At this most critical moment, faithful Catholics are confronted with the same fork in the road that has divided these two men—Munkelt and Dreher: When faced with an ecclesial crisis of apocalyptic proportions, what are faithful Catholics to do: Stay on and fight for the Bride of Christ, no matter how vile her captors might be? Or shall we yield to the scandal we all feel in our heart and abandon Mother Church in pursuit of the illusion of greener pastures. In this article, we have the opportunity to consider the latter course of action as seen through the eyes of a faithful priest who has chosen the former. May God grant us all the grace to know the truth and the courage to defend it, come what may. Fr. Munkelt holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of St. Thomas Aquinas in Rome. MJM
Your recent articles in The American Conservative on "Catholic Triumphalism," constituting your latest broadside against the Catholic Church, were brought to my attention. After reading the articles, and in close connection with your remarks, I have some sobering thoughts concerning your departure from the Church and ongoing vilification not just of her abusive personnel (who are fair game) but of her very person. As such, I am not writing to you alone but also to those among your Catholic readers who may not be fully cognizant of your not-so-hidden campaign to turn souls away from and against the Bride of Christ. To them I say, there is nothing more unprofitable than to try to pick figs from thistles. It is my duty, therefore, to assist my fellow Catholics in not becoming unwitting purveyors of your Anti-Catholicism. I'm sure you understand.
If you care to read on, brace yourself, for charity sometimes carries a stick, as St. Augustine noted. And I shall not spare it, especially since you boast of being irreformable. I promise you, therefore, something in the spirit of St. Jerome.
1) Catholic Moral Teaching? In the two articles in question, possibly the most astonishing statement you make is this: "More importantly, though, where are the other churches who allow in their teaching for the sexual molestation of minors?" [My emphasis.] In all my years of study in theology and in the history of the Church, this putative Catholic teaching permitting the molestation of minors has completely escaped me. To be frank, without a citation from an authoritative doctrinal source, and of course none can be found, your statement is not only evidence of your brazen malice, it is sinister.
2) Emotion vs. Reason. From your own words, all indications are that you left the Catholic Church not because you had any theological argument against it but because you had an emotionally charged reaction to the clerical scandals and only afterwards adopted a new theology. As you put it: "I had never really considered Orthodoxy until my Roman Catholic faith had turned to dust." This suggests that an irrational response then went in search of cognitive validation, rather than rational reexamination. While your initial revulsion and anger at the revelations of clerical misconduct are quite understandable (who couldn't feel the same?), you lost all mental proportion and threw the Christ child out with the bath water. Failing at self-control, you failed to distinguish between (moral) teaching and (immoral) practice, and thus incredibly and pervertedly equated the two, as we just saw in paragraph #1. Therefore, when rightly attacking the faults of various members of the Catholic hierarchy you regrettably resort to hyperbole and the fallacy of tu quoque, a fallacy Our Lord was careful to avoid when criticizing the doctors of the Law. Then, with your mind shot, there was nothing left but to create a fantasy of a religious paradise in the green pastures of Orthodoxy. Except you found, or rather others like me would find for you, that you had one foot in a cow pie and the other about to step in a second. With that, let's discuss reality rather than fantasy.
3) A True Faith. I should hope that you at least have left a scintilla of interest in a right or true faith, not just a sentimental one, because after all, is there any point to being a votary of a religion if it is not true?
In this regard, you are correct to say that the Catholic Church "maintains that it is an exclusive and authoritative means of salvation." To be clear, the Catholic Church still teaches, as it must, that there is no salvation outside the Church (CCC, 846). Call this triumphalism if you wish, but it belongs to the constant teaching of the Church of Christ down through the age of the Church Fathers at least to St. Cyprian. Does the Orthodox Church, or rather do the Orthodox churches (there being no such thing as the Orthodox Church) maintain that teaching? If they do not, how are they consistent with historical Christianity? And if they do, to which autocephalous church of ethnic particularity must I subscribe in order to be saved? Given that Orthodox churches have been known to censure and excommunicate others, sometimes along ethnic and political lines, you can see that this is no easy question, to say the least. Making for more confusion is the farcical struggle between Orthodox patriarchs for plentitude of authority.
