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Rod Dreher and the Catholic Church

September 30th, 2013 · 23 Comments

Rod Dreher has an essay in Time about why he left the Catholic Church. The immediate case for his discontent was the failure of the Church to preach repentance, and its long-time toleration of sexual abuse by the clergy.

He adds in his column the essential reason (which should have been in the essay) – that he no longer believes the ecclesiological claims of the Roman Catholic Church – that is, that to be saved it is necessary to be subject to the jurisdiction of the Roman pontiff.

Things could be much worse that Dreher portrays (and they have been much worse in the past) but if one believes the claims of the Roman Catholic Church, the problems in the Church would not affect one’s membership in it.

I sympathize with the Orthodox criticism of Roman legalism and juridicism. The fact that so many bishops have degrees in canon law is a bad sign. Canon law is like the traffic code: necessary and useful, but it should not be the central focus of study for a pastor.

Repentance has never been popular, although it is the first word that is addressed to us: Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand. Instead we are repeatedly told God loves you as you are. This is true, but inadequate. We also need to be told Go and sin no more.

The Jesuits attacked the Jansenist clergy. A Jansenist priest was not content with hearing a list of sins and then giving absolution. He wanted the penitent to see the deep reality of sin within himself. Such a priest would often refuse absolution until the penitent had demonstrated that he had wrestled with the deep reality of sin and alienation from God that affects even the baptized Christian.

Father Ruff criticized Dreher:

The author pins sex abuse to lax, feel-good Christianity after Vatican II. This is tendentious and unsupported by fact - for example, the fact that so much abuse also happened in the 1950s and 1940s and before. The causes of sex abuse are many; one of them is an overly authoritarian power system, coupled with such undue respect for religious authority that victims aren’t believed and media won’t publish such “scandalous” reports. These tendencies were much stronger in the “good old days.” The looseness of the 60s and 70s certainly caused lots of problems in behavior - but even here, clergy coped so poorly with the new freedoms in part because the old system didn’t prepare them for it and stunted their maturation. It’d be helpful if the author tried to look at the complexities of such issues, instead of using conservative ideology to twist a few facts in his direction.

Ruff is correct in that the problems precede the 1960s. Too often a priest would confess something like I abused thirty boys and two committed suicide and the confessor would tell him to say seven Hail Marys and give him absolution, and the bishop would transfer the abuser to another parish.

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, Evangelical Christians in Latin America seem to have more success than Catholics do in bringing about true conversions. In part it is because they demand repentance, and that word and concept have evaporated in the Catholic Church.

Even before the 1960s, repentance was too often reduced to a mechanical fulfillment of the canonical requirements for confession, rather than a search for the deeply rooted evils in our nature and a desire to have them purged and our natures transformed by the searing and healing light of Christ.

Tags: Catholic Church · clergy sex abuse scandal · repentance

23 responses so far ↓

  • 1 cmm // Sep 30, 2013 at 9:12 am

    However, in the fight between “laxist” Jesuits, as they were called, and Jansenist clergy the issue of contrition vs. attrition was far more vicious. Priests could deny penitents absolution and communion for years, made them stand publicly in front of churches for long periods of time, even denied any of the sacraments to people even up to the age of 35 just because they discerned they were not ready. Jean Jacques Olier, who, ironically has never made sainthood because of his Jansenist leanings, refused to deny communion to the people, knowing it was healing for the sick.
    The problem with offending clergy is not that they were not contrite for their sins. Most addicts are sorry for what they are doing ten times a day. The issue is that their employers who conveniently asked them to divulge their crimes under the seal, did not stop them, of course.
    Evangelicals don’t necessarily demand repentence as Jansenist priests would.
    If you ask a Protestant what they do after they commit a sin against someone - they go and confess the sin to THAT person and they make amends to THAT person. This is what is missing in the Roman system. We have ritualized repentance, making the priest a kind of ritual scape goat that if you run and touch it, it will take away your sins.

  • 2 Mary // Sep 30, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I am still trying to understand why Constantine ,whose mother was St Helena who allegedly searched for and discovered the True Cross ,waited until he was on his deathbed for Baptism! He was supposed to have conquered in Christ’s Name having seen a vision of the Cross in the sky. Yet, by all accounts,he lived a life that was anything but Christian.
    Can someone explain this to me?

