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Conversion Story: From Atheist to Catholic

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R.J. Stove - published on 10/11/14

It won’t have escaped readers’ notice that the time I formally entered the Catholic Church was the very period at which the gutter-press’ crusade against "pedophile priests" entered its first vociferous phase. Some may wonder how this crusade affected me. My answer is that it hardly affected me at all (though the scandals of 2010, to a certain extent, did).

First, I never deluded myself into supposing that priests were free from Original Sin. Second, I knew that those who yelled loudest against Catholic clergymen for being perverts were the same individuals who considered perversion eminently OK, when anti-Catholics practiced it. I also knew—unfortunately all too few of today’s Catholics know—that filial obedience to authority is not at all the same thing as blind obedience to authority; that in certain circumstances, defined very specifically by the likes of St. Robert Bellarmine in his book De Romano Pontifice, opposing (with the greatest respect) the damage done even by a pope is wholly lawful; and that once particular clergy are causing scandal, we not only may protest, we must protest.

Would the sex-abuse nightmare have occurred at all, if the average Australian or American Catholic had bothered to realize all this? St. Thomas Aquinas, commenting on Galatians, is absolutely emphatic. "When the faith is endangered," Aquinas writes, "a subject ought to rebuke his prelate, even publicly."

Fortunately I belong to an institution that, as has on innumerable occasions been pointed out by friend and foe alike, thinks in terms of centuries rather than of years. Any resident religious correspondent for The Daily Filth or The Sunday Dreck cannot say as much of his workplace.

To any atheist who might still be hesitating upon the brink of converting to Catholicism, understandably shocked beyond measure by priestly sins that cry to heaven for vengeance, I would say something like the following words:

"Those dirty criminals who rightly disgust you: do not think of them as Catholics. Unless they repent (and by now mere private repentance is no longer a legitimate option for them), they will go where St. Paul promised that they would go. Think, rather, of the saints. If you are to judge us at all we have the right to ask that you judge us, not by our worst, but by our best. Compare Catholic saints to even the most scrupulous individuals whom the anti-Catholic world has to offer. How many Gramscis would there need to be to equal, intellectually or morally, one Aquinas? How many Cecils equal one Campion? How many La Pasionarias equal one Teresa of Avila?"

"And remember this too: no genuinely Catholic instructor will ever force you into faith. Ultimately it is up to you. That is what free will means. But it would be inadvisable to reject the faith automatically without studying it. There are too many myths doing the rounds, deriving from vague memories of nineteenth-century pamphleteering scuttlebutt. Find out what Catholics actually must uphold, not what their sworn foes imagine Catholics must uphold."

"Above all: be prepared to have your power of reason exercised, as it has never been exercised before. Some Catholic teachings seem, to most non-Catholics, presumptuous. Properly examined, they are not. If you want arrogance, do not seek out Catholic doctrine. Seek out, instead, the surrealistic nostrums peddled by your local newsagent’s weekly rags: salvation through Princess Di; the divinity of Nicole Kidman; Brad Pitt’s freedom from original sin. Anyone who’s been tempted to worship those strange gods in the past, might well be impressed, not by Catholicism’s impudence, but by its modesty."

What detours I might have been spared, had someone spelt these things out to me.

R. J. Stove lives in Melbourne, Australia. His articles have frequently appeared in The American Conservative (where he is a Contributing Editor), Chronicles, Modern Age, and The Remnant. Reader’s can visit Mr. Stove’s personal website here. Originally published in The Traditionalist, 2011.

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