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Friday, October 13, 2006

Rod Dreher becomes Orthodox.

As they say, it's official.

Let's establish one thing up front--a substantial reason for the reaction (287 comments and counting as of last check) is that it is "Lightning Rod" Dreher who is converting. It is impossible to be indifferent about the man--you either love or hate him.

Count me as one of the former. Still. All my discussions with him (admittedly brief and sporadic) have been positive, and he is a fine writer. From a Catholic perspective, he wrote the most refreshing endorsement of NFP: flatly realistic, amusing and entirely free of the happy-clappy that tends to infect the presentation.

The other side has its serried ranks, too. A quick perusal of the comment boxes will show you the hate camp in vivid purple. Some of the frothing is actually hilarious in a grim, cynical Soviet-era bread line kind of way. My personal favorite is the one who says he's going to write Rod's former Catholic bishop to get some kind of official declaration of schism/excommunication.

Rod's former bishop is the estimable Charles Grahmann (I think the surname is German for "Borgia"), currently cooling his heels as he awaits the acceptance of his tended resignation offer. That would be the same bishop who is remarkably solicitous of gropers in the confessional and proved to be a noted enabler of pedophilic monster Rudy Kos. One of the latter's victims killed himself. Grahmann's also famous for refusing to resign despite the fact he had a co-adjutor bishop assigned to him.

Yeah--Go get that decree. In the improbability that such were issued (I suspect the bishop would have a daunting list of ex-Catholics embittered by the Scandal to attend to), my advice to Rod would be use it as a substitute for Pampers and mail it back to His Excellency with the appropriate regards.

Moving on.

I'm torn about this. First, it saddens me greatly to see anyone leave the Catholic faith. I wish they could see in it what I do (yes, despite my carping). Christ pulled me out of my spiritual coma and into the Church. I believe what the Church teaches. I believe that being Catholic matters, that Catholic identity matters (no matter how little you may hear this from parishes and pulpits worldwide). So I can't be sanguine about someone leaving, even to go to the admitted riches of Eastern Orthodoxy.

But it's tough--where not absolutely impossible--for me to get into the head and heart of someone who leaves. Some people are genuinely hurt--damaged--by experiences in the Church and by the people who purport to represent her. This can happen in all sorts of ways.

And the sex abuse Scandal has been the most horrific of these. Starting with the hideousness of children being violated. But not stopping there. The Scandal revealed a deep rotting disease within American Catholicism that has only begun to be recognized, let alone treated.

Rod saw it up close and personal as a journalist covering the story for years. As much as I am loathe to quote him, Nietzsche's insight cannot be denied: "And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you." There is only so much horror one can stand, especially when the atrocities are committed by those who are supposed to bear the name of Jesus Christ.

That is the troubling thing to those of us who still stand as Catholics--that such an abyss developed in the first place. And the way it has been handled should also give pause.

It is difficult--impossible, really--to hold to the truths taught by the Catholic Church when those who are supposed to present and represent those truths are instead offering up a hellish anti-witness. It is not possible, in the long run, to accept the bishop as in persona Christi when he is behaving like a corrupt CEO playing CYA. It's even worse when there is no--as in zero--temporal accountability from within the Church itself.

Perhaps the wonder of it is that he didn't pull the ripcord earlier.

To be sure, I'm less than convinced by some of his behavior and arguments. Starting with the behavior: leaving the impression that you are Catholic when such has not been the case for the past two months leaves a patina of dishonesty, whatever his constraints might have been. He could have avoided writing on Catholic topics until he made his announcement, but he didn't. Instead, there was still an insider connotation in his writing on the subject that was not above board, which he should apologize for.

The least convincing part of the whole piece is the argument about papal primacy. It feels tacked on, and given his determination to have a less head and more heart faith, I don't think it played all that much of a role to him, either. Certainly much less than it does to his Catholic detractors in the combox.

Most convincing and heartfelt to me were the passages relating to the anti-witness of Catholics in the Scandal and the positive witness of his new Orthodox parish. As another commenter noted, he does seem like a man more at peace, which has to be good for both him and his family. The worries about raising his children strike a chord, like it or not. There may be less resources (from my relatively uninformed perspective, so Orthodox readers feel free to chime in). But I think there is less official static and domineering from those who are supposed to assist the family in passing on the faith. Sometimes I think the toughest catechism task for small-o orthodox Catholic parents is trying to keep children from suffering the cognitive dissonance that follows from watching the asshattery of the so-called leadership.

His discussion of the liturgy also resonates with me--so much so that he almost persuadeth me to become Orthodox. It would be nice to escape the Five Year Planners and Perpetual Tinkerers for, oh, the rest of my life. Especially when we have to go on a trip, and uncertainty becomes the watchword of the travelling Catholic on Sunday morning.

There are other weaknesses. Yes, he strikes me as a perfectionist, and the connection to the Crunchy Con theme is obvious, if it should not be overstated. No, I have no idea why he did not consider one of the Eastern Catholic Churches, as he did while he was in New York. Most importantly, yes--with a capital Y--he bears responsibility for his actions. Separation from the Church is not shruggable. But also bearing responsiblity are those who scandalized his faith and the faith of many, many others. I suspect the judgment of the latter will be far more severe, if I understand the theology correctly. Starting with this authoritative statement.

I hope he continues to find peace. I hope with equal fervor that he finds his way back.

In the meantime, we Catholics have some soul-searching of our own to do. Thundering about excommunication, his ego, how "nasty" the Orthodox supposedly are (a laughably stupid argument), etc. won't suffice to cover one of our sins.

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