We will quote key commentaries from the press. At the end we will comment upon this most spiritually dangerous situation.
"In light of Dreher’s departure from the Catholic Church, I only have one question: Was he in fact a Catholic? I do not have access to Dreher’s heart and soul, and I certainly do not condemn him for his decision. I regret that he has left the Catholic Church, and I grieve the sins of the Church that led him to renounce the divine authority of the Vicar of Christ. I pray that I may never be so tested.
My interest at this point is purely
theoretical. How are we to understand a person who enters into the
communion of the Catholic Church and then departs from that communion?
John Henry Newman raises precisely this question in his Grammar of Assent: (1a)
A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic, and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.
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."
earlier post by Kimel on the same subject (2).
The occasion for this post was the surfacing of rumors 5 months ago that Dreher was about to become Orthodox:
"A hundred and fifty years ago Newman clearly saw that the ideology of modernity must, logically and inevitably, lead to relativism, skepticism, and atheism. He also saw that the claims of a historically-given divine revelation cannot be rationally defended against modernity in the absence of a divinely-directed institution that can infallibly identify the content of the divine revelation. As Newman put it so well in his Essay on the Development of Doctrine; "A revelation is not given, if there be no authority to decide what it is that is given.” Newman became convinced that the Catholic Church, the communion of churches gathered around the bishop of Rome, did in fact enjoy this divine authority and charism to accurately identify and proclaim the apostolic revelation. Hence Newman’s famous words in his Letter to the Duke of Norfolk (2b): “We must take things as they are; to believe in a Church, is to believe in the Pope.”
Newman’s logic is compelling and inexorable. If the Catholic Church is the Church of Jesus Christ, then we must believe in the Catholic Church, or give up Christianity altogether. Or as Newman wrote to William Todd in 1850: “To deny Catholicism is logically to deny religion.”
"Thus Newman would emphatically urge his correspondents who were seriously contemplating conversion to the Catholic Church, to count the cost, including the cost of intellectual submission. “Can you accept as from God whatever the Catholic Roman Church has taught and shall teach?”
"This formulation—“the act of faith in Christ and the Church is one act of faith”—helpfully states, I think, the understanding of Newman. Christ is so united to his ecclesial body that surrender to the Church is surrender to Christ, for the Church is the “oracle of Christ.” She dogmatically speaks in his name, with his authority, under the guidance, direction, and protection of his Holy Spirit. Hence Newman (2c) can provocatively and offensively insist: “A man may inquire before he is a Catholic, he may not after.”"
"To be Catholic is to refuse to doubt the de fide teachings of the Catholic Church, for to doubt these teachings is to doubt Christ himself: “It is, then, perfectly true, that the Church does not allow her children to entertain any doubt of her teaching; and that, first of all, simply for this reason, because they are Catholics only while they have faith, and faith is incompatible with doubt. No one can be a Catholic without a simple faith, that what the Church declares in God’s name, is God’s word, and therefore true. A man must simply believe that the Church is the oracle of God; he must be as certain of her mission, as he is of the mission of the Apostles” (Faith and Doubt (2d)).
It is hard for me to think of anything more scandalous today than the Catholic proscription of doubt."
return to the problem that provoked this article—namely, the Catholic
who is tempted to abandon the communion of his Church because of her
scandals. This is an impossible possibility. A Catholic can only
seriously entertain this possibility by stepping outside the circle of
faith. At that moment he has ceased to believe. At that moment he has
placed his immortal soul in peril."
III. It is claimed that joining the Roman Catholic Church is, if correctly understood, a one-way trip (3).
"But the important matter for a potential convert is this: properly understood, conversion to Catholicism is a one-way trip.
To become Catholic is to accept Catholicism totally, and submit your personal judgment to the Church. If you do that, and accept the infallibility of the Church, then your trip to Rome is one way. There is no logical means by which you can turn back.
Was this presented to me in RCIA? Was I told that this was a one-way trip once I accepted the Church? I was not. It wasn’t until a few years later that I encountered the idea of submitting my will to the Church with regards to its teachings. I was not deterred by this, and with my free will I accepted the Church under those terms as well. No convert should entertain the idea of Catholicism as a simple change of venue for their Sunday worship. It’s far more profound than that."
"There have been many a time that I’ve sat in the pew on Sunday and wondered what on earth the priest was thinking. “Was that actually heresy, or did I hear that wrong?” The Church isn’t perfect. It’s made up of a collection of fallible human beings. Individuals within the Church are capable of doing evil, just like everyone else on earth. That’s ok. The Church herself is not capable of fallibility. That fact is ensured by the Holy Spirit. For that reason, I willingly submit to the Church. No one should swim the Tiber without understanding what it means to stand on this bank. It sounds a whole lot scarier than it really is, but it is something that needs to be considered."
IV. A canon lawyer seems to want decrees of excommunication to be issued against people who leave the Roman Catholic Church (4).
By all accounts Dreher has
committed a formal act of schism;
according to 1983 CIC 1364, he is liable to latae sententiae excommunication. But, as I and others
have often said, the provisions of 1983 CIC 1323-1324 render very
complicated, often nugatory, one's confidence regarding automatic
censures in a particular case; it is tiresome to have to stop every
time and debate the intricacies of the canonical penal process at the
expense of focusing on the offensive behavior that needs correcting. I
repeat: it is time to abandon the latae
sententiae operation of
sanctions, and to restrict the application of penalties to ferendae sententiae procedures.
2. Dreher brought his wife and, more to the point, his young children with him into the Orthodox Church. Even assuming that parents can remove their children from the Church (at least in a way that such children would later need to be readmitted formally to enjoy the benefits of full communion), the "sincerity" of a parental decision to deprive a Catholic child of his or her religious heritage does not rehabilitate that decision. 1983 CIC 1366 authorizes "a censure or other just penalty" against parents who "hand over their children to be . . . educated in a non-Catholic religion."
3. Apparently most Orthodox Churches receive Roman Catholics into their communion by the celebration of the sacrament of confirmation or chrismation (4a). The Catholic Church, in contrast, presumes the validity of Orthodox chrismation and does not re-confirm those coming into full communion with us (instead, Orthodox converts to Catholicism make a profession of faith). Assuming the 40-year-old Dreher was already confirmed in the Catholic Church, if he underwent this Orthodox rite (I cannot verify (4b) either point in his case), his "second" confirmation would be invalid and objectively sacrilegious as an attempt to re-confer a seal sacrament (1983 CIC 845, 1379).
In brief, there seem to be several aspects of this matter that warrant closer attention.
Let me say, I don't think that all the ills of the Church are reducible to violations of canon law, nor is perfect adherence to law a guarantee of sanctity; but I do think that disregard for Church law has caused or worsened many of the problems we face today. Dreher would be right to decry the anomian attitudes that pervaded various hierarchies in recent decades.
But no one should think that serious violations of canon law are unique to the clergy, nor should one underestimate the harm caused when someone, especially of a high profile, violates Church law in protest against those who violate Church law."
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