I have been Catholic since 1987 and, God willing, will die a Catholic for the very good reason that I believe Jesus to have created the Church as the sacrament of salvation and that he promised to remain with her to the end of the age. I also believe that he made this promise, not because the Church deserved it in any way, but because she radically does not deserve it. In short, I think the holiness of the Church refers not to the goodness of her members, but to the fact that Christ, in his mercy, has set apart this communion of dorks, idiots, radically selfish, broken, and sinful losers purely out of his dogged, never-say-die love and that he means to Pygmalion us to something beautiful no matter how long it takes or what it costs him. This is one of the reasons I am far more inclined to suspect we still live in the very early Church than on the eve of the Second Coming. In the words of Stevie Wonder, “It’s taking him so long, cuz we’ve got so far to come.”
One of the many things to overcome is illustrated in this exchange. For them that don’t know Sammons is a muckety muck at CRISIS, a Reactionary Catholic site that never misses an opportunity to pour acid into the wounds of hurting people:
The good news is that there still remain Christians who see the person first and speak out of love to them first and not out of the “Get lost, loser! If you expected empathy from a Christian you are stupid as well as vulnerable” responses of the Sammons and his ilk:
Paul Fahey speaks with honor of Sam, and I hold them both in high regard. Here is Paul on Sam:
Sam is getting at a crucial insight: The people who have left Catholicism likely understand something about the Church that many who haven’t left don’t understand.
I believe that many people leave Catholicism because people in the Church have failed to share and model the love of Christ. Conveniently, that’s also what the Catechism teaches:
“Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion” (CCC 2125).
Many people leave because they have been harmed or neglected. They personally understand how harmful and scandalous it is when people representing the Church misuse their power.
Many people in the Church don’t understand that, and our misunderstanding is on full display when we say things like, “Don’t leave the Church because of Judas.” We don’t understand the real harm that those Judases actually cause.
It’s easier to complain about how “the culture” is causing people to leave the Church than actually ask people why they left. It’s also easy to blame those who have left and think that they are just lazy, selfish, or sought the pleasures of the world.
That’s all really easy to say because it takes the responsibility off of me and it makes me feel good about myself for staying, for not being that lazy or selfish.
We need to stop taking the easy way out and instead ask the Holy Spirit for the grace of self-reflection.
As somebody struggling to be a disciple of Jesus, I think it falls to me for his sake to follow him and bear the burden of the many shitty things Christians do. All the shitty Christians in the world prove not a jot against him, just as all the water in the world does not make a ship a fraud.
But that is only counsel I can give myself. It is never counsel Jesus gives to the abused.
In the matter of Christians who are abusive to the wounded, Jesus never tells the wounded to suck it up and take it, or that they are dumb for not having been catechized or that they are the problem. He starkly warns the believer who causes one of his little ones to stumble that they are fitting themselves for a millstone necktie and a long drop into a deep, dark sea.
In the same way, he tells the lustful not “Rag on women about dressing modestly” but “If your eye offends you, pluck it out.” He puts the burden on the disciple, not on the object of his lust–nor upon his scandalized victim.
In short, one of the things the gospel insists on is prioritizing the good of the human person, not the security of the institution.
Bravo to both Sam and Paul for getting that.
And bravo as well to Pope Francis for his apology to native peoples hurt by Catholics. If, like this MAGA propagandist…
…or the primitive worshippers of nihilist power who got off on insulting Amazonian Catholics as “pagan idolators” for coming to Rome to seek the sacraments, you are offended by the Pope apologizing for sin, then you don’t believe a word of the penitential rite at Mass and are just saying Catholicky words like a parrot. If the Pope’s apology offends you, you don’t really think Catholics sin and you see the Church as a machine for gaining power, not as a sacrament of the grace and mercy of God. Above all, you don’t care about Jesus, present in every victim, nor about your neighbor’s wounds. You care only about yourself and your precious image. Sins are committed by other people. You think you signed on to the Winning Team, not to be part of a communion of sinners in need of salvation. You are offended by a Team Leader who, you imagine, gave a free goal point to your culture war enemies. Your first, last, and only impulse is to circle the wagons, not to care for hurting people.
In short, if you agree with the tweet above, it is you who are the idolator and your god is yourself, not Christ.
Catholic author Mary Pezzulo, has written several articles along these lines, including her latest piece:
“Blessed are the Cycle-Breakers”
In fairness, not to Sammons’ pointless meanness but to the basic idea he’s driving at, it is not wrong to say that there are lots of people out there who think they know all about the Church because they went to Catholic grade school or something.
But a lot of these apologetics talking points have been floating around since Karl Keating first started planting “Catholic Answers” on Protestant windshields, and don’t hold true anymore. Plenty of bad-faith interlocutors don’t know beans about the Church, including many who think they know more than they do because they had some semblance of Catholic upbringing. But many also cite their Catholic upbringing not because they think it makes them an authority, but because the upbringing itself is what they’re trying to talk about. And anyone who wants to argue in good faith (and has either their own Internet connection or a library card) has an abundance of resources at their fingertips to learn what the Church actually teaches. Like, dude, the Catechism is online for free, and it’s arrogant to assume nobody but us ever reads it. The idea that most people only leave the Church because of bad catechesis is decades out of date, if it was ever true in the first place.
And thinking on it, that attitude even from well-meaning Catholics trying to do the right thing, has probably contributed massively to driving people away from the Church. This whole apologetics subculture has taught generations of people, especially young men who like to think of themselves as intelligent (i.e. me, ten or fifteen years ago) that people would come rushing back if only you could just argue them into agreement with the Church’s doctrine. And then we’re surprised when we can’t mansplain them into conversion.
Plus, you know, I’m always leery of arguments of the form “If you say X you automatically lose the argument.” (That’s not actually an argument, but you know what I mean.) xkcd 261 and all that.