Sunday, September 16, 2007
Former Priests and Nuns
Returning to what I began in an earlier post, I would like to give my thoughts on the two books I mentioned earlier. Between the two, they give the "testimony" as it is called, of fifty former priests, and twenty former nuns, who left their calling, eventually left the Catholic Church, and became born again Christians. The purpose of the books is to lead others out of the Catholic Church.
First, I will say that I think a few of these stories are fabricated. Probably not more than five, which is a small number out of 75 total stories. Those of you who are Catholic will see the red flags in statements such as these:
I was forty years old and the Bible had been the forbidden book which I had never opened in my life.
No seminarian could possess or read a Bible during his first eight years.
The Bible is not prohibited in any way in the Catholic Church, and reading it is strongly encouraged.
a woman . . . who would later be godmother to my first Mass . . .
Godmother is a position used during baptism, not as described here. I will say that this was from the testimony of a Spanish priest, so I suppose it is possible that they have an honorary position such as this as a Spanish cultural tradition.
I stopped saying the breviary (the Church's official prayer for the use of the clergy) and the rosary and began to pray using parts of the Bible itself.
The breviary IS parts of the Bible. It is a way of praying the Psalms.
I celebrated Mass, observed the Sacraments, recited the rosary, paid money for indulgences and practiced acts of self-denial, but at heart I felt that I was lost.
The selling of indulgences is prohibited by the Catholic Church.
Also, in one story there is a description of a priest hearing the confession of a man who was dying, and had been away from the Church, so his confession was very long. He says that he went back the next day, and asked if he wanted to confess his life of sins again, and the priest couldn't believe it when the man didn't want to confess again.
According to Catholic doctrine, once you have confessed a sin and received absolution, you do not need to confess it again. A priest might have asked if he wanted to discuss his life again, but he would not have asked if he wanted to confess those same sins again.
Now that I have cleared up those few points, I will move on to the next group. The second group of people were people who seem to have not really had a calling for religious life. Now, I realize that might seem like an easy way out, just as Bible Christians who become Catholic might be explained away as having "never really been saved."
However, the first years of seminary or religious life are for discernment. Not everyone who thinks that they are called to that life, really has a calling. Often, certain types of people are attracted to religious life. People who feel that they are not good enough, but that pursuing a religious vocation will turn them into a holy person. Other people might want the respect or perceived power that comes from being a priest or religious. One testimony said "I saw how much everyone respected the priest, and how much power he had. I decided I wanted that."
Those are the sorts of people who should be turned away, and helped to see that they do not have a vocation to religious life, but to another state in life. Most of people who gave testimonies were born between 1900 and 1950. They were part of the vocations boom of the time. Apparently, the vocations boom was partially because seminaries and convents were not being as selective as they should have been.
But most of the testimonies were from people who were real people, and who probably had a real vocation to religious life. For whatever reason, they began to question their calling and their religion. Often, it was during the upheaval of the 1960's. They all ended up deciding that they disagreed with the theology of the Catholic Church.
When I first received the books, I was very interested to see what theological arguments were so persuasive to priests and religious. I was disappointed that really, they were just like most anti-Catholic materials. They presented a mis-representation of Catholic doctrine, and then presented Bible verses which refuted the false doctrine. Many testimonies said something such as "I set about to store up works, so that I could earn my salvation."
I'm not sure that I think all of these people were being intentionally misleading. Most of them seem to have written their testimony ten to twenty years after having left the Church. I think that after so much time, they are probably looking back through their current theological lens. It would have been more accurate to say "I see now, that I was trying to earn my salvation."
To conclude, I thought I would offer some additional testimonies. Those of protestant pastors of various denominations who became Catholic. There are many at the Coming Home Network, which was established to help such ministers make the transition to Catholic life, which usually requires the loss of their job and congregation.
That isn't the case for all people, though. Dwight Longenecker, who shared his story at the link above, went from Bob Jones University, to Anglican priest, to married Catholic priest.
Longenecker says of his evangelical background "As a Catholic I regard my faith not as a negation of my Evangelical upbringing and my fifteen years within Anglicanism, but as a fulfillment of all that has gone before. I honestly and sincerely hope that I have not abandoned anything that was good, true, beautiful and loving within both of those great traditions. I try hard with Evangelicals and Anglicans to affirm what they affirm, while declining to deny what they deny."
Someone who didn't lose his congregation was Alex Jones, who brought much of his pentecostal congregation to the Catholic Church with him!