Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Fall of the Roman Catholic Church

Important note: This has already happened.

For all of you naysayers out there who are prone to say “the gates of hell shall not prevail”, keep in mind here that I’m not making a prediction. I’m reporting on what has already happened. This is going to be largely a personal note, and more anecdotal than I’d like it to be. But I want to explain some of the excitement that I have right now, and some of the hope that I have for the future.

John Bugay, Cradle Catholic
John Bugay, Cradle Catholic
I’ve been dealing with Roman Catholicism for a long time. I was born into a Catholic family. I grew up Roman Catholic. It meant something to be “a good Catholic”.

On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandparents were immigrants from Slovakia. My great grandfather died when I was very young – I remember being at his deathbed at some point. My great grandmother then went to live with my Uncle Eddie, who was the sixth child in that family of six (and the youngest brother to my grandmother). They had a nice, 1950’s style brick home in one of the newer suburban areas around Pittsburgh.

My uncle just had a young family at the time. He may or may not have had one small child at the time, my cousin Michael who, oddly, was my mother’s cousin. Because of their relative age, we visited them a lot.

It was the kind of big Catholic family that was prominent back then. My great grandmother didn’t know much English, even in the early 1960’s, but the phrase I heard all the time was, “you good boy Johnny”. She said that to me all the time, and rarely did she say anything else. And I’d smile and say “thank you”. We were in church very frequently, as part of a large, extended family – weddings, baptisms, funerals. And there was much family time and fellowship. It worked that way on my mother’s side of the family, where my mother was from one of the older siblings, and also on my father’s side of the family, where he was one of the younger siblings. I had some same-aged cousins, but most of my cousins were a lot older, with families of their own.

That was the form of pre-Vatican II form of “Roman Catholicism” that I knew in the early and middle 1960’s. You didn’t get “catechized” back then. You lived it. You lived your life, and life revolved around “the Church”.

I was one of the few kids in my graduating class who attended Mass regularly and also made it through 12 years of CCD. A Catholic convert noob recently had the audacity to tell me that I am where I am, writing about Roman Catholicism, because I wasn’t catechized well. If I wasn’t catechized well, then no one was. I had old nuns for teachers.

There was an economic crisis in Pittsburgh in the late 1970’s. The steel mills, so prominent in Pittsburgh during the 1960’s and 1970’s, closed down in the late 1970’s, as new technologies rendered the “steel union” model unsustainable. Some people, in fact, called this “the steel mill crisis”. It was thought that you could work for the steel mills all your life and then retire with a nice cushy pension. Some had done that. But that business model proved unsustainable. Unemployment in the area hit 25%. Many of the people of my generation moved out of the area to find work. (This is one of the reasons why there is a “Steeler Nation” – people from the Pittsburgh area would meet up in other cities and root for the Steelers.)

In my college years, also during the late 1970’s, I had a very vivid “born again” experience. A lot of reading and thought and prayer and talking to people went into it. After that my question became, “why doesn’t the Catholic Church know about this?” As keepers of the sacraments, they were the channel of grace in the world.

At the same time, I read the New Testament, and I didn’t find Catholicism there. Slowly, I moved from being a “good Catholic” to attending a Catholic Charismatic group to attending a Protestant Charismatic church – other than being Roman Catholic, this was, it seemed, the only other kind of church in Pittsburgh in those days. This was unbearable for my family, and there were major wars over my departure.

Convert? Or Cradle Catholic? Or Both?

Just a few years later, for several reasons, I went back to Catholicism. The conversion of Thomas Howard in 1984 played some role in it. “Bloom where you’re planted”, I thought. I even made a decision at one point to enroll in a seminary for the priesthood. But that part of it seemed to be too much for me. Instead I got married and had a lot of kids, while remaining “a good Catholic”. (For inquiring minds, we practiced NFP). Not long after I was married, I began attending Opus Dei “evenings of recollection”. I probably bought one of the earliest copies of “the Catechism of the Catholic Church” when it first came out in 1994.

