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Come over here and say that

August 11, 2017

Austen Ivereigh, in one of the most embarrassing essays Crux has ever run, recently smeared seven talented Catholic commentators as suffering from ‘convert neurosis’. Not once in passing, but repeatedly, Ivereigh uses ‘neurosis’ and ‘neurotic’ in regard to some seven writers, Ross Douthat, Daniel Hitchens, Carl Olson, Edward Pentin, Rusty Reno, Matthew Schmitz, and John-Henry Westen. Ivereigh even offers a primer on what “neurosis” means, suggesting a war-scarred woman’s throwing herself to the ground when later stopped by a policeman as, one supposes, an example of how ‘convert neurotics’, supposedly being persons given to extreme reactions to un-realities in the Church, might behave.

While an expert in psychology can tell us whether any of these men are, in fact, “neurotic”, and an expert in morals can tell us whether Ivereigh’s employing and Crux’s circulating of such labels against brothers in the Lord meets any standard of decency in Christian discourse, Ivereigh’s constant referral to these Catholics as “converts” draws my attention.

Ivereigh’s description of several figures (Douthat and Reno as former Episcopalians, Olson as a former Protestant fundamentalist, and Hitchens and Pentin as former Anglicans) plus what I gather about Westen (a once fallen-away Catholic who went through an atheistic period) and Schmitz (who talks respectfully about his days as a Protestant), suggests that not one of them, not one, would, under American catechetical criteria, qualify as “converts” at all—let alone as neurotic ones.

According to the (US) National Statutes for the Catechumenate (November, 1986) no. 2 (my emphasis), “the term ‘convert’ should be reserved strictly for those converted from unbelief to Christian belief and never used of those baptized Christians who are received into the full communion of the Catholic Church.” Number 3 reiterates that this “holds true even … [for] baptized Catholic Christians … whose Christian initiation has not been completed by confirmation and Eucharist” (Westen) and [for] “baptized Christians who have been members of another Church or ecclesial community and seek to be received into the full Communion of the Catholic Church” (the other six authors).

Now perhaps the circles Ivereigh runs in ‘over there’ do not bother with this important distinction among persons entering into full communion, and I grant that some Catholics ‘over here’ might still show ecclesial insensitivity by referring to separated Christians coming into full communion as “converts”, i.e., as if they had not been baptized. But, as most of the men Ivereigh chastises are Americans, and as the American bishops are trying to get American Catholics to think more accurately about these things, I thought Ivereigh’s outdated and inaccurate use of the word “convert”—to say nothing of his abuse of the tragedy that is “neurosis”—worth noting.

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