So you are watching an anime and here comes a 12-year-old boy in some interesting, religious-looking robes and...wait, this pre-teen is supposed to be a Catholic priest? But, 12-year-olds can't be priests! That isn't typical Catholic priestly attire, either, that robe looks like it's made of 100% pure awesome, and... oh look, he's pulling out guns and shooting up a demon. And there's a hot, glasses-wearing nun sidekick casting magic spells.
Well, there really is no explanation other than you've just seen a case of Anime Catholicism.
If you know anything remotely about Catholicism, or western religions in general, then when this trope shows up, you'll know it. Suddenly every priest will be a badass, the clergy will be completely populated by hot, young men and everything about the structure, hierarchy, history or religious beliefs will obviously be completely wrong to even people who aren't Catholic and are only peripherally aware of what the Catholic Church is about.
Since Japan (and other countries that produce derivative media, such as China), don't have a large population of Christians, local audiences don't especially know nor care a great deal about the total accuracy in the depiction of the Church or Church-based organizations in their writing. At the same time, their cultures do have some exposure to Christianity especially Catholicism, which is more than can be said about many other foreign religions. As such, Catholicism has just the right mix of exotic symbolism that can still be recognized as Catholic symbolism by the target audience while still coming across as foreign and interesting. When it shows up, the Church is predominantly there to provide a sense of magic or mystery (the beautiful Catholic architecture is also a plus) to the setting or backdrop of the story, with priests more akin to wizards or mages and the importance of correctness being secondary, and more than likely not even factor into their priorities.
Here are some common elements Anime Catholicism tends to use to "spice up" actual Catholicism:
- Artistic License Religion or more specifically Artistic License Traditional Christianity: Actual aspects of the religion and their beliefs will probably not be mentioned much and if they are, it will be vaguely, generally, or just incorrectly.
- Cast Full of Pretty Boys and Improbably Female Cast: Everyone is especially good-looking. One or two elderly priests may appear as The Mentor but they aren't as common as in real life.
- Christianity Is Catholic: The religion is extremely Catholic-esque to the point that actual Bible verses may be quoted, but is referred to as 'The Church', and not expressly stated to be Catholic. It may be implied that it is the only church in this world, and there aren't denominations such as the myriad that split from the Church and followed different trends of the Protestant Reformation (the "Mainline Protestant" groups: not to mention the 29,984 that have formed since then and continue to schism at an exponential rate to the present day).
- Church Militant: And if characters typically whip out swords, guns, magic or staffs or other weapons, then it's probably a done deal. Same if they all seem to know Kung Fu.
- Gender Is No Object: Women and men are not segregated in their roles. There may be female priests or even a female Pope. This may be justified in cases when it is not readily apparent that the denomination in question is Catholicism — the Anglican Church, for example, ordains female priests and bishops. Female popes may be inspired by certain legends, such as Pope Joan.
- Impossibly Cool Clothes: Priests are seen wearing armor or extremely unlikely wardrobes. For example, even more elaborate than an actual priest would wear, in a cute, stylish or sexy cut that is completely at odds with the strict oaths of modesty that clergy (especially nuns) have, or just reminiscent of a different culture, for instance a kimono or Buddhist monk's robes.
- Improbable Age: The members of the clergy are uncharacteristically young, in their early twenties or teens, and there might even be a child pope. Anyone older than thirty will be the minority and definitely won't be the main character, unless they are actually immortal, which is also very common.
- Japanese Media Tropes: Will feature Japanese tropes, obviously, which might look strange to some people who aren't used to seeing the Church with a distinctly animesque bent. And will definitely seem strange when all the western priests seem to be weirdly familiar with Japanese culture.
- Jesus Taboo: Jesus's crucifixion mostly won't be mentioned, or he might even be replaced with another figure entirely. If for some reason the story needs to mention an actual religious figure, Mary is a good candidate, or Jesus as a baby in the manger.
