Skip to comments.Don't let the door hit you... (conservative Catholic journalist joins Orthodox Church)
Posted on 10/13/2006 4:59:56 PM PDT by NYer
Back in 2001, when I first started writing about the child sex-abuse scandal in the Church, Father Tom Doyle, the heroic priest who ruined his own career by speaking out for victims, warned me, "If you keep going down this path, you are going to go to places darker than you can imagine." I thought I understood what he meant, but I didn't. Even if I had, by then, I couldn't have stopped. What brought me in touch with Fr. Doyle was my having stumbled upon a cell of clerical molesters at a Carmelite parish in the Bronx. They had preyed on a teenage immigrant boy who was troubled, and whose father was back in Nicaragua. His mother sent him to the priests for counseling, thinking that maybe being around some men of God would do the boy some good. The priests ended up molesting him. When the boy's father arrived in the States and found out what had happened, he went to the Archdiocese of New York to tell them what happened. They offered to cut him a check if he'd sign a paper agreeing to let the Archdiocese's attorneys handle the matter.
And that's how it began for me. At the time, as the father of a young boy, I couldn't shake the thought What if this had happened to my family? Would we be treated this way by the Archdiocese? ...
The sex-abuse scandal can't be easily separated from the wider crisis in the American Catholic Church, involving the corruption of the liturgy, of catechesis, and so forth. I've come to understand how important this point is, because if most other things had been more or less solid, I think I could have weathered the storm. But I found it impossible to find solid ground.
After months, we finally made a decision: we would visit an Orthodox parish. As Catholics, we knew at least that the Sacraments there were valid. Though we couldn't receive communion, we could at least be in the presence of the Eucharistic Christ, and worship liturgically with them, and draw close to God on Sunday morning, however imperfectly. I can hardly express the burden of guilt I felt when I crossed the threshold of St. Seraphim's parish that morning. But you know, it was a wonderful place. The liturgy was breathtakingly beautiful. The preaching orthodox. And the people -- half of them Russian, most of the others converts -- could hardly have been kinder and more welcoming. As a new Episcopalian friend told me a couple of weeks ago after he visited St. Seraphim's, "There is life there."
We kept going back, and finally got invited to dinner at the archbishop's house. I feared it would be a stiff, formal affair. I was astonished to turn up at the address given, to find that it was the shabby little cottage behind the cathedral. We went in, and it was like being at a family reunion. Vladika's house was jammed with parishioners celebrating a feast day with ... a feast. There was Archbishop Dmitri in the middle of it all, looking like a grandfatherly Gandalf. I had never in all my years as a Catholic been around people who felt that way about their bishop. The whole thing was dizzying -- the fellowship, the prayerfulness, the feeling of family. I hadn't realized how starved I was for a church community.
Over time, we got to know the people of the parish. They became our friends. It was a new experience for me to be in a parish where you can be openly small-o orthodox, and the priest and the people support you in that. In "Crunchy Cons," the Orthodox convert (from RCism) Hugh O'Beirne says that Catholics new to the Orthodox Church may find it surprising that they don't have to be on a "war footing" -- meaning the culture wars don't intrude into worship. People are on the same page, and if they're not, they're not out trying to get the Church to change her position on abortion, gay marriage, inclusive language, and all that. As someone who more or less is on the front lines of the culture war every day in my job as a journalist, I found it a new and welcome experience to be able to go to church on Sunday and get built back up for the struggle ahead, instead of to find mass the most debilitating hour of the week.
Julie and I could see what was happening to us: we were falling in love with Orthodoxy. On several occasions, we stopped to check ourselves. But we couldn't bring ourselves to leave this place, where we were back in touch with Christ, and learning to serve Him in community, to return to what we had experienced as a spiritual desert. I know this is not every Catholic's experience, but this was ours.
I had to admit that I had never seriously considered the case for Orthodoxy. Now I had to do that. And it was difficult poring through the arguments about papal primacy. I'll spare you the details, but I will say that I came to seriously doubt Rome's claims. Reading the accounts of the First Vatican Council, and how they arrived at the dogma of papal infallibility, was a shock to me: I realized that I simply couldn't believe the doctrine. And if that falls, it all falls. Of course I immediately set upon myself, doubting my thinking because doubting my motives. You're just trying to talk yourself into something, I thought. And truth to tell, there was a lot of that, I'm sure.
