For some time now, the comment has been coming from the direction of Pope Francis’s supporters and defenders that papal critics often are converts. For some reason, that seems for them to be a defect. Austen Ivereigh, among others, has now put this argument in the form of an article for Crux: “Pope Francis and the Convert Problem.”
Although Ivereigh first insists that he “loves” converts, he comes out with a sweeping comment about many of the prominent papal critics:
Now it is quite possible that elegant commentators such as Ross Douthat and Matthew [Schmitz]’s boss Rusty Reno (both former Episcopalians), or, at the rougher end, writers such as Carl Orlson (ex-Protestant fundamentalist) and John Henry Westen (ex-atheist), or indeed ex-Anglicans in my own patch such as Daniel Hitchens of the Catholic Herald and Edward Pentin of the National Catholic Register in Rome, are all correct in their readings. But it is a lot more likely that their baggage has distorted their hermeneutic, and they are suffering from convert neurosis.
As Ivereigh explains, “[a] neurosis is a pathological or extreme reaction to something that simply doesn’t correspond to reality.” In following this line of argument, the author claims that many converts tend to lack humility in not accepting changes within the Church and in clinging to the Church from before the Second Vatican Council. He also quotes one of his sources as saying many converts “have converted mainly because the Church teaches things that match their ideological outlook.” To sum up his depiction of those “troublesome converts”: they converted in order to have the Church adapt to their own “fixed” views and in order to make sure the Church acts according to their own ideas.
Since I myself am a convert, and since I happen to know some of the journalists here named, I would like to make a short response to this sort of argument.
Notably, one could turn it the other way around. Since converts (and it is not right to call John-Henry Westen that, since he is a cradle Catholic who strayed for a while as a youth) have lived outside the Mystical Body of Christ for much of their lifetime, they soon come to know or at least to glimpse how dark it is outside God’s Grace. They do not take the Catholic Faith for granted, but are deeply grateful for the gift they have received. Most probably, some of them have lived a life not in accordance with the Ten Commandments and have now turned their lives around and have come to see how good God’s laws are for us – even seeing that the Laws of God are acts of love – how conforming to such laws make us truly free. These converts have seen (and experienced) the moral disorder in the world and have recognized the beauty and goodness of a life in accordance with God’s laws – His “manufacturer’s instructions,” as it were.
That is part of the strength shown by these converts now. In this regard, we could include those cradle Catholics who have strayed from the Faith for parts of their lives and have returned. I know that John-Henry Westen, as well as Steve Jalsevac, his colleague and co-founder of LifeSiteNews, both have spoken publicly and gratefully about their reversion. They, too, know how it is to be, by their own choice, outside the Mystical Body of Christ – outside of which, as Hilaire Belloc said, there is only darkness.
We who have seen the difference between such light and dark might be now prone to fight fully with our lives for Christ’s Truth because we are, in a sense, good witnesses for it. It is out of our deep gratitude that we wish to give back to Christ for His forgiveness and love and grace.
Thus, in my eyes, it is those who have sinned and converted who are now sometimes the strongest witnesses for the Faith, especially since Pope Francis likes to be so attentive to the sinner and to those at the margins or “at the outskirts.” I myself lived two thirds of my life “at the outskirts.”
Let us now consider what would happen if we all were not converts to the Catholic Faith, but cradle Catholics. Would this save us from Ivereigh’s (and others’) rebuke for our criticism of Pope Francis?
Would we then not fall into the category – often used by the pope himself – of those “self-righteous” and “pharisaical” Catholics who always “went to Church on Sunday” and who “always kept the Commandments” and thus look down upon the sinner with that “judgmental eye”? Would we thus be more convincing or more trustworthy if we were cradle Catholics?
As we now talk about cradle Catholics, we realize that even this argument about hypocrisy does not hold. Since Steve Skojec himself is “one of those” (cradle Catholics), let me remind our readers that he is one of the most forthright and outspoken authors when it comes to acknowledging (modestly) his own defects and sins. I once said to him that, due to his own humility and openness about his own weaknesses, he certainly does not fall under the category of those “priggish” and “haughty” Catholics who, with contemptuous condescension, look down upon a sinner.
But then, who does that at all?
The cradle Catholics I work with in the defense of Christ’s teaching – here and abroad – are filled with the love of Christ and are apt always to keep the spirit of charity. One of the greatest traditional minds of France, Arnaud de Lassus – a father of seven children and one of the great supporters of the Pilgrimage of Chartres, who was friends with my own husband for decades – was known for his intellectual clarity and human charity toward his opponents. I myself can testify to that attitude and disposition of heart, because when I first met him, I was a “practicing agnostic.” He treated me most kindly and then gave me a Green Scapular. I might someday find out just how many graces I received through his deeds of kindness and truthfulness.
Others of those cradle Catholic colleagues of mine have undergone tragedies in life. They have suffered losses, endured injustices, and also sometimes fell.
That is what makes us all human. We are but weak beings who need God’s abundant help, His truth and His supernatural grace. He helps each of us to work his individual salvation, and He asks us to help others work out their own salvation.
As Father John Hardon, S. J., used to say to my husband, “we will be finally judged by our acts of practical charity, by how many people we helped get to heaven.” It is this spirit that guides us. And in this sense, the injustices thrown at us disproportionately, seemingly in a desperate attempt to find some argument to undermine our sincere work, will only help us further on our path. Let us then offer up these humiliations for the conversion of sinners, for the good of the Church – and for the greater glory of God.