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Being Faithful to an Irritating Church

Trent Horn

Audio only:

In this episode Trent offers advice for how to handle members of the Church who act in callous or uncaring ways.


Welcome to the Council of Trent Podcast, a production of Catholic Answers.

The Council of Trent podcast. I’m your host, Catholic Answers apologist and speaker, Trent Horn. And today I want to talk about what do you do when you’re just irritated at the Church? What do you do when you’re a Catholic and you feel like the Church has wronged you? Not necessarily through abuse or through criminal activity, but through heartless bureaucracy, seeming like the Church just doesn’t actually care about you? What do we do with that? The reason I want to bring this up is because I read an article by Steve Skojec recently called Against Crippled Religion. So Steve is the founder of OnePeterFive, And for about the past seven, going on eight years, he’s been critical of Pope Francis’ Pontificate and elements of the church that have seemed to have gone astray. And a lot of people will tell Steve, “Look, if you’re worried about the church just being bonkers and weird, find a good traditional parish. Go to the Latin mass. Things will be fine.”

But recently Steve has been saying, “Nope, that’s not a refuge from the heartless things that happen in the Church either.” And so he shares this story and it really affected me because I’ve had these stories as well, including one recently that, it’s funny, people will say to me, “Trent, how do you keep your cool when an atheist or a pro-choice person yells at you on Catholic Answers Live, or when you’re at a college campus doing a debate and college students are protesting and yelling at you?” And I’ll say, “It’s easy. It’s easy to keep my cool, because I don’t know these people.” I’m like, “Okay, being a little weird, but all right, let’s talk this through.” Strangers can rarely hurt you at the level that a loved one can, that a family member can. So that’s why when it’s a member of your own biological family or a member of your spiritual family, these kinds of heartless things or callous things, it hurts so much because you say, “We’re family. We don’t do that to each other.”

And we feel that way when especially a priest or an administrator at a parish treats us in this way, in a heartless bureaucratic way. It hurts so much because, come on, we’re Catholic. We shouldn’t be doing this. When I was about to marry Laura, my parents had to sign an affidavit in the presence of a priest saying that I had never been married before, because if I had been and it wasn’t annulled then my marriage to Laura wouldn’t be valid. But my parents aren’t Catholic. So they went to a church. I said, “Don’t worry, just go to a nearby Catholic church. They’ll work with you.” And I was sure the priest would just sit down with them, they’d sign the affidavit, that would be that. And so they went, my dad’s Jewish, my mom hasn’t been back to the Catholic Church in decades. And the lady at the front desk said, “Sorry, we can’t help you unless you’re a registered parishioner. The priest won’t witness you signing this affidavit unless you’re a registered parishioner at this parish.”

My parents tried to explain, well, they’re not Catholic. They can’t register as a parishioner because they don’t even go to mass. And she said, “Sorry, we just can’t help you and we don’t know another Catholic Church that would be able to help you.” And it just boiled my blood because I want to get my parents to either go to mass or come back mass and the first thing they deal with is this stupid heartless bureaucracy. And so it filled me with anger, and I still have a tinge of it and it’s something I’ve had to work to find peace about. Maybe you’ve been in this situation. I’m not talking about full on abuse, but a heartless, callous, or dull or dense bureaucracy where the love and common sense and prudence of Jesus Christ should be. And so it’s hard when someone sees that. And so I understand where Skojec is coming from in this essay he wrote. I’m going to read you a part of it.

So he said basically, he’s talking about how he was spiritually abused when he was younger, found a traditional parish, thought everything would be fine but, “My young, inexperienced, and frankly arrogant pastor overstepped his canonical authority and denied sacraments to my children, a baptism for my soon to be born son and a first holy communion for my eight year old. Why? Because my family hasn’t been physically present at our parish enough during COVID for his liking even though there’s a dispensation in place. His reasoning reached entirely without a second consultation with me is that he’s not sure my children are getting a good Catholic upbringing. He has never so much as once reached out to myself or my wife to express this alleged concern and had to be chased for months to get an answer about sacraments in the first place.” And then he goes on talking about he doesn’t know anything about our home life.