Conservative Catholic Converts Waiting for the Next Pope
Conservative Catholic Converts Waiting for the Next Pope
Interestingly, I have a 1995 article from “Catholic Answers” entitled “The Trouble with Cradle Catholics”. This is a very instructive piece.

As a convert to the Catholic faith, I have been bothered by several conversations I've had with "cradle Catholics." So bothered, in fact, that this plea had to be written.

To me, to be born a Catholic would be such a honor and blessing. I am envious to those that have had the privilege. To be allowed to grow up in the faith, learning it day by day, would be easier than the searchings of my own life. For this reason it is difficult to understand Catholics who attend other churches, who don't attend Mass regularly, or who have not come to church in many years.

She believed “the Catholic Faith” that is found in the textbooks. The “faith” of the Catholic converts is an idea, it is not a “lived faith” the way the cradle Catholic faith was. She wrote:

I go to church to participate in the Mass that our Lord left for us to continually be in his presence and to have forgiveness for sins. I do not go for the music (although it is enjoyable), the people who are there (but I do have friends), or a certain priest (but my priests held the candle for my darkened path to the Church). I got to be with my Lord. When I'm at Mass, it is like I'm in a "bubble" directly linked to every part of the liturgy. How can it be otherwise?

Home. That is the only way to describe the completeness of my conversion to Catholicism.

Interestingly, I used to brag about having been born Catholic and yet having the enthusiasm of being a convert back to the faith.

Around that time, mid 1990’s, a friend sent a copy of “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” to me – at first I was overjoyed, but then I came to understand the equivocation that was required to put that document together. That disillusionment was the start of my exit from the Roman Catholic Church. Eventually there were resources “online”. I found the websites of Eric Svendsen and James White. White’s work “The Roman Catholic Controversy” was very meaningful for me.

My struggle with Roman Catholicism (or against it, as the case may be) has been a very personal one. You don’t just “leave”, especially if you were well connected while you were there. In the process, it took me years – and for the sake of my own conscience, I had to answer every single question (“Oh yeah, but what about …?”) that was put to me.

Acknowledgements page, “Roman but Not Catholic”
Acknowledgements page, “Roman but Not Catholic”
That is a key reason why I’m able to write about Roman Catholicism today the way that I do. Roman Catholicism has been a life-long learning process. And so, if you look (not too hard) at the image nearby, from the Acknowledgements page in “Roman but Not Catholic”, you’ll see that my name is mentioned there, ahead of some fairly well-credentialed individuals.

That’s just one of the reasons why I’m just simply elated about this whole project. While I don’t agree with the authors on every point, the line of reasoning in this book has in many ways not only paralleled my own journey out of Rome – following the work of many Roman Catholic scholars – but it has improved upon it with a kind of logical and scholarly rigor that I just don’t have the resources to bring to the table.

Dogmas still on the books?

Just yesterday, I was reminded in a Facebook discussion that “the official theology of the RCC in areas like ‘transubstantiation’, ‘created grace’, ‘indulgences’, ‘merit’, the ‘super-treasury of merit’ and papal control of ‘purgatory’ still exist. And Rome holds entirely to the decisions of the Council of Trent.” Moreover, the councils of “Lyons & Florence (directed against the East) and Trent (directed against the Reformation) and Vatican I (directed against all non-RCs) … are in FULL force.”

That is all well and good, and these doctrines are still on the books. But this isn’t at the heart and soul of Roman Catholicism today. This kind of thinking reminds me of the days not long after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, when Mikhail Gorbachev was still President of the Soviet Union, but Boris Yeltsin had been elected president of Russia, and there was no real “Soviet Union” to speak of any more. That fearsome enemy had crumbled invisibly before our eyes.

I think that Roman Catholicism is in that same kind of position. Back in the early days of the “Pope John Paul II” papacy, I remember reading a book about the transition of popes, from “Pope Paul VI” to “Pope John Paul I” to Karol Wojtyla at the time. I think it was Malachi Martin’s “The Final Conclave”. What was striking was the minor detail that “Pope Paul” had kept a copy of Norman Mailer’s “The Naked and the Dead” on his papal bookshelves.

