Monday, October 16, 2006

Kind of Sad, But Perhaps A Warning Sign for the Catholic Church

Rod Dreher is a columnist for National Review, and until recently, a Roman Catholic. This column describes (perhaps at too much length) the recent decision of he and his wife to move to the Orthodox Church. (In his case, it sounds like a Russian Orthodox Church, but the differences between that and the Greek Orthodox Church aren't that huge.)

I must confess that I don't quite understand the level of emotional attachment that some people have for a particular Christian denomination. I was raised in the Salvation Army denomination (until my eight year old arrogance got carried away, and I declared myself an atheist to stop going). My wife and I have attended Protestant churches of a number of denominations over the years, but if you ask us what we are, the answer has never been, "Nazarene," "Southern Baptist," "Church of God," or "Reformed Church" even though we have attended churches of all those denominations. The denominational differences within Protestantism, for the most part, aren't the major determinants of which churches we have attended.

Dreher's discussion of the pain associated with leaving the Roman Catholic Church makes me think of what I might feel if I were to become a citizen of another country. That would freak me out as much as Dreher's decision to leave the Catholic Church, and for much the same reason: for close to 400 years, for sixteen generations (at least on some lines), my family has been American. Across this country are the final resting places of roughly 30,000 of my ancestors, and probably 150,000 of my first through thirteenth cousins. My family is not just of American citizenship; in a very biological sense, America is now made up of my family.

Dreher was driven out by the willingness of the Catholic clergy, especially at the higher levels, to tolerate and then cover-up molesting priests--and from his description, this attitude hasn't really gone away:
And then I discovered entirely by accident -- indeed, in the process of helping bring a friend into the Church -- that a priest at the parish was not supposed to be in ministry. He had been suspended by his diocese in Pennsylvania after formal abuse accusations had been leveled against him. The priest came back to his hometown, Dallas, and got other work -- but was helping out on the weekends in this particular parish. It turned out that the pastor knew all about his past, had concluded that he had been falsely accused, and put him into active ministry in the parish -- without telling the parish, or even his bishop. Now, this priest might well be innocent -- nothing has been proved against him -- but that is not the point. The point is, and was, that he was not supposed to be in active ministry, yet the pastor and those closest to him chose to deceive the bishop and the parish about the matter. The priest in question -- orthodox and personally charismatic -- lied to me in a manipulative way about how he had come to Dallas (he said the liberals in his old diocese had driven him out), and lied to my catechumen friend, who is a liberal, in the same manipulative way (he told her the conservatives had driven him out). This was too much.
I am sure that Dreher is not the only Catholic to leave the Church because of this. Let me be very clear on this: priests are human, too. That some of them can't contain their sinful nature is not a surprise, nor do I hold the Catholic Church to a standard of perfection on this. The serious problem isn't priests that can't keep their hands off little boys; it is that the Church knew about these problems, and covered it up for at least decades, often making little or no effort to remove pedophile priests from positions of power.

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