An Open Letter to Synod from Catholic Converts

September 24, 2015

Your Holiness; Dear Fathers in Christ,  We are all converts to the Catholic faith. Some of us were raised in other Christian communities; some of us came, unbaptized, from other faiths; some of us had once been thoroughly secular and thought of ourselves as agnostics or atheists. Despite the diversity of our backgrounds we all have this in common: we entered the Church as adults. As you prepare for the Synod on the Family we hope that you will be encouraged by the multitude of lay faithful who were, and continue to be, attracted to the Church in large part because of what she proposes about the human being in her teaching about sexual difference, sexuality, marriage and the family.Early on, most of us would have objected to at least some elements of the Church’s teaching about such matters. Yet, as we began to notice how harmful were the effects of popular conceptions of human sexuality, and as some of our own congregations began to give way to the  dominant culture − its ideas about freedom, equality, progress, and its growing gnostic tendencies − each of us started to suspect that there was something right about the Church’s understanding of things. Unpopular though they often were, the Church’s teachings about the facts of life became strangely attractive to us. And in time, we became convinced that they expressed the deepest truth of ourselves, a truth that is both good and beautiful, howsoever demanding. What is more, the certainty the Church had in her teachings and her confidence in pronouncing them even in the face of hostile opposition was for us evidence that we could encounter in her the life of Jesus Christ as He truly is. As human beings we understand the dramatic nature of desire and the self-justifying “dictatorship” that often accompanies it. But as converts we also know the tendency, wherever ecclesial bodies lack a visible, historical, and authoritative bond with Christ through His vicar, to adapt Christianity to the dominant mentality. In short, the fact that the Catholic Church held fast to the deepest truth about our embodied human existence was for us a point of attraction, and a sign that the Church was the surest link to Jesus Christ Incarnate.With respect to the bewildering diversity of contemporary opinions about the human good, especially where questions about the human body are concerned, we understood that the radical nature of the Christian claim − that God, the Son, had taken up all flesh into Himself − was at stake. Christ “revealed man to himself” (Gaudium et Spes 22). He thereby “made clear” the meaning of our humanity – and with it the meaning of the body, of sexual difference, of sexuality, marriage and the family.  He did this, for example, when the Pharisees asked him about divorce, and he turned them (and his own disciples) back to “the beginning,” to human nature as it was created. What is more, he brought something new to that same humanity, bestowing on it, mercifully, a share in His own fidelity to the Church.  It was not by accident, then, that early Christians were drawn to the Church through the radiant humanity of His followers, manifest, for example, in their unique attitudes toward women, children, human sexuality, and marriage. And it was not by accident that, for the same reasons, we too were drawn to the Church many centuries later.We are keenly aware of the difficult pastoral situations that you will be confronting at the Synod, especially those concerning divorced Catholics. We also share something of the burden you carry in confronting them. Some of us have experienced the pain of divorce in our own lives; and virtually all of us have friends or close relatives who have been so afflicted. We are therefore grateful that attention is being paid to a problem that causes such grievous harm to husbands and wives, their children, and indeed the culture at large.We are writing you, however, because of our concerns about certain proposals to change the church’s discipline regarding communion for Catholics who are divorced and civilly re-married. We are frankly surprised by the opinion of some who are proposing a “way of penance” that would tolerate what the Church has never allowed. In our judgment such proposals fail to do justice to the irrevocability of the marriage bond, either by writing off the “first” marriage as if it were somehow “dead,” or, worse, by recognizing its continued existence but then doing violence to it. We do not see how these proposals can do anything other than contradict the Christian doctrine of marriage itself. But we also fail to see how such innovations can be, as they claim, either pastoral or merciful. However well meaning, pastoral responses that do not respect the truth of things can only aggravate the very suffering that they seek to alleviate.  