"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The doxing of Rod Dreher

Well, it's happened. Last May, I noted and commented on Rod Dreher's reasons for considering a move from the Catholic Church to Orthodoxy; having read my post, Al Kimel the Pontificator weighed in and thus sparked a much wider discussion than mine had. Dreher's reasons were, and are, powerful reasons. Now he's actually made the move, announced sooner than he'd preferred in a brief apologia published on his blog Crunchy Con. (I'd suggest waiting a few days before you try loading that page, though; I've only managed to do it once, yesterday, when I read the whole post. Since then the Beliefnet server seems to be overwhelmed.)

Dreher's post is authentic and heartfelt. In his shoes, I'd have been strongly tempted to do what he has done. Indeed, it would be fair to say that I can empathize with Dreher more than most committed, orthodox Catholics: as a college student I once found myself in a position pretty close to his, and almost did what he has done. I had been sexually abused by a priest as a high school student and was quite generally fed up with the "progressive" Catholic theology and liturgy which was then the norm in New York, at least for students. Since I've told the story of my flirtation with Orthodoxy elsewhere, however, I shall leave out the details here. Suffice it to say that I remained Catholic because, unlike Dreher, I could not get around the pope.

It's pretty clear to me that Dreher's rejection of Vatican I's definitions of papal authority is ex post facto. He is quite up front about the more basic causes of his conversion; the theological part of his post is just what one would expect from somebody who has already made up their mind for other reasons. I, on the other hand, could not suspend intellectual objectivity to quite the same extent. No matter how disgusted with the Catholic Church I had got, it seemed to me that the arguments for Vatican I were stronger than the alternatives. In the post I've linked above, the Pontificator explains why that matters so much. Nevertheless, the Catholic hierarchy in this country had better wake up to two facts.

First, the majority of Catholics who remain both orthodox and practicing do so more in spite of the clergy than because of them. That wasn't always true, and pray God it won't always be true. But it is, and there's nothing to be gained by not giving it due weight.

Second, many Catholics who leave the Church do so either because the clergy haven't formed them properly or because the clergy betray their trust. Dreher's case is only one of the more public, and well-explained, examples. But in one form or another, his name is legion.

Such facts are all the greater proof that nothing will improve in the American Catholic Church until the quality of the clergy, especially the higher clergy, improves significantly. In the last decade, it has improved only marginally; the majority of bishops, regardless of theology, are still more bureaucrats than shepherds. That's what has to change; if it does, all else will change with it, and for the better.
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