DaisyLou asked a question about Dealing with Corruption and Scandal within the Church on our old discussion forum and received some insightful answers from the Coming Home Network community. We’ve curated the topic for you here. Feel free to continue discussion in the Disqus comment box below.
Hello! I am new here, so if I transgress any forum protocol inadvertently, please let me know!
My husband and I are investigating the Catholic faith, but corruption and scandal are huge social barriers. Intellectually, it’s not hard to get past this. But it is a very emotional issue for some of our relatives, who were raised Catholic and see the Church as legalistic, superstitious, and corrupt. Even if the Church doesn’t teach these things, the argument goes, she still condones them, allows them to persist, and profits by them. The cynicism seems impossible to argue with.
Again, this is not a serious intellectual barrier for us personally. But it is a huge obstacle in terms of “gut feeling.” We can see the merit in most Catholic dogmas that Protestants dispute, but it’s a totally new thing to imagine joining a community that has been responsible for so many scandalous harms.
How do faithful Catholics deal with this? How do you respond to the question, “How can it possibly be the true Church if it looks like this? You insist on the guidance of the Holy Spirit, yet that hasn’t prevented [insert parade of horribles].”
Again, the intellectual answer is easy: we are not Donatists. Look at Judas; look at David; look at Moses; look at Peter. God has always written straight with crooked lines. Right. But the intellectual answer feels morally unsatisfying. It still feels wrong to say, in effect, “I don’t care what this institution has done. I think it’s theologically correct, so I’m going to join it.”
I realize this is all very hyperbolic, and I do not want to be inflammatory. But I am sure that many faithful Catholics will sympathize with this situation. How do you respond? How do you satisfy your conscience about it?
Many, many thanks for any wisdom anyone has to offer.
No protocol violated, no inflammatory question.
This is certainly a valid point that intellectually is easily overcome. The parable of the wheat and tares growing side by side in the Kingdom comes to mind. Another point I have heard is that, if a Church so crippled by sinful scandalous people wasn’t Divinely ordained, it would have collapsed under its own weight.
That being said, on an emotional level my own question is how do I ask people to join the Church, then tell them to pay no attention to the people in it and who run it? Two points. First one would be that the Church is both Divine and human, like her founder. The Divine part is the Scripture, Sacred Tradition, Liturgy, Sacraments, et cetera. The human side is where it gets messy. The good thing is, as members of His Body, if we want to improve the Church we just have to start with ourselves because, as Scripture says, if one member is honored all are honored. If I make progress in holiness, the Church is uplifted as well. It’s the Communion of Saints thing.
The other point is, as it is true we are a messy bunch, we don’t need all the false accusations that we have accumulated over history. Many false narratives about the Galileo incident, the dark ages, the Church opposing science, the Inquisition and the Crusades, are steeped in lies and falsehoods.
Every church has had its dark days. Unfortunately, now again are dark days for for the post-Vatican II Church. Their embracing of modernism to a degree (with weakening of true Catholic identity, thanks to ill-conceived ecumenism) has had consequences with lower attendance, hugely decreased vocations, closing of parishes and schools, etc.
I returned to the Catholic Church after decades away. I stopped in 1967 as a teen, before the inane Vatican II practices took full effect, during which I spent my time in a conservative Reformed Protestant church. Had the scandals you mentioned taken place there, the culprits would have been defrocked post haste. Sadly, it appears the current leadership is either unwilling or unable to address these issues.
Personally, I found the new Mass to be profane (priest facing the people, altar girls, communion in the hand, etc), and I had to look elsewhere for true Catholicism. I found a Traditional Latin Mass church and attend there. They are typically in the sedevacantist, SSPX, or FSSP practices.
David W. Emery
Daisy, this is something all of us converts have had to face.
I entered the Church in 1963, in the middle of the Second Vatican Council. Everything was traditional, the liturgy in Latin, and the music was Gregorian chant. After the end of the council in 1965, suddenly everything was topsy-turvy, with new interpretations of everything (much of it heretical!), and I was left wondering, “Is this the same Church I joined just a few years ago?” At least I was prepared, both doctrinally and spiritually, to weather the storm. I was not sucked into the heresies, fads or abuses that surrounded me. But I can tell you that lying low for the next 30 years was tough! I felt like an outcast in my own Church.
