Saturday, May 14, 2011

An Answer for “Catholic Answers”

Or, the more devotional side of why I left.

Over at the Catholic Answers forum, my name is attached to a discussion thread that has now exceeded 500 responses:

John Bugay and Beggars All Website - How to Deal with His Anti-Catholicism

Just yesterday I got a Google Alert that a new comment a new comment had been added:
John Bugay Update: He is has been kicked off of the website "Beggars All." From what I can gather he was finally called aside by his handlers and told that many of his arguments were garbage and actually making his position look bad and well, he did not like being questioned so he took his ball and went home.
I responded, noting that I was now posting here at Triablogue, which has a much larger readership. And a regular contributor there, “paul c”, asked this question:
Why do you feel a need to address contemporary Roman catholicism? What compells you to do so?
I posted this answer, which can probably be seen as a more personal and “devotional” counterpart to my Motivations post from about a week ago.
The short answer is that I believe that God has both prepared me to do so and compelled me to do so.

Here is a bit of a longer explanation:

I grew up Roman Catholic, attended Mass and CCD weekly, and being from a good Catholic family, of course I wanted to “be good” and please God. In high school I had some friends who were “born again” Christians, who gave me tracts about “the Gospel,” God’s plan of salvation. At first, of course, I defended the Roman Catholic Church, but I was curious about the very stark differences in belief and practice between my non-Catholic friends and of course, what I had learned in church.

Some time later I bought myself a Bible and read through the entire New Testament. And this “stark difference” was pressed home on me more.

I did have a tremendous and unmistakable new birth experience when I was 19; I was reading John 17:23 (while in the process of reading the larger passage), and while some have accused me of not being properly catechized (“you couldn’t have been and still say the things you say”), at that moment I was remembering my CCD teaching about Augustine and the Trinity, and understanding the awesome love that God the Father had for me, personally. It was a breakthrough moment, God in my life -- something that had not happened in all my encounters with “the sacraments”.

I did not leave the Catholic Church at that time, but migrated through a “Charismatic Catholic” group at our church (sponsored by a priest), to a Protestant Charismatic group, to a Protestant Charismatic church, where I met some other friends who led me on a journey down south. There I fell in with a Reformed Southern Baptist Pastor who became a life-long friend. Another good friend of mine suggested that I consider going to seminary (Southernwestern Baptist Seminary in Ft. Worth). My Pastor friend had even agreed to sponsor me there.

During that time, I was traveling a good bit, and we were also heavily involved with the pro-life movement, where I met some very fine Catholic people, one of whom invited me to “come home”. He also invited me to consider a Catholic seminary, which I did.

So for a time I would attend my friend’s Southern Baptist church on Sundays, then head up the street for a noon Mass at Holy Rosary church in Memphis.

Eventually, I applied for, and was accepted into, the diocesan seminary program here in Pittsburgh, to attend St. Paul’s seminary. That was about 1983 or ‘84. I met Fr. Donald (now Cardinal) Wuerl when he was the rector there.

But I couldn’t bring myself to make that commitment. Still, I considered various religious orders – I spent some time with the Capuchin Franciscans, and very much was attracted to that whole ethos. While I was in the midst of that consideration, I met my present wife; we married in 1987, and eventually had six children.

[As an aside here, I’ll mention that the priest from my home parish, the priest who married my wife and me, and who baptized several of my children, was one of those convicted during the sex abuse scandal. And in fact, one young man committed suicide because of this priest. But we did not know that at the time, and it did not affect my decision to leave.]

For several years during the early 1990’s, I was somewhat politically active (I campaigned with Rick Santorum in 1990 and 1992, as he was going door-to-door). In 1994, a Presbyterian friend, knowing of my background, handed me the issue of “First Things” that contained the initial “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” statement. At first I was overjoyed, and I began reading “First Things” on a regular basis.

Another devout Catholic friend was, during that time, attending “Evenings of Recollection” through Opus Dei. He invited me to attend, and for several years, he and I attended these monthly “evenings” together.

That was not long after the publication of the new “Catechism,” and I was struck at the similarities – the men at Opus Dei quoted from the Catechism in almost the same exact way that my Baptist friends had quoted from the Bible.

At any rate, I began following the program that Opus Dei recommended you follow: saying the Rosary (I even purchased a CD with the deep, baritone voice of John Paul II reciting the Rosary in Latin); going to confession regularly. I even was meeting with “a priest of Opus Dei” for “Spiritual Direction”.

