Skip to comments.It Came From The Roman Church: Catholic horror stories told by Evangelicals & how to respond
Posted on 07/31/2002 9:27:40 AM PDT by Polycarp
|Title:||It Came From The Roman Church . . .|
|Title:||It Came From The Roman Church . . .|
|Larger Work:||This Rock|
|Pages:||12 - 15|
|Publisher & Date:||Catholic Answers, Inc., San Diego, CA, April 2002|
|Includes:||Identical text with no graphics.|
|Description:||Catholic horror stories told by Evangelicals (and ex-Catholics) and how to respond to them.|
"It Came From The Roman Church . . . "
Don't Flee From Catholic Horror Stories
By David Mills
In the brief time since my family became Catholics, some of my Evangelical friends have gone out of their way to tell me Catholic horror stories. They will tell me about some near-pagan example of Catholic folk religion they once saw, or an oppressive priest (reactionary or liberal) they once knew, or a Catholic family next door who went to Mass regularly but didn't know anything about the Bible and the faith, or a married friend who happily carried on a long affair supposedly by going to confession after each visit to his girlfriend.
Some of them like to talk about "recovering Catholics" who were supposedly so horribly damaged by growing up Catholic that they just had to become Protestants. (They are always surprisingly unskeptical about these stories.) These people suffered by being made to feel guilt and shame about everything they did or to feel that they could not ever satisfy all the rules God insisted they obey before he would love them.
This is both a personal and an evangelical problem for Catholics. Almost any Catholic who talks very long to a serious Evangelical will be told in some way that though the Pope is a wonderful man, and some Catholics really love the Lord, and thank God for the Catholics in the pro-life movement, the average Catholic parish is either a den of iniquity or simply dead spiritually.
The Evangelical will often claim, by contrast, that Evangelical churches are alive, and, since our Lord said we shall know them by their fruits (Matt. 7:16), Evangelicals are the real Christians. (This ignores, of course, that what Jesus said applied to individual teachers, not to movements or theological systems.) The implication is that if you're a Catholic you've been had.
It is probably worse for a convert, because his friends sometimes speak as if he were either a dullard who hasn't noticed the problems or a romantic who refuses to see them. "You won't live in Rome, you know," one close friend told me meaning, I suppose, that the Catholic faith I would encounter wouldn't be pure as if this would be shocking news to me, the mere stating of which would bring me to my senses.
What To Think
How can one respond to this line of argument?
First, you must admit that the Evangelical has enough facts to make a reasonable charge. The truth is that many Catholics do not lead a visibly faithful life. Most, for example, do not obey the Church's teaching on contraception. Few (amazingly to me) go to confession.
On the other hand, many Evangelicals and their churches appear to be models of faithfulness. They study Scripture, try to order their lives by its teaching, share their faith with others, and at some sacrifice minister to the world in many ways. We can learn much from them.
Second, you must listen with sympathy yet question the horror stories. Most of us have trouble doing this, because something in our culture trains us to accept any story of suffering without question and to assume that the Church must have been guilty of almost anything it is accused of.
Take the stories of "recovering" Catholics. Of course, some people have suffered real abuse and have been treated badly. But most of these stories I have heard from the allegedly "recovering" Catholics themselves do not ring true.
What I hear, beneath the emotion and the anger, is usually one of two things. The first is an unwillingness to grow up and forgive what seem to be the sort of offenses we have all suffered from parents or teachers or pastors. The second is an unwillingness to live the Catholic life, leading to a desire to blame the Catholic Church rather than admit this. I say this because the offenses they describe were often surprisingly minor, even trivial, and were often simply attempts some clearly clumsy or unkind, but some apparently not to get them to live a fully Catholic life.
For example, many (I do not know how to put this delicately) left the Church when they wanted to remarry after a divorce, and the conjunction of their remarriage and their enlightenment is too convenient for me to accept the latter at face value. (In my experience, it is rare to find an ex-Catholic in Episcopal churches who is not divorced and remarried, and friends tell me that this is also true in many Evangelical churches.)
And of course the Catholic life is a difficult one to live and some people do not want to try. My wife works a few hours a week in the nursery of a budding megachurch nearby, and several of the other women she works with were once Catholics. They have all told her they left the Church because they "found Jesus" elsewhere. I suggested she look them in the eye and say, "You're using contraception, aren't you?" (She didn't.)
Now, I do not mean that you ought to tell the "recovering Catholic" that you do not believe his story. That would be unkind and perhaps drive him yet further from the Church. I suggest only that you have a mental reservation, based on a reasonable reading of the evidence.