At one point, I considered joining one of the traditionalist groups. But I had a “gut feeling” (just as you describe it) that such a reactionary tack would result in more harm than good, so I let it drop. As it turned out, only a couple of years later, the Pope excommunicated all the bishops who were leading that particular group for disobeying his direct order. This left the entire group in schism, and they have remained there ever since, repeatedly refusing to reconcile with the Church they were supposedly defending through their traditionalism.
But you know, after about 30 years, the air began to clear, and the true reform that was actually legislated by the council began to sprout. It was slow at first, but as the faithful started to notice, they flocked to it. That process isn’t yet complete, but it definitely shows growth and vigor in many places.
But what about the other corruption and scandals within the Church? I watched the Popes and their delegates doing battle against it. I watched bishops being deposed, priests defrocked, and religious expelled from their orders over sinful and irresponsible behavior. I also watched as dozens of sexual abuses were exposed. And with this, another round of depositions, defrockings and expulsions.
Now, after some years, you would think that this was all cleaned up, right? But no. Today, we are seeing yet more of the same sins and corruption being exposed, this time at the highest levels of the Vatican. Whoa! We can thank Pope Francis for this latest clean-up, as he does his best to reform the curia.
So where does all this scandal come from? Human sin. We are all liable to it, because we are all human beings, subject to Original Sin. And because there is no one immune to Original Sin, there is no one immune to falling into actual sin. No, not even the bishops or the highest placed Vatican officials. And when sin is “outed,” we see how even the mighty are fallen.
Well, this is the history of humanity, and it is also the history of the Church. If you check your Bible, you will see that it is, in addition, the history of the Chosen People, from the Golden Calf at Mount Sinai to Jesus’ instruction to the ordinary Jews gathered in Jerusalem:
The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger. They do all their deeds to be seen by men; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues, and salutations in the market places, and being called rabbi by men. – Matthew 23:2–7
Bureaucrats! Yet Jesus’ words remain apropos: “Practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do.” That’s what I try to do, and it seems to work.
The question arises: Will we ever be free of all that sin and corruption? The answer is No, we won’t. It’s what we can expect from fallen human beings. The good news is that sin can be forgiven as sinners repent and are converted. But the Church is so big — over a billion members, sinners all — that there will never be an end to the clean-up. As Jesus said (Luke 17:1 DRV): “It is impossible that scandals should not come: but woe to him through whom they come.” And for the rest of us (v. 3): “Take heed to yourselves. If thy brother sin against thee, reprove him: and if he do penance, forgive him.”
Separately, I must address the commonly expressed point that you make as a follow-up: “It still feels wrong to say, in effect, ‘I don’t care what this institution has done. I think it’s theologically correct, so I’m going to join it.” – An institution has no will of its own, and therefore cannot sin. Instead, it is the individual human beings within it that sin. What they do certainly reflects on the institution, but it is they, not the institution itself, who are guilty.
One final word. I see that one of our members has posted his own experience of corruption and scandal in the Church. I sympathize with him, because I have seen those same abominations. I would just comment on three specific points:
Their embracing of modernism to a degree (with weakening of true Catholic identity thanks to ill-conceived ecumenicism) has had consequences with lower attendance, hugely decreased vocations, closing of parishes and schools, etc.
“Modernism” is a catch-all term among traditionalists for anything that deviates from traditional orthodoxy. At one time, it was a reasonably correct description. Unfortunately, these days we need to speak instead of secularism and lack of faith. These are the causes of today’s lower Mass attendance, decreased vocations to the priesthood and religious life. The closing of parishes and schools has more to do with shifting population bases than with wrongdoing; economic factors are at play here, far more than moral failings.
…before the inane Vatican II practices took full effect.
The inane practices were, in fact, contrary to the legislation of Vatican II. (I know this because I had already read the Council texts before things turned bad.) More correctly, those practices could be referred to as “post-Vatican II abuses,” which had no basis in the Council’s authoritative pronouncements, but were rather people’s misinterpretations and defiance of them. I described these abuses earlier in my post.
I found a Traditional Latin Mass church and attend there. They are typically in the sedevacantist, SSPX, or FSSP practices.
I have no objection to the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, which is the Latin Mass that is properly celebrated today. What I do object to is allowing those outside the Catholic Church to receive approval, as if they were an integral part of the Church. The Sedevacantists (there are several of these groups, all of them schismatic and heretical, since they claim that there is no valid Pope today; some of them have actually elected their own impostor “pope”) and the SSPX (a large schismatic group which, so far, has not developed any formal heresies, but could do so the longer it remains separated from the Church which gave it birth) are not part of the Catholic Church. Even though they have valid priesthood and sacraments, they are not licit (not legitimately authorized by the Church), and Catholics should not attend their services. On the other hand, the FSSP is fully approved and in full union with the Church. So among the groups named, if you want to experience a Latin Mass the proper way, you should go to them. There are also some dioceses which offer legitimate Extraordinary Form Masses.