In case you haven’t read “The Naked and the Dead”, you may want to cover your eyes, as there is a spoiler ahead.

What was curious to me, even at the time, was that Mailer’s work portrayed a young Jewish soldier on an island in the Pacific during World War II. The bulk of the novel was a preparation for attacking the Japanese enemy on the other side of the island. There were scouting parties and major movements prior to the battle. There was also a lot of fear and ennui as the young soldiers talked about their girlfriends at home. But (spoiler here): when the battle finally started, there was no Japanese enemy on the island. They had fled, and there was not really a battle. All of the preparations – wise though they had been from a military perspective – were not needed.

The Naked and the Dead

That is the position that I think Roman Catholicism finds itself in. The reality of the situation is that some 95% of those who call themselves Roman Catholics now feel free to disregard Roman Catholic teaching on some point such as birth control or going to confession regularly or the belief in transubstantiation.

And for those who do care about such things, there is now a pope in charge who wants to further change the rules in favor of those who don’t really believe them.

Rome may have been a fearsome enemy in the middle ages or in Reformation times or in Vatican I days. But like the old Soviet Union, like the much-feared Japanese army in Mailer’s novel, they have invisibly faded away. Maybe not so invisibly. Just this morning, a friend of mine sent me this article by “Fr. Dwight Longenecker”, a former (and married) Anglican priest, who converted to Rome. He is one of the few happy priests who (a) gets to call himself a priest and (b) gets to wear the colorful vestments and (c) gets to have sex legally. I think this trifecta accounts for his happy hopefulness.

But the article itself is not on a hopeful topic. It’s about “Pope Benedict and the Coming Catholic Realignment”, and it concludes with a long quote about some talks that Ratzinger had given:

Pope Benedict and The Coming Catholic Realignment
Pope Benedict and The Coming Catholic Realignment
Ratzinger said he was convinced the Church was going through an era similar to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. “We are at a huge turning point – he explained – in the evolution of mankind. This moment makes the move from Medieval to modern times seem insignificant.” Professor Ratzinger compared the current era to that of Pope Pius VI who was abducted by troops of the French Republic and died in prison in 1799. The Church was fighting against a force which intended to annihilate it definitively, confiscating its property and dissolving religious orders.

Today’s Church could be faced with a similar situation, undermined, according to Ratzinger, by the temptation to reduce priests to “social workers” and it and all its work reduced to a mere political presence. “From today’s crisis, will emerge a Church that has lost a great deal,” he affirmed.

“It will become small and will have to start pretty much all over again. It will no longer have use of the structures it built in its years of prosperity. The reduction in the number of faithful will lead to it losing an important part of its social privileges.” It will start off with small groups and movements and a minority that will make faith central to experience again. “It will be a more spiritual Church, and will not claim a political mandate flirting with the Right one minute and the Left the next. It will be poor and will become the Church of the destitute.”

This, according to the happy hopeful “Fr. Longenecker” “is the re-alignment. We should not fight it”, because, as he said, “it is fantastic because God does not forsake his church”. Longenecker is happy because “the younger generation of Catholics don’t really have a clue what the fuss was about. The young people who have kept the faith are, for the most part, simple, by the book, faithful Catholics.… The young priests aren’t liberal. The young nuns and sisters aren’t liberal. The young seminarians aren’t liberal.”

There are, in fact, not very many young priests or nuns at all. There were more probably 500 priests serving more than 200 parishes in Pittsburgh in the 1960’s. It is projected that there will be only 48 parishes and 112 priests in the next several years. That is a precipitous decline.

Yes, God will always protect his church, but the Roman Catholic Church is not “the Church”. I think Roman Catholicism is more like a bad dream that was allowed to sweep into history, and thankfully, it is on its way out now, probably faster than we know, like Mailer’s Japanese army and the old Soviet Union, one more relic in the ash heap of history, Lyons and Trent and the papal infallibility Vatican I all rolled up into one bad nightmare.