  • 3 Mary // Sep 30, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Here is one possible explanation.
    http://www.antiochian.org/1110388342
    However, it can also be noted that according to some Catholic Saints and Blesseds the Antichrist will make his appearance when the Church and the world are one.
    http://www.thepopeinred.com/antichrist.htm

    It appears that from the time of Christ both Faith and politics have been at odds .

  • 4 admin // Sep 30, 2013 at 11:41 am

    cmm

    You are correct that Jansenists were rigorist to an extreme.

    I think that you are correct that the ritualization of confession has become quasi-magical, and there is little sense of seeking forgiveness from the person whom you have injured and seeking to make amends, much less attaining the depth of repentance the Jansenists demanded.

    Once I mentioned to a priest that a person who had gravely injured me had died without once asking for forgiveness from me or seeking to make amends. The priest replied “Why should he do that? I am sure he went to confession.”

    Lee Podles

  • 5 Augusta Wynn // Sep 30, 2013 at 12:31 pm

    Mary, there is a DVD called Constantine’s Sword by James Carroll which you might find helpful with regard to St Helena, et al. It is instructive and scholarly.

    AW

  • 6 Mary // Sep 30, 2013 at 2:39 pm

    Lee, I once and ONLY once went to Confession to one former Pastor we had who was a bi ritual priest
    ( RC and Melkite Byzantine).
    After I confessed my sins there was a long pause afterwhich, he extended his arms with a gesture as if to say , “Wuh?” He then asked me what I expected of him .I replied ,”Perhaps Absolution ,a Penance and a little Word of instruction?”
    “Okay you are absolved but if you can tell me how to avoid sin please do, because mine are the same and worse than yours.”
    Later, it was revealed he was a cross dresser, a hx and his Ordination was put into question by a high ranking Melkite cleric i knew as a friend. Not to mention he stole all the recently purchased furniture from the rectory for his own personal use and cleaned out all the Church accounts according to the parish Accountant. No one knows where he went but some believe he became a choir director for a parish in a nearby RC Diocese albeit, minus the title of Rev. or Father before his name.
    We endured our share of these types of priests over two decades before the Bishop sold off the Mission Church property. Several years ago we attended the Mother Parish on Sunday and were saddened to see that, aside from ourselves (three) only four former parishoners were in attendance at the once overflowing to the street Church!
    Voris did make some good observations in this video. But we have seen the causes of these stats first hand.
    http://www.churchmilitant.tv/daily/vort.php
    Also,a recently a sexting priest was put on adminstrative leave in a nearby Diocese. He thought he was sexting a 16 yr old male. The parish bulletin admonished the pew people that it was “sinful” to be “blabbing” about the lengthy time that elapsed before his removal despite the fact that same ‘priest’ was instructing their children in sex education!
    http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/09/30/priest-sexting-new-jersey/2895095/
    Repentance or more hypocrisy? How long must it be endured before the Holy Ghost turns on the light for these Bishops Cardinals or even the “Who am I to judge” Pope?

  • 7 TheAltonRoute // Sep 30, 2013 at 10:45 pm

    Fr. Ruff is right. At his own monastery, rampant abuse long predated Vatican II. The “old system” was breaking apart years before the 60s. I wonder whether the old system was only a shell by the 1960s. The upper-echelons of the Church seem to have been groomed to implement changes years ahead of Vatican II…which makes one wonder what Church leaders actually believed all along. Were they just tools in the hands of others? Many problems in the Church appear to revolve around a lack of thinking: submit one’s will to a superior, submit to the magisterium, submit to the spirit of the Council (whatever that is), etc. The Church seems imbued with nominalism and voluntarism. The modern Catholic right uses terms such as submission so often that its use has an almost sadistic feeling.

  • 8 Mary // Oct 1, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Augusta ,
    The author of the DVD you cited is an ex priest and current reporter for the Boston Globe.His premise appears to be to blame the Catholic Church for antisemetism thoughout history.
    This does not sit well with me having been amongst proud card carrying soviet communist party members in the Arts .I noted several of these elites on more than one occasion, comment on the “fascist jews” they hated in the soviet nations of the communist system they hailed from. At the same time, they held an allegiance and did favors for outspoken communist party Artistic Directors who had Jewish surnames themselves!
    Fr John O’Conner, who was a chaplan for the military during WW2, mentioned the same when Jewish servicemen expressed confusion to him having liberated some of the Nazi Camp survivors while taking into custody Nazi’s camp guards who were themselves Jewish and formerly the mayors of German cities.
    The mixing of national identity and politics with religion to foment a basis for bias holds little credibility to me today.
    It is just another excuse for war and tyranny and historically it is even more blurred in establishing true cause and effect when based on singular individual opinions.
    Sometimes politics outweighs religion and vice versa , while economic stressors and gains on population can always be discovered as the root
    cause manipulator.

