I wrote about "crippled religion," because I needed catharsis. What I discovered instead was an army of kindred spirits.
Epistemic humility is difficult to authentically cultivate, especially as a Catholic, even more so as a traditional Catholic. After all, if properly catechised, you know that Catholicism is the “fullness of truth,” and that there is no salvation outside the Church. These claims obviously cannot be proven in a scientific, empirical manner.
However, I find the witness of the saints, the great philosophers and doctors of the Church, and the great art of the Church to be more compelling than anything put forward by any other religion or worldview (I think Peter K said something similar in a recent 1P5 essay). Nonetheless, the sheer rot in the institutional Church is difficult to reconcile with indefectability, which I think is part of the crux of your dilemma. I look forward with great anticipation where your journey takes you!
I’ve seen many sedevacantists excited by your posts, which is hilarious. I can’t think of a more idiotic position. Our Lord gave the keys to Peter and passed on the Deposit of Faith to the apostles who over time built the most beautiful churches and the greatest civilization the world has ever known, all for it to come tumbling down and for the see of Peter to be vacant and the Deposit of Faith now in the hands of some guy who dresses up like a priest in a garage in Wichita, Kansas.
I pray you can get the sacraments for your beautiful family, Steve. Thank you for your witness.
I detect hope. 🙂
There’s a scene in the film A Hidden Life directed by Terence Malick where the artist who is painting a fresco in the church says the church has made people admirers of Christ, not followers. I thought of the movie today as i was reading your writing and thought of how lonely and alone Franz and Fani Jagerstatter were as they took their stand against an oppressive regime. But that regime wasn’t just the Nazi party, it was also the church that told them to go along to get along. Thank you for your stand. You don’t know how much what you’ve written means to me. I happily subscribed to your newsletter. May God bless you and your growing family. I just want to hug you and thank you!
If I could offer one thing as a convert who has been on the outside at times and has straddled the line at others, God speaks in ways that are deeply personal. Sometimes He speaks more, sometimes less, sometimes not for a while. I got attacked by trads once saying "what do you mean God spoke to you"; they couldn't fathom a mystical experience. I'm not claiming to be Moses; I didn't hear a voice; instead, I had thoughts and notions that I'd never been taught and never took the effort to reason to. God speaks and you know it's Him. Being a convert, I had to wait on Him a lot. I struggled a lot with incontinence and He never gave me a quick solution but I got to fight real battles and partake in conquering something and that was better. Praying for you and everyone else who is struggling. My prayer life has been in shreds and my mental health in the dumps; please pray for me too. You're really helping people.
What a beautiful reflection Steve! We need a solidarity of the broken.
It touches me deeply that you chose the image of Kintsugi to illustrate the power of embracing damage to transform destruction into creation. When I received Chrismation in the Orthodox Church, Kintsugi was also on my mind. Years of enduring spiritual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church (Maronite Rite) had shattered me spiritually. As I slept after the morning Divine Liturgy, waiting for Pascha, warmly nestled beneath blankets like pottery in a kiln, it felt like Christ's golden radiance was seeping into me and fusing the broken pieces of my heart back together. That night, I was a new creation filled with joy, and my scars had become glorious.
God bless you for this post, Steve. God bless you abundantly!
Steve, you've touched a chord with many of us, and I'm grateful for your witness. You are not alone.
Three years ago, had you told me that I'd have one foot out of the Catholic Church, I would have said you're smoking crack. I was the Faith Formation Directory (DRE) at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Knoxville- yes, Bishop Stika's diocese. I loved my role in the parish - helping prepare children for First Communion and teens for Confirmation, overseeing our youth ministry team, and leading our vibrant adult faith formation programs. I was also pursuing a master's degree in theology and I was in the deacon formation program. In short, the Church was the foundation of my life. And then the earthquake happened.