  1. The RC Church is growing in Africa like Crazy though maybe not Pittsburgh I think Fr. Longenecker had in mind the situation there rather than in the US. What do you think? I also wonder if the African church will go into schism if Rome and the Vatican keeps going liberal?

    1. "Growing like crazy" is a relative term -- other Christian bodies are also "growing like crazy", and as more information such as that contained in "Roman but Not Catholic" becomes more available, I'm sure that those in African churches will have the good sense to understand what that means.

      I wouldn't want to speculate as to what Longenecker had in mind. Roman Catholicism is not "growing like crazy" in Latin America, where evangelicalism (and Pentecostalism in particular) is sucking up the "former Catholic" population.

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    1. Thanks Stephen. I had never actually looked into that. I sent a "letter of resignation" to my pastor at the time. Never heard back from him.

  3. As I pointed out many times here, we know from Scripture that in the last days there will be a massive apostasy in the Church. Thus, an exodus of faithful and rampant heresy will necessarily be present also in what is materially a true Church. Furthermore, many Marian apparitions and private revelations warned about imminent coming of the apostasy - in light of this the heresies of Vatican II and V-II (anti?)Popes are not in least bit surprising.

    It is also a dogmatic teaching of the Church that a formal heretic is outside the Catholic Church. Thus, a formal heretic cannot be a Pope, even if he is elected unanimously by all cardinals - such an election is null and void (as Pope Paul IV taught infallibly in Cum Ex Apostolatus Officio). Even if he sits in a white robe in the Vatican and is widely considered to be Popes, it does not matter in case he is a formal heretic. Same goes for apostate bishops of Vatican II church. Although sedevacantism/sedeprivationism cannot be proven with certainty without Church declaration (theoretically there is a possibility that V2 claimants to the Papacy are just material heretics, however improbable it is - the evidence for their apostasy and denial of most essential Church's teaching is overwhelming), it is most likely true.

    Thus, while Protestants are correct in pointing out the current crisis and heresies in post-Vatican II "Catholic" theology, they draw incorrect conclusion from it. They claim in demonstrates "contradiction" within Catholicism, while in fact it is the opposite - it confirms that the Catholic Church is the True Church of Jesus Christ, many private revelations amd prophecies associated with it, especially the current apostasy, were fulfilled (most strikingly, Fatima), and Satan actively tries to destroy it from within, mainly through the means of Freemasonry and liberals. Obviously, God did not leave his Church and raised people like Archbishop Lefebvre to save the only true Mass (Traditional Latin Mass) and Catholic teaching by opposing the errors of Vatican II and the New Mass.

    As Bishop Sanborn explained (Most Holy Trinity Seminary Newsletter, X.2012):
    "In our Catholic churches and other institutions, what do we find? A group of people who have lost the faith, and have replaced it with their pluralistic, naturalistic, modernistic, and dogma-less ersatz “catholicism,” with no unity of faith and no identity with the Catholic Church of before Vatican II. They attempt to use the Catholic structure as a vehicle of their new religion, but this vehicle fails to move. The Catholic Church, founded by Christ, and faithful spouse to Him, will not permit itself to be used as an instrument of error. The result? Disintegration, decomposition, destruction of religious life, closure of Catholic parishes, schools, novitiates, and seminaries, a reign of heresy everywhere, a general loss of faith and piety,blasphemous and sacrilegious liturgies, immorality of the clergy."

    1. Or, a simpler more elegant and parsimonious possibility is that the Church of Rome is not what it claims to be, viz. the true Church holding to the ancient and constant faith of the universal Church. This is a possibility that, when combined with Protestantism, preserves the glory of God, the integrity of the Scriptures and the reality and indestructibility of the church.

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    3. I've hesitated to make the comparison to Hal Lindsay's "attack helicopters".

    4. I just browsed through the comments on Amazon for the book, and right under your comment, was Dave Armstrong throwing in his 2 star critique. Very predictable tripe, as I could of guessed who wrote it without the name preceding the "review".

    5. You may have seen all of his points addressed in the comments below his review.

  4. 20 percent of Hispanics in the USA say they have no religion.