Terry Mattingly: Is it Time for Reappraising Catholics to leave the Roman Catholic Church?

[As] theologian Tom Beaudoin, who teaches at the Jesuit-run Fordham University in New York City, [writes]:

Whatever one thinks of this ad, it seems to mark a particular moment in the unfolding history of the Catholic Church in the United States. That a full-page ad in one of the most influential newspapers in the country would ask members of a major religious group to walk away from that group is an extraordinary occurrence.

I hope that before people take sides pro or con on the ad, before the tendency to separate into “evil vs. good” or “good vs. evil” here, we might be able to take this opportunity for some serious thinking, and ask: What is happening with religion in general and Catholicism in particular today that would make such a moment possible?…

Are you thinking “what ad”? Well, you better read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Media, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

10 comments on “Terry Mattingly: Is it Time for Reappraising Catholics to leave the Roman Catholic Church?

  1. libraryjim says:

    The Episcopal Church would welcome them with open arms. The problem is that reappraising Catholics are staying in the American Catholic Church for much the same reasons reappraising Episcopalians stayed in the Episcopal Church (instead of joining the Unitarians, for example): to transform it from the inside into their vapid vision of what a Church should and should not be, and get rid of all that “Jesus” and “Bible” nonsense.

  2. Ad Orientem says:

    This is a really outstanding piece. Terry (who generally produces high quality stuff) hit this one out of the ball park. As an ex-Roman myself; I think it is time and perhaps past time for Catholics to have a serious discussion on this subject. Most especially those who have serious doctrinal differences with their church need to stand in front of a mirror and have a “come to Jesus” moment with themselves. At some point honesty demands it.

    In the end I fall outside the conventional categories of ex-Catholics having neither abandoned religion nor embraced the reformed tradition (either the conservative or liberal brand). I am a member of the 3% listed as “other” on the linked PEW survey. But my story is abnormal. Excepting the ones who just drift into religious indifference the vast majority of those who leave the Roman Church do so either out of pique with Rome’s perceived excessive conservatism or because they have become convinced that the Catholic Church is un-Biblical.

    And my response is good for them. I think it would be a win win for the lefty liberals to just pack up and hop on the next bus for the Episcopal Organization. As noted by libraryjim they would be welcomed with open arms and the Roman Church could begin the essential process of recovering from the insanity that has gripped it for the last half century.

  3. Daniel Muth says:

    Of course TEC would love to have Leftie ex-Catholics – at least theoretically (I really wonder, given the size of these people’s egos, if they really want more competition for the headlines) – but I can’t help suspecting that it will never happen, at least not in any significant numbers in the US. For some of the more extreme, of course, there will always be the unstated but ever-present sense that any parasite would have – if it were able to express such thoughts – that it cannot afford to lose its host. Remember Screwtape warning Wormwood to guard his “patient” from death like the “apple of your eye”. After all, who would have given a dead rat for the vapid spew of John Shelby Spong if he didn’t have the “Rt. Rev.” – and by now this doesn’t mean much for an Episcopal vice Roman Catholic clergyman – in front of his name? Who would ever listen to a word by Frances Kissling if she couldn’t claim to be speaking on behalf of “[i]Catholics[/i] for a Free Choice”? What on earth would Richard Dawkins do without evolution-denying Christians to play foil? And on and on the list goes. Cranks, crackpots and third rate intellects will always need easy – or at least what the unwashed masses mistake for easy – targets.

    Nevertheless, I think the far more common response will be a very different one. The connection these people feel to the Church of their youth is not unlike the pang of loss they experience at times for the innocence of that childhood amidst their fornications, bawdy revelries and narcissistic fixations. They need the Church to stay the Church. They need the reassurance – even if they don’t like or strongly disagree with what it consists of – that there remains a still place in a moving world. And they want to identify with that Church, to keep the lifeline intact. Even if the prodigal mistakenly thinks the elder brother speaks for the father or simply rejects what he thinks are the tired old ways of that father, he needs to know that he’s there, whether he returns or not.

    The old “Hound of Heaven” imagery may be a mite too easy to make fun of, but it speaks of something that actually exists and these people want some kind of reassurance that it is still pursuing them. They will never run all that far. I doubt that Protestants ever have quite the same feeling (I think we Episcopalians grow up with some inkling of it – and note that many of us grew up without ever in our lives thinking of ourselves as Protestants) since the culture we inhabit here in the US is so excruciatingly Protestant. Roman Catholics still start their lives out rooted in an odd, alien-to-America counterculture, one with inexpressibly deep roots.