My response to the original inquiry is that the same sort of abuses and scandals take place in various Protestant congregations all the time. Adultery, embezzlement, inappropriate use of funds, child abuse, etc, are no strangers to Protestants, but they are harder to track collectively because Protestantism is so fragmented. If Pastor So-and-so of Main St. Community Church is a womanizer, only that local church will know about it because they are a denomination of one. But if Catholic Fr. So-and-so is an abuser, then the entire diocese and even nation or world know about it because it is a Church of a billion. If Protestant Pastor So-and-so molests a child, you can take him to court, but you won’t get much out of him; but if Catholic Fr. So-and-so does, you can squeeze an entire diocese dry, and so the court battle becomes newsworthy. My point is that Protestants aren’t innocent of sin and scandal, but they are harder to track down as a collective, so they don’t really make the news too much. There have been quite a number of school teachers or children’s coaches who have been into child abuse, but nobody sues the school board because they view it as a necessity paid for by their own taxes, so the scandal slips away into the past. But the Church, being seen as an unnecessary relic of the past, is fair game for a destructive action against it.
Also you must remember that if there is the stench of corruption in a Protestant church, then the congregation fires the pastor or just gets up and walks away to another church. But if you are Catholic, where are you going to go? You either remain in the parish with a new priest, go to a new parish which is still Catholic, or walk out and risk the sin of schism. I have been fascinated by the fact that the Anglican residential schools in Canada were just as guilty of sexual abuse as some of the Catholic ones, and yet you really don’t hear anything about it. It is always the Catholic abuse which is made the most of by the media. Perhaps Satan knows where his real battle lies and figures the others are just “side jobs.”
I have been asked that same question, and my answer is this:
I do not belong to the Catholic Church because of its members, I am not here following any leader, not even the Pope, however charismatic he may be. I am here because it is the true Church founded by Jesus, and because it offers me what no other church can offer: the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, that allows me to receive Him and have a personal intimate encounter with Him.
The Church also offers me all the Sacraments, two thousand years of wisdom and teachings, and all the help I need in order to be holy, as Jesus wants me to be. There is no other place, no other denomination, religion, or philosophy that offers me this.
And with regard to the sins of its members, Jennie has already given a great answer, so I would just like to add a little thought: to people who focus only on the sins of Catholics, I ask them to also focus on this: the Catholic Church is the non-governmental institution that offers more humanitarian aid throughout the entire world, to people in need, regardless of their creed, race, or political beliefs. And it has produced more saints and martyrs than any other, people who laid down their lives for the love of Christ and of their brothers and sisters. And it still does. Unfortunately, that information doesn’t make the front pages, while scandals do.
Thank you so much, everyone, for your responses. I truly appreciate everyone’s points.
JeffreyJob, your reference to the Communion of Saints and working to honor other Christians is really helpful. I have to say that, if I were already a Catholic, that might be all I needed. Then the “brighten your corner” sentiment might show me my path. Reform from within makes a lot more sense when you’re already “within,” if you know what I mean. Since I’m not “within” right now, I have more hurdles to overcome before jumping in and rolling up my sleeves, as it were. It’s true, though, that the task will be similar in any church: trying to cultivate the wheat in the midst of tares. 🙂
Mike82ARP, I am very appreciative of your comments. The last seventy years have been dominated by misguided liberalism in almost all churches, I think, not just the Catholic Church. Though I think David is right that the problem has shifted. It’s not so much that fervent modernists want to change churches as that born-and-raised secularists don’t see why those churches should even exist.
David, thank you so much for your thorough response. I’m aware of the issues surrounding traditionalist groups. The first real, serious Catholics I knew were SSPX traditionalists, and though I saw the inconsistency between treasuring the Church’s practices while rejecting her authority, I am grateful that such groups are committed to preserving some valuable but unfashionable elements of the faith. I’ve also loved digging into the documents of Vatican II and can readily see that they are tremendously valuable but have been abused by those who wanted to use Vatican II as an excuse to pursue their own ends. The New Testament passages you mention are extremely helpful. Thank you. And I am very glad to hear the story of someone who has been through everything you have in the Church’s history.
