Reconciling with a Catholic Priest in California, Some Thoughts on Roman Catholicism

As I was trying to bounce back from a false accusation I approached a Catholic Priest I was disrespectful to at one point seeking forgiveness; this is his response. Plus this overlooks my history in Roman Catholicism, as well as the positives aspects of the Catholic faith and the remaining issues that still need to be worked out.   My question to the Roman Catholic church is this…with the chaos in modern evangelicalism  especially in regards to Neo-Calvinism, does the Catholic church understand the opportunity before them?

“A little bit of mercy makes the world less cold and more just.”

Pope Francis

“We do not really want a religion that is right where we are right. We want a religion that is right where we are wrong. We do not want, as the newspapers say, a church that will move with the world. We want a church that will move the world.”

G.K. Chesterton

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.

Matthew 16:18 RSVCE

stanthony

St. Anthony’s of Padua in Fresno, California

This is going to be a very reflective post I have been meaning to finish this article as I have been sitting on it for a while. As there is a lot to cover let me get started with reviewing my family’s history in the Roman Catholic faith.

 

My History in the Roman Catholic Faith

I grew up in a family that has that strong Irish and Polish roots. My Dad’s side of the family I believe traces its history back to County Kerry in Ireland. It’s history is present in the Irish community in Butte, Montana. Meanwhile  my Mom’s side of the family, which comes from the Brighten and Cermak streets in southwest Chicago at the time, was Polish Catholic. Chicago is home to one of the largest Polish communities outside Poland. When I was growing up in the Catholic faith people often did so because of national ethnic identity; meaning if you were of Italian, Spanish, Polish, Irish descent you were Catholic for ethnic reasons.  I grew up in the Roman Catholic community in Fresno, California. I went to elementary school at St. Anthony before transferring to Starr Elementary. My family attended St. Anthony’s of Padua. It was at St. Anthony’s where I received First Communion, the Sacrament of Reconciliation and participate in CCD. There were also a couple of funerals that I had observed in St. Anthony’s to include a close friend from my youth.  Some of my Dad’s relatives were involved in St. Therese also in Fresno. Today my parents are involved in Holy Spirit in north Fresno near Woodward Park. Growing up I also attended San Joaquin Memorial, which is a Catholic high school. There I was taught by Michael Danks Ferguson, Brother George, Connie Ostland, and Sister Kathleen.   When I grew up in the Catholic church in Fresno the household names that I heard where individuals like Monsignor Flood, Monsignor Peterson, Monsignor Logan, and Father Pat McCormick.

I attended a Catholic college in Helena, Montana called Carroll College and it was there that I pushed away from the Catholic faith. In many ways I didn’t see the application or necessity of the Catholic faith. Plus when I was involved in the Roman Catholic faith there was such a strong social justice aspect that flirted with liberation theology. I heard so much about Archbishop Romero that I felt guilty about the tragedy that happened.  In college I was drawn to the Mormon faith and found that attractive due to the serious nature of faith and the Mormon lifestyle which I found appealing. However, I eventually pushed back from Mormonism and for a brief time returned to the Roman Catholic faith. It was during this time that I found the charismatic Roman Catholic faith. I attended services in Sacred Heart. In time I eventually pursued evangelical Protestantism. In Fresno I got involved in Campus Crusade for Christ at Fresno State and soon after Fresno Evangelical Free Church which you can read about in “A Personal Reflection on Fresno Evangelical Free Church; Known Today as The Bridge Fresno

 