I remember sitting in my office one day, nearly three years ago, when I first read the reports of the McCarrick scandal. The stories of his abuse of seminarians and of a minor (whom he had baptized as an infant) were sickening. But what was so unconscionably shocking was how McCarrick had risen to the highest positions of power and prestige in the Church. The McCarrick scandal felt like an alarm clock waking me from a deep dreamy slumber. I began to question what I was doing, and why. I also realized that I was experiencing burnout along with the beginnings of depression and felt I needed to make a change. So I began to look for another job in my former career field (insurance) and almost immediately received an offer. When I turned in my notice, my pastor became very upset with me for leaving. Even though I had agreed to stay on as an unpaid volunteer while I was transitioning to my new job in order to prepare the catechists for the upcoming year, I was treated as "persona non grata" by him. The hostility was palpable. When I finally turned in my keys, I knew I needed to take a break from the Church.
Subsequently I began to delve into the McCarrick scandal (post-Vigano). The more I dug, the more corruption I uncovered extending all the way to the Vatican and to Pope Francis. I felt the scales falling from my eyes (what a friend referred to as being red-pilled). I was nearly losing my faith, and confided my doubts to Bishop Stika over breakfast one morning. At the time his words were reassuring and helpful. But I felt myself slipping further and further away from the Church. An Orthodox friend lent me a book on their perspective of the papacy and it raised new questions and new doubts for me. My son who was also going through a crisis of faith said to me one day, "Dad I believe in the Catholic faith.... I just don't believe in the Catholic Church anymore." His words hit home. I soon just drifted off. I attended Mass a few times over the year at another parish, but it was painful for me. The scandals, the ostracism I felt from my former pastor, the disappointment over losing my faith were all just too much.
Eventually I began attending an Anglican Church just before the pandemic, and it has become a place of healing for me. The rector has given me spiritual direction, and my faith in God has been strengthened. Whether I remain a "bad Catholic" or become a "good Anglican" remains to be seen. But like you I feel I am on a journey, and I trust the Lord to be with me and guide me. That is my prayer for you, and for all of our fellow pilgrims.
Dude, welcome to the club none of us want to be in! Its crappy but also exciting. You'll get humbled and smashed and pick up the pieces of what you think is your Catholic identity so many times, you'll be more gold than porcelain - which I think is the point. Courage.
New subscriber here. I was raised a cradle Episcopalian (my grandfather was the first native Chinese rector of St. Paul's Church in Hong Kong). I'm also a member of the Democratic party, so between my being a Protestant and a Democrat, your former pastor is no doubt sure that I will "face the fires of hell" in the afterlife. Ah, well, I have more faith in the mercy of God than apparently some traditional Catholics, for better or for worse.
Given my background, I suspect there's not much I can say that would resonate with you, but something that we have in our shared liturgical traditions is the ancient hymn, "Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est". Whether it's the original Latin text, or the English translation by James Quinn, SJ, or just the first line, as chanted by the Taize community, I believe it speaks a fundamental truth. Ubi caritas says nothing about theological truths, or of a God who will consign people to Hell if they do not believe exactly as the Church commands, or what precisely, was meant by "the Church" when St. Cyprian wrote, "Salus extra ecclesiam non est." It just says something about the nature of God, and how we are called to respond to God's love.
"God is love, and where true love is, God himself is there.
Here in Christ we gather, love of Christ our calling;
Christ, our love, is with us, gladness be his greeting;
let us all revere and love him, God eternal.
Loving him, let each love Christ in all his brothers.
When we Christians gather, members of one Body,
let there be in us no discord, but one spirit;
banished now be anger, strife and every quarrel.
Christ our God be present always here among us.
Grant us love’s fulfilment, joy with all the blessed
when we see your face, O Saviour, in its glory;
shine on us, O purest Light of all creation,
be our bliss while endless ages sing your praises."
God be with you and your family as your search; may He lead you so that you can find what you need.
New subscriber here. I was raised Novus Ordo, not traditional at all, and have become drawn to traditionalism, so I follow a lot of the more traditional Catholic resources online. I eventually tried a venture on twitter but found it to be a toxic dumpster fire. But you are one of the few out there, especially associated with traditionalism, that has really communicated in a way that has really drawn me in and spoken to me. It’s a very lost feeling when I see things that go on from the current goings on in the Vatican to my local parish that leave me feeling like something’s very wrong — but at the same time, I spend time with traditionalism and am drawn to it, but because of some of the toxicity that goes on, I am just not able to go all in there, either. I have no interest in leaving the Church, but I am left with this very alienated and disoriented feeling of what kind of Catholic I’m supposed to be, and what kind of God it is that people are telling me that I worship. I believe this God is a loving God, I am thankful for at least having some concept of this, but between factions within current Catholicism, I am suspended between this concept of a loving but overly permissive god on one hand, and a wrathful god that you have to jump through so many hoops for on the other. I’ve never suffered spiritual abuse at the hands of anyone, but I knew very well someone that was and I absolutely understand what it is. I suffer from being a deep thinker and a sensitive soul, prone to anxiety, so I suppose we often find ourselves battling our own scruples and personal spiritual abuse in our own minds. At the moment I’m just quietly trying to carve my own little path throughout all this mess. “I feel like I’m taking crazy pills” is something I find myself saying almost every day.
