What if a heartbroken Catholic knocks on my church door?

I have watched now over the past few weeks as each awful page is turned in the growing sexual abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic Church. It’s been bad for years now, but what’s come out just recently is looking even worse.

I have been very hesitant to say much publicly on this, because it is so fraught with possible missteps. So forgive me if I misstep here. The reason why I am writing this is because it occurs to me that some Catholics will probably be looking to change churches in the wake of all this.

I have friends in that communion, and there are many elements in its history and its good works in the present which I love and admire, even while I have many criticisms for its dogma, theology and praxis. I am so sorry for what my friends are experiencing, and have even known some who were touched directly by this evil, including in my own town.

It horrifies me to see that trust has been broken again and again and the evil committed against both children and adults by those who are supposed to be caring for their souls.

Standing outside and looking in, I don’t consider myself qualified to make any criticisms in terms of a programme for reform other than to say that I believe that any clergyman who has committed any of these acts or aided or covered for those who did ought to be deposed and their cases referred to the appropriate law enforcement. And that is of course consistent with official RC teaching. And it is what I expect in my own church and from other Christians, as well.

I have little doubt that many Catholics will simply stop coming to church. I wouldn’t agree with their decision to abandon any kind of Christian worship, but I would understand it. When you feel like where you want to be is simply not safe, it is hard to bring yourself to go there in spite of that.

And I’m sure that for many this will be the end of their Christian faith. Christianity becomes simply less plausible when those who are its leaders fail so utterly in their duties. They do not become an argument against faith, but rather make it so that no argument for it will be convincing any more. Again, I hope that doesn’t happen, but I get it.

It will be easy for those of us in other churches to suggest to heartbroken Catholics that they ought to come to our churches instead. But I have three thoughts on that score:

  1. I believe that it would be both crass and cruel to exploit the scandal to entice Catholics to join our churches. Yes, I believe that everyone should be an Orthodox Christian, but I don’t believe that that is the right way to bring people into the fold, because it is a kind of deception. But I am sure that some are going to come on their own.
  2. We should not pretend that we are immune from these sins. (We are not.) At the same time, we should take what is happening in the RCC as a warning to be extremely vigilant in our own communities.
  3. If any former Roman Catholic wishes to become part of our churches, we ought to be sure that they will as time unfolds come fully to accept our own teachings and practices and not be offered merely a safe haven for those whose hearts are not truly with us.

If someone comes to our doors and asks to join our church — with whatever motivation that got them there — we cannot turn them away. But we can and must shepherd them just as we would anyone who wishes to become part of our community, assuring their full integration into church teaching and life. That will ultimately mean coming to believe and practice things differently from their former church.

We have to avoid the twin temptations of either 1) welcoming them without assuring that they truly are becoming part of our community in every way or 2) effectively turning them away because their broken hearts are not the “right” motivation that got them to our doors.

I have sometimes heard the idea that no one should be allowed to convert to Orthodox Christianity who has not done so essentially by means of a journey through reason, history, dogmatics, etc. But in my experience such converts are fairly rare (most, I think, come because of a marriage).

For me, the question is not what brought them to my door but about what comes next. In a sense, everyone comes with a mix of motivations. I have to trust that the reason they’re standing at my door is because the Holy Spirit brought them there.

If someone comes to us seeking Christ, we must receive them. It will take a lot of care and probably a lot of time to receive them in a way that will be for their healing and not to provide a religious “rebound relationship.” The key is to weep with those who weep, to give them Jesus Christ, and to keep giving them Jesus Christ.

17 comments:

  1. You are correct Father, in your assessment of things. We are all Followers of Christ, we all know he is the second person of the Holy Trinity, and that he is God/Man. I love both Churches. The problem is runned by man, man is far from perfect, even clergy. Only Christ is perfect. May he guide us, May the Holy Spirit, show the Church back to its path.

  2. Coming from someone who has never been Catholic, and is a convert to Orthodoxy, well said. Very kind, and very truthful.

  3. I am a new convert to Orthodoxy from Catholicism, but came to the fullness of Christ’s Church firstly because He called me. Truly, in the past couple of years, studying Eastern Catholic Theology, which I found both enlightening and healing, crated a crisis in my faith life in the sense that I wanted to live it out, not merely study it. God providentially guided the events in my life to bring me to His Church, which I joined with gratefulness to the Catholic Church from introducing me to Christ and for teaching to follow Him wherever He’d lead me.

