I was shocked and saddened to see this comment on one of the Uncle Ted threads last night:
Tommy is a friend, and as long as I’ve known him — since around 2006 — he’s been a staunch Catholic. This hits me hard. I’ve not reached out to him yet, but I will, because I well know the pain he feels that drove him to this.
I’m already seeing defensive Catholics putting him down, saying some variation of, “What, he didn’t think there would be sin in the Church? Weak!”
Tommy is capable of defending himself, and I expect that he will do so. But I want to make a point that conservative Catholics have simply got to deal with, or you will continue to lose people like Tommy.
Here’s the thing I wrote in 2006 describing how the scandal ripped my faith out of me like an interrogator ripping the fingernails out of a prisoner. I notice one of you said in response to Tommy’s comment that you joined the Catholic Church during the scandal, and that you don’t “plan” to leave the faith. I gotta ask: do you think that I, or Tommy, ever imagined that we would leave the Catholic faith?
That’s a conceptual barrier that quite a few intellectual Catholics cannot deal with. They think that faith is simply a matter of assenting to arguments, and affirming them with the will. But that’s not how it is, at all.
It is entirely possible to wake up one day to discover that you just don’t believe anymore. This is a very difficult thing to explain to people who have never been through it. I imagine it is like a divorced person trying to explain to someone whose marriage had never been put to the test how it is that divorce can happen, even if you don’t want it to. I’m thinking right now of a couple I know of whose marriage did not survive the murder of their child. It was not the fault of either one of them, but the trauma was so overwhelming that they found that they couldn’t hold it together. If you are supremely confident that your faith could survive any test, then trust me, you are in a very dangerous position. I was once you.
Yes, one’s disagreement with a proposition or an argument doesn’t make it untrue. But faith is more a matter of the heart than a lot of people (including me, once upon a time) recognize. You have to cultivate the dispositions of your heart to give the ideas in the faith fertile ground into which to sink roots. I’ve said many times before that my own great error, the one that contributed to my loss of Catholic faith, was my overintellectualizing things, and my failure to cultivate my heart through daily prayer and cultivating the habits of discipleship. This was a mistake that God gave me the grace to perceive in the ruins of my Catholicism, and that He taught me, through that terrible experience, to take steps to avoid in Orthodoxy.
I have achieved whatever peace and stability I’ve been able to find in Orthodoxy through living a different internal relationship to the faith, but also by not allowing myself to trust the institution. Unlike my friend Tommy, I do believe in apostolic succession, the priesthood, the hierarchy, and all that. But unlike myself as a Catholic, I don’t expect much from them. I do run the risk of cynicism, and of encouraging within myself an indifference to clerical corruption. Still, if I have to face that one day, it will not shake me as it did shake me as a Catholic. Now I expect as much out of the priesthood and the hierarchy as I do out of political parties. It’s a sad comedown, but believe me, I didn’t start there.
I strongly endorse the sentiments of my Catholic friend Carlo Lancellotti here. He’s writing on a Twitter thread about the weakness of integralism in the face of anti-Christian cultural hegemony:
I propose changing the question. Where has Christianity come alive for you so much that Hollywood has no power over you and you would restart even if you where the last one in North America? Whom do you follow?
— Carlo Lancellotti (@_CLancellotti) June 23, 2018
European Christendom came together out of the saints and the monasteries, not out of political schemes. Who is you St. Benedict or Boniface or Augustine? Personally I think today the question has to posed at that level, of radical renewal of individual and communal life/culture.
— Carlo Lancellotti (@_CLancellotti) June 23, 2018
Carlo’s points are not really directed towards corruption in the Church, but I think they can apply to it. If Christianity is going to survive these times, it’s going to have to come together out of the local experiences of saints and monasteries (and from organic community, like the Tipi Loschi I write about in The Benedict Option).
I’ve spoken to more than a few European Catholics who are very strong in their faith, despite having written off the institutional Church as more or less a lost cause in terms of providing meaningful leadership in these times. One of them told me that he and his friends realized that they had a responsibility to themselves and to their children to immerse themselves in the faith, and not to trust the local parish to do it for them. It’s not that they rejected the authority of the priest; they still commune there. It’s that they stopped expecting him to rise above the managing-for-decline mediocrity that had sapped the parish’s spiritual strength. They are fervently orthodox in their Catholicism, and have come to depend on the spiritual leadership of nearby monks. And, the adults educate themselves in what the faith teaches, and pass it on, both in families and in community, to their kids.
None of them deny Catholic dogma or doctrine. Not one. It’s just that they have far different expectations from the institution than they once did. I saw this in more than one place in Europe — and it’s another reason I believe that American Christians have a lot to learn from Christians there, who have lived through much more advanced de-Christianization. Remember that Father Cassian, the then-abbot of the Norcia monastery, told me that Christians who don’t do something like what the Tipi Loschi are doing probably aren’t going to make it through this long period of trial.
If you really do believe that your Catholic faith is strong enough to survive looking into the Palantír of institutional corruption, then read Leon Podles’s book Sacrilege. It is extremely dark. Podles wrote the book, and remains a Catholic. I’m not actually encouraging you to read it, because it’s like looking into the eye of Sauron. Yet if you cannot bring yourself to read it, then you need to be very, very careful about passing judgment on people like Tommy Tucker.
