David Mills, a former Anglo-Catholic, who crossed the Tiber 17 years ago has a piece up at Crux entitled Newcomers to the Church Should Listen More and Speak Less that continues what many perceive as the “convert bashing” that began with this piece by Austen Ivereigh, for which he has apologized.
The short versions of the two posts is: “converts” ought to shut up. Why? because somehow cradle Catholics have a secret decoder ring to The Catholic Thing that newcomers lack and therefore any criticisms of the current state of play in the Church come from their “baggage” carried from their previous church. I dunno. When surveys show most cradle Catholics don’t even believe in Real Presence, disregard teachings on contraception, and hold many other beliefs contrary to official Church teaching, I wonder what cradle Catholics he’s referring to that seem to have grasped the full Truth of being a Catholic.
Well, David Mills speaks for himself, and it may have taken him a while to grasp from the inside such things as Mary as Mother, but does he presume all the critics described by Ivereigh haven’t deepened their conversion as much as he has or even deeper than he has? Ivereigh wrote in Pope Francis and the Convert Problem:
Now it is quite possible that elegant commentators such as Ross Douthat and Matthew’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.
Do none of those listed “get it” the way he does? Are Massimo Faggioli and Austen Ivereigh as examples of cradle Catholics who do. What about Robert Royal? Cardinal Burke, to name a prominent American cradle Catholic?
But of the real Catholic mind or imagination – the Catholic paradigm, the way Catholics see the world – he knows little. The new Catholic must work for many years to get that, and never will get it fully.
Most converts, as I wrote in The New Oxford Review, will never think and feel exactly as do cradle Catholics. They do by instinct what we will always do by analysis followed by choice.
For a long time, and perhaps a very long time, the convert will see the Catholic Thing as you see a garden through a bay window, not as you see it when you’re standing amidst the flowers. He sees its design and beauty, but doesn’t feel the sun or smell the flowers or enjoy walking barefoot on the grass. Nor does he know what it is like to get caught in the rain or stung by a bee, or to spend hours weeding. He has to spend many years outside to know what life in the garden is really like.
The second example relates more closely to Faggioli’s and Ivereigh’s concerns. Converts tend not to have a sense of the Church as a living body moving through history. Our instinctive ecclesiology is more static, more a matter of settled rules to be obeyed than a life to be lived.
Converts may believe in the development of doctrine, and in fact include it as one of their reasons for converting. I did, but for a long time I didn’t see how it works.
Converts don’t trust it, because the process includes a lot of confusion and error. It requires something more like mobs arguing in bars and battling in the street than the genteel discussion around the table in an oak-paneled room they imagine.
It includes a pope who might speak ambiguously and challenge the Church to explain and defend practices thought settled in their present form, while being the Holy Father to whom submission is due.
We will tend to react to any questioning of the boundaries and feel the hard cases dangerously risky. We hold more doctrines to be settled than are actually settled, and dislike open questions.
There is a great division among Catholic theologians about how this living Body moves through history—whether the truths of Revelation transcend history and are true for all times and all cultures (though of course may need to be explained in new or fresh ways) or whether history and some kind of Hegelian dialectic makes Revelation a process and where history or experience are right up there with Scripture and Tradition. And, in fact, trump Scripture and Tradition.
Tracey Rowland’s book Catholic Theology was helpful for me to understand these various trends.