Many Christians are attracted by Roman Catholicism, with its universal scope, its living authority, its unchanging moral and theological teachings, and its intellectual and aesthetic traditions. Some take the step of converting to Catholicism, only to find in actual American parishes not Aquinas and Chesterton but feminist nuns, New Age philosophy, leftist politics, CCM masses, and a theology not all that different from mainline liberal Protestantism. Other converts do find a traditional parish, but it will often be in continual conflict with the bishop, whose authority the new Catholics had hoped to follow.
But Michael Brendan Dougherty’s dilemma is worse. The conservative columnist, a lifelong, devout Catholic, has written a poignant, heart-wrenching essay on his disillusionment with the Catholic church. At the same time, he affirms his Christian faith despite what the church is doing to undermine it.
“At this point, to be totally honest, I think modern American society does drive people to become Christians,” he writes. “Which is different from ‘helping’ them to be Christians, I suppose. At the same time, I’m nearly despairing of the Church’s ability to keep men Christians.”
In the course of a review of a collection of pieces from the traditionalist Catholic magazine Triumph from decades ago, Dougherty says that all of their dire predictions about what liberal Catholicism would bring upon the church have come true.
Dougherty then mourns the sex scandals that have permeated the church, particularly the cases of child sexual abuse.But he says that consensual adult sex also is rampant among the supposedly celibate clergy. He also cites examples of financial corruption, such as bishops closing parishes so that the property can be sold at lucrative rates to developers.
He ends with this confession of both utter disillusionment and objective faith:
There is an undeniable psychological tension between my religious belief that I cannot have hope for salvation outside the visible, institutional Church and my honest conviction that of all the institutions and societies that intersect with my life, the Church is by far the most corrupt, the most morally lax, the most disillusioning, and the most dangerous for my children. In that tension, personal prayer will dry up like dew at noon.
Where do I find hope? I find it in the faces of other young Catholics. The families at my parish who make real sacrifices for the Faith. I find it in the young writers such as Sohrab Ahmari , B. D. McClay, and Matthew Schmitz who still convert and fall in love as I did. They could start Triumph, anew. Even if sometimes my personal piety dries into dust and nothingness, the bell rings at Mass, my knee drops to the floor, and if nothing else, this gesture testifies objectively to the reality that Christ is present in the Eucharist, that Christ is Lord. Hopefully for now, that’s all I need to know.
Illustration from arcaion via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons