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.