Reconciling with Father Simas in my Faith Journey

In 2009 I started to have a prolonged faith crisis. What drove the faith crisis was intense doubt over many issues, with the biggest being the problem of evil. I explored the atheist community in Washington, D.C. and even went to the largest atheist event in United States history – The Reason Rally on the National Mall in 2012. It was in that frame of mind that I sparred with Jason Simas, a Roman Catholic Priest,  on Facebook a couple of times as I recall. On a quick side note, today Father Simas serves at St. Joseph in Nipomo in San Luis Obispo County of California. I did this under the Christopher Hitchens mindset, as a I clashed with many Christians of all stripes. But there was another ongoing problem that was transpiring. During this time I was also being recruited by a co-worker to get involved in the final Sovereign Grace Ministries church plant in the Washington, D.C. area as the scandal happened in 2012. It is called Redeemer Arlington, and this blog is committed to writing about this church. Andrew White an Air Force Captain who graduated from the Air Force Academy befriended me in the process.  Sometimes he pleaded, and begged me to come, but he also claimed to love me. When I looked closely at Sovereign Grace Ministries I could not believe the depth of corruption hemorrhaging out of this organization. It included issues such as allegations of child sex abuse cover up, people calling it a cult, and other criminal allegations to include C.J. Mahaney allegedly employing blackmail on his ministry partner to make Sovereign Grace reformed.  I was stunned at what I was being invited to, but as the conflict escalated between Andrew and myself I was unprepared for what would happen in May of 2013. Andrew turned around and gave birth to a false accusation that threatened my name, and employment, and he used his military rank to pull it off. I entered the darkest season of my life, and in the process when I saw how a military officer abuses their authority, I now understood why rape and sexual assault is a serious problem in the United States military.

It was in that context that I decided to approach what would be 140 people in my life and seek forgiveness and make amends. It was in that context that I approached Father Simas in the May 2013 timeframe. Remembering how I provoked him, I decided Jason was one of the many people I had to reach out to. So I sat down late one night at my computer in the kitchen and wrote Father Simas a note asking for forgiveness for what I said a few years prior. Below is the response that I received.

 

Dear David,

I hope that every word I write here will be encouraging and comforting, so if I fail, please forgive me as well. Yes I forgive you! And please forgive me as well for my past selfishness, cowardice, and pride. If you haven’t uncovered Ephesians chapter 4 yet, please take a look at it; this affirms your current general direction with respect to anger and forgiveness. “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for edifying, as fits the occasion, that it may impart grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” Sorry if I’m offering unwelcome counsel when all you asked for was forgiveness.

From your words regarding seeing the difference between human action and Christ, shall I presume that you essentially feel scandalized when Christians do not treat each other as brothers and sisters when that is what they are and what God calls them to do? Please explain what you think is the source of your anger. Some are angry at God for permitting suffering and evil. It seems that your anger is more toward people for not practicing Christianity faithfully. Please let me return to this.

The final breaking point for my own faith, which has since been resolved in Christ’s peace and joy, was the fact that I was a fundamentalist which couldn’t simultaneously believe in evolution and Christianity. The Holy Spirit led me to discover that both were compatible. I found that, both reason and the Catholic Church permits the interpretation that evolution was a means of God’s creative power. In general, the Church teaches that Reason need not be abandoned by a person of Faith. “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth; and God has placed in the human heart a desire to know the truth—in a word, to know himself—so that, by knowing and loving God, men and women may also come to the fullness of truth about themselves (cf. Ex 33:18; Ps 27:8-9; 63:2-3; Jn 14:8; 1 Jn 3:2). (Google ‘Fides et Ratio’).” That’s my story, and I am now a firm believer in the truth of Christianity, including the existence of heaven and all the mysteries of the Faith.

The Epistles of Paul contain alot of evidence that early Christians struggled with the challenge of living faithfully the life that Christ himself exemplified. In human history until the time of Christ, the values of society were growing toward selfishness instead of brotherhood. The “good life” was to have as many servants as you could, to not do anything for yourself, to be as a God with people even to wash your feet. Christ came and was a stumbling block for the direction of society; he washed his disciples feet and told them that the King of Heaven and Earth came not to be served but to serve. The impact of Christ changed the direction of society, but it is always difficult for us to be faithful to Christ, to seek not to be served, but to serve. “But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave; even as the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20).”

I hope this much has helped stoke your heart to continue your journey to be united with Christ and to his less than perfect followers. I would be happy to continue our conversation if you desire. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope (Romans 15).”