- Naughty Nuns and Nun Too Holy: Clergy have romantic relationships with each other and no one seems to notice or care that it's against their vows. Actually chastity and modesty might not necessarily seem to be a requirement at all, considering the actions of the characters. Again, this may be justified for priests if there is no vow of celibacy in that world, since Catholic priests were not always sworn to celibacy, and to this day Orthodox and Anglican priests are permitted to be married. It is never, however, justified for nuns, because a major point of consecrating a nun is celibacy. Compare Nuns Are Mikos, since Mikos, the closest Japanese equivalent, do not have a vow of celibacy.
- Nuns Are Mikos: Is stated to be Catholicism but has clergy perform rites or other actions or tasks that are characteristic of other religions or non-western cultures, such as a Catholic priest (in a western setting) sitting under a waterfall and meditating as if that's what all priests do.
- The Church is The Empire, The Government, The Order, or some other kind of organization: The Church is portrayed as having some kind of mission or authority other than just religious, as in they are a task-force, or protectors against supernatural forces, or just the ultimate authority in the world, more like an empire.
- Played for Laughs: The whole series may be a comedy, with a large percentage of the clergy portrayed as incompetent, ditzy or air-headed, especially if they are in-training junior nuns or priests. Even if the story is a drama, there will usually be a handful of idiot acolytes who act as Plucky Comic Relief. This is very uncharacteristic in the west.
- Religion Is Magic: Very often, priests and/or nuns are endowed with some kind of magical powers.
- Walking the Earth: Priests or nuns are seen traveling a lot from place to place, usually on missions, but sometimes for no apparent reason.
Basically the bottom line is that the Rule of Cool, Rule of Sexy or any of the other "Rules" often trump accuracy in how the church is depicted. Keep in mind most of this is also applicable to Crystal Dragon Jesus versions in Fantasy Anime and Manga. This Trope has nothing directly to do with Kirisuto-kyō sects but may intersect it.
- 07-Ghost is a Crystal Dragon Jesus version which would almost be indistinguishable from Catholicism except that in addition to God they worship 7 'ghost/angel' things. (Also, everyone is ridiculously young and good-looking, wearing over-elaborate vestments, they do magic, wield weapons, act quite immorally and are involved in a huge conspiracy.)
- Played with in Black Lagoon: The Ripoff Church is heavily Catholicism-flavoured, but its changes in 'doctrine', what with the gun smuggling, drug smuggling, people smuggling, cursing, drinking and nuns with heavy weapons, are so extreme there's very little chance the author intended it to be a stand-in for any real-life religion. Especially since the La Baile de la Muerte arc all but states outright it's a CIA listening post intended to keep watch on Roanapur.
- Blue Exorcist lives and breathes this trope. It is a Shounen supernatural/Religious Horror series with Exorcists, after all. It does avert "Catholicism" being the only religion mentioned by having The Lancer and a couple of his friends be Buddhist monks.
- A Certain Magical Index: In a broader sense than just Catholicism; the 'Index' of the title belongs to the British Puritans. The series barely portrays religion correctly if at all. For starters, 'Magic' is synonomous with 'Religion', as almost all magic users are either part of, or were once part of, fantasy versions of real-life religions. Then we have characters like Stiyl Magnus, a 15 year old chain-smoking priest, or Kanzaki Kaori, a Kung-Fu Jesus version of a saint. In season 2, nuns fight while wearing miniskirts.
- Chrono Crusade features the Order of Saint Magdalene, a demon-fighting church organization full of gun-toting, spell-casting teenage nuns.
- D.Gray-Man features the Black Order, which while technically under the control of the church and not actually part of it. It manages to tick off half the list, including the crazy wardrobes, unrealistically young and good-looking priests, priests having magic, acting as a task force, and women sharing the same roles as men. The actual church proper is only ever mentioned very vaguely and in passing, and various aspects of Catholicism are more or less just tossed around at random. The crazy wardrobes are justified in-story as being deliberately outlandish to provoke Akuma (who can hide as humans) into attacking first.
