Re-joining the Roman Catholic Church

Several times in the past months on YAR, I’ve noticed people mention in passing we could re-join the Roman Catholic Church* if we don’t like the idea of dividing over differences of belief and/or practice. I haven’t heard this idea anywhere else, but maybe I’m not listening hard enough. Is this an option many YARs or other Mennonites consider to be a valid and even attractive option?

Someone mentioned common objections Anabaptists have against the RCC, namely heirarchy and gender issues. I know Catholics who quit tithing to the RCC when the priest-sex-abuse scandal broke because they don’t want their tithes to become part of a payout. Then you’ve got infant baptism, obligatory First Communion, war, lgbtq, transubstantiation and the list goes on.

What is attractive about the RCC? I think I might “get” part of it, having visited many Catholic cathedrals, monestaries and schools, and having read Cloister Walk, but other aspects of “what it might mean to be Catholic” turn me off. Each congregation will vary, of course. There’s just something freaky to me about the idea of one human non-God person (the Pope) making declarations that all living people in that church are supposed to follow. Do any Catholics still believe the Pope is error-free anymore? I’m sorry if that seems flippant or dismissive, but it’s a real question. But then, sometimes we Anabaptists live like we believe a committee is error-free, so maybe it’s no different.

As much as I cringe at the writings of some popes and bishops on the issues of gender and lgbtq, I wonder how much it’s really different in Anabaptist churches. We’ve got our own baggage. Some of us can remember when men and women sat apart in church. Some of us still wear the clothes that declare to the world “I believe in specific gender roles!” Why would I cringe to be associated with expressions of the same thing in the RCC, when it doesn’t horrify me in the same way in my own denomination? Or is it not the same thing?

I’ve heard some Catholics complain even American Protestants have more respect for the Vatican than many European RCC priests. Maybe it’s more fun to be Catholic there.

*If my sources are correct, the “Catholic Church” includes more than the RCC. It is also the Greek Catholic, Byzantine Catholic, and sometimes Anglican churches. Yes, I am familiar with the “worldwide” definition of “catholic.”

**If this post seems unfocused and rambly, my apologies. I’m mostly trying to get the discussion started.

Comments (4)

  1. DanL

    Glad to see this post Skylark. I can offer maybe a little bit to the discussion, as I am constantly moving between what the Catholic and Mennonite churches. In my journey in and out of Christianity, I credit the Catholic church with keeping me in the fold. My favorite Christians tend to all be Catholic- Oscar Romero, Mother Teresa, Dorothy Day, Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, GK Chesterton (sorta), Gustavo Gutierrez, etc…

    I think this is the issue. I crave the community and social ethics of the Mennonite church. The emphasis on peace and pot lucks. The hymns, the room for something egalitarian. The move for something less institutional. The emphasis on simplicity and connecting to the land. The suspicion of wealth and power. The emphasis on humility and the upside-down kingdom, etc…

    But I can’t “connect” spiritually in the Mennonite church. I crave liturgy. I crave to be able to use my body in prayer. I crave the Eucharist. I crave the symbolism and art. I crave the room for mysticism and mystery.

    This has been especially true lately as I feel spiritually dead (I’m not exactly sure what that means). I don’t feel any connection to God, Jesus, Holy Spirit. When I felt spiritual screwed up before this was ok, because despite whatever I was feeling I could always fall back on the motions of liturgy and eucharist. But I can’t find this in the Mennonite church. If the community fails you, and you fail yourself, we are left with nothing but angst and rebellion.

    So I guess I’m one of those high-church Mennonites. I also sometimes wonder if I’ll end up Catholic in the end of all this. The Catholic church is screwed up, but so is the Menno church. And the pews of the Catholic church have significant diversity of race, class, and gender. I’ve found nothing more beautiful than the African Catholic church. It feels less Roman. Obviously.

    So yeah I’m a high church Mennonite.

  2. j alan meyer

    I certainly can’t speak for others who have written about re-joining the RCC, but here’s what I mean when I say it. While I certainly respect (and somewhat agree with) what DanL is saying, I’m not considering actually joining the RCC, or any other Catholic church. The point is this: As you say, “if we don’t like the idea of dividing over differences of belief and/or practice,” then why aren’t we part of one universal catholic church (often symbolized by the RCC)? The Bible is pretty clear about the importance of the unity of the Church, and that there should be no divisions among the believers. So if we don’t want to divide, then shouldn’t we be able to live with the differences (even those characteristics that you don’t like about the RCC) and worship together?

    Obviously the question is setting up somewhat of a false dichotomy. But it’s a good reminder of our temptation to think, “Well, the divisions in the past were necessary, but now we should all be able to embrace diversity and worship together without more splits.” What’s the middle ground between maintaining the wholeness of the Body of Christ, or dividing and splitting over every little thing?

  3. Skylark (Post author)

    I heard a broadcast on NPR a few days ago about the Tridentine Mass and how some Catholics are divided over it. DanL, what’s your perspective on variations of Mass? I’ve heard some people say the Tridentine Mass is more mysterious and reverent, while others complain it’s all in Latin, the priest faces away from the congregation, and no one can hear him. It sounded like the Tridentine Mass was less about participation and more about observation. Have you experienced both that mass and a more modern version?

  4. Spencer

    As a Catholic, I can’t speak to the specifically inner-Mennonite issues, but I can answer your specifically Catholic questions.
    1) Catholic dogma (in Vatican councils 1 & 2) declared that the Pope is infallible (incapable of erring) when making definitive dogmatic pronouncements under very specific conditions. First, he has to be making a declaration about Christian faith or morals. Second, he has to declare it as universal pastor of the whole Church. Third, he has to to be doing it in virtue of his Petrine office (not just bishop of Rome or Patriarch of the West, for example). Canon law says that he has to make it clear when he is invoking this gift of infallibility. In other words, the Pope is infallible under very specific conditions, and not all the time. Vatican II did say, however, that Catholics owe a certain amount of respectful obedience to the Pope (and their own bishop) even when he is not speaking infallibly.
    2) The Tridentine Mass, for those who love it, is about participation in the Mass of an equal kind by both priest and laity. Folks who dig the Tridentine Mass tend to think of the priest facing in the same direction as the faithful, rather than away from them. For these folks, the Tridentine Mass actually relativizes the importance of the priest in a way.

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