From ....... National Catholic Reporter

November 11, 1994

page 6



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 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.

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 but he happily attends Mass every day.

Other Catholic wannabes are women. One such woman, an Evangelical Lutheran, asked to remain anonymous a request echoed by many others interviewed for this story. She is a priest in the mainline denomination and is married to another priest.

The price of conversion can be painfully high, Grodi said.

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."

Gordi was less fiery but every bit as convinced.