Jennie1964, your comment goes, I think, to the heart of my question. You are absolutely right about the glaring double standard involved in those arguments that deny the Catholic Church’s identity on the basis of her members’ behavior. But there is a reason for this double standard. I’m not sure yet whether it’s a good reason or not, but it’s a reason to be wrestled with. Yes, there is much — perhaps just as much or more — abuse and scandal and hypocrisy in Protestant churches. But these churches do not make the same ecclesiological claims that the Catholic Church does. If Pastor so-and-so of Main St. Community Church womanizes and abuses his parishioners, he may lose the trust of his congregation, he may be fired, he may even be defrocked by whatever hierarchy his denomination has in place. But what does it matter? He’s just an ordinary Christian, like anyone else. His church does not claim the special guidance of the Holy Spirit or the sacramental succession from the Apostles, or anything like that. He’s just a guy with a Bible. But, since the Catholic Church claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit — and indeed preserved from error by the Holy Spirit — isn’t it understandable that people would expect more from Her, and, if she doesn’t live up to those expectations, that they would question Her claims? If the Holy Spirit is supposed to be preserving the Church from error, then why doesn’t He preserve Her clergy from committing heinous abuse and Her members from egregious sin? “If you really have something we don’t have,” say the Protestants, “why don’t you have more to show for it? How can you behave just as badly as we do?” I know the answer is that Catholics are sinful humans, too, and it would be ridiculous to think otherwise. But I feel there is some legitimacy to the idea that, if the Catholic Church is the self-same visible body established by Christ, and the Pope is the vicar of Christ on earth, it is just, in a sense, that they should be subjected to much more rigorous scrutiny than anyone else.
Alma, of course you are right that the sainthood and heroism inspired and produced by the Catholic Church throughout history is too often ignored. That is a tragedy.
Also, I think everyone has mentioned that there have been many false accusations, myths, sensationalist stories, and overall unjust characterizations of the Catholic Church. I am aware of this. I don’t have the ability to separate the true from the false in every case, but the mere fact that a significant portion of accusations against the Church are probably true is enough for the Protestant argument to have an effect. They would probably even say that, for every false accusation, there is probably a successful cover-up to match.
One of the major problems that always comes up is superstition. Latin America has been a real problem area in this regard, and I have relatives from there. They see the superstition and credulity of so many people, and they see the Church condoning and supporting this and failing to direct anyone’s attention toward Christ. They think the Church is content to let people use saint statues as personal household gods without attempting to make Latin American Catholicism more orthodox and Christocentric. Is this a skewed perspective? Is it something that is changing, that the Church is trying to do a better job of? I know that superstition can be deeply culturally entrenched in places. Some people claim that is behind the large demographic shift toward Pentecostalism. Is there anything I can say about the Church’s apparent complicity in allowing widespread error to persist?
Again, I am so very appreciative of everyone’s contribution here. It is so good to know that others wrestle with the same questions and to hear what has helped them work through them. Many thanks for any further wisdom you can offer.
But there is a reason for this double standard. I’m not sure yet whether it’s a good reason or not, but it’s a reason to be wrestled with. Yes, there is much — perhaps just as much or more — abuse and scandal and hypocrisy in Protestant churches. But these churches do not make the same ecclesiological claims that the Catholic Church does. If Pastor so-and-so of Main St. Community Church womanizes and abuses his parishioners, he may lose the trust of his congregation, he may be fired, he may even be defrocked by whatever hierarchy his denomination has in place. But what does it matter? He’s just an ordinary Christian, like anyone else. His church does not claim the special guidance of the Holy Spirit or the sacramental succession from the Apostles, or anything like that. He’s just a guy with a Bible. But, since the Catholic Church claims to be guided by the Holy Spirit — and indeed preserved from error by the Holy Spirit — isn’t it understandable that people would expect more from Her, and, if she doesn’t live up to those expectations, that they would question Her claims?
You are right, of course, in that the bigger the claim, the more eyes are upon you. But if the claim is really utterly unbelievable and ridiculous, then why bother with making the claimant prove himself at all? It used to annoy the life out of me as a Protestant that at Christmas and Easter the world’s eyes were always focused on Rome, as if THEY were the official representatives of Christianity; or when a new Pope was being elected, the world seemed to be holding its breath. “Why, do they take them so seriously while ignoring us?” was what I used to ask myself (rather jealously). I realize now that the world at least intuitively acknowledges what the Church actually claims, while all of us Protestants ranted against it. Who knows who the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Canada is? Nobody — and nobody cares. Who knows who the Archbishop of Canterbury is except an Anglican? And no one else cares. But the whole world knows who the Pope is, even if the Protestants yell vociferously that he is Antichrist and have been doing so for 500 years. That worldly acknowledgment screams very loudly at me now, that if even the world acknowledges the Church for who she is, at least by its interest in her, then so should every Christian out there.
