I firmly believe that, sooner or later, each and every convert to the Catholic faith—whether that person chose to become Catholic as an adult or was brought into the faith as a baby by his parents—is going to have to face the scandal that the Church is not what he believed it to be when he signed up. The test will be whether he will persevere because he knows it to be the Church Christ founded, or whether he will fall away because he decides it is merely a human institution that has disappointed him.
In my own case, I was baptized and confirmed in the Catholic Church in 1996. A couple of years later, I lapsed. I didn’t reject the Church, but I stopped going for about 18 months. At the time, it was my non-Catholic parents who urged me to start attending church again. They didn’t particularly care for the Catholic Church, but they appreciated the change for the better that they had seen faith give me. In retrospect, I consider this lapse a grace, because it has acted as something of an inoculation against a more spectacular fall—one I readily admit could well have occurred after the explosion of the clergy abuse scandal in the U.S. in 2002. If I hadn’t just returned to the practice of faith a couple of years previously, who knows whether my faith could have withstood the scandal’s assault that shattered the faith of so many others?
But that doesn’t mean that I haven’t been challenged by the Church. Political ideals I took for granted to be correct I discovered were not always in line with the teaching of the Church. Prominent Catholic clergy and other teachers of the faith I respected and admired either suffered spectacular falls of their own or jumped the rails of Catholic orthodoxy to greater or lesser degrees. Even the ordinary obligations of being a Catholic (e.g., going to the sacraments, times of fast and abstinence) occasionally can challenge natural concupiscence. As our pope emeritus, Benedict XVI, once said: “The ways of the Lord are not comfortable, but we were not created for comfort, but for greatness, for good.” Benedict’s brother Msgr. Georg Ratzinger made the same point more colorfully: “It can’t be all peace, joy, and pancakes.”
I got to thinking about this because news has arrived that the Church recently lost another prominent convert: Magdi Allam, the Muslim journalist who was baptized by Benedict XVI in 2008, taking the baptismal name “Christian.” Catholic journalist and author John Thavis reported:
A prominent Muslim-born journalist baptized by Pope Benedict XVI, Magdi Allam, has announced he’s leaving the church [sic] because it is too “weak with Islam.”
Allam, writing on his Web site, said the “euphoria over Pope Francis” and the rapid way Pope Benedict was set aside was “the straw that broke the camel’s back” and convinced him to abandon his conversion to Christianity….
[Allam] said it was “true folly” that Benedict had prayed in a mosque in Istanbul, and that Pope Francis, in one of his first speeches, said that Muslims “worship the one, living and merciful God.”
In Allam’s case, it appears that his source of scandal was twofold: He disagreed with a prudential action undertaken by Pope Benedict, something he was free as a Catholic to do; and he disagreed with a restatement of ordinary Catholic teaching by Pope Francis, something he may not have been sufficiently catechized enough to know was a statement drawn from a document of the Second Vatican Council (cf. Lumen Gentium 16).
We don’t know and cannot speculate on whether there were other factors at work in Allam’s fall from the Church. All that can be done is to pray for him for his eventual reconciliation with the Church and to learn from his story.
We can never take faith for granted. It is a gift freely given, and one that must be accepted each day. That is why it is a pious Catholic devotion to make regular acts of faith. In this Year of Faith, let us not forget to nurture the faith that has been given to us with constant recourse to the sacraments (especially confession and the Eucharist), with continuing adult education in the Faith, and with regular acts of faith. Here is one common Act of Faith you might wish to keep handy when the assaults on your faith begin:
O my God, I firmly believe that Thou art one God in three Divine Persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; I believe that Thy Divine Son became man, and died for our sins, and that He will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe these and all the truths which the Holy Catholic Church teaches, because Thou hast revealed them, who canst neither deceive nor be deceived. Amen.