Repetition of personal and subjective declarations of non serviam will not do: "I could no longer believe that my eternal salvation depended on maintaining communion with the Roman see." "I really did believe that [submission to Rome] until I didn't." Etc. I'm sorry, but your readers deserve more. If you are going to indulge in criticism, some might say bashing, of the Catholic Church, they are due at least a well-informed precis of theological and historical reasons for spurning Catholicism, unless there are finally no substantive reasons. I know that business is "complicated," as you are wont to remind us, while moving on to the next wave of invective, but it is precisely the ground on which serious minds ought to meet...caritas congaudet veritati. Nevertheless, often enough you like to throw a theological barb at the Church, only thereafter conveniently taking cover behind your smoke screen of not wanting to "over intellectualize." Accordingly, part of my task here is to uncover your intellectual and theological pretensions.
4) Apostate, Heretic, or Just Schismatic? Since you yourself raise this important consideration, please understand that what I am about to say, I say only as a matter of theological fact, and not as some off-hand personal affront.
It is an enormous spiritual mistake to absolve yourself of apostasy and heresy, blithely self-assuring that at worst you are only subject to the grave charge of schism. Of course, in knowingly and purposely separating yourself from the Catholic fold, you are undeniably a formal schismatic. A situation aggravated, I should add, by your having made a career of assailing the Church, all the while absurdly preaching to Catholics how to live better lives as Catholics. Pertinent to this last point, you wrote a book called The Benedict Option and artfully curry favor with--and sales from--Catholics as well as Catholic communities and organizations, who in some cases have been foolish enough to throw you a party. Why didn't you call it The Orthodox Option?
Furthermore, you are also a formal heretic because you clearly deny at least one article (and doubtless more) of your former Catholic faith, namely, the Primacy of Peter. And even though you are not strictly speaking an apostate because, as far as I know, you continue to profess a belief in the divinity of Christ, arguably you are one from another point of view: rejection of the Church of Christ and the Unity of Apostolic Faith is tantamount to the rejection of Christ the Divine Founder. At any rate, for all your media exploitation of a tragic and culpable decision in the sphere of religion you have incurred automatic excommunication. Congratulations.
Please keep in mind that your status does not necessarily apply to other members of Orthodox churches who, if raised in Orthodoxy, may not be culpable for their material errors.
Speaking of throwing parties, Dreher was invited to a closed-doors meeting in the Vatican on September 11 at which he was effusively praised by Archbishop Georg Gänswein (left), head of the papal Household.
5) A Question of Motives and the Seed that Falls on Stony Ground. To be sure, the clerical homosexual-fueled scandals in the Catholic Church, by and large a product of the liberal and modernist spirit that hijacked Vatican II, have been egregious and must be exposed. But motives here are vital. And yours reek of self-justification for a horrendously ill-conceived defection. That is why, some years ago, I rejected your sordid effort to enlist me in your personal crusade against the Church.
In addition, you make a declaration of your personal failings and seem to admit the superficial nature of your faith and spirituality while you were a Catholic, and then effectively blame the Church for your shortcomings! Strikingly, it is as if you stepped right out of the pages of the Gospel: your faith failed to take root, troubles came along, and you fell away. And now you proudly announce yourself practically immunized against any possible scandals in Orthodoxy by the device of downplaying the institution qua institution. Then why don't you try that back in the Catholic Church? Or how 'bout the Eastern Catholic Church? There you've got nice liturgy and no schism. That is not an "impassioned plea" for your return to the Household of Faith, for which I make no pretense. I am merely writing to direct attention to your penchant for subterfuge.
6) Orthodox Corruption. Though one could create a weighty list of Orthodox clerical corruption--from decades of criminal collaboration with homicidal communist authorities to luxury, venality, and, yes, occasional sexual abuse--in the end it is a fool's errand to make endless opposing tallies of clerical deviance, Catholic vs. Orthodox, because, when all is said and done, the tallies won't decide the theological question. To your credit, you seem to have some inkling of this point.
