Roman Catholicism differs from Protestantism in two critical areas. Protestants believe in private interpretation of the Bible. Catholics believe the Church is appointed by God as custodian of the Bible to interpret the scripture. Most Protestants believe in a universal priesthood of all believers, while Catholics have a specially ordained priesthood.
Catholicism runs by a set dogma, or series of rules, emanating from the Pope in Rome. American Protestant groups, even when they have a set dogma, keep their hierarchy entirely inside the United States.
Where Protestants vary on social issues like divorce, birth control, abortion and homosexuality (many leaving these questions to the consciences of their members), the Catholic church has set guidelines on these matters. It also censors certain movies, plays and books, which Catholics may not read or attend. Since Catholics are supposed to believe by absolute faith, they are expected to take the Church’s word on these matters.
It should be noted that the Catholic church is not as strict about tobacco, alcohol or gambling as some Protestant churches are. The Catholic practices of confession and absolution tend to mitigate some of these strictures.
Catholic priests may not marry, and they must be male. Many Protestant groups allow or even encourage female clergy. In nearly all cases, Protestant ministers may marry.
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