But what I noticed during all this Sturm und Drang over doctrine was this: we were happy again as a family, and at peace. Julie said one day driving home from liturgy, "Isn't it great to look forward to going to church again?" ... Here I was beginning to live a more Christ-like life as a fellow traveler of Orthodoxy, and knowing that if I went back to full-fledged Catholicism, I would be returning to anger and despair. What does it mean to live in the Christian truth in that situation? How would I feel if I approached the Judgment Seat and said to God, "I lived as a depressed and embittered man, lost my children to the Christian faith, and was a terrible witness to your goodness. But Lord, thanks to you, I never left Catholicism."
It was not an abstract question for me. I wondered: is the point of our life on earth to become like Jesus, or is it to maintain formal affiliation with the Roman Catholic Church? ...
I can look back also and see that my own intellectual pride helped me build a weak foundation for my faith. When I converted to Catholicism in 1992 (I entered the Church formally in 1993), it was a sincere Christian conversion. But I also took on as my own all the cultural and intellectual trappings of the American Catholic right. I remember feeling so grateful for the privilege and gift of being Catholic, but there was a part of me that thought, "Yay! I'm on the A-Team now, the New York Yankees of Christianity. I'm on Father Neuhaus's team!" ...
A few weeks back, I mentioned to Julie on the way to St. Seraphim's one morning, "I'm now part of a small church that nobody's heard of, with zero cultural influence in America, and in a tiny parish that's materially poor. I think that's just where I need to be."
As far as tradition goes, I have moved with my family to a church that I believe stands a much better chance of maintaining the historic Christian deposit of faith over time. To be more blunt, I have moved to a church that in my judgment within which I and my family and my descendants will be better able to withstand modernity. Basically, though -- and this is as blunt as I can be -- I'm in a church where I can trust the spiritual headship of the clergy, and where most people want to know more about the faith, and how we can conform our lives to it, rather than wanting to run away from it or hide it so nobody has to be offended.
Dead wrong: he goes for '"a family", collectivism [thus Orthodoxy]. A "church of one" mentioned in your post is a place for extreme individualists only.
There's no excuse for leaving the Church but I believe every bishop will suffer for driving Catholics away from their home.
"There's no excuse for leaving the Church...."
He didn't leave "The Church", P, just the particular Latin Church. I had thought by now that +BXVI's definition of The Church, the particular churches within The Church and "eccelesial assemblies" would have made it down to the level of the laity.
This is yet another occasion where I disagree with the blogster. Augustinus is a convert and unfamiliar with Rod Dreher's catholic experience. Worse yet, are the comments to his blog by 49+ commentators who also have a poor understanding of where Rod Dreher is coming from.
At the time of 9/11, Rod Dreher was living in Brooklyn NY and attending Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Cathedral. Following the collapse of the Twin Towers, Dreher wrote an editorial for the National Review in which he reflected on the actions of his pastor, Monsignor Ignace Sadek.
Monsignor Ignace Sadek, the elderly pastor of the Maronite cathedral near the Brooklyn waterfront, went to the promenade park overlooking lower Manhattan and prayed for absolution for the dying as the towers burned. When the first building crumbled, and the terrible cloud of smoke, debris, and incinerated human remains began its grim march across the harbor, Monsignor Sadek remained at his post praying. The falling ash turned him into a ghost. Still, he stayed as long as he could. This is a man who came through the civil war in Lebanon, and he doesnt run.
"People could see I was a priest," he told me later (he is my pastor). "They ran to me and knelt at my feet, and begged for absolution." Think of that: The people of this proud, defiantly secular city, driven to their knees in prayer, begging for mercy in a hot, gray fog. That is what purgatory must be like.
Shortly thereafter, Dreher was hired by The Dallas Morning News and relocated his family to Dallas, TX. The family settled in and found a most orthodox priest in a local RC parish. When a good friend approached Dreher seeking to convert to catholicism, she expressed skepticism, especially given the recent history of priestly sex abuse. Rod told her about this wonderful priest and arranged for her to meet with him. Several weeks into the program, she thanked Rod and complimented him on finding such an orthodox pastor. Almost as an aside, she mentioned having asked the priest where he was from. He told her had originally come from MA. Curious as to why he would relocate to TX, she inquired further. He simply explained that the previous parishioners were not attuned to his 'orthodox' homilies.
Because of his access to media records, Dreher, out of sheer curiousity, checked out the priest, only to discover that he had been banished from his former diocese, as a result of priestly sex abuse. Dreher suddenly found himself in a conundrum. On the one hand, he thought so highly of this priest's orthodoxy; on the other, he was totally scandalized by the priest's history. As a journalist, after much internal deliberation, he decided to 'out' the priest in an editorial. This was a very painful decision, given the trust he had not only placed in him but also in referring a convert to him, as well. He apologized to the woman who was most empathetic and pursued RCIA through another parish.