The Church does know who it is, and that is why its leaders are taking the sexual abuse and the other scandals of its members so very seriously. Granted, it took them awhile to acknowledge it, but I was molested by two men as a child, and my own mother never did a thing about it because, back in the day, you just didn’t go public with this stuff. That is not condoning the Church’s reaction to these things, but just giving it the same measure of understanding I give my own mother, based upon the general attitudes of the day. Families tend to close ranks to protect their strays and errant ones. Families tend not to air the dirty laundry. It is a natural outlook. Again, I am not saying it is always a good thing to do, but the Church functions as a family, even if woefully misdirected at times by pride or fear.
I don’t have the ability to separate the true from the false in every case, but the mere fact that a significant portion of accusations against the Church are probably true is enough for the Protestant argument. They would probably even say that, for every false accusation, there is probably a successful cover-up to match.
But to say this is to say that if a significant portion of accusations against Protestant denominations are true — I can assure you many are — then what? We all give up Christianity altogether? Even if we take away all the myths and falsehoods about the Church, yes, there will still be scandal. But there was scandal back in Jesus’ day with Judas, with Peter denying him, within the very early Church as Paul often warns in his letters. But what does that prove, except that the Church is full of faulty humanity by God’s express orders. It does not prove that what the Church officially teaches should be doubted, but only that her members should be corrected, repent, and be forgiven. Those of us who have converted eventually came to the conclusion that there was just nothing left to protest. All those accusations from 500 years ago were taken care of long ago. The accusations of today will also be taken care of as they come up. But are accusations of corruption cast against a few of her members really a reason to abandon the Body of Christ?
Unfortunately I cannot speak to your second-to-last paragraph because I have no knowledge of the area, but perhaps David can speak more to that. He is much more familiar with the culture. I will also be interested in hearing his response. It’s been wonderful chatting with you, DaisyLou. 🙂
David W. Emery
One of the major problems that always comes up is superstition. Latin America has been a real problem area in this regard, and I have relatives from there. They see the superstition and credulity of so many people, and they see the Church condoning and supporting this and failing to direct anyone’s attention toward Christ. They think the Church is content to let people use saint statues as personal household gods without attempting to make Latin American Catholicism more orthodox and Christocentric. Is this a skewed perspective? – DaisyLou
Daisy, I have some knowledge of the situation in Mexico. My wife is Mexican, and she is part of a large family. Many of her relatives still reside in Mexico, while others have moved to the US. My wife has told me of her upbringing in the mountains of Durango. The people that lived there on the ranchos were divided between Catholic and Protestant, because Protestant missionaries would pass through every three to seven years, spend perhaps a month there preaching, then leave.
The Catholics, meanwhile, would see a priest visit them once every five to seven years to hear confessions, convalidate marriages, register baptisms (the people themselves baptized their children as they were born) and celebrate Mass. The priest would be there only a few days, then leave. The bishop would come to their area about once every 10 to 12 years to confirm those who had not yet received the sacrament. Catechesis was given without textbooks (because of poverty and illiteracy) by the grandmothers.
While road access to these more remote areas has improved greatly since my wife’s childhood, there is still a huge lack of clergy and qualified persons to handle catechesis and celebrate the sacraments. Literacy has improved because the government has built schools, but poverty is still a major problem.
Where such conditions prevail, I’m sure you can understand why the Catholics in Latin America are often ignorant and somewhat deviant in their religion. They do the best they can with what they have.
Educated people from the cities tend to look down on the rural poor, and one can expect their comments to be of the sort you have heard. It’s mostly a lack of perspective regarding the scope of the challenges. In reality, there are equal, if not greater, issues in the cities. The poverty may be of a different kind, but it is equally debilitating. In many cities, there are crowds of homeless people who live at the city dump, because they have nowhere else to go. How does the Church go about evangelizing these? Crime, drugs and gangs are everywhere; how does the Church reach these people? When the typical ratio of people to priests is 20,000 to 1, whom are the priests going to serve? And now that organized crime is assassinating “troublesome” priests on a regular basis, how is the Church going to continue to preach the word?
