Frankly, after reading Fr. McBrien's most recent column, "Converts to Catholicism" (June 22, 2007; HT: L.A. Catholic blog), I'm tempted to say that he's clueless about nearly everything having to do with Catholicism (the religion, not his book with that title). Authentic, orthodox Catholicism, that is. Then again, McBrien might say that I would only make such a remark because I am one of those former Protestants who he scoffingly describes as having "conservative opinions about religion, politics and social values," as though this is some sort of freakish, abnormal condition that can only be avoided by enlightened, progressive, post-Vatican II consultants to Dan Brown movies. McBrien manages to present, in a short column, a number of skewed notions and misleading stereotypes about recent converts to Catholicism. For example:
There were always Protestants attracted to the Catholic Church in the pre-Vatican II era for biblical, theological or historical reasons, all of which were carefully laid out in Father John O'Brien's writings. With the Second Vatican Council, however, and with the ecumenical movement which the council and the popes had endorsed, it became practically impossible to present the Catholic Church any longer as "the one, true Church" and all other denominations as awash in error and falsehoods.
And so the traditional apologetical tactics --- "demonstrating" that Catholicism alone is right, while Protestantism is completely wrong --- were generally abandoned. If Protestants became Catholics in the late 1960s or in the '70s and early '80s, it was mainly for family reasons, or because they intended to marry a Catholic, or because they had grown familiar and spiritually comfortable with Catholic worship.
In the past two-and-half decades, however, we have seen something of a reversion to the pre-Vatican II approach. Many seeking entrance into the Catholic Church today do so as an act of rejecting their Protestant past and of embracing "the truth" found only in Catholicism.
Ah, yes, the mythical, pre-Vatican "truth" of Catholicism, eradicated by the "spirit of Vatican II." And what about that old-fashioned silliness about the one true Church, happily done away with by modern exegesis and a palpable lack of faith? We can foolishly accept McBrien's descriptions of such matters, or we can turn to Lumen Gentium, a dogmatic constitution and a key document of the Second Vatican Council, which states:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as "the pillar and mainstay of the truth". This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure.
McBrien's notion of a simplistic "Catholic right, Protestant wrong" approach allegedly taken by Protestants who become Catholic is contradicted by the ecumenical endeavors of many former Protestants, including Peter Kreeft, Mark Brumley, Scott Hahn, and, more recently, Francis Beckwith, all of whom speak highly of the many good things found in (specifically) Evangelicalism, even while not refraining from frank talk about real differences that do indeed exist and must continue to be addressed with both clarity and charity.
McBrien's tell-tale mark is his open disdain for nearly everything "pre-Vatican II," unless it happens to be the thought of men such as Kant, Darwin, and Freud, as this 1996 article notes. When, in 1985, the U.S. National Conference of Catholic Bishops' Doctrinal Committee strongly criticized McBrien's book Catholicism, it noted that the book overstates "the significance of recent developments within the Catholic tradition, implying that the past appears to be markedly inferior to the present and obscuring the continuity of the tradition." A good summary, that, of the beliefs of a man whose errorneous teachings about the Catholic faith have been documented many times over (see here and here for good recent examples), even while he continued to write a syndicated column for diocesan papers and appeared on major MSM programs to bash John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as Ronald J. Rychlak pointed out in a 2005 This Rock article:
Evaluating an important homily given by Cardinal Ratzinger (who would be elected Pope Benedict XVI) shortly before the conclave, McBrien noted that the cardinal was not "campaigning for the papacy." But the reason given by McBrien was not that the future pope (like all the cardinals) knew that this was not a political process. Instead, McBrien speculated that the cardinal was simply giving up: "I think this homily shows he realizes he’s not going to be elected. He’s too much of a polarizing figure."
McBrien said several times during the sede vacante that he did not expect Ratzinger to be elected. In fact, he predicted that if the German were elected, "thousands upon thousands of Catholics in Europe and the United States would roll their eyes and retreat to the margins of the church."
Not surprisingly, McBrien did not let up following the election of Pope Benedict. He worried about the new pontiff’s grasp of the issues. "I doubt if he understands [liberal American Catholicism] as well as he should, but then whom does he speak with who might enlighten him, without giving a conservative spin to the explanation?" Presumably, McBrien would like to explain Catholicism to the Pope. Fortunately, though, the new Holy Father well understands McBrien’s theology, and he can see through its shallow dishonesty.