May you face up someday to the fact that your profession is often intoxicated with the topical and sensational. Accordingly, you have no time for the spade work of authentic theological investigation, and above all you hate the ordinary, like the innumerable unacknowledged clergy, in the West and the East, who have faithfully and admirably fulfilled their duties over the centuries, even to the point of martyrdom. Shame on you for that and your extraordinary disservice to Christianity in an age when the work of Christ is beset by wolves from within and without the sheepfold.
7) The Theological Question. It is in this area where you are most vulnerable, and so you tend to avoid it, preferring to whine that you just couldn't take the scandals anymore but still "honor" those who stuck with the Church. As you know and recall, I for one did, and could, as a newly ordained priest, reasonably claim to have undergone a greater conflict and ordeal than you went through. And so I thank you for your honoring and self-depreciation. I must admit, therefore, that in the context of spiritual warfare you remind me of the soldier that General Patton slapped in World War II.
Since you are not a theologian or a historian, the theological-avoidance strategy is probably a wise one. That leaves you prone to yellow journalism, however, an issue I shall address ahead. Yet you can't help a foray or two into the field of theology and history. So let me briefly address those forays.
First, you ought to honestly rethink just how much you know about church history and theology. It gives one pause, and doubts arise, when you trot out hackneyed anti-Catholic bits like Pope Alexander VI. Didn't you know about the so-called bad popes when you were a "convinced Roman Catholic"? And what's next, your expertise on the Galileo affair? However, no one should be surprised at your frequent arrogation of knowledge when you hold forth on Dante but don't know Italian, or blow your horn for Russian Orthodoxy when you don't speak Russian and probably have only a passing acquaintance with Russian history, if that.
Also, consider that in the period from Justinian to the fall of Constantinople, the formative years of Orthodoxy, Emperors, Empresses, and Patriarchs could at times make for a lurid court. One of my favorite stories is that of the Empress and murderess Zoe who gave Patriarch Alexios fifty pounds of gold to anoint her lover emperor. In my opinion, he should have held out for a hundred.
All things considered, I'll take the Catholic Renaissance, its glory and misery, over the cuckoo clock and Eastern cultural torpor.
"The Orthodox tradition is far more stable in late modernity than the Catholic tradition." Unfortunately, this is an illusion bolstered by the fact that Orthodoxy is intellectually moribund. To excuse it on the basis of an attachment to ritualism and mysticism is most deceptive. Let's not confuse stultification with stability. Orthodox thinkers like D.B. Hart cannot mount an argument against modernity without relying heavily on western and Catholic philosophers and on the theoretical acuity of scholasticism, in particular that of St. Thomas Aquinas. I once spoke with a Greek Orthodox seminarian who exalted in not being able to tell me a thing about Plato and Aristotle!
Speaking of Aquinas and the saints, perhaps I could address the matter of sainthood in Protestantism for you and your Protestant readers since I was formerly in their camp and you have an idiotic hypothesis about the prospects for Protestant examples of sanctification. Properly understood there are no saints in Protestantism. That is why you will not find them. It is not just because Protestants depart from the teachings of the Church, it is primarily because the magisterial founders of Protestantism were extreme predestinarians. This means that those who are going to heaven or hell were arbitrarily chosen by God before they were created without any prescience of good human works, which mean nothing to the Creator. Humans have no free will and therefore no power to choose moral actions in cooperation with divine grace, a prerequisite of bona fide sainthood. And, besides, for Protestantism the saints are invisible and known only to God.
I say this not to idly offend the separated brethren, who should take no umbrage since I have simply set forth their own classical teaching, but rather to expose the arrogance of your theological ignorance and to show just how empty at each step your words are: "one of my greatest errors as a Catholic was to live primarily as an intellectual within the church. I made the mistake of thinking that if I mastered the intellectual dimension of the faith, I would be safe." The "greatest error"? Really? Who ever said you were a Catholic intellectual? And where is the evidence that you intellectually mastered any faith, be it Protestantism, Catholicism, or Orthodoxy? You already essentially admitted that your Catholic faith was superficial. For heaven's sake, man: hubris unchained!