During those years in the mid 90’s, however, I was also beginning to read more of the literature that was coming out on the topic of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together,” and I was realizing that there was a bit of fudging of the language associated with that document. Especially the 1997 statement, “The Gift of Salvation,” which came to this conclusion:

Justification is central to the scriptural account of salvation, and its meaning has been much debated between Protestants and Catholics. We agree that justification is not earned by any good works or merits of our own; it is entirely God's gift, conferred through the Father's sheer graciousness, out of the love that he bears us in his Son, who suffered on our behalf and rose from the dead for our justification. Jesus was “put to death for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25). In justification, God, on the basis of Christ's righteousness alone, declares us to be no longer his rebellious enemies but his forgiven friends, and by virtue of his declaration it is so.

The New Testament makes it clear that the gift of justification is received through faith. “By grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). By faith, which is also the gift of God, we repent of our sins and freely adhere to the Gospel, the good news of God's saving work for us in Christ. By our response of faith to Christ, we enter into the blessings promised by the Gospel. Faith is not merely intellectual assent but an act of the whole person, involving the mind, the will, and the affections, issuing in a changed life. We understand that what we here affirm is in agreement with what the Reformation traditions have meant by justification by faith alone (sola fide).
Without getting into a discussion on justification here (as I had done with my “Spiritual Director”), I will note that this was seen as a fudge on the language from both sides. And in fact, I walked out of confession with my “Spiritual Director” during a discussion of this very issue.

Again, as I was at age 19, I became gripped by a desire to know, what was really going on here. Fortunately, the Internet was making available resources that had previously been available only in specialized libraries. And I came across earlier versions of “Protestant/Catholic” online discussions.

I will say that James White’s book, “The Roman Catholic Controversy,” had a very profound impact on me.

So in 1998, I summarized what I was thinking in a very long “resignation letter” to my new Parish Priest (the old, abuser-priest having since been moved away somewhere).

2000 years of church history is a tremendously large topic, and I’ve dived right into the study of it with great enthusiasm. I’ve not followed an organized pattern of learning, but I can honestly say that in my own mind, I’ve more than adequately answered every objection that every Roman Catholic has put to me about leaving.

And that leaves me with the understanding that if Rome really is not what it says it is (“THE Church that Christ founded”), then there is some measure of untruth and even betrayal about its claims. Roman claims to authority are fundamentally at odds with the Truth proclaimed by Christ and the apostles, and fundamentally at odds with the actual history of the actual church.

So for me, it’s been a lifetime of wrestling with this issue, and now sharing what I know.
Now, even this is not a complete accounting of all the struggles I went through when thinking about leaving. While Rome admits virtually anyone who “try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience” to salvation, there is a fearsome curse on Roman Catholics who would leave that fold:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it [CCC 846, citing Lumen Gentium 14].
Again, some well-meaning Catholics have suggested to me that, as a Roman Catholic, I really didn’t “[know] that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ,” and hence I’m not going to hell because of that, but that seems to me to be just another Roman Catholic mind trick that denies reality with a slippery use of words.


  1. Interesting, I'd be interested what your take is on what you have seen of the charismatic world.

    Also, what is the reason you and Beggars All parted ways?

  2. Hi halo -- I was out of the charismatic world in the early 1980's and haven't really been back to it since. There is an Assembly of God church about a mile away from my home, but when I was looking for a church, I was counseled, and I also came to the conclusion, that it would be better all around (especially for my kids) if I drove the half hour to the nearest Reformed church. And that's where I'm a member today.

    As far as why I left Beggars All, James Swan and I simply had a little disagreement. We continue to be good friends.

  3. Were you too militant in your anti-Romanism for Swan's calmly professional taste (that is sometimes perhaps a bit too calm)?

  4. Hi Viisaus. I probably shouldn't get into it. But I don't consider myself militant. Maybe a little too enthusiastic.

  5. I am like John Bugay, a former Roman catholic who is now a Reformed protestant, a Presbyterian. I am today a Member of the Manasquan Presbyterian Church, Manasqaun NJ. I made my affirmation of faith before the entire congregation as a Presbyterian on October 24th 2010, the Sunday before Reformation Sunday, and was received on that day into full membership in the Presbyterian Church. I can testify that in the five years since that day, my faith as a Christian has grown and I now have a relationship with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ that I never experienced before.

    1. Hi Dudley, congratulations on five years!

  6. Hi John Bugay,

    I went through your abridged conversion story here, and something struck me.

    You said the following:

    "[As an aside here, I’ll mention that the priest from my home parish, the priest who married my wife and me, and who baptized several of my children, was one of those convicted during the sex abuse scandal. And in fact, one young man committed suicide because of this priest. But we did not know that at the time, and it did not affect my decision to leave.]"

    Now, I have no intention to defend any abusers. But what does this have to do with your conversion story?


    1. One is not a direct result of the other. That is why it is given as an aside. But that is the environment I was in.