I emailed Dreher back then, suggesting he look into an Eastern Catholic Church. He then told me the story of OLOL in Brooklyn, his great admiration for Msg. Sadek and the fact that there were no Eastern Catholic Churches in the DFW area.
I believe all of this has led Dreher to make the decision to go East, but to the Orthodox Church. Personally, I pray that Rod Dreher and his family will finally find the reverence they so desperately sought and safe refuge in their new Church. It is not for us to judge; that belongs to God. May He richly bless this young family on their faith journey.
As a Catholic, I am ashamed at the response so many Neo-Con Catholic bloggers and box commenters have had to Rod Drehers convserion to Orthodoxy. While its a step I would not have certainly taken, so many Neo-Con Catholics like the owner of the Closed Cafateria blog simpily discount the damage done to not only the Drehers faith, but countless millions of Catholics by poorly formed Bishop afraid of the truth if not in outright hetrodoxy, at least two generations of poorly formed priests who preach hetrodoxy/heresy from the pulpits, the destruction of the liturgy and so on. All of these items have destroyed the faith of millions upon millions of Catholics.
PS - if anyone can find Dreher's editorial on the Dallas priest and post it to this thread, I would be most appreciative.
That's about as far as I was willing to read. It's liek an Orthodox saying "personal take: for me it'd be absurd to join, say, the Latin Church without being Latin." What a block head.
"Augustinus is a convert...."
THAT would explain a great deal! We've got them too; more Orthodox than the Patriarch of Moscow!
Augustinus is unnecessarily snarky, and I'm not sure he really understands what he's talking about. I do understand that he is doing direct harm to the delicate state of affairs between East and West, when he should be praying instead for understanding and unity. And that's a sin against charity.
Becoming Orthodox is not leaving the Church. Last time I checked, Rod Dreher's Church has (using Catholic terminology) Apostolic authority through Apostolic Succession, valid priesthood, valid sacraments, valid Eucharist, Holy Tradition, and everything The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church always had and believed. Sounds like a "valid" Church to me.
Should have at least tried the SSPX before going over to schism.
That's about as far as I was willing to read.
You should have read further to the point that Gerald Augustinus is a convert.
Rod Dreher has taken abuse from all directions. When his book, 'Crunchy Cons' was released, another conservative journalist, Maggie Gallagher, chided him for having previously attended an Eastern Catholic Church. She commented:
There is something movingly pathetic in watching the Drehers drive through different religious identities, for example, searching for one that "fits." Worshipping at a Lebanese Maronite (Catholic) Church, for example, because they like the taste of ancient tradition, even if they are neither Lebanese nor Maronite. Tradition itself becomes a kind of consumption item, to be produced and consumed by crunchy cons.
Ouch! That elicited an email to Maggie Gallagher, cc to Rod Dreher, in which I took her to task over her poor understanding of the Catholic Church, especially the 'other' (Eastern) lung. She never did reply but Rod Dreher was very appreciative.
There's a lot of ignorance out there, even (especially?) amongst our conservative allies.
Please take note: The Orthodox Church is not in schism.
Isn't that the truth!
"Becoming Orthodox is not leaving the Church. Last time I checked, Rod Dreher's Church has (using Catholic terminology) Apostolic authority through Apostolic Succession, valid priesthood, valid sacraments, valid Eucharist, Holy Tradition, and everything The One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church always had and believed. Sounds like a "valid" Church to me."
I'm curious kosta: by this post do you mean to say that Catholics (in communion with Rome) should view with indifference the conversion of a Catholic to Orthodoxy? Or am I missing something here?
I don't understand your point. How does the martyrdom of a Syrian Orthodox priest make Rod Dreher's decision to become Orthodox wrong, faux, inauthentic?
It seems to me that Dreher is trying to ground himself and his family deeply in Christ. He was a good Catholic; I think he'll be a good Orthodox.
Let's refrain from flip put-downs of a brother who has struggled and suffered much for the truth.