It’s really a delight to be a new subscriber and to finally be able to follow and actually write and tell you how much I appreciate your insights.
“The simplest, arguably most effective pragmatic response to a crisis this deep is one many have already identified: focus on personal holiness and the duties of one’s state in life. To do this, and do it sanely, many have chosen to ignore what is happening in the Church.
Prudentially, I think this is probably wise if not pursued to the point of complete ignorance. But I think this approach, necessary though it may be, only underscores the problem: if the Church is the means Christ established for our salvation, but the Church via its hierarchy and ministers is also such an impediment to salvation that its condition must be ignored in order to obtain it, something is very, very wrong.
It’s an ugly paradox indeed.”
This is ugly and, further, terrifyingly bad. Students of Church history will recognize that this is exactly what the ecclesiastical landscape looked like in Northern Europe on the eve of the Reformation. The whole Beguine movement (including the clerical variant the Brethren of the Common Life) was based on this idea, to live a life of simple faith with as little interaction with the hierarchical Church as possible. Basically they visited priests only to get what they needed, the sacraments, and avoided interacting with the Church, including visiting church institutions, at any other time. For this, they were persecuted by the hierarchy, when the time came, most became Lutherans or Calvinists.
Steve, you and others have talked about there being an active but undeclared schism in the Catholic Church. That, in reality, what we call the Roman Catholic Church is actually a series of churches, some of which have substantially divergent theologies. At the risk of being a one-trick-pony, the biologist in me thinks of cryptic species complexes. Groups of species that look superficially similar and are hard to tell apart until you look closer, sometimes much closer. I think that this explanation is a good one and it might be a useful framework for trying to understand the contemporary landscape. Why does Rome appear not to be the symbol of unity and guarantor of the Faith? Why do the protections associated with doctrinal integrity not appear to be holding? Well, at least in part, because what we currently call Roman Catholicism is not one religion but many religions. Nobody can be the guarantor of faith for many religions.
My opinion, we are on the threshold of something big. I think we are witnessing the long process of another major schism event, along the lines of the Latin/Greek schism or the Catholic/Protestant schism. Both of those “events” took a long time to materialize, at least a century or more, and I don’t expect this to be any different. It’s gonna be messy, though.
A related thought. The “East” and Orthodoxy often come up in this context. You have addressed this on other occasions. People often think that, if they come to the conclusion that Rome has lost the faith they have to leave the Roman Catholic Church and become Greek or Russian Orthodox or something along those lines. But I don’t think that is correct. If you come to the conclusion that Rome has lost the faith then the Pope simply becomes another of the equal (first among the equal) patriarchs. Consider if the shoe was on the other foot, if the Archbishop of Constantinople had been claiming for thousands of years that he and all of his successors, by virtue of their office, were infallible and capable of writing theological canons and anathemas that applied to all Christians, that they had immediate and universal jurisdiction over all Christians, that they were first alone in authority, and so forth. Then, there comes an Archbishop of Constantinople that is a heretic. Clearly the claims the see of Constantinople made about itself were, at least some of them, incorrect. But would that immediately nullify all of the sacraments by the priests under the authority of that Archbishop? Would that one heretic make all of the other teachings of the past Archbishops of Constantinople heretical or untrustworthy? Would all true Christians need to immediately put themselves under one of the other Patriarchs? No, no, and no. It would simply mean that some, not even all, of the claims the see of Constantinople made about itself were incorrect, the other Bishops would say that’s what we’ve been telling you, and life would go on. The same would apply to Rome. If you have come to the conclusion that at least some of the claims Rome has made about Peter and his successors are not correct (especially relating to fallibility), then you don’t need to go anywhere to become Orthodox. You already are Orthodox, just living under a Latin Patriarch who isn’t particularly good at his job. It’s not like the Patriarchs of the Greeks or the Russians always got their theology right. There is this obsession about choosing sides. There is a lot of worrying and time and energy spent on this question but I think that is the wrong obsession. In the end, you will still have to do the hard work of cultivating the virtues, being open to the indwelling, trying to be holy, trying to be a good parent, spouse, friend. Why not just focus on putting energy into that? Consider it. It might take some of the pressure off, and give a little freedom to get back to the more important things.