I have one minor but theologically important point to clarify on my Communion of Saints thing. The Church teaching is that there is one valid Baptism. Protestant Baptism, if using the Trinitarian formula, is valid Baptism. Therefore, the Church sees all Christians as members of the one Body of Christ, although in an imperfect sense. So with all that background, my point is this: you can indeed help raise up the Body if Christ with your personal holiness and sanctification, because Jesus has one Body. Not one in Heaven, with a Catholic one and a Protestant one on earth.
My most painful part if the process was what many have called No Man’s Land. You’re no longer Protestant, but you can’t quite buy into Catholicism. Nevertheless, I think you’re almost home 🙏🏼🙏🏼
Jeffrey, I well remember that feeling of being in No Man’s Land. I was quite involved with my Presbyterian church almost to the end, because I was in a position of responsibility and could not just leave them hanging. But all the time I was in RCIA, I would walk into that place and stare at all these wonderful Protestant folks and be hit with the feeling that I did not belong there any more. Then I would walk into the Catholic parish and think, “Really Jennifer? You are really going to believe this and go here?” It was a strangely lonely time of not belonging to either camp. Yet I was strongly compelled to keep diving headlong into Catholicism and try to make sense of it. I literally could not have stopped my studying and searching if I tried.
Yes, we are very much in No Man’s Land right now, JeffreyJob and Jennie1964. It’s not the greatest place, especially since my almost-5-year-old notices and asks why we are staying in our seats for Communion at these new, different churches. It’s extremely difficult to explain. Sometimes I feel “almost home,” in your words, JeffreyJob, but sometimes both Protestantism and Catholicism both seem hopelessly far away. We are having to pray hard for God’s guidance, and trust that He will bring us somewhere as we seek the truth.
Jennie1964, all your points seem right to me. I think it’s really more of an emotional obstacle than a rational one. Also, the story about your mother and your point that molestation, abuse, etc. were pretty much always covered up in previous generations really helps clarify things for me. Clergy and churches can often be complicit in the sins of their times — sins that are sometimes so ingrained in consciousness and behavioral patterns that people aren’t even aware of them.
David, your comments about rural Mexico are very illuminating. Twenty thousand to one is a staggering ratio, and there is obviously no blame for people who do not have access to good education or proper catechesis. I am wondering whether your insights would also apply to places like Miami and Havana, which is where my relatives have lived. These are fairly urban places, and I’m not sure about the priest-to-population ratio, but I imagine it is better than in remote rural areas.
Still, I can see how people continue to go about their daily lives with whatever misconceptions they may have, and a priest can only do so much to dig out superstition or credulity, unless people come to him with questions.
I will have to keep thinking about these issues. I seem to get in a cycle where I will find an explanation or a thought that satisfies me and puts my worries to rest, but a conversation with Protestant family members will bring back all the doubts and worries and a flood of “Oh, goodness, they’re right! How could I have forgotten what they are telling me?” I feel one way when I’m reading, thinking, reflecting, and praying, and a totally different way when I’m talking to them. I think it’s largely the natural emotional hold that loved ones have on a person. Encountering their passionate feelings face-to-face is just so much harder than dealing with ideas and texts and doctrines. It’s hard to see someone hurting, and to know you’re causing their pain, and yet still feel that you’re doing the right thing.
Many, many thanks again for everyone’s thoughts.
David W. Emery
Yes, Daisy, that No Man’s Land between the one side and the other is a painful place to be. Most of us converts have experienced it. The emotional roller coaster ride is normal, as are the embarrassing questions from your children and the strained relations with your Protestant relatives and friends.
I think it’s really more of an emotional obstacle than a rational one.
The emotional response is just as important as the intellectual one, because it affects both mind and will. Since the very essence of Protestantism is to be opposed to the Catholic Church, to consider it as invalidated by corruption and sin, it is a difficult hurdle to clear.
I am wondering whether your insights would also apply to places like Miami and Havana, which is where my relatives have lived.
I live in Texas, right on the border. There are a few Cubans around, as also others from all over Latin America, but the great majority are of Mexican heritage. (I’m a minority here myself, being non-Hispanic.) I am not directly familiar with the situation of Catholics in Cuba, but they have had to battle a Communist regime since I was a teenager (over 50 years). The Church has had to live in the shadows all this time. In Florida, the comparative affluence and the American culture have strongly influenced the succeeding generations of those who found refuge there when Castro took over. Secularism seems to be their dominant religion now. So it’s mostly the elderly who keep the faith. This is probably the reason your relatives speak of them as “superstitious,” keeping to the folk customs of the “old country.” But those who are younger may be misinterpreting the evidence, since they were raised as Americans rather than Cubans and do not necessarily understand their heritage.
