From ....... National Catholic Reporter
November 11, 1994
PROTESTANTS IN TWILIGHT ON ROAD TO ROME
CROSSOVER ENTAILS SACRIFICES AND MISGIVINGS
By REBEKAH SCOTT SCHREFFLER Special to the National Catholic Reporter
"The Network" is a quiet group of more than 100 Protestant ministers bound by a shared secret: Each is a practicing Roman Catholic or would like to be.
Almost all are men. Their church affiliations span the spectrum, from Lutheran to Pentecostal. They lead churches in places as far-flung as Australia, Canada, New Mexico and the Carolinas. Some have openly converted and depend on one another for support as they adjust to life without a "Rev." before their names. Others are still "traveling the path toward conversion," said founder Marcus Grodi, a Presbyterian pastor turned Catholic youth minister.
The 20-month-old alliance operates quietly from a faculty office at the conservative University of Steubenville in Ohio. It's not an official campus organization. Most of the members are anonymous. Most of them, too, are theologically conservative.
Grodi himself said his experience as a Protestant minister convinced him of the importance of a celibate clergy, that the demands of ministry place a heavy toll on marriage and family.
The mailing list of about 120 people is closely guarded. Each member receives a newsletter as often as Grodi can produce one Ñ a little document full of testimonies, Bible studies and encouraging words.
Grodi says he is one of the lucky ones. He made his conversion in 1992 and landed a youth ministry job at the university soon after. He is free to discuss his new angle on Christianity.
Grodi doesn't know whether the news of his "spiritual revolution" has yet reached his former flock. He was pastor of an 800-member Presbyterian church in Warren, Ohio, before his interest in church history and his "zeal for theological truth" led him to Catholicism. Four years ago, he resigned his pastorate, saying he wanted to pursue a doctoral degree.
"I left (Presbyterianism ) very quietly, out of concern for my congregation," Grodi said. "Those are fine Christian people, rooted in their faith. But they'd never understand. It would be scandal to them if they knew I'd turned Catholic. I didn't leave with the intention of taking anyone out with me."
Grodi said many "preachers-gone papist" face years of difficulty.
Few Protestant churches have written rules barring Catholic beliefs. It's assumed that ministers ordained by a certain church will continue to uphold and live its beliefs. For a pastor to make a personal commitment to another doctrine while continuing his ministry is considered hypocrisy by some and treason by others.
Viewed through the lens of the rationalism that spawned Reformation theology, Catholicism can appear superstitious, idolatrous or even fascist. Becoming a Catholic after "being enlightened" is seen by some Protestants as a return to medieval ignorance, or a fall into a lower social order.
Meanwhile, the Catholic priesthood remains out of reach for family men with Protestant theological educations. Their advanced degrees overqualify them for most jobs. One former pastor now reads parking meters for a living, Grodi says Ñ but he happily attends Mass every day.
Other Catholic wannabes are women. One such woman, an Evangelical Lutheran, asked to remain anonymous Ñ a request echoed by many others interviewed for this story. She is a priest in the mainline denomination and is married to another priest.
"Catholicism is so elegant and true theologically," she said, - but in practice, it's a tough place for a woman who is called to minister. Conversion isn't an option for me right now because I would be the only beneficiary. So many of my present (congregation) would be damaged by that. And I could find myself hamstrung as a minister. I love performing the liturgy too much to give up priesthood."
The price of conversion can be painfully high, Grodi said.
"You convert and you lose career, community, position and the respect of the people who've been your support group for years. It's an awkward difficult transition to make because so many of your friends and family are so shocked," Grodi said. "And the Catholics - well, they make you feel very much alone. I had to search out a helpful priest because it seemed like most of them didn't know what to do with me. It seems like a lot of them actively discourage ministers' conversions."
The obstacles force some into double lives, Grodi said. Pastors find themselves torn by the dishonesty and resentment of serving churches whose beliefs they still respect but no longer share.
One of these shadowy network Catholics is a campus minister at a small Calvinist college in the Midwest. He, too, requested anonymity.
For the past two years, he parked his car behind the Catholic rectory each weekday morning. He crept through a sacristy door, which the parish priest left unlocked for him. He kept his head down through Mass. If he recognized anyone, he slipped away before he was noticed. He secured a Sunday dispensation so he could appear at his usual, acceptable Orthodox Presbyterian church.
Lately, he has decided not to care. He is ready to pay the price, he said, for the freedom to worship within the apostolic succession, the sacraments and the clear-cut authority structure of a "church with the integrity of 2,000 years behind it."
"I can go to my (Protestant) church and be told intellectual reasons why Jesus loves me and wants me to be happy. Or I can go to St. Mary's. There I really experience Christianity. I can see Jesus Christ there on the altar, among his church. Jesus demands something of me. He expects me to deny myself and to make justice happen in this world. I'd never get that in my church where every decision is subjected to a majority vote and the entire institution is so dedicated to status quo."
Gordi was less fiery but every bit as convinced.
"I don't understand a lot of what I see in the (Catholic) church. I humble myself before the strange things, and I'm finding there's a lot I don't know about Jesus Christ and his church Ñ so much that it'll take me a lifetime to find out. My faith is more of a pilgrimage now, a path. It's a road I can help other people out on. We're not telling pastors to abandon their churches and come to Catholicism. We're helping people and their families, answering questions, standing beside them while they choose a path and, maybe, make a decision that will change their lives forever. Eternally."