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

Sunday, October 15, 2006

The Pontificator and "saint" on leaving the Catholic Church

The doxing of Rod Dreher, a now-former Catholic who once contributed to a periodical I also once contributed to, National Review, has indeed got "Catholic blogdom astir" (to use Al Kimel's words). You can find Kimel's wider thoughts here, and you can comment on them at the bottom of this post; also, Dr. Scott Carson has his normally intelligent take, on which you can comment either there or here. I want to take this occasion to deal with an objection to Kimel's main point, one that's already been registered in the combox to my previous post.

Kimel concludes:
To become Catholic, to be Catholic, is to surrender one’s private judgment to the magisterial teaching of the Church. It is to believe that what the Church teaches and will teach as belonging to the deposit of revelation is from God. One may investigate the rational grounds for de fide dogmas; but one may not doubt them nor inquire whether or not they may be true. As Newman remarks, a Catholic “cannot be both inside and outside of the Church at once.”

I wonder how many priests and RCIA instructors understand what Catholic assent is. I wonder how many converts to Catholicism have been instructed in the irrevocable, definitive, full assent to magisterial teaching that is being asked of them when they enter into the communion of the Catholic Church.
Having once directed an RCIA process for three years, I hold the same view as Kimel and wonder the same things. Given the authority claimed for herself by the Catholic Church, I do not understand how any informed Catholic could hold otherwise. But of course there are objections.

Judging from his blogsite, the objector I've already alluded to is an Australian Catholic. He signs himself "saint"—not exactly auspicious, that—and gives voice to what many Catholics and non-Catholics think. Thus to Kimel's assertion that "...to be Catholic is to surrender one’s private judgment to the magisterial teaching of the Church," he retorts:

But to become Christian, to be Christian is to surrender one's whole self to Christ. But as long as you define the church on your terms - not as those baptised into Christ but only those baptised into the Catholic church; not as the ekklesia, the called out ones, the people of God, Christians, but only as Catholics - you will snot away at Rod while waiting how many years, to find a cardinal with the balls to call for Madonna to be excommunicated - like she was ever a believer. Hey let's all run off to Malawi like Madonna and buy ourselves a kid. Too bad if his father is still alive and I have the means to help him look after his own son.

I find it ironic even if unsurprising that so many Christians cannot encourage their brethren to follow Christ, in accordance with the light given them and in whatever station in life they find themselves. No, rather, we are reluctant to cut out the dead wood when we find it, blind to the log in our own eye but quick to break a bruised reed or quench a smouldering wick.

While not entirely wrong, that betrays a sort of ignorance that occasions false dichotomies and confusions.

The false dichotomy here is that between Christ and the Catholic Church. If one is Catholic, as "saint" ostensibly is, one is at least nominally committed to holding that the Mystical Body of Christ, the Ecclesia, the People of God—whichever name or description is used, the same entity is being referred to—is so joined with the risen Jesus Christ as to be one body with him, constituting "the whole Christ." That's why, while Saul was persecuting the Church, Jesus asked him on the road to Damascus: "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" In Lumen Gentium, Vatican II accordingly says that the true Church "subsists" in the Catholic Church.

That doesn't mean that non-Catholics can't be in some sort of communion with Christ and the Church. Indeed, LG is quite explicit that all those baptized who have not joined the Catholic Church stand in some sort of "imperfect" communion with said church: they are properly parts of the whole who are not fully integrated into the whole. But it does mean that truly submitting oneself to the Catholic Church entails truly submitting oneself to Christ. One doesn't commit to the former instead of the latter; one commits to the latter by means of committing to the former. So when one breaks communion with the Catholic Church, it's fair to raise the question whether one is breaking with Christ himself—or whether one had ever truly joined oneself to him to begin with.

The confusion in the rant of our "saint" is about Madonna, who is only one specially public example of what's happened with many Catholics. As another commenter observed, most ex-Catholics are "pagans," and Madonna is no exception. While she remains nominally Catholic, she has in fact excommunicated herself (the canonical term is excommunicatio latae sententiae) by embracing a Kabbalism repackaged for the Western consumer and committing, without repenting of, other public acts that count as blasphemy. Even if she hadn't done any of that, her lifestyle of sexual and material self-indulgence would suffice to ensure that she could receive the Eucharist only to her own condemnation, unless and until she repents. But that's not enough for "saint." No, he suggests that unless some "cardinal" summons the cojones to excommunicate her ferendae sententiae—i.e., by a specific juridical act—Catholics are hypocritical to criticize other public figures such as Dreher for leaving the Church.

Nonsense. Dreher has made his move to a true, particular church in all honesty, with considerable pain, bitterness, and intellectual wrestling that he hasn't shrunk from describing for all to read. I applaud him for that, and I've already indicated how I empathize with him. But I think he's wrong, and he certainly isn't immune from criticism. He's not just a bruised reed and a smoldering wick; he's a big boy who can take care of himself. Madonna, on the other hand, neither deserves nor gets the sort of respect that I and many others have shown Rod Dreher even when we criticize him. Any Christian who cares about the truth can recognize her for what she is—a pagan—and doesn't need the Catholic hierarchy to tell them so. Said hierarchy has long taught the reasons why she's a pagan and why, all the same, they don't need to excommunicate her as such. So I find "saint" merely confused.

I do not know whether Dreher and his wife are following Christ or not. I have known some people in my life who, for whatever reason, did not have a personal encounter with Christ as Catholics but really did when or after they left to join a different church. But their journies couldn't stop there: some eventually "reverted" to Catholicism as mature Christians; others haven't learned quite so much. I cannot judge the consciences of the latter. But the point is that the phenomenon of discovering Christ outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church does nothing to call the ecclesiology of said Church into question. All it does is indict Catholics, especially the clergy, for their sins. Yet Catholics have always known that the clergy are sinners like the rest of us, and that the wheat grows alongside the chaff in the Kingdom of God. So I've never envisioned anything much to be gained by leaving the Catholic Church because of the sins of her leaders. They are indicted by the very truth they are sworn to embody—the ones I profess precisely as a Catholic, and can see no way to maintain consistently as anything other than a Catholic.

By and large, the Orthodox know the same regarding their own churches too. That is probably why, with a few inevitable exceptions, Orthodox blogdom has handled the Dreher thing well. I wish I could say the same for Catholics like "saint."
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