Hard To Argue With
Third, you must remember that the Evangelical has a different idea of the local church. He is comparing apples with oranges and complaining that the oranges aren't red enough.
For the Evangelical, the local church is primarily a gathered community of those of like mind and social class that forms a fairly complete alternative community for its members. For the Catholic, the local church is primarily the place we people of different minds and classes gather to meet the Lord in the Mass and from which we go out to exercise our vocations in the world.
The Evangelical church will therefore produce lots of public ministries, from Bible studies to short-term mission trips. The Catholic church may or may not have a lot of these ministries, but in either case they are not essential to its life and not stressed in the way they are in the Evangelical church.
The time and energy Evangelical put into their churches' public ministries Catholics may be putting into other, less visible religious activities. They may go to daily Mass when the Evangelical would go to a midweek Bible study, but for some reason going to Mass is not counted as a sign of "life."
Fourth, you must remember the practical differences between Catholics and Evangelicals. There is less attachment to a particular local church in Protestant circles because these churches are more transitory: They get created, split, and cease to be much more regularly than do Catholic parishes.
The Evangelical church therefore has to provide its people with the nourishment that deeper roots provide those who have lived there longer. The type of social interaction that the Catholic may have in his extended family the Evangelical may have to find in his church. The Evangelical church will seem livelier, though it is only giving its members what the Catholics have already. Its social homogeneity helps a great deal as well. There is more potential for interaction among its members due to greater similarities, interests, goals, et cetera. More diversity which you find in many Catholic parishes means less potential for interaction.
Because the two churches are different in theory and in practice, the Evangelical church can be presented as livelier than the Catholic church next door, because its life is much more public, while the life of the second is largely hidden from view. The Catholic parish may be producing saints by the dozen, but it may not produce enough visible efforts to get credit for "life."
Fifth, you must remember that as a Catholic you are tied down in a way the Evangelical is not. Anyone who doesn't meet the standards of holiness or zeal required in a particular Evangelical church may either leave or be disinvited to attend. The Evangelical can simply declare that the offender is not a "true Christian." But Catholics cannot disown bad Catholics. A Catholic is stuck with every other Catholic in the world, no matter how badly he behaves.
Besides this disadvantage, the Catholic Church does not even get to claim her own saints on her own behalf. Because they feel any good Christian must in some sense be one of them, Evangelicals will often adopt a Mother Teresa as a sort of honorary Evangelical and try to take credit for her as well. (This, I should make clear, has happened to me in discussions with my Evangelical friends.)
The Evangelical World
Sixth, you must realize that though there is much to admire in Evangelicalism, things are not exactly as they seem. A Catholic will have to note that even the most conservative Evangelicals have capitulated completely to the contraceptive mentality and for the most part to the divorce culture as well. Almost all neglect the sacramental life, and though they all recognize the authority of Scripture, they are enmeshed in intractable disagreements over what it means.
And even one of their own pollsters, George Barna, has found that they are doctrinally a confused body. Over one-third do not believe in Jesus' physical Resurrection, and over half do not believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit. About two in five "born again" Christians believe that "it does not matter what religious faith you follow because all faiths teach similar lessons about life," and from half to three-quarters believe "there is no such thing as absolute truth."
I bring this up not to put down our Evangelical brothers and sisters, who on most issues are our closest allies and often are models of faithfulness. I bring it up only to encourage those who have been left tongue-tied by the sort of argument I've described. Out of charity, you should not be quick to quote these statistics in return but will, I hope, be able to listen with some serenity to someone put down the Catholic Church as inferior to Evangelicalism.
Finally, you must see that realism about the Catholic Church implies a surprising proof of her claims. My Evangelical friends think that comparing lax Catholics to lively Evangelicals will make me an Evangelical. Their horror stories may be disturbing to me personally, but not to my faith. They do not make me doubt the claims of the Catholic Church. Fallen men in groups rarely keep a high standard and almost never do so over any length of time.
As a barely Christianized teenager, listening to classmates in my social studies class sneer at Christianity because the Allies and the Germans both sang hymns as they killed each other, I thought that such a thing was only what one would expect. That Christians in 1915 thought that God was on their side did not seem to me to have much to do with the question of whether Jesus of Nazareth was the Son of God who rose from the dead almost nineteen hundred years before.
Laxity seems to me almost inevitable in something as big and as old and as embedded in the culture as the Catholic Church. But I do not suggest that Catholics console themselves with a realistic view of the Catholic Church as a human institution, because in the body of Christ sociological inevitability does not have the last word.