 

Positives About Roman Catholicism

There are many things about Roman Catholicism that I indeed appreciate and want to highlight. These are some of what I think Roman Catholicism does exceedingly well.

  1. The Roman Catholic faith does an amazing job in working with the poor. I can not think of another Christian faith system that dedicates so much time, energy and effort into serving the poor. Jesus was incredibly clear on the least of these, and in this sense I think the Catholic church understands this better than many forms of Protestantism (with the exception of the Salvation Army). The church I believe should be remembered for its work with the poor. How many people are fed? How many people are given refuge? How many people are assisted in times of need? As I write this my mother has been spending time in the hospital dealing with a medical emergency. I am grateful she is Catholic as I wonder if my Mom would get the same level of attention or concern from a Protestant church today.
  2. The Roman Catholic church has a gem with Pope Francis. He is incredibly unifying, serving, loving and has a great vision for the Roman Catholic faith. I hope many Catholics realize the profound Pope they have at the helm. When I think of Pope Francis I have a profound amount of respect for him, and that is so much more than I can say about individuals like Franklin Graham.
  3. The embrace of science by the Roman Catholic faith is indeed healthy. I am a firm believer in evolution and I find it attractive that the Catholic faith has already overcome and dealt with these issues centuries ago. Today many evangelicals are fighting needless wars that the Catholic church has resolved in its past. Science is key to enlightenment and civilization I believe. Where would we be without modern medicine? Or biology or astronomy? This embrace of science is one of the best features about the Catholic faith.
  4. There is a positive side to the issue of Mary, and then a darker side which I will touch on below. Is the reason why women have more worth and value in Catholicism due to the fact that many Catholics are reverent to Mary? Due to how Catholics treat Mary are women held in much higher esteem? In Protestantism there is a major problem with domestic abuse, and all one has to do is look at the teachings of John Piper who once taught that women are to submit to their abuser. But is the role that Mary plays in the Catholic faith result in a faith system that treats women with respect and part of the human race?
  5. The Catholic church I would suggest can have a greater understanding of grace than the evangelical Christian church does. The Catholic church lets people grow in their own manner and own way. That differs sharply with the evangelical Christian church which seems to want to orchestrate and control how a person grows. After all as I have written about sanctification takes place over a lifetime and I believe many evangelicals forget about that fact. The Catholic church by their “hands off” approach gives people a lot more room to grow, develop and mature, in their own way.
  6. Evangelical Christianity has parts that mirror contemporary culture, and one of the biggest problems is when evangelicals make youth an idol to worship. In some evangelical churches you can not find older people beyond 40 in some congregations. In some evangelical churches older people can and have been forced off the worship teams. This, I don’t believe is a problem in the Roman Catholic faith.
  7. The last point I want to write about is that in the Roman Catholic faith, with the exception of the Pope, and perhaps the Arch Bishop or Cardinals,  there are no celebrity pastors to contend. The evangelical industrial complex does not exist. This I believe is due to the low profile that many Catholic Priests have. They are rotated often as I understand it and do not have the same platform. In the Roman Catholic faith you won’t find individuals like Matt Chandler, David Platt, Mark Dever, John Piper, or C.J. Mahaney demanding to be the center of attention. Narcissism is a major problem in parts of the evangelical Christian world. So in the Catholic faith you will be spared of this problem.

 

A Few Issues Still Remain in the Catholic Faith

There are a few issues that still remain that I want to touch on in regards to Roman Catholicism. These are some of the issues the Catholic church should continue to address or resolve: 

  1. The top of the list is the child sex abuse scandal which I believe is still playing out. While the church has grown and is learning to do better I think the church is struggling to deal with its dark, recent past. The issue still reveals itself in the news from here, here, and here. But there are other deep concerns…has the Roman Catholic church paused to consider how this situation is creating atheists and turning people away from the Catholic faith?   What should be mandatory reading for each and every Catholic priest is a book I read in my faith crisis. Its written by the former religion reporter for the Los Angeles Times named William Lobdell. In “Losing My Religion” he talks about covering the child sex abuse scandal for the newspaper while converting to Catholicism. The depth of corruption eventually resulted in him ceasing his conversion and from his perspective helped him to see how corrupt Christianity is. William Lobdell’s book is a journey from Christianity into atheism. And you can see the role that the child sex abuse scandal played in that process. He also published his story on the front page of the Los Angeles Times which was deeply followed and read.
  2. Liberation Theology is another deep concern. While social justice is good, and the mission of all Christians, the entrance into politics by those advocating liberation theology has blow back, in the most incredible ways. It taints the church, it hurts the poor, and it hurts a lot of people in the very end. Liberation Theology should be reigned in for the good of many.
  3. There is a positive side to Mary which I have featured up above. Now here is the darker side to Mary.  When I was growing up I seemed to notice and observe that some Catholics had more faith in Mary than Jesus. I noticed a few Catholics who would be zealous about their Rosary but indifferent to praying to the Lord. That baffled me when I was growing up, and it was one of the reasons why I pushed back from Roman Catholicism. I think this issue is slowly changing but this is something that out of my desire to be fair need to write about.
  4. Closed communion especially when it can be denied to people who have engaged in serious sin, is another thing that troubles me. I used to understand it when I was younger, but today in light of the problems coming out of the Roman Catholic faith for the past decade and a half detailing child sex abuse cover up and more; I think the Catholic church has lost authority in this issue given its own sins. I have had some extended relatives who have struggled with this due to issues like divorce and more which I intend to go into next.
  5. Not long ago I learned of someone who I loved who when asking for last rites was told by a Catholic priest that she was going to hell for not following the churches teaching on divorce and re-marriage. It turned out she gotten involved in a couple of marriages that were filled with domestic abuse, and it became the reason why she initiated the divorce. Getting out of the abusive relationship was not easy. But this person toward the end of her life received incredible distress from the Catholic church when it was not needed. I have been pondering this issue a lot because in the recent past I have heard over a couple additional instances where other failed marriages also dealt with the issue of domestic abuse as well. The Roman Catholic church needs to have greater understanding and sympathy for people who are dealing with domestic abuse. They need more training, awareness, and working with law enforcement. This is not a complicated issue.
  6. The final point of concern is more of a point to help the Catholic church. The RCIA process needs to be mellowed out for older Catholics who earlier in their life once left the Catholic faith. If an older person wants to return to the Catholic faith they should be able to do so with ease. There should not be any significant obstacles placed that can keep a person away. This last point plays greatly for what I am about to say next.

 

Some Concluding Thoughts on the Roman Catholic Faith

I do not know if the Roman Catholic faith knows or understands but in 2017 they are sitting on an incredible opportunity. Today in evangelical Christianity there are two movements of people out of that faith tradition into the Roman Catholic faith and the Eastern Orthodox faith. You can read about this at blogs like Internet Monk, but its especially key to notice that evangelical Christianity is today in a crisis for many reasons. One side of evangelical Christianity is burned out and tired of the culture wars, and the ways some evangelicals have mixed the Gospel with politics.  This side of the evangelical faith system is exhausted of being told that to be a Christian means you also have to vote Republican and support candidate x because they are endorsed by people such as Franklin Graham or James Dobson. Younger evangelicals are so tired of the culture wars and the engagement in politics that many want it to end. That is why individuals like Russell Moore in the Southern Baptist Convention are popular with younger people.

On another side of the coin is the growth of Neo-Calvinism which is really nothing more than Fundamentalism 2.0. Its legalistic, controlling, and teaches a version of God’s sovereignty that is nothing more than determinism. This blog has written heavily about such issues in Neo-Calvinism especially in regards to churches like Matt Chandler’s The Village Church in Dallas, Texas; or Darrin Patrick’s church The Journey in St. Louis, Missouri. These and many other churches are often embroiled in scandal after scandal and people are getting hurt and fried. Spend some time at Ex-Christians.net and other websites to read the baggage from this movement.

I write all this because its my hope that the Catholic church can listen and learn from these issues to grow and accommodate these individuals. I have been amazed by how from time to time I hear from someone who used to be involved in this side of evangelicalism who has rejected it and gone the Catholic route. In order for the Catholic church to be effective they need to be cognizant of what is going on in other streams of Christianity. In  that sense they can be open and receive those people and give them some comfort in the process. Earlier in my life I was very jaded about  the Catholic church but today I have a deep amount of respect for that faith system. Despite the issues above I am honestly hopeful for the Roman Catholic faith and wish it well. I think the Catholic church has an incredible amount of potential, and can be a force multiplier for good. These issue in evangelicalism are ongoing, and I hope the Catholic church comes to understand the role that they can play for many others. Its with that being said, I will now sign off. Again I love you guys, take care!

8 thoughts on “Reconciling with a Catholic Priest in California, Some Thoughts on Roman Catholicism

  1. Do you know Michael Voris and his ‘Church Militant’ programs? I am very interested in RC as an outsider trying to learn all about it, but Michael and his people seem to (rather convincingly) present the church as almost hopelessly messed up and off course…..I wish I could find sensible ideas through all of the questions bouncing around out there….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Bruce! Michael Voris is notably a little over-the-top at times. I’d highly suggest starting with any of the four following instead:

      1. Bishop Barron YouTube videos (commentary on movies, books, theology, news, etc.) – https://catholicreligionteacher.com/fr-barron-videos/
      2. Fr. Mike Schmitz (excellent iTunes podcasted homilies, articles, and videos) – https://catholicreligionteacher.com/fr-mike-schmitz/
      3. Anything from Catholic Answers (Catholic.com), especially their Catholic Answers Live shows –
      4. Catholics Come Home – http://www.catholicscomehome.org

      And a bonus 5th: https://catholicquotations.com/soul-snacks/

      🙂

      God bless you!

      In Christ,
      Greg Aitchison

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thanks for the tips Greg! I have a lot of Bishop Barron’s DVDs and writings, and they are beautifully done; Catholic Answers I shall follow up on…I can see Church Militant is on the conservative side of things, but they also make a pretty convincing case for how the post Vatican II / ‘Church of Nice’ has driven away so many people such as myself, who see such alarming contradictions within the establishment church…Being a New Yorker I follow Cardinal Dolan and Father Jonathan Morris rather closely, and the (once again) horribly ignored gay priest scandal in NYC right now and recent ‘outreach’ to Gay Catholics, which seems to me to be WAY beyond any sort of ‘inclusion’ concept, makes me wonder just what is really going on within the Church at this point. I find it rather disturbing, especially how little of these stories are even seen in the press any longer..How the top leaders in the Church can just ignore some of these issues is a bit much for me to take, especially after the last couple of decades (and more) that have proven so damaging 😦

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  2. What are your problems with liberation theology? It seems to me the only thing that redeems the church after the conquest of the new world by Columbus. I might add reading 1491 killed my faith and my desire to pursue the Catholic church further.

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    • I am rusty on this but in Central and South America as I recall there were elements of the Catholic church that advocated conflict and taking up arms in the name of social justice. Its kind of self defeating when you consider it in the long term. If I am wrong then please correct me.

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    • In the Eighties, Liberation Theology (especially in Latin America) syncretized with Marxism. Like many such blendings of Christianity with something else, the something else ended up dominating. I remember the Social Justice types in Azusa Newman Center during this period; the most “on-fire” of them ended up Marxists with Christian terminology — Marx, Lenin, and Castro as a de facto New Trinity with Reagan as an Antichrist figure.

      This syncretism drift/cross-contamination was why John Paul II (who had experience with end-stage Marxism) shut them down HARD in the mid-to-late Eighties, setting down a policy that clergy could not become directly involved in politics. (Note directly — they could encourage laity to become involved/hold office.)

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