    However, I must say that I am frustrated and anxious since the last events came to light, exposing the utter moral and spiritual failure of those who should successors of Christ’s Apostles. Frustrated because the crimes reached all levels in the Catholic hierarchy, seemingly all the way to the pope. I cannot help feeling like I was duped and betrayed. Anxious as I think about my blind defense of the Catholic leadership to quite a few people, especially family members. Some dismissed me, but some trusted me and now I feel as if I had duped and betrayed them. I ache at the thought of them throwing their hands up in the air and, tired of lousy liturgies and dried up by mechanical confessors, giving up on the Catholic Church after this last straw.

    Perhaps, given my own reaction to such revelations though I am now an outsider, God also provided in due season, with impeccable timing, His grace to place me in a place of solace before the storm hit my baptismal Church. Glory be to Him in all things.

    Lord, have mercy.

  4. “And I’m sure that for many this will be the end of their Christian faith. Christianity becomes simply less plausible when those who are its leaders fail so utterly in their duties. They do not become an argument against faith, but rather make it so that no argument for it will be convincing any more”

    I’m there.
    Just sick of this nonsense, orthodoxy seems very alien to my mind and culture. Protestantism is silly and dangerous. I tried that for a while years ago, no thanks.
    I’m not a literalist. I attended the Traditional Latin mass for many years because the mainstream of the church seemed to have lost any appreciation of beauty or sacredness, I found that in the traditional liturgy and my paris h was a little oasis among the liberal, “mainline” Catholic church in the US. But I can’t associate with such a deeply evil organization. We have an OCA parish here and I might try it some day, but not today.

    1. Hey Kevin,

      I’m sorry that you are having to go through this experience. Have you heard of the Western Rite in Orthodoxy? The Antiochians have it as well as I think the ROCOR.

  5. We are told that the Lord is close to the broken-hearted, so certainly His Church must be also be there. Still, it seems quite right to say that broken-hearted Catholics, and the Orthodox priests to whom they go for guidance, must be sure that this is not the only reason they are seeking to become members of the Orthodox Church.
    When I entered the Catholic Church in 1994, after having been a Methodist all my life, I was not running from anything, but rather, I was running to something, someone. I was running to receive the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist, which our merciful Lord revealed to this most unworthy seeker, as Himself, truly present and fully alive.
    My experience with Eastern Christianity began with a lovely congregation of Byzantine Catholics. My daughter and son-in-law were attending there, and my grandson was baptized and chrismated there at the tender age of 4 weeks. I was instantly in love with everything about it, especially the beauty of the Liturgy.
    Then, when my daughter and her family moved to another state where there was no Eastern Catholic Church, they found an Orthodox Church, which is OCA, and has a wonderful, Russian-American priest. I have since been told that I should not even have been in the building. Well, we were, and I did not take communion, because obedience matters, but I would go there again and allow myself to be part of, or at least a witness to, something beautiful and true.
    I have read several of Father Schmemman’s books, all of which are exciting and rich and full of the knowledge and love of Christ. I have read several of Father Hopko’s books, including his series of books introducing Orthodoxy. I also read a book about the history of the split in the Church. Of course, I am not a scholar, but I have been deeply moved by the similarities of the two lungs of the Church, and I remain deeply unimpressed by the differences. The depth of the Orthodox theology and worship surpass the Roman Church, with or without the Latin Mass, with or without a “celibate” clergy that victimizes young people and then cleverly engages in obfuscation. Still, I see the persistence of the split, if not the origins of it, as something that is not from God himself, something that is in stark contrast to the Beauty and Truth and Mercy and Love, that is, in opposition to God himself and His wish for us to be One.
    My heart is broken about more than one thing in this, my sixty-sixth year of life. So why am I not already Orthodox? It is because the Holy Spirit, who called me to the Catholic Church, has not yet said, “Go.” Or, “Come,” as the case may be. (I am concerned, too, that my husband, who was raised Catholic but sees himself as an Evangelical Protestant, would not come.with me, and I am not sure it is right for me to go my own way because of that.)
    Those in the Orthodox Church who see what is going on in the Catholic Church can, and I hope will, pray for us. That is no small thing.

  6. “I have sometimes heard the idea that no one should be allowed to convert to Orthodox Christianity who has not done so essentially by means of a journey through reason, history, dogmatics, etc. But in my experience such converts are fairly rare (most, I think, come because of a marriage).”

    I’m one of the former myself, and I do believe as well that this is something of a rarity. To hold that converts must come because of an intellectual journey is to sell short that for many such a deep dive into theology is difficult. I’m a history major, history is how I first found Orthodoxy, so it’s easier for me. But how many are like me, with the patience and curiosity to study stacks of books?