In the wake of this theological adventure of yours (Protestant saints etc.), and in relation to your preposterous claim that you were "raised within historical Christian orthodoxy," I finally realized that your religion is not Orthodoxy at all. It is instead Pluralism, with devotion to all her pallid issue and slogans flitting about the walls of your cave...diversity, relativism, indifferentism, inclusiveness and the like. Either that or you are just invincibly ignorant of the massive break with historical Christianity that the Reformation represented, including Anglicanism, Arminianism, and Methodism. You should know that the Lutherans, in the sixteenth century, made an overture to the Patriarch of Constantinople and he rebuffed them on the central questions of justification by faith alone and the sacraments. But if you were raised as you say, why the need to become Catholic or Orthodox? Or is there some arcane difference between orthodoxy and Orthodoxy? I suggest you open a book, other than one you wrote. Here's a work you should try: Luther and His Progeny, 500 Years of Protestantism and Its Consequences for Church, State, and Society (Angelico Press, 2017).
"How many Aquinases and Chartreses are worth enduring a clerical class that systematically buggers boys and elevates dirty old men like the molester Ted McCarrick to the heights of spiritual authority within its ranks?" Having warned of yellow journalism, this amazingly vulgar hyperbole speaks for itself and for you, not least because a young person stands a far greater chance of being abused by a parent or foster parent than by a priest. Shall we speak of systematic parental abuse and get rid of parenthood? That said, unlike yourself, a Catholic knows by the eternal promises of Christ that the Church will overcome this sad but contingent present moment in its history. Thus all the Church's magnificent cultural and saintly output, which is not contingent but of her very nature, makes the endurance of the tares amongst her wheat eminently worthwhile. St. Paul himself knew scandals, heresies, schisms, and preached perseverance.
In any event, what good is a stable Orthodox tradition (if it is) when there is a massive ecclesiological error at its core? Did Christ really intend to institute a loose network of state-subordinated national churches wrapped in ethnicity and missionary inertia? Is Moscow really the new Rome? Is KGB Orthodoxy the true refuge and home of Christians? Read your own pathetically naive words HERE.
I aver that the truth is, Orthodoxy is singularly unable to confront the moral anarchy of liberalism because of its crypto-fideism and appalling disdain of the venerable Theory of Natural Law. As such, it continues to slide on issues of bioethics, marriage, contraception, and even abortion. To understand the depth of confusion in Orthodoxy concerning moral science, I highly recommend you read the debate in First Things between D.B. Hart and Prof. Edward Feser, in which Feser exposes and explodes Hart's failure to understand the proper meaning of natural law and its importance to Christianity.
On the other hand, the Catholic tradition has a settled and well-defined body of doctrine in faith and morals that can be found in a single book for all the world to see and by which even popes can be judged. Moreover, the Church is also prepared to meet the rational challenge of modernity with right reason. There is simply no unifying magisterium and no single definitive universal body of teaching in Orthodoxy, apart from the first seven ecumenical councils, which were not sufficient of themselves to stem the plethora of heresies and liturgical changes periodically endorsed by caesaropapist emperors, up to and beyond Peter the Great. Verily, an argument can be made that Byzantine Orthodoxy, the mother of Orthodoxy, doesn't actually exist anymore. For Orthodoxy without the Emperor is like the ancient Hebrew religion without the Temple. Allow me to quote Patriarch Anthony (1395) on the ecclesial centrality of the imperial autokrator: "it is impossible for Christians to have a church and no empire." It would appear that you haven't really had a religion since 1453.