I think Skojec on his blog has talked about how he takes the COVID precautions really seriously, and he’s actually been disenchanted with some of the traditionalist elements of the church that don’t take COVID as seriously. But he’s also mad because he goes to a Latin mass parish, and it’s typical of Latin mass parish, every Latin mass parish I’ve come across is in a bad part of town and it’s really small, and it just seems really unfair to the really devout people who are going there that actually it’s so small usually Steve and his family have to be in a waiting room watching mass on a TV. And I felt this way too during the pandemic. We went to church, we had to go downstairs and watch it on a TV with other people because we couldn’t be upstairs because of capacity limitations and it didn’t make sense. I said to Laura, “Why are we coming here to church to watch mass on TV and we can’t even receive communion when we could be at home watching it live streamed.” It doesn’t make any sense to me.

And so I get that feeling of being upset. This doesn’t make any sense to me and having that anger welling up. But here’s the thing, that anger wants to find a target in our hearts and wants to spread like a cancer and it wants to turn a good emotion, which is the desire for something that’s unjust or wrong or imprudent, to be fixed. It wants to take that good desire and turn it into vengeance and misery and heartlessness. So here’s some things that have helped me to deal with these feelings of frustration. And by the way, I’m not commenting directly on Steve’s story and his situation because that’s just Steve’s testimony about it. If the pastor were here, he might say, “Hey, actually, this is the whole story.” Or it might clearly confirm Steve’s account? So I’m not commenting on his particular situation. I want to comment on the feelings that he has because I’ve experienced that as well, that unfairness, that cold and heartless bureaucracy, that inefficiency, being illogical.

What do we do with those feelings? Because Steve seems to be teetering a little bit on his commitment to being Catholic. It prompted the Catholic philosopher Ed Feser to write an article called Do Not Abandon Your Mother. I’ll read from that shortly. But another Catholic author Rod Dreher, who’s the author of The Benedict Option, it’s a good book to talk about what Christians should do if society is crumbling around them. But I don’t wholeheartedly endorse Rod Dreher because Dreher is a Catholic who has left the faith, he’s become Eastern Orthodox. And he did it primarily because of the sex abuse scandals, which Feser points out in his article. Now later on, Dreher has come to say, “Well, I have issues of the papal infallibility,” things like that, but I think it was primarily this emotional disgust, rightfully so, what’s happening in the Church that led to a wrong decision, which would be leaving the Church. So here’s some things that have helped me.

First, don’t let it get blown out of proportion. We have a tendency to fixate on the bad things and forget about the good things. I do this a lot. If I go on vacation with my family, Laura will say, “How was it? Did you enjoy it?” I say, “Oh, this went wrong. This went wrong.” Two things wrong and I can’t remember all of the good things. And that happened with us when we go to mass or we know priests. If you think about, if you were to write down every priest you’ve ever interacted act with in your entire life, the vast majority would be passable or good. They’re good. A priest is good if he gives me Jesus and doesn’t give me grief. He’s a good priest. He gives me Jesus and he doesn’t give me grief. Now, if it’s grief that I sinned and I need a spiritual kick in the pants in confession, that’s the kind of grief I want. But not illogical, inefficient, or weird grief.

So the vast majority of priests, if you wrote all their names down, I bet they’ve been good or even great and the ones that were bad or heartless or cruel or callous or foolish, they would be in a very, very small minority. But we fixate on those negative things. It’s like when you go online and you’re shopping, we look at the reviews. What’s really hard is that people are more likely to leave a negative review than a positive review. Think about the times that you really enjoyed something like, “Oh, that was great.” It doesn’t give you enough of the fire inside to want to go through the effort to log on, leave a review. But if you’re mad about something, it’ll give you the energy to leave negative reviews everywhere. I remember when Laura and I were looking for an apartment in California when we first got married and we were moving to San Diego. We could barely afford an apartment in California.

So we were looking for one in El Cajon and the area we were looking in was not that nice of a neighborhood. So I looked at all the apartments and there were so many negative reviews online. “They are drug dealers here.” “Landlord’s terrible.” I’m like, “Ah, man, where are we going to find a place to live?” And I finally found one apartment complex that did not have a single negative review. And I thought, “Wow, I hit the jackpot.” And then we moved in and it was terrible. It was noisy. The lady across the street yelled one night, “I don’t know why the police are mad! She was on my property when I stabbed her!” But here’s the thing, there were no negative reviews because the apartment manager gave everybody what they wanted. If they wanted an extra garage, an extra parking space, the apartment manager gave everybody whatever they wanted and even more so to avoid negative reviews, but in doing that, created actually a really dysfunctional place because the rules weren’t being followed.