I look forward to seeing what comes next. We keep praying.
I wanted to share this with you. Going through my own crisis of Faith has lead me to consider, in the light of history, whether the claims the Catholic Church make regarding A) Being the One True Faith and B) Outside of which there is no salvation, are in fact true?
Having spent the last month pouring over as much information as I can about the Great Schism, Byzantine History (I already know the western history rather well) and the Church in the first millennia (since there are only two potential churches that can make the claim to the One True Faith with any historical veracity - Catholic and Orthodox), I have come to wonder if the issue with the Fillioque isn't of greater importance than we Catholics like to put on it. It didn't become permanent in the Western church until 1014. Prior to that, the entire Eastern Church and many of the Popes were against the addition of the Fillioque to the Creed and considered it (and still do) to be a heresy. For example, Pope Leo III had the Creed without the Fillioque etched in stone.
So my thought is this, if the Fillioque is a heresy (and I'm asking IF, not saying IS and I'm sure there are all kinds of opinions about this). But IF it is a heresy, there are, in fact, a lot of things that begin to make sense about the path the Catholic Church has taken over the last 1000 years.
I grew up in the deep south around a lot of Southern Protestants of the old school protestant type (mostly baptist, but all hardliners, there weren't may evangelical types then). All of them seemed to share three traits in common:
1. Heresy, (some deviation from the apostolic Faith)
2. Authoritarianism (usually the pastor's interpretation of the bible is the only 'correct' interpretation)
3. Exclusivity (if you aren't a part of our church, then hell fire awaits you)
Now, here's what bothers me. When I look at the Catholic Church, at least 2 and 3 are true (infallibility/supremecy of the pope - #2 and ex ecclesia nulla salus - #3). Now with #2, that's an ugly beast that every Christian outside Catholicism roundly rejects and it's really hard to point to it being a thing in the early Church. #3 is a pretty hardline against non-Catholics that I have always struggled to accept, since after all, it's not our job to judge souls, that is reserved to God alone and He will decide who is saved in the end. As a note, this is not a line the Orthodox take, they rather commend non-Orthodox to the mercy of God, still hoping for their salvation.
IF the Fillioque is a heresy, then #1 is true as well, and it might be, that the Catholic Church has landed in the situation its in namely because about a thousand years ago it drifted off into heresy, and what is happening today is the natural consequence of that heresy. In which case, there will be no resurrection and once the Catholic Church finally collapses under the weight of its own sins, that will be the end of it.
This is only a theory. Arguably, my short list is certainly insufficient, and could probably be fleshed out to defend the Church. I should say I haven't left either. But with all that was going on, I had to look closer at the historical reality in regards to the claims the Church makes. I'm on the fence about staying or going. I think I can say with some confidence the Orthodox Church has at least as valid a claim to the One True Faith as the Catholic Church, and that either is likely valid from a strictly historical perspective. In the end, all I want is something to hand on to my children in the hopes they will keep the Christian Faith, live virtuous lives and get to heaven.
Anyway, thank you for sharing your struggles. God bless.
Great job with these last two, Steve. Happy to be along for the ride, especially with all this quoting Peterson and GKC. And as long as you’re thinking outside the box and you’re cool with “weird”, I’ll link a Norm Macdonald interview I found fascinating, where he’s doing some major questioning as best he can. I’ll see if I can find it.
I'm a modernist protestant and Freemason, so I don't really have anything constructive to say regarding your situation.
As a new subscriber I just wanted to say hi and that I'll pray for you and hope you'll find a great new parish.