The problem, of course, is that many folks don't see (or cannot see) through McBrien's dishonesty, including how he distorts why and how many Protestants become Catholic. He writes:
More recently, however, high-profile Protestants and even a few Jews with strongly conservative opinions about religion, politics and social values have found their way to a Rome that one would have thought no longer exists. It is an authoritarian, triumphant, polemical, anti-Protestant Rome (non-Christians weren't even considered) that flourished during the first half of the 20th century, but which experienced a thorough updating under Pope John XXIII. He convened the council in 1962 to open the windows and to let some "fresh air" into the Catholic Church.
Bishop Sheen is no longer with us, and there is no Catholic comparable to him who functions in the same capacity. But a priest in Washington, D.C., who runs the Catholic Information Center there and is a member of Opus Dei, has been doing an impressive job of drawing fellow conservatives into the Church.
His main celebrity converts are Robert Novak, the columnist who was at the center of the controversy over the disclosure of Valerie Plame's identity as a covert CIA agent; Larry Kudlow, an on-air financial adviser; and Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, currently a candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States.
Senator Brownback had been raised a Methodist but later joined a non-denominational evangelical church. He became a Catholic in 2002.
Conservative Protestants and Jews who convert to Catholicism, especially of the Opus Dei kind, rarely shed the religious, social and political biases they had in their pre-Catholic life. It is true of Mr. Novak and Mr. Kudlow, and it is equally true of Senator Brownback.
Shame on Novak, Kudlow, and Co. for having biases! Why can't they be free from bias like Fr. McBrien, who displays the objectivity of a Democratic lackey and the doctrinal integrity of Rudy Guiliani. Strangely enough, from what I know, those converts take very seriously the moral and theological teachings of the Catholic Church. Why can't the same be said of Fr. McBrien, who is not only a Catholic priest, but the Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame? Why does he deny that Jesus founded the Catholic Church? Why does he say the Catholic Faith is not the one true religion? Why does he describe original sin as a "myth"?
McBrien's condescension toward converts to Catholicism is curious; it's as though he dislikes the fact that people become for substantial reasons (and, yes, for less substantial reasons). Isn't he aware that Catholicism is very much about conversion? Shouldn't he, supposedly knowledeable about the Second Vatican II, be supportive of converts and the evangelistic endeavors of the Church? After all, Ad Gentes, the Vatican II degree on the missionary activity of the Church, opens with this statement:
Divinely sent to the nations of the world to be unto them "a universal sacrament of salvation," the Church, driven by the inner necessity of her own catholicity, and obeying the mandate of her Founder (cf. Mark 16:16), strives ever to proclaim the Gospel to all men. The Apostles themselves, on whom the Church was founded, following in the footsteps of Christ, "preached the word of truth and begot churches." It is the duty of their successors to make this task endure "so that the word of God may run and be glorified (2 Thess. 3:1) and the kingdom of God be proclaimed and established throughout the world.
Fr. C. John McCloskey, III, co-author of Good News, Bad News, is consistently and often described, by those who know him, as a priest who proclaims the Gospel to all men—including Catholics. He believes in Jesus Christ and the Catholic Church, and makes no apologies for that belief. Consider this remark by a well-known convert to Catholicism:
This book [Good News, Bad News] ranks with Karl Stern’s Pillar of Fire and Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain as an indispensable spiritual road map for the perplexed, the sorely bent and the broken.I know: Father John McCloskey was my Virgil, guiding me gently and lovingly through the terrifying jungle of secular success to a place of infinite surcease – God’s grace.
The man who wrote that was not very conservative in his moral or theological beliefs prior to becoming Catholic. On the contrary, Dr. Bernard Nathanson was an abortion doctor who was responsible for 75,000 abortions.
Here, then, is one simple question: Is there anyone who has become a Catholic—loyal to the Magisterium and the teachings of the Church—because of the witness and work of Fr. Richard McBrien?
• From Protestantism to Catholicism: Six Journeys to Rome
• Answering The Call To Full Communion | An Interview with Dr. Francis Beckwith
• We Are All Called To Be Evangelizers | Introduction to Good News, Bad News, by Fr. C. John McCloskey, III, and Russell Shaw
• Can Catholics Be Evangelists? An interview with Russell Shaw, co-author of Good News, Bad News
• Evangelization 101: A Short Guide to Sharing the Gospel | Carl E. Olson
• Evangelization & Imperialism | Carl E. Olson
• Evangelizing With Love, Beauty and Reason | Joseph Pearce
• Thomas Howard and the Kindly Light | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Objections, Obstacles, Acceptance: An Interview with J. Budziszewski | IgnatiusInsight.com
• Why Catholicism Makes Protestantism Tick | Mark Brumley
• Surprised by Conversion: The Patterns of Faith | Peter E. Martin
• The Source of Certitude | Epilogue to Faith and Certitude | Thomas Dubay, S.M.