One of the little-known (and oft-ignored) directives of the U.S. National Statutes for the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults is found in number 2, which states unambiguously that baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church are NOT to be called converts. The term convert is to be strictly reserved for those who pass from non-belief to Christian belief.
What’s going on here?
This is one of the places where the American bishops, via the National Statutes, aim to practice the ecumenism the Second Vatican Council preached—an ecumenism still only gradually being incarnated in our day-to-day experience of the Church today, more than forty years after the Council.
The thinking goes like this: Anyone who is baptized is a member of Christ’s Body, the Church. Now to be sure, baptized individuals have an ongoing spiritual journey, and there are moments of spiritual awakening and promptings of the Spirit along the way. These experiences may lead an individual to enter the full communion of the Catholic Church. But they don’t make her a convert, because she already belongs to Christ.
All the baptized are called to ongoing conversion, but to be termed a convert is to say that you converted to Christ. In the immortal words of Ron Oakham, speaking on how the ritual text uses these words, “Conversion is not to Catholicism; it’s to Christ.”
Sadly, the word convert is still the only term in the English dictionary for members of other Christian communions who have become Catholic. The word is short. It’s handy. But we should save it for those whom it more aptly describes.