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Rod Dreher should come back to the Catholic Church

April 7, 2015

Rod Dreher has been on a roll lately, one good column after another. I don’t much respond to Dreher’s essays because, beyond a “Yup, sounds basically right to me”, I don’t see much to add. But reading a couple three Dreher’s essays in short order this week, and looking forward to his piece in Time, has put me in mind of something I’ve thought about several times over the years in his connection, and I need, at least once, to say it, so I will: from one Catholic with a public profile to another Catholic with a public-er profile, Rod Dreher needs to come back to the Catholic Church. Mind, I hope that any Catholic who has left the Church (quietly and aimlessly as do most, impetuously and pointlessly as do some, or publically and articulately as did Dreher), comes back, but Dreher’s unusual profile and his good sense on so many other points prompts this particularized call.

The Second Vatican Council, in its dogmatic constitution on the Church stated “the Church, now sojourning on earth as an exile, is necessary for salvation. Christ, present to us in His Body, which is the Church, is the one Mediator and the unique way of salvation. In explicit terms He Himself affirmed the necessity of faith and baptism (Mark 16:16, John 3:5) and thereby affirmed also the necessity of the Church, for through baptism as through a door men enter the Church. Whosoever, therefore, knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ, would refuse to enter or to remain in it, could not be saved.” Lumen gentium (1964) 14, emphasis added.

The Council was not engaged in posturing or rhetorical flourishes here; it was speaking with uncharacteristic bluntness about the necessity, for salvation, of membership in the Catholic Church for those “knowing that the Catholic Church was made necessary by Christ”. I read no man’s soul when I opine that an intellectual’s conversion to the Catholic Church and his active presence in it for a decade suggests that, at some level, he has come to realize the soteriological necessity of the Catholic Church. Thus, I think Lumen gentium speaks directly to Rod Dreher.

Frankly, as a life-long Catholic who has seen pretty much anything Dreher saw and who has unquestionably put up with more than Dreher ever suffered (if only in terms of the liturgical insanity and catechetical nonsense of the ‘60s and ‘70s, which I suffered through, and Dreher didn’t), I may be forgiven for wondering why Dreher’s experience of the Church in the ‘90s excuses his departure without demanding the departure of all others for the sake of their integrity, but that verges toward soul-reading, and such is not my point. To what others have said to and about Dreher’s departure, and notwithstanding Dreher’s doubling down on his leaving the Church, I can only add that there is no reason or pretext for leaving the Catholic Church that Jesus himself did not know was coming, and yet He told us who would love Him to join it and to serve within it. Especially in her dark and darker hours.

As for the mechanics of coming back into full communion, they are simpler than was the case in the 1917 Code. A priest and/or canonist with more specific information on specific situations can advise, but basically, reconciliation today is largely a sacramental affair, expressing contrition for having left and for having set a bad example for others, and receiving absolution therefrom.

Dreher’s departure column declared that he would not talk about his decision further. He has, to some degree at least, honored that promise. Likewise, I’ve said my say on this matter, and I don’t plan to revisit it.

Update: I had offered some thoughts on Dreher’s departure back in 2006, perhaps worth recalling here.


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