Church, Cults and Common Sense

Last June I wrote this post on cult-like behaviors in society and within religious groups. One of the reasons I appreciate the Catholic hierarchical infrastructure of diocese and parish is that we are thrown together as a family with people and leadership that we would not necessarily choose.

This is difficult because I naturally want to join a group where everyone thinks like I do. That feels good. Instead, if I am Catholic I have to put up with people I may violently disagree with and dislike. The wheat and the tares grow together. We have to put up with one another and learn from one another. Should we expect it to be any different? In the church there is corruption and sin. Should we expect it do be any different? In the church there is conflict and disagreement. Should we expect it do be any different? This is what life is like. It is through conflict that we learn and through conflict that we often come to new resolutions and new discoveries.

Sometimes I don’t like certain groups or individuals. Sometimes they don’t like me. The way of maturity is to face this reality and deal with it. The sooner we accept that life is a battle and following Christ requires conflict the sooner we will learn to choose our battles wisely and learn to fight nobly.  Once we accept that there will be conflict we will also accept that the conflict will be messy. That’s okay.  It’s the beautiful struggle.

What I must avoid most of all is the temptation to beetle off to form my own little group and hunker down in a holy huddle which is nothing more than a mutual admiration society. When we do that we are taking the path of weakness and pandering to our own sense of righteousness. Whenever we hive off into a little group of our own choosing we are in danger of sect and cult-like behaviors starting to develop.

On the other hand, we also need strong support and fellowship of like minded people. That’s why within the Catholic Church there are so many sub-groups–one can become a third order Franciscan, a Benedictine oblate, a member of an ecclesial community or a service organization, but what one must not to is set up a church within a church. The parish and diocesan system helps us to belong to the wider church and pressures us to learn how to live together — struggling to establish unity while recognizing diversity.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Michael Paul

    Parishes used to be geographically defined. This helped to assure diversity. When the church opened up membership to people outside the geographic limits, it enabled people to “shop” for a “good” parish. The result is all the liberals in one parish and all the conservatives in another. Divisive

    • Bill

      Parishes are still technically geographically defined. Church-shopping isn’t a bad thing. Try living in a place like the Diocese of Rochester and not get disheartened if you’re orthodox. A few places like OLV-St. Joseph’s, the Latin Mass at St. Stanislaus, and the Ukrainian Liturgy at St. Josaphat’s kept me going.

      The old way really led to the “pray, pay, and obey” approach to ecclesiology. Church membership was based on merely circumstance (or ethnicity). Hardly a good thing

      • James

        Father is in the Diocese of Charleston (SC), which has a very different problem. It’s a conservative diocese in a conservative state. It’s where the “social justice priests” give pro-life homilies. It’s not a hotbed of heresy. But the population is made up almost entirely of transplants and Protestant converts.

        Many Protestant converts don’t think twice about church-shopping for ANY reason whatsoever because church-shopped without thinking twice when they were Protestant. Likewise, not all have broken the Protestant habit of making mountains out of theological molehills, which only serves to divide the community. It’s not that people are running away from heresy, it’s that they really are trying to define their own narrow “orthodoxy”, which isn’t good.

      • Jeanne in Tampa Florida

        Hey Bill, what is wrong with Rochester? Ever been to the west coast of Florida? Define orthodoxy with proof that it is not good enough for you. What is the real reason you go to Latin Mass? Have you ever really heard God the Father in your Heart? Have you ever sat quiet and just listened inside? Church shopping is bad when you are a negative person and cannot see God Alive in His Sweet people. We need to take the blinders off of what we would see or like to see.

  • Howard

    Unless you actually think that becoming a Benedictine or Augustinian is “taking the path of weakness and pandering to our own sense of righteousness”, you REALLY need to say more about how monastic communities — even if cloistered — are not merely “a holy huddle which is nothing more than a mutual admiration society”. I am not called to that life, as you were not, but there is no reason to think that ONLY lay associates of monastic orders are genuinely fighting for holiness.

    The real trick can be distinguishing something *real* from something counterfeit. Was the Legion of Christ legitimate under its founder, Marcial Maciel? Is it now? What about Opus Dei? Do you consider them a mere “holy huddle”?

