No divorce. Divorce is not accepted except in very rare cases.
  • Marriage is between a man and woman. Same-sex marriage is not permitted.
  • Traditional gender roles in marriage. The husband is considered the head of the household.
  • No in vitro fertilization. IVF is prohibited as it separates procreation from the marital act.

These Catholic rules on sexuality stem from the Church’s views on the purpose of sex being solely for procreation within marriage. Anything that artificially prevents conception, or sex outside of marriage, is seen as gravely sinful. This includes masturbation, premarital sex, homosexuality, contraception and IVF.

Rules Around Abortion

The Catholic Church takes an extremely strict stance against abortion, classifying it as a mortal sin and intrinsically evil.

  • Abortion is prohibited in all circumstances. Even in cases of rape, incest, fetal abnormality or harm to the mother, abortion is strictly forbidden.
  • Catholics who procure an abortion face automatic excommunication from the Church.
  • Catholic hospitals and institutions cannot perform abortions or provide referrals.
  • Catholic doctors and nurses cannot perform or assist with abortions.
  • Catholics cannot vote for pro-abortion political candidates or support abortion rights.

The Church teaches that life begins at conception, so abortion is equivalent to murder. This strict anti-abortion stance has been criticized by some as overly rigid, but the Church sees it as a fundamental moral truth.

Rules Around Gender and Priesthood

The Catholic Church is conservative on issues of gender roles and leadership:

  • Only men can become priests or deacons. Women are excluded from ordination.
  • Only unmarried men are allowed to become priests. Married men who have their wives consent can become permanent deacons.
  • Women are not allowed to preach homilies at Mass.
  • Altar servers were traditionally only male, but this rule has been relaxed in recent decades.
  • Leadership positions like bishop, cardinal and pope are reserved for men.

These rules flow from the Church’s teaching that Jesus chose only male apostles, so only men can take roles of spiritual authority and sacramental ministry. Many argue this is an outdated exclusion of women.

Rules Around Obeying Church Teachings

Catholics are expected to adhere to all the moral and theological teachings of the Church:

  • Catholics must follow the Church’s guidance on faith, morals and conscience.
  • Catholics should obey the Pope’s declarations and directions.
  • If Catholics don’t agree with a Church teaching, they are still required to respectfully obey it.
  • Catholics who publicly contradict or rebel against Church teachings can face censure.

Dissent and free disagreement with the Church is limited. The Church emphasises obedience to its teachings and submission to its authority on interpreting scripture and proclaiming doctrine.

Rules Around Missings Mass and the Sacraments

Catholics have obligations to attend Mass and receive the sacraments:

  • Catholics are required to attend Mass every Sunday and on holy days of obligation.
  • Missing Mass deliberately is considered a mortal sin.
  • Catholics must receive the Eucharist at least once a year during Easter.
  • Catholics must fast for one hour before receiving Communion.
  • Catholics must go to confession if they have committed a mortal sin before receiving Communion again.

Failure to fulfill these sacramental obligations is seen as seriously sinful. Some see these rules as strict requirements, while others see them as reasonable religious duties.

Rules Around Fasting and Abstinence

The Church prescribes days of fasting and abstinence:

  • Catholics age 14 and over must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays in Lent.
  • On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, adult Catholics must fast – having only one full meal and smaller snacks.
  • Catholics must continue to fast from midnight before receiving Communion.
  • The Council of Constance (1414-18) set the first strict ordinances on required fasting.
  • Eating meat on the abstinence days was once a mortal sin but this was later relaxed in the 1960s.

These traditional fasting and feasting practices help Catholics participate in penance and self-denial. But some see them as overly restrictive compared to Protestant requirements.

Rules Around Holy Days of Obligation

In addition to Sunday, Catholics have holy days where they are required to attend Mass:

  • In most countries, there are 6 holy days of obligation: Christmas, Solemnity of Mary Mother of God, Epiphany, Ascension, Assumption, All Saints’ Day.
  • In the United States, only Christmas, Immaculate Conception, Ascension, Assumption and All Saints’ Day are days of obligation.
  • Failure to attend Mass on these days is considered a mortal sin unless serious circumstances prevent it.

These holy days originated as the most important feasts in the Church calendar. They remain strictly binding for Catholics today as days that require Mass attendance and celebration.

Rules Around Lent and Saints Days

Catholics have additional obligations during Lent and saints days:

  • During Lent, Catholics age 14 and over must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays.
  • On saints days, Catholics venerate the saint by attending Mass, praying novenas, or doing other devotional acts.
  • Patron saint days are celebrated by locations like cities, professions, schools and parishes named after the saint.
  • Until the 1960s, the strict Lenten prohibition on meat eating was considered binding under pain of mortal sin.

These customs encourage spiritual practices like fasting, prayer and venerating the saints. While seen as spiritually enriching, some view these obligations as burdensome.

Rules on Religious Education and Sacraments

Catholics have strict requirements around sacramental preparation and religious education:

  • Children must receive religious education, often through Catholic schools or parish programs.
  • Adults converting to Catholicism must undergo months-long preparation in RCIA classes.
  • Catholics must be confirmed in the faith, usually by age 16.
  • Catholic weddings require months of marriage preparation classes.
  • Parents must have infants baptized soon after birth and later enroll them in education programs.

