Although a confirmed Episcopalian in membership and a Anglo-Catholic in both my spiritual worldview and religious practice, over the past several months I have enjoyed attending on an occasional basis a Roman Catholic church down the street from me. Partly because it’s close, partly because I like the 4 PM Saturday Mass time (why more churches don’t do this is beyond me), partly because I’ve enjoyed the services, the sermons from their priests, and the music, and partly because of all the crap going on in the Episcopal Church (TEC) these days with all the dissatisfaction and gradual disintegration resulting from the ongoing war being waged against conservative (i.e., “orthodox”) parishes and members who’ve had enough of its socially-progressive, gay/lesbian agenda following the consecration of openly-gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson three years ago.
But it wasn’t just convenience or dissatisfaction on my part that got me seriously considering Roman Catholicism. Earlier in the year, I was both impressed and moved by the book “Rome Sweet Home – Our Journey to Catholicism”, by Scott and Kimberly Hahn. The Hahn’s were life-long, Scripture-centered, militantly anti-Catholic Presbyterians (Scott himself a pastor) who came to discover in Catholicism what they both felt was the true vehicle and voice for God’s Word in its sacraments, doctrine and practices. The book struck a chord in me and made me want to undertake a similar kind of journey of my own.
One night, I met our veterinarian at the pizza place Tracey and I do our usual Friday night take-out. An active member at his non-denominational church, we’ve ended up having lengthy and interesting conversations whenever rabbit checkups have brought the two of us together. When, this particular night, I told him I was attending St. Anne occasionally and at least thinking about the possibility of becoming a Roman Catholic, he looked at me like someone who had swallowed an anchovy the wrong way.
“How could even consider that with all the clergy sex scandals in the Church?”, he nearly shouted. When I told him that, of course, this was something I too was concerned about (after all, as a former resident in Bernard Cardinal Law’s Archdiocese, where some of the most egregious abuse cases took place, I was well aware of both the Vatican’s and the American church’s shortcomings in this regard), he chided me for even considering joining an institution that, as he said, “covered up and mishandled, from the smallest parish priest all the way up to Pope John Paul II, the abuse of children.” While I replied (and still believe) that the RC Church is hardly alone among institutions – religious and secular – that have had problems in this regard, our conversation certainly gave me pause about the journey I had embarked on. If indeed I was to consider converting to and embracing Roman Catholicism, I felt it important that I satisfy myself right up front that the Church was taking a strong stance against sexual abuse and abusive priests to ensure this kind of thing would never be allowed to happen again.
But how to find that out, I wondered. Given the limited amount of time the fine RC pastors at St. Anne have to pastor their own parishioners – let alone some Anglo-Catholic potential RC wannabe – I figured the best route would be to try and seek responses from various RC resources on the ‘Net and the blogsphere. So one day, I sent a number of e-mail inquiries to a variety of places: the most influential orthodox Catholic mouthpiece on cable television, Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network, to one of the bloggers at Roman Catholic Blog (a blog I frequent and always enjoy), and, given my familarity with his book, to Scott Hahn at his own personal website. In my e-mails, I simply presented myself as a long-time Anglo-Catholic considering a move to Roman Catholicism and asking where I might find answers to concerns I had about the Church’s response to the clergy sexual abuse scandals.
Surprisingly, there was no response. Not a one.
So back to my search I went, and, truthfully, it wasn’t that easy. Ultimately, however, at a website called Catholic Answers, I found this response from a Fr. Roger Landy (interestingly, at the very bottom of a list of other questions relating to Church doctrine, practice and such), but even in his thoughtful and rational presentation I found this troubling observation:
Do we have to do more to support the victims of such abuse? Yes we do, both out of justice and out of love. But not even that is adequate. Cardinal Bernard Law has persuaded many of the medical school deans in Boston to work on establishing a center for the prevention of child abuse, which is something we should all support. But that by itself is not sufficient.
Talk about the fox guarding the hen house! Not only should Cardinal Law be sitting in some dank, dark jail cell for harboring known sex offenders and moving them around, thus allowing them commit even more acts of abuse, but he got a nice gig at the Vatican as a reward. For Fr. Landry to use Cardinal Law as a model for actions the Church should be taking to prevent sexual abuse is not only laughable on its face, but an indication that the Church has yet to take seriously the actions of one of its foremost American bishops who, along with the Archdiocese of Phoenix’s Bishop Thomas O’Brien, became the poster-children of the scandal itself.
Fr. Landry is absolutely on target when he writes, “There are always people …who use excuses for why they don’t practice the faith, why they commit spiritual suicide. It may be that a nun was mean to them when they were nine or that they find the teaching of the Church on a particular issue too burdensome. There are many people these days who say, “Why should I practice the faith, why should I go to church? The Church can’t be true if God’s so-called chosen ones can do the types of things we’ve been reading about!”; nevertheless, I don’t consider myself among those he is talking about. While my faith in the Church as a holy and godly institution has taken more than a couple-two-three hits in recent years, I haven’t lost my Christian faith – I’m just looking for a suitable berth where I can dock my Anglo-Catholic boat that fits the place I am spiritually now.
(BTW, if you’re interpreting this post as a form of Catholic-bashing or yet another argument to buttress your own negative feelings about the Catholic Church or Christianity, you’ve come to the wrong place. Personally, I have no problem or axe to grind with the RC church – I love its Mass, respect its sacraments, practices and traditions, revere its saints, and support its political pro-life stands on abortion, the death penality, embyronic stem-cell research and euthanasia. And, I’m not gonna let the abhorrent practices and behaviors of some bad apples in a HUGE barrel turn me away from the Church, practicing my faith, and worshipping my God – after all, there remains much, much more good in what Christian churches do worldwide than bad. And, I happen to like and respect the new Pope and will be interested in seeing the kinds of changes he imposes to restore some of the faith and trust in the RC Church lost as a result of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. [Of course, reading recent stories like this and this shows he's still got his work cut out for him.] Nevertheless, my thoughts and prayers are with him daily.)
So where does that leave me, you ask? Looking for an Episcopal or Anglican congregation in the area that I can visit and feel comfortable in. It may not be easy, but there’s something about re-embracing my Anglo-Catholicism that feels right and tells me this is the way to go. Where I end up, only God knows, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted along the way.