A Letter From A Potential Convert

I am frequently contacted by new converts, RCIA candidates, and potential converts to the Church. In years past, their questions consisted mainly of the usual concerns, such as; prayer to the Saints, veneration of Mary, the necessity of Purgatory, etc. However, over the last couple years, the focus of these questions has changed. More often than not, they now centre around Pope Francis.

I'm afraid that we have reached a point now, in the Francis pontificate, wherein the pope himself (Francis) is becoming an obstacle to the conversion of many American Evangelicals to the Catholic Church. You see, American Evangelicals are concerned about orthodoxy, usually more so than the average convert. This is especially the case if they're converting as a matter of personal choice, rather than as a decision to marry a Catholic. With all the fears these Christians already have, thanks to five-centuries of anti-Catholic Protestant propaganda, the last thing they need is for officials within the Church (especially the pope) compounding matters with questionable comments or revolutionary ideas. It's easy enough to dismiss the ramblings of a Modernist bishop here and there, but when such bizarre musings come from the Vatican itself (even from the pope!), I find it takes a whole new level of transparency.

Look, what I have written here is bound to upset a lot of people. Frankly, I don't care. I've done a lot of things in the Church over this last decade, but the one thing that matters most to me is helping converts find their way into the Catholic Church. I will move forward in this direction no matter what it takes, and if the hierarchy of the Church is becoming an obstacle to them, I'll say what I have to say (in truth and love) to make sure they hear what they need during this difficult transition of life. Converting to Catholicism isn't easy for Evangelicals. It's hard -- very hard! And there is usually a price to pay, that's sometimes rather high. It can cost relationships with friends and family. It can cost jobs, career choices, family peace, and yes, sometimes even money -- lots of money. The last thing Evangelical converts need is some priest or prelate spouting off Modernist nonsense that causes them to question their decision.

The following is a very frank and candid email conversation I recently had with a potential Evangelical convert to the Catholic Church. Say a prayer for this man. He's still searching. Very graciously, he's allowed me to reproduce some of it here for the benefit of my readers. My responses seemed to have helped him considerably, and the two of us would like to make it public, for the purpose of helping other potential Evangelical converts, and maybe even a few Catholics too. His questions/concerns are written in purple italics. My responses are in regular text. Enjoy...

Right now, the major issue is: why is it that the Popes as of late seem way, way more worried about ecumenism instead of sticking up for the truth of the Church? 

History is filled with good popes, and bad popes, and a whole lot of mediocre popes. Our time is no different. I personally like Pope Benedict XVI, the one who is now retired. He was my favourite. Pope St. John Paul II was above average. Pope Frances -- meh -- I'm not a fan. It's okay though because we'll have another one sometime. Maybe he'll be better. Popes don't really affect my faith though. The Catholic Christian faith is built on the Bible, the Catechism, the Liturgy, and the Sacraments. I don't need the pope to be a good Catholic, but it's nice when we have a pope who is above average.

As for ecumenism, it helps to understand what that means. All too many people treat ecumenism as if it were syncretism. They're not the same thing, but people treat them as if they were. Ecumenism is supposed to be Christians working for unity by finding orthodoxy. Syncretism is when you throw orthodoxy out the window and just declare yourselves unified.

Ecumenism is a very Christian thing. Syncretism is Pagan. Pope Benedict XVI was the perfect Christian ecumenist because he focused on finding unity with other Christians under orthodoxy. He brought Anglicans into the Church by making them Catholic, and in exchange, they got to keep their traditions that led them to the Catholic Church in the first place. I'm not too sure what Pope Francis is up to, but I'm not worried about it, because if it's not really Christian ecumenism, it will fail.

Why has the Catholic church seemingly decided that trying to convert people to Catholicism is unimportant? 

We haven't! I'm out there trying to convert people every day, and so is my priest, as well as most of the people at our parish.