There were negative characters that were showing up there. It was a really bad place. So in trying to keep the church functioning to meet people’s needs and especially that look, we’re the laity, not the customer. We’re not always right. Sometimes we demand things of our pastors that are just totally unreasonable, that in order for the church in trying to meet everyone’s needs there are going to be times where, just like in our criminal justice system, innocent people are punished and you can’t avoid that unless you just get rid of the justice system, which would be a horrible world to live in. You might complain, “Oh, I hate cops and I hate the courts. I don’t want to deal with that.” Try living in a place without them. My wife did missionary work in Honduras for a summer and they basically had no police. There was a guy who was assaulting people in the village that she was volunteering at. They called the police. The two cops came up, they beat the guy up bloody, and they drove away. And that was it. And it’s scary.

So when you have a system designed to help people, these bureaucratic things or heartless things or people who are bad who can take advantage of the system will be there. The question is, is it worthwhile? Is it worse to throw the entire system away? And when the system is the church that Jesus Christ established, of course, it’s going to be worse to throw it away. Because when you get rid of it, the world can’t give you any satisfying alternative because it cannot give you the bread of life. It cannot give you the water of regeneration and baptism. It cannot give you absolution of sins in confession. No matter how bad a priest that you have, the sacraments are [foreign language 00:11:09], as long as they are performed validly they will give us grace. They will take away sin. They will fill us with Christ’s spiritual life. And that is what we seek after.

Saint Peter Canisius in the Counter-Reformation, so shortly after Luther and all that, he’s called the second apostle to Germany after St. Boniface in the earlier Middle Ages. St. Peter Canisius was dealing with a world where the clergy, a lot of them, were really poorly formed. They had mistresses. Some of them couldn’t read. Parishes were run poorly. It was an awful environment. And so what Saint Peter Canisius said is, “Look, if you were starving and I had a basket, but the basket was dirty and grimy but it had freshly baked bread in it, would you not take the bread from that basket even if the basket itself was grimy and dirty? If you were starving, you would want the bread to eat.” Another example that I’ve given is if you were walking down the road and you found a diamond ring in dog poop, what would you do? You would hold your nose clean off the dog poop, and wow, you’ve got a diamond ring here.

Now, you’d want to return it to its owner. If you couldn’t find it, well, hey, you’ve got yourself a nice little treasure. The same thing happens within the church when we experienced this, and we should always resort to prayer. Cast our anxieties on God and say, “God,” First Peter Five, “I’m having a hard time with your church here. Please give me peace and pray for the people involved who don’t understand the harm that they’re causing.” Finally, I want to leave you with what Ed Feser says in his essay, Do Not Abandon Your Mother, on his blog. He says, “It is easy for writers whose focuses on politics and current events to be too easily scandalized and impatient. This is probably especially so of us Americans. Our shining city on a hill idealism demands perfection in our institutions, leaders, and fellow citizens. When we don’t get it, our can do mentality wants a solution to the problem and wants it now. When satisfaction isn’t forthcoming, our don’t tread on me mentality threatens to throw the bums out when we can and to pick up our marbles and go elsewhere when we cannot.”

Well, this is simply not how Divine Providence works as scripture and church history may clear. Christ repeatedly warns us that we will face suffering, persecution, martyrdom, false teachers, and a degree of wickedness that will threaten to make our charity wax cold. And this is part of the deal when we take up our cross and follow him. Why are we surprised when it happens? Do we suppose that he didn’t really mean it? So a lot of times the biggest trials we’ll face as Catholics won’t come from without. It will come from within to test our faith. So here’s the question. Are we going to abandon our spiritual family or are we going to recognize we have one faith, one hope, one baptism, one church established by Jesus Christ and to take the anger inside and turn it out to God in prayer?

And we can always say, “Look, no matter what’s being thrown at us that makes us angry, we can go to the blessed sacrament and we can pray before Jesus Christ himself and offer our frustrations to him and pray for the Church and to pray for ourselves as well for when we are heartless, when we are callous, when we are cruel, when we are indifferent.” And always remembering that our renewal of the Church, it’s always going to start with us and our own family. So I hope that was helpful for you all. I’ll leave the links to these articles in the description of the video below. Thank you guys so much. If you’re listening on podcasts, be sure to go and check out those links and subscribe to our videos on YouTube at Council of Trent. And also, if you want to support everything we’re doing, be sure to go to TrentHornPodcast.com. Thank you guys so much. I hope you have a really blessed day.

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