    No, people should come to Orthodoxy because of Christ. I came to Orthodoxy, yes in part for the intellectual and spiritual rigor, but what drove me out of Protestantism was that I could not find and worship Christ there. All the rigors of the mind will not show the worship of Christ. I came to Orthodoxy because here I could worship Christ, and live in Christ.

    And so what we must always do is show Christ to all who meet us or come through our doors. For the heartbroken Catholics and Protestants who come through our doors, we must show the love of Christ above all. They may convert, or they may not, that’s secondary. If we are not showing them Christ, we’re not doing it right.

  7. Very profound. My own painful experiences in the Evangelical Protestant Church we’re a significant part of my journey to the Orthodox Church. It was the love and acceptance along with the Worship that kept me coming back.

  8. I appreciate your admonition that we must all be careful – it is so important to be vigilant lest we fall into sin as well. Thank you for a loving response to what will surely come to pass.

  9. I was told to be sure I was walking to Orthodoxy and not running away from the Episcopalians. Once I had been to Divine Liturgy, the banality of ECUSA was no longer an option in my life. It only took minutes to decide that I was indeed walking to the brightness and beauty of Orthodoxy.

  10. I don’t know if what I say will hold water, but here goes. I am theologically, behaviorally, and liturgically Orthodox. The only thing that is not Orthodox is my body, since I go to an Eastern Catholic Church. I came into the ECC from Protestantism, but was very interested in Orthodoxy at that time. I felt that I had the best of both worlds at that time – Orthodoxy in praxis and communion with the Holy Father of Rome as did the first 10 centuries of Christians.

    It wasn’t until seminary that I really learned of the vast theological differences between East and West. The whole approach, from anthropological understanding to soteriology and eschatology is 180 degrees apart. I have come to believe that the Roman Church, while a sister church, has erred in some of these areas. I do wish that the Orthodox priest whose Saturday night Vespers I was attending before my act of conversion had sat me down and really, really evangelized me. I think, from what I heard, he just assumed I was going to become Orthodox.

    My greatest challenge now – one I am really struggling with – is to not hold the RCC in contempt or judgment (my God, WHO am I, great sinner, to judge anyone or anything, yet I do!) I feel betrayed by the Latinizations done to the ECC here in America, the violations of the Union of Brest and Uzuhrod, and keep hitting a wall trying to understand how to be “Orthodox in communion with Rome.” My spiritual father has given me a good enough explanation, but deep in my heart, I want to leave for the OCA.

    Your prayers for me will be appreciated. I know I am where the Lord wants me for now, even if I don’t fully understand the “why” of it.

  11. A friend of mine who was received into the Church the same year I was, came from the Roman Catholic Church. SHe left because her husband had an affair and then wanted to marry his mistress and the Catholic Church gave him (not what she wanted) an annulment which allowed him to marry. She was left alone to raise their four kids (whom the Church, despite their legalese maneuvering, considers illegitimate). Anyway, that was her drive to convert. To this day, I don’t know if she really accepts the doctrines and dogmas of the Orthodox Church and maybe she still holds on to things like the filioque or transubstantiation or the veneration of the sacred heart, etc. And maybe, in the long run, it won’t matter.

  12. Naaman wasn’t looking for God but only healing. He found God anyway (and his healing). Let no one be turned away from the house of the Lord.

  13. Thank you for those words. I am a Catholic with what one-could-call severe eastern leanings, but I ultimately converted to Catholicism (largely because of marriage to a cradle Catholic and the peace it would bring with his family). It would be very easy for me right now to “jump ship” as it were, but it doesn’t feel right either. It’s a complicated thing to convert out of anger and hurt, so I am pleased to hear such a well thought-out approach to receiving wounded Catholics.

  14. Thankyou for your concern and cautioning Fr! There is one possibility though that we must consider as well – God is calling people to search and learn about their faith, faith history, early teachings and traditions – in daily life and also liturgy and worship. So, we must allow people to discern what God is asking of them. I don’t believe that people will have a run and hide or run and save me attitude to save their Christianity because more than ever, now they are being very serious and scrutinizing of what they are getting into. This has been an awful blow for those that saw it coming, but moreso for those who took the day to day Catholic life and worship for granted; they never saw it coming. And from what I understand, there is more to come! At the same time, it has brought them to search for Truth and authenticity as left to us by Jesus and the Apostles. We need to pray fervently; sackcloth and ashes! Thankyou again and God bless you…..

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *