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What to do when converts convert (again)
Posted By Eric Sammons On June 13, 2011 @ 9:09 am In Ecumenism,Evangelization | Comments Disabled
News broke this weekend that Episcopal-turned-Catholic priest Al Kimel, who used to run the blog Pontifications , was to be received into the Orthodox Church on Pentecost Sunday . Fr. Kimel gained blogging fame a few years ago when he detailed his journey into the Catholic Church after 25 years as an Episcopal priest. Now he has left the Catholic Church to become Orthodox. In some ways this parallels the path of well-known blogger Rod Dreher, who converted to Catholicism in the 1990′s, then became Orthodox a few years ago.
Whenever someone converts to Catholicism after seriously practicing his previous faith, there is among Catholics a great rejoicing. We are happy that the convert has accepted the fullness of the Christian Faith and become mystically united with us in the Eucharist. We are confirmed in our own beliefs because usually these converts only come into the Church after much soul-searching, intellectual study and deep prayer.
However, how should we react when the same convert – who clearly knows and loves the Christian Faith – later leaves the Catholic Church? How do we handle the “double-convert”? This is a much more awkward time, and often one does not know how to react to it. Here are a few reactions one will encounter, each of which I would consider deficient:
1) Disparage the intellect or the emotional make-up of the double-convert.
This is the most common reaction in the blogosphere. People will call the double-convert’s reasons “worthless” or “intellectually bankrupt” or claim that the person is emotionally unstable. Unfortunately, this works both ways – if the person is emotionally unstable now, who is to say he wasn’t unstable when he converted to Catholicism? If his reasons are worthless for becoming Orthodox, why were they not so when he became Catholic? People convert for a wide variety of reasons, and no one can ever know ALL the factors that go into a conversion. The fact remains that some emotionally stable, intellectually capable people leave the Catholic Church. We may not like that fact, but it is dishonest to deny it.
2) Strongly imply (or explicitly state) that the double-convert is going to hell.
You’ll sometimes see Catholics in this situation quote a Church document that states that one who leaves the Catholic Church is doomed to damnation and leave it at that. Yes, it is true that one who knowingly and with full consent leaves the communion of the Catholic Church cannot be saved (Lumen Gentium 14). However, simply quoting Lumen Gentium or Pope Boniface VIII does nothing to help bring reconciliation. We can (and should) acknowledge the seriousness of leaving the Church, but we cannot make a judgement on the soul of another person. We do not know their understanding of the Faith, nor the state of their heart when they decided to leave the Catholic Church – only God can judge them. Catholic moral teaching as always stated that one must give full consent of the will and have full understanding of one’s actions in order to commit mortal sin – and only God can know when this occurs. We are obliged to acknowledge the grave seriousness of leaving the Catholic Church, but must do so without declaring the certain damnation of those who do leave.
3) Act like leaving is no big deal.
On the opposite end of the spectrum of those who damn the double-convert to hell are those who minimize the importance of leaving the Catholic Church. “Well, he is following his heart”. Or, “I understand why he left and God will surely be with him in his new church”. The problem of minimizing someone leaving the visible bounds of the Catholic Church is that it leads to a false irenicism which considers the Catholic Church just one of many legitimate Christian denominations. But as Catholics we must acknowledge the uniqueness of the Catholic Church: even though the Orthodox Churches and many Protestants are united in some (deficient) way with the Catholic Church, it is only in the Catholic Church that Christ’s Church subsists. We do not want anyone to leave the Catholic Church for any reason, for we know the Catholic Church, although made up of sinful human beings, is the best and fullest way to follow our Lord Jesus Christ.
So how should we react whenever someone leaves the Catholic Church? In these situations Catholics should be filled with humility. First, because we must acknowledge that the sins of Catholics – including our own – help drive people away from Catholicism. We must strive every day for holiness so that we are never even a remote cause of another person leaving the Catholic fold. Second, because we realize that it is only by the grace of God that we are Catholics ourselves. Whether we were baptized Catholic as an infant, or converted later in life, it is a gift of God that allows us to be Catholic – it is not in any way a merit of our own doing. And it is with this humility that we approach the double-convert: praying for his soul and encouraging him to join us in drawing closer every day to our Lord.
Article printed from Divine Life – A Blog by Eric Sammons: http://ericsammons.com/blog
URL to article: http://ericsammons.com/blog/2011/06/13/what-to-do-when-converts-convert-again/
URLs in this post:
 Pontifications: http://pontifications.wordpress.com/
 received into the Orthodox Church on Pentecost Sunday: http://www.kendallharmon.net/t19/index.php/t19/article/37002/
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