    As for parishes, understand that it may be one thing for a single adult or even a married couple with no children to endure a pastor whose sermons heavily suggest heresy without ever stating it quite so clearly that disciplinary action might follow; it is another for parents to subject their kids to that. You might think a little bit of poison from the pulpit will “make them tough” in their faith; more likely it will work with the prevailing society to make them lose their faith. Those parents are doing the right thing who drive an hour or more each way, if necessary, to take their kids to a holy Mass where the priest acts like he REALLY BELIEVES that Christ is made present on the altar and who preaches what the Church teaches.

    • frdlongenecker

      There’s more in the post I linked to in the first line.

      The problem with your almost heretical pastor scenario is that in moving from the parish you are teaching your kids to church hop and set themselves up as the judge. In the end they will believe you and follow your example more than they will the pastor.

      I sympathize though. Probably the best thing is to choose a good parish community then stick with it through thick or thin.

      • Annie

        Boy, what timing. I have been worshipping outside my parish for almost a year & really want to leave because of such irreverence towards Our Lord in the Eucharist. You’ve given me something to ponder though.

      • ponerology

        A Catholic doesn’t choose a ‘parish community’, a Catholic chooses Catholicism because it is the One True Faith, with or without the ‘parish community’. If one doesn’t have a Traditional priest and bishop, one doesn’t have a Catholic parish anyway. One has something else entirely and there is absolutely no need to subject oneself to it.

      • Howard

        Sorry, I didn’t see that link. Don’t you think we DO judge whether or not the sermon is in agreement with the Catechism? If we are supposed to think about it, that is inevitable, and presumably we ARE supposed to think about what we hear (though many do not). So the issue is not judging, in the sense of evaluating. The question is how to use that evaluation.

        A priest has to be where his bishops assigns him. The laity are free to attend Mass where they please. If a priest’s homilies are a near occasion of sin, it is better to go elsewhere.

      • AugustineThomas

        What if the pastor is bad Father?

        What if he’s misled, as so many priests are in America? What if he leads more children astray than to God, like so many heretic “Catholic” priests in America?

        The heretic game is fun isn’t it Father?
        I wouldn’t be surprised if I found some heresy in your little blog here if I had the time to look..
        Careful you’re beetling off from the orthodox right now..

  • ponerology

    Recognizing diversity entails separation from one another which leads to the understanding that there is no strength in diversity; there is only division in diversity. It seems you may have taken one too many draughts from the nwo-punch bowl-playbook. What would St. Athanasius say about sticking with the pastor or bishop who is heterodox or heretical? Would he say to just stick with the huddle and tell your children it’s okay to do so, to boot?? Sorry Fr. you are off base here if you are suggesting those people who are faithful, Orthodox Catholics should pretend their pastors are orthodox when they are not. The Church, the Faith, has always provided for the laity to make judgments as to the orthodoxy of a pastor, bishop, etc. Attacking a priest on a personal level is discouraged and many saints have spoken against it, but when it comes to open heterodox or heretical statements and actions, the laity are perfectly within their rights and are duty-bound to speak up first to the priest, (sister), pastor, or bishop directly, and then to his/her superiors. And if the statements/actions don’t end or are not corrected, the lay person is duty-bound to protect his/her own soul and that of his/her family member(s).

    • Jacob Suggs

      If people were divided into “are good at everything/are right about everything” and “are bad at everything/are wrong about everything” then you’d be right and there would be no strength in diversity.

      However, most of us have more than a few weaknesses. Diversity then becomes helpful when people recognize their weaknesses and others’ strengths and shift burdens appropriately.

      Of course, because we as a species tend to be even worse at recognizing our own weakness than at acknowledging others’ strengths, there will also be division and conflict. Such is life. We must deal with it.

      And I have no idea why you think Father said we must pretend unorthodox priests are orthodox. What we must accept is that they are priests, and that they have their responsibilities and their (rather large) share of the load to carry that we can’t. Unorthodoxy may be a source of conflict, but again, conflict happens.