"A figure like Pope Francis is unthinkable within Orthodoxy." Well, unthinkable until one thinks of Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, who is open to the ordination of women and same-sex marriage on the basis of "consensus," not excluding heretical communions. Ironically, Orthodoxy's continuous flirtations with Anglicanism and the heretical potpourri known as the World Council of Churches surely has, and will make, inroads into Orthodox teaching, especially in the moral arena. As beautiful as the Eastern liturgy is (but no more beautiful than the Traditional Latin Mass), all liturgies are nothing but tinkling brass if right faith and right practice are lost. Apropos, did you know that there is a small but growing movement called Traditional Orthodoxy? How contrarian! Or is it?
Finally, the issue of celibacy is a big fat red herring. Despite your apparent nonchalance on the issue, you must realize that both the Western and Eastern Christian traditions have made celibacy, in imitation of Christ, a mark of the fullness of the priesthood, viz., the episcopacy. Hence, it is not merely a disciplinary matter. The priest shortage is entirely manufactured. Any relaxation now of celibacy amongst the lower clergy will only make the crisis in the Catholic priesthood worse for its disregard of the real modernist causes of the problem. Contrariwise, traditional Catholic seminaries are full, thank you, to the point of having to turn eligible candidates away, as the novus ordo experiment with novelty gradually implodes.
8) False Reasoning on the Role of Institutions. Try as you may, it will do no good to downplay the institutional aspect of religion in general and Christian religion in particular, which is all the fashion these days. For one thing, Christ instituted an apostolic Church. The question is, which one? Get that wrong and you may get a lot of other things wrong as well. I remember some years ago you reported that an Orthodox priest told you that the papacy was an invention of the Franks, and you readily accepted that howler. Second, because man is a socio-political animal, it follows that he is institutional. He's institutional even when he thinks he's not. And third, religious traditions are inherently institutional, Orthodoxy no exception.
By the by, what is a way of life without a founder who gave birth to it and his institutional legacy that nurtures it? Certainly, everybody has a way of life. And every way of life is totalizing. What makes a way of life true? The following phrase, from wherever it came, if it has any meaning, is just prejudicial rubbish: "Catholicism is an institution with a way of life attached, but Orthodoxy is a way of life with an institution attached." Is this true of your favorite model of Christian life, that of the (Catholic) Benedictines? Regardless, the logic here suggests that one way or another you've got a way of life and an institution attached to each other! Kind of dumb, no? These sorts of breezy aphorisms can only satisfy a jejune mind and theology. I should think this sort of thing beneath you.
9) Your Triumph. Let me say that you have brilliantly succeeded, indeed triumphed, in creating an enemy (or soon enemies) of Orthodoxy where there was none. Nonetheless I'm pained to have said what had to be said. However, make no mistake, you have effectively declared war on the Bride and Her offspring, whether your soporific Catholic friends know it or not. For my part, She is to be defended against the flagrum in your hand.
Like some Vandal you, along with the bad element in the Church, drool on the axe you would gladly put to the root of the civilizational institution that not only gave us Hildegard, Richard, Francis, Aquinas, Chartres, Michelangelo, More, Cologne Cathedral, Florence, Venice, Teresa of Avila, Loyola, El Greco, Bernini, but also Edith Stein, Kolbe, La Sagrada Familia, Poulenc, Messiaen and all the rest.
10) Summing Up. It is a malicious work to cut and bend the Christian religion to fit one's personal narrative. For your sake, I wish truth and salvation were simply a matter of saying, I had one faith and now I have another. But that is a convenient delusion. However, take nothing for granted, you say. Very well, I'll take your advice to heart with respect to your soul.
Rod, the upshot is this. Better for you and Christianity if either you reverse spiritual course, which from a natural standpoint is little to be expected, or at least drop the media platform as a means for trying to prove to yourself that your change of religion was the right thing, a compulsion that only gets more spiteful and inane over time. Instead, I suggest, stick to writing articles on politics and social criticism in which, I am reasonably confident, you may develop a conservative voice worth listening to.
Yours in Christ,
PS: Thomas More to Will Roper (Man for All Seasons): "Listen, Roper. Two years ago you were a passionate Churchman; now you're a passionate Lutheran. We must just pray that when your head's finished turning, your face is to the front again."