- Exorcists are not actual priests, but people capable of using Innocence, which are weapons left over from a long-destroyed civilization that fought against the series' Big Bad, the Millennium Earl. Due to the fact that the Exorcists are hopelessly outnumbered, the disregard for gender roles and age is a matter of practicality and sensibility, not just avoiding accuracy for aesthetic purposes. The only actual priests seen so far in the series are rather accurate portrayals of actual Catholic priests in terms of appearance, age, clothing, and rank.
- Ghost Hunt includes a teenage Catholic priest who helps banish actual ghosts.
- Averted, somewhat, when Monk specifically states in Vol. 10 that John must be disobeying the Church, as there is no way such a young priest would be allowed to roam Japan, exorcising whatever he pleases. It's implied that John must have a personal, secret reason for facing ex-communication.
- Hellsing: Has a unique subversion in that the Protestant Reformation is not only actually acknowledged as happening, but the main characters are all working for the Anglican Church instead of the Roman Catholic Church, with a lot of the historical tension between English Protestants and Irish Catholics actually coming through. But otherwise a mild case with Yumie and Heinkel (a nun who has a split personality, one of which is a demon and wields a katana to slice up heathens, another who is female but is referred to as a priest, respectively), and the Church is also seen to have a number of other militant factions that can be mobilized in brief notice to invade a sovereign nation with no interference from the international community.
- In Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere one of the factions claims to be the Catholic Church complete with a leader they call the "President Pope".
- In Hungry Marie, the Sagimiya family admits that the necromancy they practice is against the rules of the Church, but even then Father Sagimiya has clearly not been celibate as is required for a priest, and this may go back generations.
- Kaitou Saint Tail is a Catholic schoolgirl, her base of operations is a Catholic church, her informant Seira is an "apprentice nun", and all the victims that she helps are also Catholic. Given that they're in a predominantly Shinto country, it's odd that no one seems to notice. Her informant is also blatantly breaking the rules of confidentiality regarding the confessional, which is something real clergy could get a lot of trouble for. And nuns have no access to confessional secrets, only male priests do and they can't even share them amongst themselves (the anime solved this by having troubled people confiding in Seira trying to have some comfort).
- Though in a late volume of the manga the author does at least admit she found out too late that only nuns who have taken their vows may wear a habit.
- Downplayed in Magical × Miracle, but still present. The priests are technically too young to be priests, but only by a few years. The outfits are also wrong, at least for Glenn, but the Archbishop's robes seem to be accurate. As for holy magic and fighting evil... Francis seems to know martial arts, and Glenn knows some basic protection magic, but that probably has more to do with Glenn and Francis being Glenn and Francis than Glenn and Francis being priests. Other than that, the series is actually fairly accurate in depicting Catholicism, excepting, of course, the Jesus Taboo.
- Mobile Suit Gundam Wing: The Maxwell Church Episode Zero, where Duo lived for a period of time (after his Street Urchin gang got caught stealing food.) The other kids were all adopted out, but Duo kept being brought back because the would-be parents couldn't handle him. Fr. Maxwell and Sr. Helen acted as parents for Duo, and generally acted more like a Shinto priest and Miko in charge of a shrine than an actual priest and nun. Also, most Real Life Roman Catholic churches are named in honor of the Virgin Mary or a saint; the Maxwell Church is named for the street it's located on.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion, in addition to the faux-Christian title, throws elements of Catholicism at the screen more or less completely at random, often getting the context hilariously wrong. The most egregious examples probably lie in the names of the obligatory giant mech suit analogues, but honorable mention should go to "the spear of Longinus" assembling Voltron-style with the main character's mech to form a giant cross-shaped kamikaze superweapon thing, which makes about as much sense in terms of Catholicism as it does in context of the story (so...none whatsoever).
- Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt, Garterbelt is supposed to be a priest, however that doesn't stop him from being involved in S&M activities, being foulmouthed, using firearms, and showing some Rage Against the Heavens from time to time. Also, he acts more as a commander officer for P&S, giving them their orders to neutralize the ghost.