Look, you'll find there are two kinds of Catholics in the Western world. The first kind is Modernist, which seems to be the kind that bothers you. They bother me too. They are the ones who are compromising everything concerning the faith and seem to be caving into the secular world on every side. Some of them are laypeople. Some are priests. Some are bishops. And some would say even a pope. (I'm not so sure about that one yet, but who knows?)

But on the flip side, the second kind of Catholics are the Traditionalist. These are the Catholics who want to preserve the faith, keep the customs, stand firm against the world, believe what the Church has always taught, and are staunch defenders of the faith. In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm a Traditional Catholic.

So here's the deal. There are more Modernists in the Church right now than Traditionalists. However, that is changing. The problem with Modernists is they don't reproduce, and Modernism itself doesn't appeal to the next generation of Catholics. Modernism is a victim of its own success. The next generation of Catholic Modernists (the Millennials) have left the Church, and have no interest in coming back. The next generation of Catholics (still in the Church) is all Traditionalists. That's right, the only Millennials who have remained in the Church are overwhelmingly Traditional Catholics. The older generation hasn't quite figured that out yet, but in about a decade it really won't matter anymore. My generation (GenX) will be running the Church soon, and we tend to be more tolerant of traditional views. The traditional Millennials will see us as a breath of fresh air. The few GenX bishops I know are great and very friendly to tradition.

Most tweets on Pope Francis' twitter account looks like something off of an inspirational poster one might buy at an office supply store (I realize that may be disrespectful, but I am so, so mad that, just when I think I am possibly going to find my real "home" in the Church, I am terrified that, once I got inside, I would be horrified).

I don't worry about Pope Francis and neither should you. As I said above, popes come in all types. If you base your faith on the pope, you'll never be a good Catholic. The Catholic Christian faith is based on the Bible, the Catechism, the Liturgy, and the Sacraments, not the pope. Imagine what it must have been like to live under the Borgias popes -- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Borgia

Pope Francis is 'small potatoes' compared to them. Now don't get me wrong. The OFFICE of the papacy is important. The man who occupies it -- not so much. Jesus promised to preserve the OFFICE of the papacy, but the man who occupies it is free to fail if he's not open to the Holy Spirit. Pray for the pope. I do. But don't let his shortcomings affect your faith. The Catholic faith is so much bigger than the man in the papal office. The media makes too big a deal of the pope anyway. By the way CNN describes it, you would think the pope IS Catholicism. Not so. Not even close.

Why does the Pope, if he does not really believe the many, many, near-heretical (if not heretical) things that he reportedly says, just not issue statements after the fact saying "No, folks. I don't believe in the annihilation of wicked souls at death."

That's a good question. Who knows? This is why I'm not his fan. I loved his predecessor (Pope Benedict XVI) but I'm not too fond of Francis. As I said, history is filled with good popes, bad popes, and mediocre popes. While we should never judge a papacy until after it's done (because popes can change), I'm not too impressed with this one so far.

I have really enjoyed seeing that there is someone who favors traditional Catholicism but upholds the validity of Vatican II. However, the more I look at it, it just seems like the Church, HAS actually changed for the worse, and I am not so convinced it was all just people misusing the "Spirit of Vatican II."

Vatican II had its problems. Some of the documents were great! Some not so much. One in particular (Nostra Aetate) is kind of a mess.  The biggest problem with Vatican II was that the language was too vague, which made it too easy to pervert its meaning. Nevertheless, I assert that in spite of its shortcomings, Vatican II set up a series of dykes and channels that directed the flood of Modernism away from some of the more sacred items of the Church. The key to understanding Vatican II is to understand that none of it is infallible. The only infallible (modern) councils the Church has to draw upon are Vatican I and Trent. Vatican II, which is fallible, is subordinate to both of those, and cannot be interpreted properly outside of the context of Vatican I and Trent. As for the "Spirit of Vatican II," it doesn't exist. There is no "Spirit of Vatican II." It's an artificial construct made up by the Modernists.

