How do Roman Catholics know that they aren’t cult members? That’s not a facetious question.
How do we usually decide that a professedly Christian movement is a cult?
Sometimes we apply a moral test. One characteristic of cults, especially among personality cults, is the double standard of the cult leader or religious founder. He exempts himself from the moral demands his makes on his followers. Or he makes exceptions for his own family. Practices favoritism.
A stock example is that cult leaders frequently treat the women as their personal harem. This is despite the fact that the cult leader may impose a strict sexual code on everyone under him. Or they indulge themselves in conspicuous consumption while they require their followers to be frugal.
However, when we point out that the Roman Catholic hierarchy is guilty of systematic sexual abuse by protecting sexually predatory priests from legal accountability, loyal Catholics assure us that that’s no way to judge the claims of Rome.
But how does that attitude differ from the way loyal cult members defend their “prophet,” even if he exploits women and children sexually?
Likewise, we frequently apply a doctrinal test. If the teachings of the cult leader seriously contradict the Bible, then he’s a false teacher.
By the same token, we sometimes apply a factual test. If the cult leader makes erroneous predictions, then we deem him to be a false prophet.
However, when we apply that test to Rome, loyal Catholics remind us that only “the Church” can interpret the Bible. So, by definition, Catholic dogma is consistent with Scripture inasmuch as Scripture means whatever the Magisterium says it means. Meaning is unilaterally assigned by the Magisterium.
By the same token, if Rome reverses itself on geocentrism or evolution, that doesn’t make a dent.
But how does that attitude differ from the way loyal cult members defend their “prophet”? When a countercult apologist presents an exegetical critique of the cult-leader’s idiosyncratic teachings, they defend him by claiming that only the “prophet” can interpret Scripture. Likewise, only he can interpret his own prophecies. By definition, his prophecies were fulfilled, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.
Faith in the pope, just like faith in the cult-leader, is unfalsifiable. It’s equally impervious to a moral test, doctrinal test, or factual test. For every objection, be it ethical, exegetical, or factual, is deflected by a circular appeal to the definitional consistency of the religious superior, regardless of the evidence. No type of evidence ever counts against the claim.
Roman Catholics have a cult-mentality. I don’t say that hyperbolically. That’s their modus operandi.