At CNN.com, I have a piece up about what reading the Divine Comedy taught me about myself and Catholicism. Excerpt:
I could never be truly at home in my father’s house, because I could not shake the crippling sense of not measuring up to his standards. As a loyal son of the Catholic Church, I grounded myself in a substitute household, and felt strong filial respect and affection for the ecclesial patriarchs, especially Pope John Paul II.
When we all learned how so many priests used their roles as fathers to rape the children in their spiritual care, and that even the saintly pontiff had failed in his duty to protect the most vulnerable Catholics in his care, the revelations affected me with an intensity I did not fully understand, not even years after I left the Catholic Church, spiritually broken.
Reading Dante revealed something shocking to me. The collapse of my Catholic faith had been about fear, injustice, hypocrisy and the obliteration of trust. That I knew. But more than that, it had been about fatherhood and sonship.
I was not wrong to condemn the fathers of the Catholic Church for their wickedness in the scandal, but I had made a mistake that the devout Dante did not: I expected more from them than they could deliver, and came undone by the shock of their failures.
This realization did not cause me to return to Rome. As I said, I don’t believe in Christ as a Catholic any longer; I am firmly Orthodox.
But it did occasion understanding, and call forth mercy (this happened, too, with my father); the bishops, the priests and my own dad were not monuments to unerring authority, but rather my companions in shipwreck.
And it taught me the importance of never mistaking icons through which the divine light shines imperfectly — for example, the church, the clergy and the family — for God.
Read Rod Dreher’s book, and then read Dante. They’re both worth every minute you invest.
I’m going to be on Raymond Arroyo’s EWTN show in a couple of weeks talking Dante. Can’t wait!