- As for Panty And Stocking themselves... well, let's just say they are less than virtuous in their duties as angels.
- It may be debatable if Garterbelt's behavior is a good example of this trope since some catholic priests (and even popes) have done stuff like that, and even worse, in Real Life. (Except giving orders to angels, of course.)
- In Puella Magi Madoka Magica, magical girl Kyoko Sakura is the daughter of a priest who committed murder-suicide after discovering his daughter's secret identity. The flashback scenes of the Sakura Church are strongly Catholic-inflected, with elaborate stained glass windows depicting Biblical scenes and Father Sakura himself wearing a cassock and collar...but he obviously couldn't be Catholic in Real Life since he's married and has children. It's unclear whether the creators meant Kyoko to be a related sect like the Anglican Church (which does have a small but notable presence in Japan) or if they simply employed Catholic imagery as the easiest, most recognizable way to sign post her Christianity.
- Sailor Moon has something of a subtle example in the episode of the anime where Diana turns up. While the nun everyone believes Artemis is "having an affair with" recites a standard Catholic prayer and seems to be saying things that a real Catholic nun would say, no one bats an eyelash at the idea that a nun would break her vows of chastity to have an affair with anyone—let alone a talking cat. (Though this is more an error on the characters' parts - the nun herself brings up the vows while protesting Tigers' Eye's advances).
- Averted in Samurai Champloo. Set during the Edo period, the show accurately portrays the view of the Japanese on Christianity as complete heresy. A Christian village is hidden from the outside world to avoid persecution, and the Sunflower Samurai, Fuu's dad, left his family to protect them from persecution as well. In another episode, a European warns Fuu to never show her skull pendant to strangers, as the cross symbol inside would give her away.
- Justin from Soul Eater has all the trappings of a Catholic priest, but is casual, young, and ironically a demon weapon, able to transform fully or partially into a guillotine.
- Trinity Blood has a female cardinal, a child pope, impossible robes, vampire hunters, magic users, and most of the cast seems to be under the age of thirty, with about a fifth of them under the age of twenty.
- Vassalord: The author essentially took all her favourite B movie elements and lumped them together, resulting in a series about a Catholic gay cyborg vampire who hunts other vampires for the church.
- Plenty of Yuri Genre anime set in all-female Catholic schools, and don't have Pseudo-Romantic Friendship-kind, conveniently ignore how the Church and Christianity, in general, are notorious for being Heteronormative Crusaders. In fact, while they have tried to soften it in recent years the church considers it a mortal sin (i.e. will send you immediately to eternal damnation if not forgiven).
- One particularly infamous example is Maria Watches Over Us, on top of having a Sempai/Kouhai system that only exists in their world, using rosaries as necklaces even though that is pretty taboo. So much so that MariaHolic (indirectly) called them out on this by explaining that rosaries are for prayer and not jewelry.
- Warrior Nun Areala, a heavily manga and anime influenced Western comic from Ben Dunn.
- A rare non-anime case of this comes from the Purifiers, a villainous religious sect from the X-Men books. By definition they're strictly "Catholic + mutants are The Devil", but in practice they follow many of the above tropes, including the Jesus Taboo (Jesus is never mentioned by any member of their ranks, and the Killer Robot Nimrod even takes his place on a cross at one point), Improbable Age (per X-Men: Destiny, they raise up Child Soldiers), Gender Is No Object (men and women can hate and murder mutants equally!) and of course their very favorite trope of the lot, Church Militant.
- Priest, a Manhwa about an immortal Badass Preacher.
