That’s How Bad Protestantism Is

From the file of why you’d never think of becoming Protestant even when Roman Catholicism has fallen so far. Rusty Reno keeps it real depressing for those not Called to Communion:

The present pontificate has sown confusion, division, and conflict. Francis is advancing a doctrinally suspect revision of the discipline for divorced and remarried Catholics. This affects a vanishingly small percentage of churchgoers. Yet he presses forward against objections, apparently because he wants to empower those who seek a wide-ranging concordat with the sexual revolution. Meanwhile, as he hails the inauguration of a more pastoral and inclusive Church, he spews invective and denounces critics. He seeks to influence the secular politics of capital punishment, immigration, and global warming while ignoring the theological poverty and spiritual corruption of the supernatural body of Christ. In all likelihood, Francis will precipitate a deep and destructive crisis in the Church. That’s been his modus operandi throughout his clerical career, evident during his tenure as Jesuit provincial in Argentina. Again, this is demoralizing.

One friend publicly announced his departure from the Catholic Church. Another friend tells me he won’t go to Mass in a church that protects the likes of McCarrick. Many others wonder how they can persevere as faithful Catholics when it’s increasingly clear that this pope is ­unworthy of their loyalty and respect.

That is not much of a pitch for becoming Roman Catholic.

But it so far superior to Protestantism that Reno would never consider becoming Protestant (even though he was one once upon a time):

Catholicism is the font of nearly all Christian witness in our societies (Eastern Orthodoxy provides some exceptions). Some of that spiritual potency has spun out of the orbit of the Church of Rome, to be sure, but it carries her DNA. As John Henry Newman observed as an Anglican, Catholicism “has ­preoccupied the ground.”

When one is lost, it is wise to retrace one’s steps and return to the starting point and begin again. This is why we need always to return to Christ, who is the Alpha and Omega, and to the apostolic fellowship that stretches from his Resurrection to the present in the continuous life of his bride, the Church. The more disoriented we are, the more we need to return to the original source of our faith, which in the West means drawing closer to the Roman Church. These are difficult times. But for precisely this reason, Catholicism is for me more essential. It is the source of consolation and strength amid our collective failures.

My counsel, therefore, is simple. In this season of corruptions revealed and teachings betrayed, we must not underestimate the sheer fact of the Church: the unceasing prayers of the faithful, the witness of her saints, and the reality of Christ present in the sacrifice of the Mass. The corporate body of Christ sustains us, even amid clerical betrayals, even in the face of our own doubts, mediocrity, and sin.

In this understanding of Christianity, corporate and institutional expressions matter. You need that visible continuity from Peter to Francis to see where Christianity is, to be in fellowship with Christ. When Protestants merely talk about spiritual continuity or spiritual succession, I imagine you get snickers in the editorial offices at First Things.

Except, Rome’s institutional edifice came way way after Jesus. The patriarchate of Jerusalem makes a much better claim to institutional/formal continuity with Christ than Rome (and what of Mormons’ claim that Jesus came to North America and minister here for centuries?). Plus, the Bishop of Rome himself did not begin to consolidate Christianity in the West until the seventh or eighth centuries — hardly the church Jesus founded, unless you want to appeal to the spirit of Christ’s founding.

Wait.

The oddest part of Reno’s lament and apology is what he says implicitly about the evangelical and Protestant writers, readers, and staff of his magazine. Protestants are second-class believers compared to Roman Catholics who have all the rock of Peter bling. At what point do Protestants object to such patronizing dismissal?

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How Did the Laity React to the Council of Nicea?

Surrounding the news and criticism of Roman Catholic bishops in their responses to instances of sexual abuse by priests (and other officials) are calls for the bishops to be as holy as they should be and for the laity to be included in some mechanisms of accountability. What is strange about these arguments — especially by Roman Catholic laity — is what questioning of the bishops does to the entire justification for Roman Catholicism. Critics of the bishops seem to assume that in the case of the current scandal, the bishops have behaved badly and acted unwisely. But if bishops can show such deficiency now, couldn’t they also have been unwise, acted out of self-preservation, or outright erred when deliberating about liturgy, the creed, or the beatification of exceptional believers? I mean, once you start to question the bishops’ judgment on this one matter, you can question almost any part of Roman Catholic history going all the way back to the church that Jesus founded (not in Rome but in Jerusalem).

Michael Sean Winters does not seem to be aware of how his reaction to the recent meeting of the U.S. bishops in Baltimore could also be applied to the gathering of bishops at Nicea almost 1800 years ago:

On Nov. 12, Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, the president of the conference, expressed his disappointment when he announced the Vatican’s decision to delay any votes on concrete proposals to confront the clergy sex abuse crisis. At the coffee break, bishops were fuming, complaining that Rome had pulled the rug out from under them. Even those bishops who are most enthusiastic about Pope Francis were distressed, worried that he did not understand the media spotlight under which the bishops were laboring.