I am personally pretty sick and tired of organized "religion" all the way around. Christ said to "come unto Him". So, I have finally settled down and "come unto Him" as He commanded, the best I know how. I have bounced from Big Church Baptist, to Non-Denominational, Unstable, Name It & Claim It & Get Rich Quick With Jesus, to American Orthodox (that quickly became more and more Greek every time the bishop came to visit from headquarters), then to Small Church Baptist where the preacher and his wife seemed to be frustrated control freaks who made my life a misery (my husband was a deacon, and it's a long story), and now to a very small country church in my community loosely connected to "headquarters" of any kind. I didn't make a final move to a truly non-headquarters type church, mainly because I'm just tired of looking, but if the tentacles of the organization get too strangulating where I am; I'll go where I can have peace; because after all, it is the Gospel of Peace, Not the Gospel of Strife.
God bless Rod, his bride, his sons, and most especially, his new daughter (born today!).
The bashing makes for an extremely poor witness to the hope that is within us.
Thanks be to God for all his blessings. Amen.
Several commentators on the Crunchy Conservative blog said that was simply not the case. A quick Google search confirms what they said.
I would look at what drove them away and whether they will attend church and participate in the life of The Church or not. If crossing over means that they will spiritually come back to life, I would be happy. Indifference would be concern if they left The Church for some Protestant sect.
As it is, in the Orthodox Church, their souls will continue to receive sacraments and the Eucharist, make signs of the cross, worship the Holy Trinity, atted a 1600 year-old litugry that even Latin used to serve at one time, commmorate the dead, fast nearly six months of the year, baptize their infants, magnify and venerate the Ever-Virgin Mother of God, and other Saints, and live a life based on the Holy Tradition.
What exactly have they lost that should be of concern?
So why don't you talk to the parish priest and organize a coffee and donuts after Mass? Do you volunteer at the parish? I've found that's one of the quickest ways to meet everyone! =)
There is a lady at work who was the daughter of a Southern Baptist minister. In her early twenties she joined the Catholic Church and was a nun for ten or so years. After that she joined the Greek Orthodox Church. She's remarkably hostile to the RCC and Evangelical Protestant in many ways. But hey she's ancestrally Greek.
SSPX is still in schism.
The feeling I got reading this is, Here's someone who has unconditionally surrendered in the cultural wars. Full-on liberalism isn't far away.
Really! My google search turned up one Byzantine Church in Irving TX. What did you find?
"In her early twenties she joined the Catholic Church and was a nun for ten or so years. After that she joined the Greek Orthodox Church. She's remarkably hostile to the RCC and Evangelical Protestant in many ways. But hey she's ancestrally Greek."
I suspect that her hostility has more to do with 10 years as a nun more than anything else. On the other hand, there used to be a deep seated anti-Roman Catholicism in Greece. Its pretty much gone now, but it was a one time quite prevalent.
" Rod says here:
I kept thinking about the older Catholics I know who are faithful, but whose children have been lost to the faith. Maybe it would have happened anyway, but knowing them as I do, I think it's not an unreasonable thing to fear the effect of having no real parish support for orthodox Catholicism on raising Catholic children. As my kids have gotten older, I have been deeply impressed by the importance of community in supporting and reinforcing what parents teach. Most of my Catholic friends with kids are doing the best they can in a bad situation."
My oldest, 26 years old, tells me that he is the only one among his gang of friends (except for one special young Orthodox lady) who goes to Liturgy every week, or ever for that matter. All of his friends save two are born Roman Catholics. One of my best friends, a man I eat breakfast with every morning, is a very faithful Roman who attends daily mass. Not one of his three kids were married in the Roman Catholic Church or attend mass. Its tragic. In the meantime, fundy Protestant assemblies have sprung up around here like mushrooms...all filled with former Catholics. Clearly, at least around here, there is something very wrong. As I said earlier, it has been my experience that very few Roman Catholics become Orthodox (possibly for the reverse of the very reasons Kosta points out about why becoming Orthodox is no great change for them) while we have a steady stream of Episcopalians and evangelical Protestants. Personally, I find it hard to believe that Roman Catholics as a group leave that particular church over matters of deep theology. From what I have seen, the theological formation of most Catholics is limited at best and among those who are theologically educated, I should think that they would end up Orthodox, not in a Protestant ecclesial assembly. So why do they leave the Roman Church and drift into heterodoxy? The only thing I can think of is a perception of a lack of community in large Roman parishes. Just yesterday I had lunch with a monseignor, among others, who has a "small" parish of 1000 families! Absent a strong ethnic tie among those people and taking into consideration the top down management style traditional in the Latin Church, how do you create a sense of community in a group like that? Are there times when the whole parish gets together to work on the church building, or run the fundraisers or suppers? Do days come when parish council members or "selected" parishioners have to write personal checks to stave off a cut off of the water or the lights? If the diocese always picks up the tab, if people think their only obligation is a few bucks in the basket on Sundays and "Father and the diocese will take care of everything", then people won't care about each other and the children won't grow up surrounded by their "uncles and aunts" at church watching out for them. Another dear friend, a Latin rite priest for 40 years, once told me that when a parish hits 400 people, its time to open a new one...but at least up here there aren't enough priests.
