Eastern Christian Books - An Interview with Rod Dreher
...I washed ashore in Orthodoxy out of the shipwreck of my Roman Catholic faith. I had been a serious Catholic for 13 years, having come into Catholicism in my twenties from a mainline Protestant background. I had been philosophically oriented as a teenager, but not pious. Reading Thomas Merton, visiting the Chartres cathedral, and encountering Kierkegaard in college -- all these things awakened a sense of quest within me, which culminated, after much struggle, with my becoming Catholic. I was an ardent Catholic, intellectually oriented and, I now see, a rather political one, in a way that no doubt laid the groundwork for my undoing.
In short, I began writing about the church's sex abuse scandal in 2001, and went headlong into the muck in 2002, with the Geoghan trial in Boston, which set off the national wave of scandal revelations. At the time, I did it not in spite of being Catholic, but because I was Catholic. I loved the church and wanted to help purify it of this cancer. Plus, I was a father, and it made me sick to see how bishops and others in church authority had treated children and families. What I did not realize -- though the courageous Catholic priest Tom Doyle had tried to warn me -- was that the evil of this thing was far darker, and went much deeper, than I imagined. I was not prepared for it, especially for the lies and cutthroat behavior of bishops, including cardinals. You think you've read enough church history that you can handle just about anything, but then you talk to a father whose abused son blew his own brains out, and learn that that boy's molester had been tied to four other suicides -- and that the diocese had known about this priest's problem all along, but done nothing. Do that, and think of your own child, and how the church you loved and served would have done the same thing to you and your kid, and it works on your mind. If I had spent even half the time in prayer that I spent talking about church politics, I might have withstood this test. But I didn't, and I didn't.
The final straw came in 2006, when we learned that a Catholic priest in Dallas who was getting closer to our family was a manipulative liar who wasn't supposed to be in ministry, as he had been accused in Pennsylvania of molesting a teenager. My wife and I were mortified, not least because we thought we were the type of people who couldn't be fooled, given our level of awareness about the issue. But he manipulated our prejudices. Who knows where this would have gone if he hadn't slipped up and showed his cards? Anyway, that was it; we were done. We simply lost the will to believe in the Roman church. I had always imagined that if I had the syllogisms straight in my head, that my faith could withstand anything. But that turned out not to be true.
There was nowhere else left for us to go but to Orthodoxy. We began attending St. Seraphim cathedral in Dallas, not intending to join, but just to be around the real presence in the Sacrament (Catholics accept the validity of Orthodox sacraments), and to be somewhere where the worship was beautiful, and we didn't carry with us the baggage of fear and loathing of the Catholic hierarchy. Eventually we knew we weren't going to be able to go back to Rome. We were received into Orthodoxy there in Dallas.
It was one of the saddest days of my life. Don't misunderstand -- I don't regret becoming Orthodox, and am, in fact, grateful that the Lord gave me a second chance in the Orthodox church. I felt so mournful over my lost Catholic faith that I couldn't experience the joy that everyone else experiences when they become Orthodox. It's hard to express how painful losing my Catholicism was. I suspect this is what happens when a marriage becomes irretrievably broken. You know that what you once had is gone, and can't come back, and you're relieved to be out of a situation that brought you torment ... but you still mourn. An Orthodox convert from Catholicism that I sort of knew came up to me around that time and started badmouthing the Roman church, and I told him I wasn't interested in that. The whole experience of losing my Catholic faith was the most painful thing I've ever lived through, even more painful than living through the death of my only sibling. It has taken me a long time to heal from it all.TAC - Rod Dreher
But I'll tell you this: God's hand was in it all. He humbled me in a way I needed to be humbled. I had been a pretty arrogant Catholic. The scandal beat that out of me. I'm a different kind of Christian now. Plus, Orthodox spirituality is helping me get outside of my head, in part by challenging at every turn my deep-seated tendency to intellectualize things. I thought before that because my head was converted, that my heart was too. That's not true.
I can never see the Orthodox church institution with the same naive fideism that I held towards the Roman Catholic institutional church. I came into Orthodoxy chastened and wary -- and, as we've seen in the past few years, the Catholics do not have a monopoly on bad bishops and corrupt priests. I'm grateful to be Orthodox, but deeply wary of the kind of piety I had before, as a Catholic. I see some Orthodox with it, and I go the other way. It's not for me. I can never say often enough, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."
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