I began to love the Catholic Church in part because she kept reviving when she seemed to be dying and men of the world were writing her obituary. Time after time, when sociologists predicted her death, she exploded into new life. These revivals have always seemed to me a sign of her unique divine life. We are, I think, at the beginning of such a revival even now.
What To Do
But what to do, when a friend tells you Catholic horror stories? It is trying, being treated as a dolt or a fool. I have found the best way to respond is simply to say, gently, "I'm not stupid, you know." This will usually send your friend into retreat though not always, I've found. While he tries to apologize you can begin to tell him about the one Church whose status is not affected by her members' sins and failings.
And then you can admit that most Catholics are not perfect Catholics and explain that in the Catholic Church you have found all the graces by which God will help you pursue God. You can say that you love and respect your Evangelical brothers and sisters, but only in the Catholic Church are these graces to be found in their full range and power which is why all the horror stories in the world will not discourage you.
David Mills is the author of Knowing the Real Jesus (Servant/Charis ) and a senior editor of Touchstone: A Magazine of Mere Christianity.
©2002 by Catholic Answers, Inc.
"You can say that you love and respect your Evangelical brothers and sisters, but only in the Catholic Church are these graces to be found in their full range and power which is why all the horror stories in the world will not discourage you."
"For example, many (I do not know how to put this delicately) left the Church when they wanted to remarry after a divorce, and the conjunction of their remarriage and their enlightenment is too convenient for me to accept the latter at face value."
How true this is. I've seen friends and family members fall away precisely for this reason. In some cases, the people who have fallen away have astonished and saddened me.
But they can come back. Point them toward a deacon or pastor who will help them with an annulment, and then invite them back to the Sacraments.
We just had a series entitled, "Catholics Can Come Home Again" book is by Carrie Kemp. We had 15 former Catholics come the first night. Out of that, over half of the people said they were there because of their former marriage, divorce, lack of an annulment, civil marriage, not having their marriage blessed. ALL of them missed the Sacraments!
From those original 15, we had 9 finish and come back to the Church........................Alleluia! So it can happen!
There are several other programs:
Welcome Home, Catholics, and others.
Evangelicals and fundamentalists often brag that 50% or more of their congregations are former Catholics.
Of course, the dirty little secret is that a majority of those "former Catholics" fall into this or similar categories.
"Point them toward a deacon or pastor who will help them with an annulment, and then invite them back to the Sacraments."
Been there, done that. In at least three cases, we (myself, my wife, my family) urged our friends and relatives to pursue this. In all three cases, at the slightest obstacle, each individual decided not to go further. It was eye-opening to hear the "reasons" why the Church was wrong in the process.
This is precisely why I spend my time here, not there. We must shepherd our time, and spend our talents where they will receive the greatest fruits. There have been many conversions as a result of Catholic apologetics efforts here on FR.
If the same is true at the site you mention, excellent!
If not, revert to the "pearls before swine" position, dust off your sandals and move on.
Debate for the sake of debate is worthless.
Our efforts must be consumed with the salvation of souls, not matching wits.
I learned this the hard way, and its the reason I now avoid Neverending story type threads.
Reasons or excused? Not funny in either case, however. Lost souls. I agree, that we can only plant the seed; the Lord will do the reaping when people are ready.
When we held out class we thought that if only one person came back to the Catholic Church, we would have reached our goal.
Keep planting those seeds!
Great point there.
However, I always use this story of The Wedding at Cana to illustrate the primacy of the Sacrament of Matrimony since it was Christ's first miracle, asking the Protestants why Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding?
Also, it was at his Mother's prompting. So sometimes I use this passage to ask the Protestant, "If Jesus, indeed, did what His Holy Mother asked of Him, then why should we not believe that we could ask Mary to intercede for us also?"
They do not have answers to either question!
Where did you get your statistics?
Of course, the dirty little secret is that a majority of those "former Catholics" fall into this or similar categories.
I left the catholic church because after 12 yrs in catholic schools, and 21 years in the church I had no clue what the catholic church actually believed, so it didn't mean alot to me. Oh yeah, go ahead and put the blame on me, that's ok, it couldn't possibly be that the catholic school I attended was bad at teaching. Blame it on a kid.
I have actually learned more about what catholics actually believe (that is actual catholics, not the millions that claim to be who are teaching in the schools:) from participating on these threads for the last year. I still cannot agree with their teachings, but I have more respect for what they believe now then before.