      • ponerology

        No one person is good/bad or right/wrong at everything. You mistake the idea of diversity with some form of ‘weakness’ when it is fallen human nature which is the weakness we all share. In addition, cultures ARE weakened when other cultures are forced upon them en masse, as has happen to Christendom over the last several hundred years, but most especially in the last 100 years. We don’t all share the same culture, the same vernacular—but AS ORTHODOX CATHOLICS, we DO share the Catholic Tradition which is much more important for our fallen natures than concerns about the color of our skin, the language we speak, etc. Those external things tend to divide people “where they live” BUT the Catholic Faith, the One True Faith, is the one, God-given, uniting factor for all of our fallen human natures, regardless of cultural differences. Without the (unifying) Tradition of the Catholic Church we are at the mercy of the State. Has it occurred to anyone why it is the Tradition of the Church had to be dismantled? A good place to start would be to pick up Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani’s lecture, given in March 1953 entitled, “Duties of the Catholic State” (Justice and reason forbid the State to be godless). The One True Faith, and the One True Mass (see Quo Primum, Papal Bull of Pope Saint Pius V, 1570) was the only thing standing between the people and the State. And by the way, the laity CAN and MUST share the load when the priests/bishops are NOT doing the heavy lifting.

  • johnnyc

    Liberals, modernists, groups like the LCWR? Sorry but I’m gonna ‘beetle’ off as far as I can from such.

  • James

    Father has reason to be concerned.

    When he talks about mutual admiration societies, he is not talking about religious orders, but about parishes that cater to a “certain kind of Catholic”.

    We are all one Church. There are no “Latin Mass Catholics”, there are no “Folk Mass Catholics”, there are no “Traditional Catholics”, there are no “Social Justice Catholics”, there are just Catholics.

    When people start to parish shop, they end up as divided as the various Protestant denominations, despite a nominally common faith. It also erodes the sense of community in a parish. As I understand it, this has become a real problem in Father’s hometown of Greenville, SC, which has far more diversity in worship than it has Catholics.

    I am fortunate that my parish is the only one for miles, so that people can’t do that. The mantilla wearing mom of eight sits next to the Catholic hippie and we all worship together. It’s good for all of us to see the diversity in the faith.

    • ponerology

      Correct you are. There is only one Catholic Faith–and by Catholic that has always meant adherence to the 2,000 year old Tradition and magisterium; which does not include ‘folk masses’ (sic), changing the Mass in any way (which is anathema according to Pope St. Pius V and Quo Primum), nor does it include women with uncovered heads (can you imagine the Blessed Mother walking around uncovered?), ‘clown masses’ (sic), women in the sanctuary, and all of the many, many, sundry un-Catholic shenanigans that bishops have permitted and often encouraged over these last 60 years.

    • AugustineThomas

      Is it good when the hippies help murder fifty million of God’s little, helpless children?

  • P M

    Catholics in general have innate cult characteristics. I think your St. Ignatius of Loyola summed up the mindset that he and some of you possess: “If the Church shall define anything black to which our eyes appears white, we ought in like manner pronounce it to be black.”
    That’s just absurd. If you believe there’s a God who created you, living like that is a slap to his face. He gave you eyes to see with, so see!
    I recall Rick Santorum bloviating on what a manifest evil contraception was while opposing Obamacare. Fair enough. Then, sometime later when Jorge Bergoglio was elected pope, some were reporting that he viewed birth control less rigidly than his predecessors. Lo and behold, Santorum was there on the news waxing eloquently on how he’s open to re-examining his position. To him, contraception was a manifest evil not for some objective reason but because popes (up to that time) said it was. If one came along who said it was now okay, it all of a sudden became okay. Granted, I don’t believe your new pope had any intention of changing your rules. Nevertheless, the willingness to consider something which had hitherto been considered a manifest evil by this prominent, well educated, powerful Catholic troubled me greatly. That, my friends, is classic cultish behaviour which could have been inspired by Jim Jones or Charlie Manson.
    Personally, I think your hierarchical infrastructure reinforces cult-like behaviours and inhibits thinking (as well as seeing, hearing) in many cases.

    • Pofarmer

      The whole point of the infrastructure, the sacraments as necesity, the mind numbing recitations is that you don’t think. Thinking is bad. Thinking is for your betters.

  • AugustineThomas

    Please don’t pull a Joseph Bottum on us!!!


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