Sadly, last night, I read the very last word of the very last “Public Square” column by RJN in the January 2009 eition of First Things. A tear came to the eye…
Anyway, on with business. There is an odd story that Fr Neuhaus tells about Rod Dreher of the Dallas Morning News (and “Crunchy Con” blog on beliefnet.com). Here’s the guts of it:
Some years ago he was giving major attention to the sex-abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, and a priest warned him that “I was going to find places darker than I realized existed.” He did, and he left the Catholic Church. “After I converted to Eastern Orthodox Christianity,” he writes, “I made a deliberate decision not to investigate the scandals in my own church. And there are scandals there. My family needs me to be spiritually healthy. My family needs to have a church. And there’s nowhere left to go. So I can stand on the sidelines and watch journalists commenting about scandals in the Orthodox Church, and I can cheer them on to see justice done, but I cannot be involved in that. If that makes me less of a journalist, then that’s something I have to live with, but at least now I know my weakness.”
Fr Neuhaus defends Dreher’s decision in this regard – comparing it to First Things refusal to promote a book that “among other things, went into salacious detail about what some bad priests did to young boys”. Yet he concludes – logically enough – that if Dreher “had made the same decision for the same reasons some years ago, I suppose he would still be a Catholic”. Quite. And as for “no where left to go” – well, “quite” to that too.
Dreher’s illogical position – whereby having judged it impossible to continue to belong to the Catholic Church because of the sins of some of her members he yet remains in the Orthodox Church despite sins of some of her members – is not unusual. I have found that there are others who apply different standards of judgement to the ecclesial bodies to which they have belonged.
Our own case in point is our friend Past Elder. He himself has used the phrase “no place else to go” – but he has gone somewhere. He has said that he no longer judges the Faith by the Church who teaches it, but judges the Church by the Faith it teaches. Yet while he accepts the new version of “the Faith” he has been taught by his Lutheran Church, yet he continues to judge his old ecclesial community by the standard of “the Faith” which he rejected – or (as he is wont to say) which “it rejected”.
By judging the Church by the standards of her own Faith, he wishes to “disillusion” us from the idea that the Catholic Church is the true Church. Dreher did much the same thing – by judging the Church according to the standards of her own morality. Both decided that the Catholic Church must be false because she failed to live up to her own standards.
Yet, just as Dreher is not prepared to judge his new ecclesial community by the same standard he used to judge the Catholic Church, PE is also unwilling to do this. PE does not judge the Lutheran Church by the same standards he uses to judge the Catholic Church.
The fact is that there is only one standard by which the Faith of any ecclesial community might be judged – the standard of Truth. And this standard is to be applied equally to all Christian communities: Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, whatever. The question PE should be asking himself (and indeed the question he should be asking us to ask ourselves – and which, I assure you, I do ask) is whether the teachings of the Catholic Church/Lutheran Church/Orthodox Church are TRUE.
If PE had asked himself this question instead of giving in to the disillusionment of the post-Vatican II liberal assault upon the Church, I suppose (as Fr Neuhaus supposed of Dreher) “he would still be a Catholic”.