  • 9 Tony de New York // Oct 1, 2013 at 8:41 am

    “In part it is because they demand repentance, and that word and concept have evaporated in the Catholic Church.’

    AMEN!!!

  • 10 Mary // Oct 1, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Hey, there is no repentance when afterall, it is just globalized busines and now we have a Pope from Argentina!
    “The first mass experiment with GMO crops, however, took place back in the early 1990’s in a country whose elite had long since been corrupted by the Rockefeller family and associated New York banks: Argentina.”

    http://www.globalresearch.ca/seeds-of-destruction-the-diabolical-world-of-genetic-manipulation/25303

  • 11 Mary // Oct 1, 2013 at 1:38 pm

    Voris needs to dig even deeper.But he gives a good introduction here.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jABDBjlSzKE

    The Vatican has big connections to GMOs via the Legion of Christ as does the son of a Rockefeller’s Planned Parenthood President, Bill Gates who belongs to the Rockefeller founded Club of Rome.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6WQtRI7A064

    A sign of the times?
    http://www.news.com.au/business/rockefellers-and-rothschilds-unite/story-fn7mjon9-1226375668788

  • 12 TheAltonRoute // Oct 1, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    Engdahl used to write for Larouche’s Executive Intelligence Review, which generally is pro-Catholic and extremely anti-Jesuit. The EIR articles on the Jesuits from the 70s and 80s are very interesting, including accounts of Jesuits running guerrilla warfare campaigns on behalf of United Fruit and powerful financial interests. There are also several articles on Fr. Ted Hesburgh’s projects in Latin America on behalf of the Rockefellers. Some will dismiss all this as nonsense, but in light of the abuse scandals, none of this seems far-fetched to me anymore.

  • 13 Joseph D'Hippolito // Oct 1, 2013 at 9:31 pm

    Many problems in the Church appear to revolve around a lack of thinking: submit one’s will to a superior, submit to the Magisterium, submit to the spirit of the Council (whatever that is), etc.

    This is why so many people strain and spin like gyroscopes to explain Pope Francis, especially in professional Catholic apologetics. It also explains why there’s such a problem with blind groupthink in the Catholic Church.

    Just look at how Mark Shea behaves whenever somebody disagrees with a prudential papal decision on his blog. He goes beyond rudeness and obnoxiousness and indulges in outright character assassination, without any serious apology. Granted, Shea is an extreme example but you can see the same mindlessness (without the obnoxious vulgarity) throughout most of the Catholic apologetics establishment.

    The modern Catholic right uses terms such as submission so often that its use has an almost sadistic feeling.

    Which is why rightist Catholics like Pat Buchanan basically have more affinity for Islam than Judaism or Protestantism. “Islam” means “submission.” Probably that’s why a lot of the hierarchs in Rome have more affinity for Islam, as well.

    Even before the 1960s, repentance was too often reduced to a mechanical fulfillment of the canonical requirements for confession, rather than a search for the deeply rooted evils in our nature and a desire to have them purged and our natures transformed by the searing and healing light of Christ.

    Lee, that’s because the ecclesiastical institution for centuries viewed itself as equal to Christ, if not greater than Him! The members might not have stated that directly in their theology but they certainly behaved like it, and continue to do so to this day; this Pope is no different, despite his humble facade.

    You can see this tendency for blind obedience in the changing of the theology surrounding capital punishment. The Magisterium flushed centuries of teaching from both Scripture and Tradition down the toilet to create teaching that fits the meme of “pro-life” propaganda, as well as indulges the intellectual vanity of JPII.

    Well, if the Magisterium is no better than the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, then why bother being Catholic?

  • 14 Janice Fox // Oct 3, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    I am surprised to see that Rod Dreher is still writing about his change of denomination. ISTM that he just came to the realization that the Roman Catholic Church was just as corrupt as any other competing group of worshippers. All denominations have their good points and their bad points. The question is which set of good points and bad points can you deal with in your religious observances. Which denomination really helps you behave better as a Christian?

