Here. Rod Dreher walks us through his departure from Catholicism and into the Orthodox Church. Since Rod's life echoes mine - former Protestant, to Catholic, thence to Orthodoxy - it's always an melancholy read. I should say that, unlike Rod, the abuse scandal did not bother me. That is, it wasn't something that kept me from coming to the Church. It was in full swing when I began the baby steps that led to the Catholic doorstep. I had been pastor long enough to know that similar things happened in Protestant churches, too. Perhaps without the systemic cover ups, but it happened.
That's obviously not why we left Catholicism. Why we left has more to do with the other part that Rod mentions, that is expounded on by the French writer Jean-Claude Larchet. According to him, twas Vatican II that killed the beast. Of course we all know that it wasn't really Vatican II. Just like the Sexual Revolution didn't begin in the 1960s, the 'Spirit' of Vatican II was already alive and well within the Church well before Howdy Doody was prime time. The Council merely put the attitude down on paper.
Perhaps the worst part of the council was the attitude that Vatican II means never having to say you're Catholic. That was certainly what we experienced going through RCIA. At times the teachers - but for one notable exception - seemed almost apologetic. 'We're sorry, but the Church teaches this.' If they got around to what the Church taught at all. Possibly with the exception of abortion, almost every issue was either openly in line with a more liberal posturing, or they kept it quiet. Marriage was spoken of as being between a man and woman, but to this day, I have yet to hear homosexuality spoken of at all.
What's more than merely the social issues was the idea that Christ was, well, optional. I mean, you needed to confess Him and all. But there wasn't really much there. There certainly wasn't an attitude that this was something we needed or else. It was nice to have Him. It was our thing; our meat. Jesus rocked it and all. But it was our opinion. Far be it from them to suggest that Catholicism had something that the rest of the world would be at pains for lacking. It was as if they simply didn't want to act like Catholicism was anything that might offend someone.
I spoke to our Orthodox priest about that some time back. Orthodoxy, as we know, has often been associated with the 20th Century Ecumenical Movement. We chatted about that, and I mentioned to him that I think that emphasis on ecumenicism has hurt the Faith overall. The idea is that we meet to reach across tables and find common ground. The problem is, on almost every topic imaginable, there will be people who disagree. Therefore, on almost every topic imaginable, if our focus is on getting along, we'll be inclined to downplay the importance, or even emphasize some escape clause so as to say not everyone has to agree with me.
As a result, you get a lot of what I hear in churches in general nowadays, and certainly heard in RCIA. You get the constant drumbeat that one need not believe n Jesus to be saved. Oh sure, it's advised. But fact is, you can love Jesus, hate Jesus, piss on Jesus, it matters not. As long as you're a swell person, God can save anyone. Some even act as if God will save everyone. No matter what.
I explained to our own Orthodox priest that, if you think on it, we usually don't approach most important topics like that, other than perhaps AIDS. Take cancer and smoking. We know for a fact that people can be exposed to smoke, second hand smoke, and fifth hand smoke, and lead long and healthy lives. You're playing a big gamble of course, but we know that smoking doesn't kill everyone. Nonetheless, we don't run around emphasizing the fact. We don't say 'Hi kids! We're here today to remind you not to smoke, because smoking can kill you. But if you do smoke, don't worry! A lot of people can smoke and never have a bad health day from it.'
Nope. We don't talk like that at all. We emphasize the fact that you can die. Same with drunk driving. Same with overeating. Same with offending people. I doesn't matter if what you say might not offend everyone. It's enough that it might offend someone! Our priest, FWIW, agreed, and said this very thing is why there are many in the Orthodox Church beginning to rethink the wisdom of such a high ecumenical emphasis.
And yet, in the 20th century, the Catholic Church concluded the best approach getting along was getting along. It decided it would meet the challenges of the Western Atheist revolution by - modifying and even changing its own teachings to keep up with the secular Joneses. Even as secularism has become more militant and less tolerant about a wide range of issues, the Church has rushed forward each time and thrown down its arms in a display of acquiescence. And after generations of this approach, I have yet to see the world inch closer to the Gospel, even as the Faith leaps farther and farther away from its own teachings.
With each passing generation, people seem to lose more and more of the Faith that the Church is supposed to guard. Right now the fastest growing denomination in America appears to be Former Catholic. I don't think it's just the abuse scandals that have exploded on the Church's scene once again. I don't think it's because of those evil conservative converts blemishing the purity of the True Faith, as not a few NPL Catholics seem to suggest.
I think it's because of what my family came to believe. What was that? Easy. We lost everything we had to become Catholic - and that was a damn fool thing to do. That was often the attitude we encountered. Maybe not that bluntly. But it was there. Except for some older Catholics, well past retirement age and reminiscing about the Great World War Two, most Catholics just sort of gazed at us with a puzzled look. Sometimes appreciated our story. But they just couldn't see the whole 'give it all up for the Church'. After all, that's like saying their non-Catholic friends might be wrong!
So my boys, exposed to this attitude from the top (Francis assuring Protestants to get to God where they are), down to our priests and laity, began to question the whole Jesus thing. Or at least Jesus and the importance of any one approach. Sure, Jesus. Maybe. But really? Couldn't it just as well be the Budha? The Prophet? Quakers? Or just some Oprahianity version of feel-goodism were everyone goes to the happy place where nothing is real, and nothing to get hung about?
We couldn't point them anywhere to curb their developing lack of faith. We couldn't say 'there are Catholics out there who hold the True Faith!'. After all, many other Catholics point to them as the problem with the Faith. Rigid I've heard them called. We couldn't send them to the Church itself, since its leader and laity were why they were questioning their faith in the first place. Increasingly, we were keeping our kids in line with the Faith despite, not because of, the Catholic Church.
And that is why we went Orthodox. I like Rod's description BTW. Like the animal chewing its leg off to survive. When we became Catholic, we were wild eyed with wonder and expectations, and we watched each one dashed on the rock, not of Peter, but of Vatican II. When you add the fact that we lost almost everything we had to experience this post-Faith reality, we had to bolt. Even if it cost us a leg to do it.
I still pray mightily for the Church. One of my sons remained. He's our little pathfinder, keeping the signal clear for us, holding out that things will blow over soon and the barque will right itself. For the rest, the Orthodox church we attend - for all the myriad problems Orthodoxy has - nonetheless has helped rebuild what was a floundering faith. For all their issues, they still believe that the Orthodox Faith has something unique to offer; even something necessary. Hell is spoken of, and the urgency of repentance and staying along the path of righteousness is emphasized. For no other reason, our move has been worth it.
I can't say I don't - deep down - still hope and pray that the Church will right itself. I would love to return with my family or (pipe dream here) see the Orthodox and Catholic traditions reconciled where we can each learn from the other. But as of now, the piece by Dreher, linking to the sad state of the Church in France (which also applies here), is the main reason we left.
NOTE: I wanted to get this out here because Rod's piece struck a nerve. I don't usually spend much time editing my posts, except spell check. Nonetheless, I'll at least do a once over to make sure it makes some semblance of sense. Today begins a four day vacation - woohoo! I wasn't planning on anything other than an adios, but felt this needed mentioned. I have said the Christian Faith is facing the greatest crisis and heresy since Arianism. And nothing suggests it's even aware of this fact. It's not just the Catholic Church. All monotheistic faiths are struggling with the secular onslaught. But perhaps none are succumbing more quickly than the Catholic Church. If there are any passages that don't make sense or seem to fade into the ether, just let me know. I'll correct them when I can. Blessings!