The one thing that the Orthodox know that the Latin Catholics seem to forget is that Catholics don't want a mass that looks like the Fundy church up the street.
Get back to the traditions and the churches fill.
We have a very Historically Catholic parish, We are breaking out the back of our hall on Monday to begin building a new church. We need to seat the families that have joined. That amount has tripled in the last three years.
If you give them a Catholic Holy Mass, all the smells and bells. May Crownings, devotions, a sprinkling of Latin, they will come.
And our parish has an average age of 30. We have at least four "family buses" in the parking lot (6 kids and over)
What he left was specifically the secular AmChurch.
However, were I in Rod's position, I don't think I'd have switched over from the Catholic to the Orthodox Church, for various reasons: (1) I think the papacy is both true, and a practical asset; (2) I couldn't go from a church that explicitly rejects divorce/remarriage and contraception, to one that doesn't; and (3) though nothing shakes my faith more than the amazing success of evil --- and Rod was exposed to toxic doses of corruption in way-high places when he was investigating the clerical exploitation of minors --- it just seems that there's noplace you can go to get away from the broken human condition.
For whatever set of intellectual and emotional reasons, Dreher couldn't pray in his parish anymore. He (and his wife) would come away troubled or angry or upset; and they didn't want to raise their kids that way.
So they found a place where they could pray.
If --- IF --- that's an accurate take on the situation, then I say to brother Rod, "Go pray with the Orthodox, and God bless you." A wise priest once said to me, "Pray as you can, not as you can't." I guess that goes for all the rest of us, too.
I'll be Catholic til the day I die; and then, relying on God's mercy, we Catholic and Orthodox will meet merrily together in heaven. And many others, too --- since God has a mighty, mighty will to save: Savior is His name.
"If you give them a Catholic Holy Mass, all the smells and bells. May Crownings, devotions, a sprinkling of Latin, they will come."
You know, I think at least in part, you are right. I well remember the High Masses at our local Catholic parish as a kid; long lines of altarboys and choir members, magnificent chanting and clouds of incense. There was no question but that the congregation had joined with the Cherubim and Seraphim, six winged and many eyed, in worshipping Almighty God! Those Liturgies were wonderful and so much like our Divine Liturgy of +John Chrysostomos.
Just a word to the wise, however; don't get too big.
Many Years, Rod. Welcome!
Well that explains it. That and the diet. I think it's the Loukemades, plus Retsina and Ouzo.
The problem was the lack of catechesis or, rather, liberal Christianity in the place of Catholicism. It was not until My children got into college that I woke to the fact that they knew NOTHING about the teachings of the Church. In my inattention I failed to notice they were being turned into Episcopalians.
"That and the diet. I think it's the Loukemades, plus Retsina and Ouzo."
Just the Ouzo. God, what vile stuff!
I used to really like it. Now I can't have licorice...
"The problem was the lack of catechesis or, rather, liberal Christianity in the place of Catholicism. It was not until My children got into college that I woke to the fact that they knew NOTHING about the teachings of the Church. In my inattention I failed to notice they were being turned into Episcopalians."
No doubt that's part of it, but I do believe there is more to it. Even well catechised Roman Catholics, say of my advanced years, know little or nothing of Church history or of the theology behind the teachings of the Roman Church. Even with them when I mention the Fathers, I get a blank stare. Just my opinion, but I suspect this may have to do with an old "pay, pray and obey" mentality which prevailed in the Western Church. The laity was never taught that it was their job to keep an eye on the hierarchy and to ferret out and expose heresy and heterodoxy among the priests and their superiors. Now of course that wasn't the way things worked in the Latin Church so to expect such behavior is unfair, I'll admit. I hate to use this term, but it seems to me that the Latin system prevented and prevents the People of God from "taking ownership" of the Faith and that much of the trouble the Latin Church now may be experiencing stems from this mentality. Isn't it interesting that the same problems haven't cropped up in the other particular churches in communion with Rome!
Both. But part of the problem was the POSITIVE content of what they did learn in religious education, and I must admit I was confued myself. I did not realize that so many priests and religious had lost the faith. I attribute the scandals to the number of pretenders in the Church.