Your last two submissions have gotten me thinking a lot about the idea of the church as a hospital. It’s not a new idea but I think it’s one that's severely overlooked. Your obvious objection would be “how can I expect to the be healed at a hospital where the doctors themselves are so plainly unhealthy??” Can’t argue with that. But maybe it’s not about the healing and more about the treatments? I don’t know. But just contemplate the idea and see what it inspires. That’s what I’ve been doing. God bless, praying for you.
I meant this to be a response to your latest at 1P5, but, as you understandably chose to put a moratorium on comments there, I'll leave it here instead.
I am grateful for the privilege of following your journey through reading your written words.
I believe I'll keep tuning in as long as you keep writing, even if you shift your focus to UFOs, or to untangling childhood trauma, or what have you. I'm interested in that stuff too.
I think you have a gift for putting things into words. You help bring things into focus, maybe especially the interior difficulties and pressures, and that is valuable, even though I know that merely bringing them into focus and putting words to them doesn't resolve them.
I will continue to pray for you and your family, including your new little one.
And because I apparently can't leave it at something as short and sweet as that, here's a little more about me:
As a fairly recent convert, I had hoped that this thing about the magisterium and indefectibility wouldn't be put to the test, because it kinda seemed like the iffiest of the things I was meant to believe as a Catholic.
(But is that only because, somewhat as with belief in the daily-repeated miracle of Eucharistic transubstantiation, I have to lay my faith on the line and trust God to manifest something sublime in the midst of something all too mundane and human? And couldn't that easily disappoint? Seems safer to reserve the ambit of my belief to those mysteries directly under the purview of the One who has already ascended above the clouds, such that it may remain at some remove from the messiness of life.)
I'm no theologian, and I can't really presume to think cogently about these things at any depth, but I do still want to believe that there's some kernel of truth to this promise of shepherds' guidance, some solid core to the Church's teaching authority. I mean, Catholicism as I read about it out of the old books seemed to make a great deal of sense to me, and the saints' zeal was catching. Even the much-maligned Bishop Barron and von Balthasar had a way of making it seem compelling to a naive young me.
But if this apostolic and catholic truth is compassed around by so much difference of opinion or downright disorientation among the clergy, such that each of us layfolk needs to exercise a great deal of personal discernment when approaching "what the Church teaches" today, then what is the point of a living magisterium anyway? Isn't it worse than useless, only serving to heap up more opinions and pronouncements which we powerless little folk must (reverently and with religious submission of the intellect) sift through in order not to be lost to bewilderment or even potential error?
I believe in the Lord Jesus, and I'm not interested in going full do-it-yourself in determining how I'm going to try to follow Him and draw near to the water of life He has promised us. I was a seeker for a long time, "spiritual but not religious" as the phrase goes, yet early on in my experience of the Catholic Church, I feel the Lord blessed me with some subtle but profound sense of the reality of His Eucharistic Presence, in the Mass and in the Adoration chapel, as well as His presence in and through the Scriptures--with a sense, that is, that He wants me here, and will bless me here. And I think that the Lord has blessed me here, and I think others in my life have noticed as much, even if they remain unconvinced of the veracity of my newfound "belief system."
Before my Baptism, I had been looking into "weird things" (UFOs, paranormal experiences, depth psychology, astrology) for a while, trying to break the spell of materialism on my soul, and I had moreover begun to sense some true beauty in life that soared above nihilism and couldn't be captured and suffocated in its net, but I was surprised when such rambling as I was engaged in led me towards Christianity--and not only that, but to big bad Catholicism.
But, hey. Here I am.
And yet, there are still some unanswered questions, and things that don't quite add up or sit right with me, here in Church-land. So I applaud you for asking the questions, Steve, that are on your heart, and for following the path towards answers even if it seems to wander outside of what some may consider the acceptable bounds of the sheepfold.
I feel I can learn something from you that I can't learn either from those who are straight down the line don't-rock-the-boat-of-comfortable-Catholicism, or else from those in my former non-religious milieu who write off Catholicism out of hand--or else from those trads who don't admit as much honest, perplexed humanity into their writing as you do--or else from those people who just give in to bewilderment and cease trying to find the Lord and His will in their lives in any coherent way.
Being a seeker is energizing. I've missed some of that energy since I became a "having-found" in the Church.