Deviation from orthodoxy, disobedience and heresy have little to do with folk customs, much more to do with the intellectual currents among a given population. Frankly, I see just as much deviation from orthodoxy among those in a posh urban parish (like mine!) as I do among those out on the ranchos. It’s a different kind of deviation, but it’s just as deviant: “I’ve used contraception for years; as far as I’m concerned, it’s not a sin. I see nothing wrong with getting a Reiki treatment for my back problem. I’m divorced and remarried, but I’m going to continue receiving the sacraments; I see no need for annulment and convalidation. Most of the Bible is a myth; the miracles are all fake.” Prizing a saint’s statue as a miraculous family heirloom is a very small thing when compared to these other forms of disobedience and heresy.
I think it’s largely the natural emotional hold that loved ones have on a person. Encountering their passionate feelings face-to-face is just so much harder than dealing with ideas and texts and doctrines. It’s hard to see someone hurting, and to know you’re causing their pain, and yet still feel that you’re doing the right thing.
Actually, you are not causing their pain. You have learned enough already to realize that they, through their mistaken beliefs, are causing their own pain. In addition, they are causing you pain in their effort to prevent you from going over to “the enemy.” I have known many new Catholics who are bombarded with this “guilt trip” by their erstwhile friends and family. It is a “white martyrdom.”
Jennie hit the nail on the head. Protestantism has its issues too, it’s just that the Catholic Church has had a big target on its back for 500 years now. Maybe because of the Eucharistic claim or maybe because its teachings are in stark opposition to modernism? Honestly, it’s probably a little of everything. But also there are the dogmas and the Magisterium. Again, an argument I have heard (even partly in seminary) is you have an institution telling people what to believe, when the Holy Spirit convinces everyone and assists everyone in their interpretation, but what do you do when you have two people claiming conflicting interpretations, and both claim inspiration of the Holy Spirit. You can quickly see the problem. All you have to do is to look at the fragmentation even in a singular theological vein: Wesleyanism, Calvinism, etc.
In the Protestant churches, it’s not uncommon to hear of a 22-year-old youth pastor fresh out of Bible college get hooked up with a 16 or 17 year old girl out of the youth group. Then there is the pastor who is sexually involved with a parishioner. Every now and then, you even hear of a male pastor frequenting prostitutes of the same gender. Also, you have mainline denominations who do not follow their own disciplines (books of rules/belief statements) and facing a split over gender/sexuality issues. Back in the 1860’s, the Methodist Episcopal Church split over the slavery issue, and you also had three other big splits come out of this issue too. There are at least three major Lutheran synods in the US alone, that split over various issues. All too often, though, these transgressions fly under the radar in the media.
As for myself, I had found Jesus in the Eucharist, and I knew I couldn’t stay away. From there, I had to deal with everything else. What I learned very quickly is that there is what Protestants say the Church teaches or what the Pope says, versus what the Church actually teaches: the two are very different. Another thing I have learned: how could my seminary professors tell me what the Catholic Church teaches when they have never even read what it teaches? In four years and 96 credits worth of classes, I never once saw a single paragraph number citation out of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
What helped me greatly was that I finally hit a point where I was coming to Mass, when I realized that, yes, we are connected in worship with those around us in Mass (the horizontal worship element), but I do not have to let them affect me. I don’t get into the whole liberal versus conservative or modern versus traditional arguments. I have found Jesus, and after almost three years of regular Mass attendance and RCIA, I can finally let him feed me physically as well as spiritually. I find great solace in knowing that, even though priests and bishops have sinned, this doesn’t affect sacramental validity. God works through His Church in spite of our sins, which is one of the greatest graces we have.
What I learned very quickly is that there is what Protestants say the Church teaches or what the Pope says, versus what what the Church actually teaches: the two are very different.
