Why These Catholic Converts Remain
Leaving the Church in ‘protest’ against perceived problems isn’t a Catholic option, former Protestants explain.
For Lannette Turicchi, changing churches because of a scandal or the way the pastor interpreted the Bible was part of being a Protestant.
But now that she has professed faith in the “one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church,” the California film producer said her concerns about the Church she entered in 2000 won’t cause her to leave.
“What keeps me in the Catholic Church is having learned devotion to the Holy Spirit,” said Turicchi, who grew up going to a Pentecostal church and went to a megachurch and an Episcopal church before converting to Catholicism. “The Holy Spirit will always give us cover, no matter how upset we are, how mad we may be about what is going on in the Church.”
Turicchi and other converts from Protestantism, many of whom have made great sacrifices to join the Church, agree that in embracing the Catholic faith, they have come home and that “to protest,” as they might have done in the past by turning to another Christian tradition, is no longer an option.
“You can go to the best of Protestant churches and get the best of the word of God there … but the Catholic Church is the only place where you can get the word of God, followed by eating and drinking the Body and Blood of the Word of God,” said Jeff Barefoot, an attorney, CPA and founder of a wealth management firm in Perrysburg, Ohio. “Like Peter said in John 6, ‘Where are we going to go?’”
To leave the Church because of something the Pope or any priest said or did or because of a crisis that strikes at the truth of the faith, he added, is simply not feasible.
Raised in a nominally Protestant family, Barefoot went to Unitarian, Congregationalist, Grace Brethren, United Methodist and Missouri Synod-Lutheran churches before becoming Catholic in 2002.
He said a combination of mystery and grace drew him to the faith, but it was understanding the Church’s authority that opened the door to conversion. Before that, he said, “There was never a sense that I had any authority other than myself. … You don’t come into the Catholic Church unless you’re really convinced of its authority and truth.”
Still, Barefoot joins many converts and lifelong Catholics in being troubled by what they are hearing these days from Rome. For example, many, including Turicchi, are uneasy about perceived ambiguities in the 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia (The Joy of Love) concerning reception of Communion by Catholics who divorce and remarry without obtaining annulments.
“There are many divorced Catholics choosing not to remarry. Are we now saying to them that they are suffering in vain?” Turicchi asked. She fears that Amoris is pitting those who divorced and remarried outside the Church against those who are struggling to remain faithful to the sacrament of matrimony.
As an African-American, Turicchi also has been upset by remarks Cardinal Walter Kasper and other German prelates have made seemingly dismissing the views of African bishops on divorce, marriage and family life.
Despite her frustrations, she does not feel impelled to leave the Church. “The Church is all of us in relationship with God, and if we focus on Christ as the center of the Church, then the rest of the things that annoy us are just noise.”
Since entering the Church in 1994, former Baptist Steve Ray of CatholicConvert.com said he has remained because of one thing: “It’s true. … The Catholic Church teaches all truth to all people, in all times, in all places. No other can come close. I’m home, and I’ll defend her to my death.”
This is not to say, however, that he doesn’t have concerns, among them recent efforts to resurrect Martin Luther as something of a saint.
Ray — who recently led a tour in Germany to mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, during which he refuted Luther’s arguments — cited, for example, the depiction of Luther kneeling at the foot of the cross on a Vatican stamp issued in the reformer’s honor. Although when he was a Protestant, Ray considered Luther a hero, he said he now sees him as a schismatic, heretic ex-priest who damaged the Church.
Ray said he can stay in the Church because, as he looks at history, he sees far-worse situations than those occurring today.
“The beauty of it is the Church is 2,000 years old and it has weathered all these things, and still it’s there and is still the biggest group of Christians in the world. It’s still strong, and people are still converting in droves into it. I knew what it was when I came in.”
Barefoot said he also finds it helpful to place current events in the context of Church history.
“We have to trust that Jesus loves his Church and loves us in the crisis we’re going through. We have to stay in the ship and stay with him. He will protect the ones who are being faithful.”
For Jennifer Ferrara, a former Lutheran pastor who converted to Catholicism in 1998, staying in the Church is a zero-sum game at this stage in her life.
“The alternative is nothing,” she said, “so I have never felt like leaving.” Ferrara added that Catholic author Walker Percy once asked himself in a self-interview, “Isn’t the Catholic Church a mess these days, badly split, its liturgy barbarized, vocations declining?” He replied, “Sure. That’s a sign of its divine origins, that it survives these periodic disasters.”
“Catholics take the long view, which is something Protestants, as their name suggests, do not fully understand,” Ferrara said. “I do think Protestants are more restless by nature, often looking for the next ‘best thing.’ Spiritually, I have tried — and it is, at times, a struggle — to be less restless and more Catholic, if you will, in my approach to my theological concerns, to think with the Church.”
The Church’s Authority
Since converting, Ferrara, like Ray, has seen her views of Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation undergo a change. She now believes that the Reformation, though it may have brought needed change, in the long run has born bitter fruit.
“Luther’s theology, especially his insistence on sola fide (faith alone) and sola scriptura (the Bible alone), resulted in an elevation of the individual conscience over the teaching authority of the Church.” She also thinks that the original critics of Luther’s theology were prescient in warning of the lawlessness they said existed at its heart.
Ferrara said the acceptance by many mainline Protestant churches of abortion is an example of what can happen when individual conscience takes precedence over the Church’s teaching authority.
Her own journey to Rome began when the Church Council of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America decided to cover the cost of all abortions in its employee health plan and she read former Lutheran minister Leonard Klein’s critique, which said, “Real churches don’t kill babies.”
To those in the Catholic Church who would elevate individual conscience over the Church’s teaching authority, Ferrara said, “I would say that the collapse of morality into subjectivity inevitably results in organizations that are something other than the one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church confessed in the creeds. They are feel-good, therapeutic societies, and boring ones at that, judging from all of the empty seats in the mainline Protestant churches.
“That would be the future of the Catholic Church if those who would have the individual conscience reign supreme were to get their way.”
Register correspondent Judy Roberts writes from Graytown, Ohio.