    As I recall Mr. Dreher changed to the Orthodox Church in America, a really good and devout group of Christians. I attended that denomination for ten years and profited from their teachings and rituals. He should just concentrate on his new church and move on. He who puts his hand to the plow and keeps looking back……

    Mary, regarding Constantine: I personally think that the entire story of seeing a cross in the sky is a hoax or that Constantine himself was having delusions while under stress. I believe that it was Constantine’s second wife whom he had drowned in the bathtub. Fr. Alexander Schmemman wrote that he was very repentant for those killings. The times were so brutal that people in positions of power who wanted to become Christian postponed baptism until their death bed because they believed that one involuntary sin committed after baptism would damn them to hell. Some kings in the early middle ages underwent baptism several times. I also read that Constantine was baptized by an Arian priest. Although these abuses have been corrected by most churches, they probably still occur in remote places. I have a cousin who was baptized twice by her own choice because she thought the first time to have been invalid.

  • 15 Mary Ann // Oct 4, 2013 at 8:01 am

    Joseph, the magisterium was careful to preserve the teaching on capital punishment in the Catechism. It is from the pulpit that you will hear the heresy.

  • 16 Mary // Oct 4, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    I love this! Bravo Joseph,
    “This is why so many people strain and spin like gyroscopes to explain Pope Francis, especially in professional Catholic apologetics. It also explains why there’s such a problem with blind groupthink in the Catholic Church. ”

    This Pope certainly is delivering up enough
    siesmic speak to unsettle every label of “catholic”thought !

    From “…who am I to judge?” to the, ” narcisstic clerics are like a leprosy in the church.” and my personal favorite is the condemnation that some are obsessed with abortion and homosexuality.

    But where are the merciful words of humility love and consolation for the victims of sodomite rape and their families? Or, for the families who see their parish donations for church and school go to real estate agents when they are closed and sold off?
    WOW! Just when I thought the Hierarchy had reached it’s zenith of confusing the pew people too!

  • 17 Sibyl // Oct 8, 2013 at 4:32 am

    I certainly would not want one of my grandsons in a confessional alone or being counseled or in a youth group with a Catholic priest. The Catholic Church has not abided by their promise in 1958 (?) not to ordain homosexuals and have reaped the whirlwind (sexual abuse and sexual scandals) as a consequence.

    Anglicans and Episcopalians have also bitten the rotten apple of pansexuality. Even Timothy Ware, the British Metropolitan, has been making compromising statements about homosexuality and ‘generous orthodoxy’ or tolerance of the activity which is dangerous and deadly both spiritually and physically.

  • 18 Sibyl // Oct 8, 2013 at 4:33 am

    Clarification - Timothy Ware is an Orthodox Metropolitan. Sexual abuse is not unknown among Orthodox priests and bishops.

  • 19 Mary // Oct 8, 2013 at 11:13 am

    http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/the-moral-price-of-legalism-clericalism/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=the-moral-price-of-legalism-clericalism

  • 20 Father Michael K // Oct 10, 2013 at 5:44 am

    Great post Leon. I think you may have put your finger on a deeply rooted problem. Official Church teaching demands we make amends with people we have seriously hurt. But in practice, many priests and people seem to put everything on sacramental absolution (that is, the minority of people who even go).

    Joseph, I agree with your “spinning like tops” image. It’s embarrising for someone like me, who used to read a lot of the soviet press in translation, see how much these apologists come off like communist aparatchiks.

  • 21 Joseph D'Hippolito // Oct 11, 2013 at 10:23 pm

    Father Michael, that’s because Catholic ideologues and Communist ideologues have one thing in common: They identify themselves fundamentally by their ideology (or, in the Catholic case, their theology and ecclesiology). They *have* to spin like tops because if they don’t, then they have to question their fundamental beliefs — and, ultimately, themselves.

    Just like Communists have a vested interest in defending Marx’s interpretation of history at all costs, so do Catholic ideologues have a vested interest in defending the principles of their ecclesology, regards of the costs, even to their own credibility.

    If you have a chance, read Hans Christian Andersen’s, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” It reveals a lot about human nature and exposes these charlatans for what they are.

  • 22 Mary // Oct 13, 2013 at 12:40 am

    Sibyl,
    “Even Timothy Ware, the British Metropolitan, has been making compromising statements about homosexuality and ‘generous orthodoxy’ or tolerance of the activity which is dangerous and deadly both spiritually and physically.”
    Can you provide a link for this statement and it’s context?

  • 23 Father Michael K // Oct 16, 2013 at 11:21 am

    I second Mary’s request as I’ve always had a lot of respect for Bishop Ware.

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