However, being a Sedevacantist would not be worth it either, because that destroys the whole beauty of the "gates of hell" promise by Jesus. 

Yeah, you really don't want to go down that route. It's a dead-end street. Look, I know this seems like a lot, but you have to understand that the reason why you're seeing all of this now is because the Catholic Church is totally transparent. We air our dirty laundry for all the world to see, and that's the price we pay for being the one, true faith. We couldn't hide this stuff behind closed doors even if we tried. The Holy Spirit would blow them wide open!

But it makes sense you see, because this is where the fight is. This is where the battle for the world is really taking place. It's not in the Lutheran church, or the Anglican church, or the Baptist church. It's taking place here, in the Catholic Church. Now if you look at what's going on here in the Catholic Church you'll see a microcosm of what's going on in the world. It's the same battle because it's the same players -- God and the devil. The battle is going on in both the world and the Catholic Church because the devil knows if he wins the battle in the Catholic Church he wins the battle in the world.

Not to worry though. Times change. It happens throughout history. Right now we're going through a corrupt time in the Church when the battle is raging inside. Before you know it (probably within our lifetime), things will change, and the battle will shift. The Church will be cleaned up, and Satan will be forced to persecute her from the outside again. That's just how it works. This will last a few centuries, and then the Church will get corrupted again. It's kind of cyclic actually. Jesus promised us it would be this way until the end of time when he returns to separate the wheat from the chaff. (Matthew 13:26-43)

Catholicism seems both beautiful and exciting, but then horrific (one quick example: The Sedlec Ossuary...why?). 

The Sedlec Ossuary, All Saints Church
Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic
LOL! I know. But that's the beauty of it all. Death has no meaning to us as Catholics. Our life goes on after death. Everyone expresses that in different ways. In Anglo culture, we tend to give the dead body privacy. That's our way of showing respect. But not everyone is Anglo. In other European cultures, they give the dead body a place of glory and honour. That's how they show respect. The Sedlec Ossuary is an extreme example of that. It makes more sense if you're Czech. I'm an Anglo-American. I'll probably never "get it," but I am able to laugh about it, and use it to tease Protestants from time to time. I probably shouldn't do that, but a guy has gotta have a little fun. Once you accept that death really has no meaning to Catholics, because we really do believe in life after death, the whole thing of using bones as bricks doesn't really bother you anymore. As for me though, I prefer the Anglo method of respect by giving the decaying body some privacy. I'm rather happy with how we honour our dead in our cathedrals and basilicas here in North America. It follows the Anglo-Celtic method. Their tombs are right in front of you, but you can't see inside. This is what it means to be Catholic (universal) in faith. Our doctrine is uniform, but our cultures are different, and we have to respect that. In Africa, they dance during mass. We don't do that in the West. But we respect each other's differences while embracing each other as brethren.

How can there be, on the one hand, so many things that only make full sense in a Catholic context, and then be so many things that require so many seeming mental gymnastics to work around. Any kind of response will likely be helpful. 

Because Protestant culture has deviated that far away from apostolic Christianity. It's created an alternative reality -- so to speak -- which is an entirely different culture that is quasi-Muslim in the way it deals with death and the afterlife. As a former Protestant, that was the culture I was raised in, I suspect you were too. Only in America could the Jehovah's Witnesses be considered a "Christian" organisation. It's practically Muslim in every way, minus the Arabic culture and the Koran. But their theology is totally Muslim (or Arian) in nature. I guess what I'm saying here is that as Protestants, we were led to believe that Christianity is something that it's not. The apostolic faith was very different from what we were led to believe. But it makes sense. The earliest Christians were meeting in the tombs of the catacombs for mass, breaking bread with dead bodies all around them, and accused of cannibalism by the Roman state, because of their belief in the transubstantiation. It all makes sense when you look at it this way. The Christians who died in the Roman circuses were Catholics.

I am having a near mental breakdown about this.

I nearly had one myself. It was really bad. There is only one cure. Join the Church.


Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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