I’ve written at length on this blog, and in The Benedict Option, about how Christianity is undergoing slow-motion collapse in America. According to the numbers, if not for Hispanic immigration, the US Catholic Church would be declining at the same rate as Mainline Protestant churches. The sociologist of religion Christian Smith, in his research on young Catholics, finds that the faith is in free fall among them, and that those who do hold onto their faith are managing it because of their families, not because of Catholic parishes or schools.
It is simply not true that Catholics are falling away strictly because of these scandals. There are lots of factors at work, as I’ve written. But it is certainly the case that these scandals put a lot of pressure on people who are already under strain.
Moments ago, this e-mail came from a reader. I’ve taken out a couple of identifying details. I will say that he lives in a conservative diocese:
Thank you for your work on the McCarrick scandal and the other work you have done to warn people about this behavior. It seems to me that the hierarchy have lost their faith in the Eucharist. How else could they act like this? How else could the leaders of this institution continue to lie to us and to risk our safety?
I’m afraid this has been the last straw for me. I’m not naive about priests (I grew up in [deleted]), but now I’m a Dad. I have children enrolled in a Catholic school in the [deleted] diocese and I’ve lost what little faith I had left in the clergy and the episcopal office. I naively thought that the measures put in place to protect children over the last decade would keep them safe, but the truth is that accountability within the Roman Catholic Church is still a chimera. From Francis accusing abuse survivors of calumny (which is a mortal sin last time I looked), to a conveyor belt of damaged and abused priests filling our churches and schools. Is there no end to the scandal these bastards are willing to inflict on the laity?
I am at a loss for words and I am at a loss spiritually. I read your words about not losing faith and while one can keep faith in Christ, I will never let this institution feed me their BS again.
Catholics — I’m talking especially to you, bishops — how long are you willing to lose men like this? How long are you willing to watch the Tommy Tuckers of your church walk away shattered, because they are sick and tired of your sexual corruption, your protecting each other’s sexual secrets, your refusal to act when every morally healthy instinct within a man or a woman ought to be screaming, “Enough!”
I’m telling you this as a friend. The future of Western civilization doesn’t depend on the health of the Eastern Orthodox Church. We are nothing in the West. It doesn’t depend on Mainline Protestantism, which is a ghost. It depends more on Evangelicalism, but in the end, Evangelicalism is more captive to the protean individualism of contemporary culture than a lot of Evangelicals realize.
It depends on the Roman Catholic Church. I’m convinced of that. I’m no longer a Catholic, so in one sense it doesn’t matter to me what happens in the US Catholic Church. But I am a man of the West and a Christian. Because of that, I cannot be indifferent to the fate of the Roman Church here. And neither, my fellow non-Catholic Christians, can you.
Any day now, the Attorney General of Pennsylvania is going to release the results of a state investigation of six of the state’s eight Catholic dioceses (Philly and Altoona-Johnstown have already been investigated, and those results released). I am told by a Catholic insider there that the findings are going to be so catastrophic that it will dwarf the Uncle Ted McCarrick news. [UPDATE: I have just learned that the state Supreme Court has delayed that release indefinitely. — RD]
You don’t have forever, my Catholic brothers and sisters. Please, stop what you’re doing. Clean house. Repent.
And: don’t wait for the bishops to get their acts together. Do what the Tipi Loschi and others are doing. It’s your church too!
UPDATE: Leon Podles comments:
I have often been asked how I can remain a Catholic after I wrote Sacrilege. I have thought about it, and there are some relevant thoughts I have had, in no particular order:
1.The sins of the clergy, or of the laity, do not invalidate the truth of Catholic doctrine. But they do call into question the culture that allow such sins to flourish. Clericalism is a disease of Catholicism – the assumption that ordination somehow makes a person holy. Also, cowardice is a common vice: “I don’t want to get involved” – how many times have we heard that when we have asked for help in combatting an evil?
2.Entropy. Any system tends to chaos unless energy is put into it. Old houses fall into decay unless they are maintained. This is true both physically and spiritually. I try to do my small share of putting new spiritual energy into the church.
3.The practical matter. Where else to go? No church is immune. The Catholic Church because of its size had the most victims and has also kept records. So that is the reason we know so much about abuse in the Catholic Church. But other churches — Anglican, Orthodox, etc. — have similar problems.
4.Compartmentalization. Men have a strong tendency to compartmentalize their lives. Men really like sex. They (and I include myself in the category male) can wall off their sexual lives (or financial, or military, or political, or criminal) lives from their religion. An Orthodox Jew who was a member of Murder Incorporated was asked how he could reconcile his work with the Ten Commandments. He responded one was business and the other religion – and never the twain shall meet. Achieving integrity of life is hard for men.
5.A psychiatrist told me that psychiatrists themselves must undergo psychoanalysis so that they can discover any tendencies in themselves which might lead them to harm patients. Once they are aware of any such tendencies, they can control them. Maybe we can’t require seminarians to undergo psychoanalysis. But we could do with a dose of Jansenism in the Catholic Church. Catholics who confessed to Jansenist priests with a laundry list of sins would often be refused absolution – the confessor wanted the penitent to get to the deep roots of sin, not simply the surface, so often several confessions would take place before the priest granted absolution.
6.I have often wondered why God did not create all rational creatures with the beatific vision so that we could not sin. But he has chosen to act in time and history, which is a long and painful process. What is God accomplishing through all the horrors and pains of history that He could not otherwise accomplish? I do not know. But I have to trust in Him. Having read of the horrors of history, I have sometimes anted to resign from the human race. But the Church is simply the beginning of the new human race – we are all in it together, and I can’t go off on my own in despair about what others have done.