    They’ll rail and pine and cry that the keepers of that culture don’t think like they do. They’ll talk about desperately they need these people to change, but they won’t leave, certainly not for TEC. It doesn’t matter how equally deep the Anglican roots are (at least among those of us who recgnize Anglicanism as affected by rather than created by the Reformation). They aren’t going to accept an imitation. TEC will get very, very few of them.

  4. Dick Mitchell says:

    Agreed, Dan. I kept looking for thousands of disillusioned Roman Catholics back in the late 1970s, when Pope John Paul II unveiled his colors — but they never showed up at TEC. I don’t think they are coming now.

    Also, this was a very unfriendly, antagonistic ad. It was not done by an liberal Catholic group, but by a skeptic, “free thinker” crowd, who are as likely to anger liberal Catholics as to persuade them.

  5. j.m.c. says:

    If Nancy Pelosi were inspired by this to publish an open letter renouncing her Catholic faith and distancing herself from the Catholic Church …

    And two months later, publish an opinion piece on contraception in which she says, “As a loyal Catholic, I can only say … [yadda yadda]” …

    Would anyone in the mainstream media notice?

  6. dmitri says:

    Many Catholics have joined the Episcopal Church. In my (affirming) Anglo-Catholic parish at least 50 percent of our members are former Roman Catholics including our priest and deacon. The trend continues and I think is growing although I haven’t seen statistics on it.

  7. Teatime2 says:

    Former RCs make up a sizable portion of the Episcopal Church. The only reason it’s not widely noticeable is that they come over individually and no special appeal or process has been made available to them, unlike …

  8. Daniel Muth says:

    Of course there are many Roman Catholic individuals who have come into TEC parishes. We have several divorcees who came to our parish so they could receive communion. Most of them met Jesus in a deeper way at our parish and have stayed. A friend of mine is rector of a sizeable suburban parish the majority of which is Roman simply because, in his area, RC parishes are either Irish or Polish and the local RC parish is Polish so he gets a hefty chunk of the Irish. Similar situations will no doubt continue to dot the landscape for the foreseeable future. What I don’t think we’ll see is a rush of RC Liberals running over to TEC because it so embodies everything they wish Rome were.

    There’s this little matter of authenticity. Rome has it and will continue to no matter how different her leaders look and sound vs. the secular world (one can’t help but suspect that it is precisely this which lends them so much authenticity). The Leftist takeover of TEC has virtually denuded our little slice of the Catholic Church of any sense of connection to authentic Christianity, at least in the eyes of people not brought up as Episcopalians. I’m sure it’s thrilling hearing people dressed up like bishops telling you what you want to hear. But pretty much anyone raised in the Roman Catholic Church senses that these people aren’t the real thing.

  9. Ross says:

    I think one of the interesting questions raised here is, “At what point are there enough Catholics who disagree with the Magisterium that it is no longer possible to say that ‘The Catholic Church believes what the Magisterium teaches’?”

    Of course the Magisterium’s answer to that would be, “There is no such number.” But then, one would expect that 🙂

    I’m not asking a dogmatic or doctrinal question, but an institutional one. If an organization officially takes Stance A, by virtue of whatever means it has for taking official stances, but 99% of its members make no bones about publically taking Stance Anti-A, is it possible to say that A is really the position of the organization?

  10. Daniel Muth says:

    #9 – I strongly disagree. You are asking [i]precisely[/i] a doctrinal question, or at least one wholly circumscribed by very particular doctrinal understandings. After all, “what the Catholic Church teaches” is the [i]definition[/i] of the word “Magisterium”. As you rightly note, Catholic doctrine holds that there is no magic number, no majority or supermajority who are available to reject her teachings and in any meaningful way still constitute “the Catholic Church”. To hold that there is such a number is to take a doctrinal position about what the Catholic Church is, a position directly at odds with what she has always taught. To distinguish the Church from the institution is to impose on the her an alien ecclesiology. I can’t see how the question is in any way meaningful unless you first define the ecclesiological assumptions that inform your understanding of “institutional” and “Church” at the very least.