But, when the bishops began discussing the proposals on Nov. 13, it quickly became obvious that the proposals were ill-conceived and would have fallen apart on their own, without any help from Rome. Erecting a national oversight commission, at considerable expense and with additional bureaucracy, to monitor 200 bishops, very few of them likely to have broken their vows of celibacy, didn’t seem very practical once they began discussing it. The proposed commission would report allegations to the nuncio but that happens now and no one had bothered to ask the nuncio if he wanted a commission to help him in his work. The Standards of Conduct seemed poorly framed and vague. The whole thing seemed amateurish.

Were the proposals at Nicea ill-conceived? Was the use of Greek philosophical terminology to explain the relations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit amateurish?

By the way, who is a Michael Sean Winters to judge his bishops? After all, even when Vatican II affirmed the laity as the “people of God” in Lumen Gentium, the bishops were quick to remind readers who remained in charge of the church (Jesus founded):

27. Bishops, as vicars and ambassadors of Christ, govern the particular churches entrusted to them by their counsel, exhortations, example, and even by their authority and sacred power, which indeed they use only for the edification of their flock in truth and holiness, remembering that he who is greater should become as the lesser and he who is the chief become as the servant. This power, which they personally exercise in Christ’s name, is proper, ordinary and immediate, although its exercise is ultimately regulated by the supreme authority of the Church, and can be circumscribed by certain limits, for the advantage of the Church or of the faithful. In virtue of this power, bishops have the sacred right and the duty before the Lord to make laws for their subjects, to pass judgment on them and to moderate everything pertaining to the ordering of worship and the apostolate.

The pastoral office or the habitual and daily care of their sheep is entrusted to them completely; nor are they to be regarded as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs, for they exercise an authority that is proper to them, and are quite correctly called “prelates,” heads of the people whom they govern. Their power, therefore, is not destroyed by the supreme and universal power, but on the contrary it is affirmed, strengthened and vindicated by it, since the Holy Spirit unfailingly preserves the form of government established by Christ the Lord in His Church.

If Winters is within his rights as a church member to take swings at the bishops or if he is right about the lack of discernment by the bishops themselves, the Roman Catholic Church is in a crisis of jaw dropping proportions.

In That Church with This Editorial?

As much as the world of Roman Catholicism remains mysterious, this excerpt from Commonweal seems like a case of changing the subject. At a time when many Roman Catholics are wailing and gnashing their teeth over the latest sex scandal (the case of Theodore McCarrick), the editors at Commonweal decide to keep the attention on President Trump:

The mesmerizing farce of the Trump administration —its scandals, lurid intrigues, and flagrant lies—can easily distract us from the many ways this president and his party are making life harder for vulnerable Americans. While we all attend to the latest antics of President Twitter, his appointees and congressional allies are quietly punching holes in the safety net that protects millions of people from destitution.

One way the GOP is trying to deprive the poor of public assistance is by imposing strict work requirements on the tenants of public housing and recipients of Medicaid. In January, Seema Verma, who runs the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced that the Trump administration would begin allowing states to require most non-disabled adults to work as a condition of Medicaid coverage. In late June, a few days before the first such work requirement was to take effect in Kentucky, a federal judge blocked it, ruling that the Trump administration had been “arbitrary and capricious” in approving Kentucky’s plan without making sure it was in keeping with Medicaid’s stated purpose of “furnish[ing] medical assistance” to the poor. “The record shows that 95,000 people would lose Medicaid coverage,” the judge wrote, “and yet the secretary [of Health and Human Services] paid no attention to that deprivation.” The judge was right, but he may yet be overruled by a Supreme Court too solicitous of states’ rights and too deferential to executive authority.

Now, it could be truly that the scandal of Trump is much more momentous than the allegations against a cardinal and former archbishop of The District. But if you believe in the world to come and that the church, unlike the United States, is the institution that is best equipped to get people into heaven (or purgatory for the righteousness-challenged), wouldn’t the story of one of the apostles’ successors be a bigger deal than a depraved POTUS’ welfare policy?

Again, I don’t know Commonweal as well as I might, though I have read and used many of its essays and columns about the Roman Catholic Church for my own writing and teaching. It is a readable magazine with thoughtful writers (I could do without E. J. Dionne) on a variety of subjects, from the arts to church life.

The other problem is one of jumping on the bandwagon. With all the kvetching about scandalous priests and lack of accountability for the bishops, do the editors at Commonweal have anything new to say?

At the same time, the allegations surrounding Theodore McGarrick and its implications for Rome’s oversight are so potentially toxic that one would think editors of a Roman Catholic publication would want to put some distance between themselves and their hierarchy.

Meanwhile, Bryan and the Jasons got zip, nada, zilch.