This also applies in another area. I could just as easily say, “I learned very quickly that there is what Catholics do and what Catholics say is taught versus what the Church actually teaches: the two can be very different.” ConlyGeorge, you alluded to this when you said,
“What helped me greatly was I finally hit a point where I was coming to Mass, when I realized that, yes, we are connected in worship with those around us in Mass (the horizontal worship element), but I do not have to let them affect me. I don’t get into the whole liberal versus conservative or modern versus traditional arguments. I have found Jesus.…”
This is a very important thing to learn as a new Catholic. You asked how your seminary professors could teach what the Catholic Church teaches when the majority of them had never even read Catholic documents. I have found that many, probably the majority, of Catholic laity have never read the documents of the Church, either, and yet many of the converts have gone through at least several of them. This leads to sometimes a lot of ignorance among the laity of the Church, who don’t seem to know all they should or could. I am not saying they are not pious or not at all engaged with their faith, but there can be among some of them a rather stunning lack of comprehension and misinformation. It has led to the saying among converts that you have to make sure that you fall in love with and understand the Church as it is currently, and not with how you idealize it to be.
I was chatting with my bishop the other day at a function, and he was surprised that I had read the entire Catechism and Code of Canon Law, as well as having read a few other things and progressing steadily through others. He said that he wished that more Catholics would do this. I explained that, as a convert, most of us read them because we absolutely need to know what we are getting into and to satisfy ourselves in our own minds and hearts that the Church is what she claims to be, or else we wouldn’t set foot in a Catholic church. He seemed surprised, but understood the necessity for us; but boy oh boy, could you ever see the longing in his eyes for Catholics to read and understand more about what the Church teaches!
It surprises me, too, because it is such a vast, rich heritage of teaching. There is just so much I will never understand or learn, having come into it so late, and yet I see people who have been in the Church for 70-odd years, and they have never read even the new Catechism, although they would have memorized a rote Catechism as a child. But that was a different generation, and this is now, so it is hard to compare the apples and oranges. I long to have wonderful spiritual conversations as a Catholic, and mostly I have them with converts, but I am finding a core group at each parish I have been to that can converse on that level, and it is a wonderful find indeed! It is like finding that lost coin in the parable!
I agree with ConlyGeorge on this: “For me it all came down to this: once I realized Jesus is really Present in the Eucharist, then I realized: wow! the Catholic Church is the Church He founded, and it is where I can really meet Hin, receive Him, have the most intimate encounter with Him ever!” So it is no more the case of seeing if I agree with this or that doctrine — and if I don’t, well, I’ll just keep on looking elsewhere — but a matter of learning and understanding what the Church teaches, because it is the truth, and I have to accept it, because I want to follow the truth.
And yes, there are many Catholics who fall short of being what they should be, but as a wise professor once said: “You don’t judge a university by the ones who fail, but by what it teaches.” Once you read the Catechism, you discover its solid teachings, you find out it does not teach superstition, or all the other things that some people outside the Church mistakenly think it teaches.
I don’t think it is true that, for every false accusation, there is a cover-up. There are far more false accusations!! And for the ones that were true, the Church has publicly apologized and is taking strict measures so as not to let whatever happened, happen again. No other institution has had the courage to admit its errors and be willing to amend them.
Thank you, these are very kind responses.
ConlyGeorge and Alma, I understand what you mean about the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. An added complication for me is that I’m coming from a tradition that does affirm the Real Presence, so now I have to wonder whether that is a valid sacrament in the absence of sacramental priesthood. Which is a question of Apostolic succession….
David, I really appreciate your take on this, too, especially what you said about younger generations misunderstanding their elders, and not really “causing” my relatives’ pain. I know what it’s like to take out my kid’s splinter: he’ll scream and cry and think I’m hurting him not realizing the purpose behind it. I guess I’m just more certain, at this point, that the splinter has to come out, than I am about belonging in the Catholic Church. Maybe eventually I will arrive at enough certainty to just yank out the splinter. 🙂
Jennie1964, I really appreciate what you are saying about the difference between Church teaching and what many/most Catholics say. I guess I’m used to Protestantism, where knowing exactly what you believe and why is not only central to your religion but emphasized by pastors, leaders, and everyone else. If you don’t have a Magisterium to “hand” you your theology, you sort of take it upon yourself a little more. This can be good, sometimes, and I think Protestants can sometimes have higher standards in this area on an individual level, because there’s an extent to which everyone has to figure things out for himself. When you’re in the Protestant kayak (rather than the Catholic ocean liner), you tend to get a little better at rowing. 🙂 Of course, on the flip side, there are plenty of areas where Protestants are woefully under-educated. Jennie1964, you have helped me see where my problems result in part from unrealistic expectations.
Thanks to everyone, again, for helping me think through this.