When a Catholic leaves the Catholic Church by Alvin Kimel
“They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us” (1 John 2:19).
I thought of this verse when I read Rod Dreher’s apologia for his conversion to Orthodoxy. I had heard about Dreher’s reception into the Orthodox Church shortly after it occurred, but I refrained from publicly commenting on it, hoping that he would himself refrain from publicly commenting on it. But he has announced his decision and declared his reasons for leaving the Catholic Church, and now Catholic blogdom is astir.
I wrote two articles back in May when Mr. Dreher announced that he was exploring Orthodoxy: “Ten Thousand Scandals Do Not Make One Doubt” and “Dare We Entrust Our Children to the Catholic Church?” In light of Dreher’s departure from the Catholic Church, I only have only one question: Was he in fact a Catholic? I do not have access to Dreher’s heart and soul, and I certainly do not condemn him for his decision. I regret that he has left the Catholic Church, and I grieve the sins of the Church that led him to renounce the divine authority of the Vicar of Christ. I pray that I may never be so tested.
My interest at this point is purely theoretical. How are we to understand a person who enters into the communion of the Catholic Church and then departs from that communion? John Henry Newman raises precisely this question in his Grammar of Assent:
A man is converted to the Catholic Church from his admiration of its religious system, and his disgust with Protestantism. That admiration remains; but, after a time, he leaves his new faith, perhaps returns to his old. The reason, if we may conjecture, may sometimes be this: he has never believed in the Church’s infallibility; in her doctrinal truth he has believed, but in her infallibility, no. He was asked, before he was received, whether he held all that the Church taught, he replied he did; but he understood the question to mean, whether he held those particular doctrines “which at that time the Church in matter of fact formally taught,” whereas it really meant “whatever the Church then or at any future time should teach.” Thus, he never had the indispensable and elementary faith of a Catholic , and was simply no subject for reception into the fold of the Church. This being the case, when the Immaculate Conception is defined, he feels that it is something more than he bargained for when he became a Catholic, and accordingly he gives up his religious profession. The world will say that he has lost his certitude of the divinity of the Catholic Faith, but he never had it.
To become Catholic, to be Catholic, is to surrender one’s private judgment to the magisterial teaching of the Church. It is to believe that what the Church teaches and will teach as belonging to the deposit of revelation is from God. One may investigate the rational grounds for de fide dogmas; but one may not doubt them nor inquire whether or not they may be true. As Newman remarks, a Catholic “cannot be both inside and outside of the Church at once.”
I wonder how many priests and RCIA instructors understand what Catholic assent is. I wonder how many converts to Catholicism have been instructed in the irrevocable, definitive, full assent to magisterial teaching that is being asked of them when they enter into the communion of the Catholic Church.
It took me a little while to find the old article from Kimel. I first got a 404 error here. But it's hard to disappear on the Internet. I found it here. Unless, I'm mistaken, the above is from Kimel. A number of pro-Romanist articles from Kimel have vanished, but are still available if one digs a bit:
Why Not Eastern Orthodoxy? by Fr. Al Kimel
My Road to Rome by Fr. Al Kimel
Ten thousand scandals do not make one doubt by Alvin Kimel
And I almost forgot, Kimel visited here a few years ago.