These rules ensure Catholic are properly formed in the faith and prepared for the sacraments. But some find the lengthy educational requirements burdensome.

Rules Against Heresy, Schism and Apostasy

The Church takes acts against its unity and integrity very seriously:

  • Heresy, the stubborn denial of Catholic doctrines, can lead to excommunication if unrepented.
  • Schism, the refusal of submission to the Pope, is an excommunicable offense.
  • Apostasy, the total rejection of the Christian faith, incurs automatic excommunication.
  • Joining Masonic organizations or Marxist parties can also result in excommunication.

Protecting its doctrinal integrity guide these harsh punishments against dissenters. But critics argue it reflects an outdated intolerance of free thought.

Rules Against Lay Preaching and Teaching Authority

The Church reserves teaching authority to the hierarchy and clergy:

  • Lay people cannot preach homilies at Mass, only ordained priests and deacons can.
  • Lay people cannot teach theology without permission from the local bishop.
  • Lay people cannot lead seminars or workshops in parishes without clergy approval.
  • Rules restrict lay people from teaching Catechism classes without certification.

These rules uphold the Church’s authority structure and protect against perceived doctrinal errors by unauthorized teachers. But some see it as overreach that restricts lay charisms.

Strict Rules of Convents and Religious Orders

Members of religious orders and convents live under strict rules of their community:

  • Poverty – owning no personal property and sharing community resources.
  • Chastity – forgoing marriage and abstaining from sexual activity.
  • Obedience – adhering strictly to the Order’s way of life and decisions of Superiors.
  • Penance – bodily mortifications like fasting and abstinence.
  • Prayer – committing several hours daily to prayer and devotion.

These disciplines govern the lives of nuns, monks, and religious brothers and sisters. While seen as paths to holiness, some view the strictness as unhealthy.

Strict Norms on Clerical Celibacy and Chastity

The Church mandates priestly celibacy and sexual ethics for clergy:

  • Priests take a vow of celibacy and cannot marry.
  • Any deliberate sexual activity, even masturbation, violates the celibacy vow.
  • Priests must avoid inappropriate bonds with women or youths that could raise suspicions.
  • Scandals over sexual abuse led Popes Benedict and Francis to strongly enforce chastity among priests and bishops.

Mandatory celibacy is seen as essential to priestly ministry and identity. But some view it as an unhealthily repressive rule that many struggle to follow.

Strict Protocols Around Interacting with Children

In response to the sexual abuse crisis, the Church now has strict rules about priests interacting with minors:

  • Background checks and mandatory training on child protection are required for all clergy, teachers, volunteers.
  • Priests cannot be alone with children in private rooms, sacristies, cars.
  • Policies restrict clergy from touching minors beyond handshakes or pats on the head/shoulder.
  • Clergy cannot contact minors through personal emails, texts, social media.
  • Violations are reported to police and Church authorities for investigation.

While important safeguards, some clergy feel excessively constrained. But most agree protecting children must be paramount despite added burdens.

Rules Against Dissenters in Education and Sacraments

The Church withholds sacraments and education from some dissenting groups:

  • Divorced and remarried Catholics are denied Communion unless they get an annulment.
  • Children of Catholics in same-sex marriages are excluded from some Catholic schools.
  • Theologians who contradict doctrine can lose permission to teach and publish.
  • Clergy and politicians who support abortion rights can be banned from Communion.

These exclusion practices discipline dissent on key issues like marriage and abortion. But critics argue they ostracize the faithful over political issues.

Rules on Withholding Sacraments as Punishment

The Church has threatened to withhold sacraments from sinners and dissenters to enforce discipline:

  • In past centuries, public sinners were denied Communion until they performed public penance.
  • The Church threatened to withhold baptism from babies of unmarried couples until the 1960s.
  • The Sacrament of Last Rites can be denied to people unless they repent their sins.
  • These practices were effective threats to control behavior and uphold morality.

While rarely practiced today, some argue these punishments are pastorally harmful and should be permanently banned.

Strict Rules on Annulments and Divorce

The Church makes divorce very difficult for Catholics:

  • Divorce is not accepted. Church law requires an annulment process to dissolve a marriage.
  • Annulments require interviews, witness statements, reviews, and final rulings by tribunals.
  • The process takes 1-2 years and can cost thousands of dollars.
  • Catholics who remarry civilly without an annulment are barred from Communion.

These strict procedural rules uphold the doctrine that marriage is permanent and indissoluble. But many spouses seeking annulments find the complex process burdensome.


The Catholic Church upholds many conservative doctrines, traditions and structures of authority that require strict obedience from the faithful. Rules that govern sexuality, marriage, gender roles, sacraments, doctrine, clergy discipline and other areas can appear rigorously binding for today’s Catholics. Those who see them as timeless truths required for fidelity argue they represent liberating challenges to holiness. But some critics contend that in the lives of modern Catholics they can often translate into burdensome, outdated and unhealthy repression.

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