- The God Of High Schoolhas 2 instances of this,the first is Nox,that although they worship God, they are not based on any real branch and do not even use crosses as symbols, the priests can be of both sexes and it is more a Badass army than a religion,now the second case is the Vatican, which in case you realize that they are this when they have a martial arts team, they have a priest who uses spells reading the bible and a kung-fu nun and we don't Let's forget about the young priest who is a Dante expy
- Soul Cartel: The story of Faust and the functionality of heaven and hell are rewritten entirely. For one thing, there's reincarnation, and the Angels that keep demons from escaping from hell are known as Azraels. Yes, that was plural. It's established that people die and go to the underworld as souls, and work towards being reborn. Inside the underworld there are a large number of devils, and Mephisto from Faust was one who wanted to tempt the eponymous character with his contracts and Faust himself claiming that he would be able to resist. It was a contest between man and demon, with God as the judge. And Mephistopheles is a borderline Super-Deformed child with long red hair. The actual story follows a young Korean boy who's caught in Mephisto's rematch with the now-reincarnated Faust, as Mephisto takes a liking to him, claiming that he will be his next target and asking him to act as the judge of this contest, because he claims that God unfairly intervened and ruined his chances when he was about to win.
- Also, later in its revealed that part of the reincarnation process includes the option for human souls to train to become Azrael-class angels themselves. The nine rings of hell are actually the nine levels of the under world, with the bottom serving as the origin of all evil in the universe and Satan's personal home. The Angels also have what are essentially boarder patrols and immigration offices that make sure that demons and spirits don't cross into the different levels without permission.
- In Sengoku Basara, Xavism, the resident stand-in for Catholicism (specifically Jesuits) is essentially a Parody Religion more akin to the Church of Happyology and treated as a wacky cult created by a foreign missionary to make himself rich and to spread his weird philosophy through military force. Whenever they manage to convert others, it's generally played for laughs. However, given the care and detail the series gives to history in general (i.e. none), it ends up fitting right in.
- The Ormus Church of Xenosaga is essentially the Catholic Chruch IN SPACE!. It is headed by an individual known as the Pope (Bowdlerised into the "Patriarch"note in the English edition), is comprised of cardinals, and its military wing is called the "Inquisition". Even the two Popes/Patriarchs seen in the series have Catholic papal names implying a continuity with the historical line of popes: Julius XIV and Sergius XVII.
- Bloodborne is a particularly subtle example: the game makes heavy use of gothic architecture and quasi-catholic trappings, and features priests and nuns (though they aren't called that.) The Jigsaw Puzzle Plot obscures the clues that the religion of the Healing Church is closer to Shinto than Catholic; it has no clear leader, no specific deities are worshipped, with churches serving as stand-ins for Kami shrines, and a huge emphasis is placed on blood, water, and the purity of both, with the beast scourge a metaphor for spiritual uncleanliness. The clergy are also armed to the teeth or have turned/are turning into monsters left and right.
- In Hatoful Boyfriend, Higure Anghel is Catholic and can send the player character a crucifix at Christmas. He believes he's the reincarnation of a Fallen Angel, still fighting evil despite his sin. At one point he goes to some kind of non-Catholic shrine and freaks out either because he can't choose what charm to buy, or because he believes some sold-out arrow charms are holy weapons he needs to claim. Reincarnation isn't a thing in Catholisism, but it is actually part of this universe's afterlife.
- In the Nasuverse, the Roman Catholic Church wields powerful magecraft on par with the Mage's Association... though it's really only effective if you believe in the faith. Not only that, there are some members of the church who engage in rather questionable behavior, like an Executor having a fetish for anal sex or a priest who attempts to summon all the evils in the world for his own amusement. There's also apparently no rule against priests marrying or having children.
- Both examples cited follow the Eighth Sacrament, which permits those so consecrated to stray away from the rules of their religion as long as one thing, the name of the Almighty, is protected. Everyone else follows the regular laws.
- Then we have the Tohsaka family: they are known to be Catholic since the first missionaries arrived to Japan and have stayed so during the Tokugawa persecutions, but the only hint they are Catholics is the trust they have in the aforementioned Executor and his father (also priest and retired Executor) and Rin wearing a cross in her usual outfit.
- It should be noted that Ciel may be a member but she made it very clear that she is not a believer; the Church recruited her based off of her usefulness.
- Princess Evangile averts this trope, surprisingly. It depicts Catholicism in a realistic and positive way despite also being an H-Game that uses Catholic Schoolgirls Rule.