We cannot help but think of the abandoned spouses and their children. Thinking of the next generation, how can such changes possibly foster in young people an appreciation of the beauty of the indissolubility of marriage?Above all, we think that the proposals in question fail to take to heart the real crisis of the family underlying the problem of divorce, contraception, cohabitation and same-sex attraction. That crisis, as Benedict XVI observed, is “a false understanding of the nature of human freedom.” Still worse, as he continued, we now have to confront an outlook that “calls into question the very notion of being − of what being human really means” (“Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI on the Occasion of Christmas Greetings to the Roman Curia,” 2012). Not only are the changes in the Church’s discipline called for by some far from adequate to the challenge before us, they seem to us to capitulate to the problem they purport to address.As has everyone else, we have witnessed the human wreckage brought about by the culture of divorce. But as converts we have also witnessed Christian complicity in that culture. We have watched our own communities abandon the original radical Christian witness to the truth about man and woman, together with the pastoral accompaniment that might have helped them live it.And so we turn to you. We look to you to uphold Christ’s teaching on the indissolubility of marriage with the same fidelity, the same joyful and courageous witness the Catholic Church has displayed throughout her entire history. Against the worldly-wise who counsel resignation and concede defeat, let the Church once again remind the world of the beauty of spousal fidelity, when lived in unity with Christ. Who is left who can offer the world something other than an echo of its own cynicism? Who is left who can lead it toward a real experience of love? Now more than ever the world needs the Church’s prophetic witness! As Pope Francis said to the thousands of young people at World Youth Day in Brazil:Today, there are those who say that marriage is out of fashion….They say that it is not worth making a life-long commitment, making a definitive decision, ‘forever,’ because we do not know what tomorrow will bring.  I ask you, instead, to be revolutionaries, I ask you to swim against the time; yes, I am asking you to rebel against this culture that sees everything as temporary and that ultimately believes you are incapable of responsibility, that believes you are incapable of true love. World Youth Day, 2013)As you gather in Rome for the Synod on the Family, we want to offer you the witness of our conversion, which testifies to the attractiveness of the truth about man and woman as it has been “made clear” by Christ through His Church.  It is our hope that our witness will strengthen yours so that the Church may continue to be the answer to what the human heart most deeply desires.Sincerely in Christ,Mark Alder – Director, Christendom Awake James D. Anderson − Senior Advisor - History & Theology, The Coming Home Network International; former Lutheran seminarian Bryan Atkinson – Hospice Medical DirectorJoseph Atkinson – Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture, The John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family at The Catholic University of America (Washington DC); Director, Theology of the Family Project; former Anglican priestDeacon Mark Baker, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestDeacon James Barnett, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestFrancis J. Beckwith− Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies, Baylor University; former President of the Evangelical Theological Society; former minister in the United Evangelical ChurchesPhilip Bess− Professor of Architecture, The University of Notre DameJoshua Belokur – Nurse, Highland Hospital (New York) NY); former pastor in The Church of the NazareneRachelle Belokur – Nurse, Heritage Christian Services (New York)Timothy T. Bergsma - Pharmacometrician, CertaraRev. W. Scott Blick, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestRev. Kenneth M. Bolin, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestLaura Bramon − International child protection and anti-human trafficking specialistClinton A. Brand− Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of English, University of St.Thomas (Houston, TX)Christine-Thérèse Broesamle − Missionary in Africa and Europe; international negotiator; author; former Evangelical missionaryRev. Jerry BrownPastor,  Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church  (Brentwood, CA); Director of On-going formation for Priests (Diocese of Oakland); former Episcopal priestGail Buckley − President and Founder, Catholic Scripture Study International; President, The Catholic Leadership ConferenceJ. Budziszewski - Professor of Government and Philosophy, University of Texas at AustinRev. Mark Cannaday − Administrator of St. Gilbert of Sempringham Catholic Church, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter (Retired) (Boerne, Texas); former Episcopal canon and rectorSteven L. Carlson − Catechist, St. John the Baptist Catholic Church (Plum City, WI); former minister in the ELCA Lutheran ChurchPaul Cates – President, Faith Christian Ministries; former Lutheran pastorJeff Cavins − Founder and President, The Great Adventure Bible Study SystemCharles M. Clowe − President, Clowe Oil Co. (Ardmore, Oklahoma)Paisley H. Clowe – Teacher; music ministerAdam G. Cooper − Permanent Fellow and Associate Dean of Research, The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne); former pastor in the Lutheran Church of AustraliaRob Corzine − Vice President of Programs, St. Paul Center for Biblical TheologyDavid Crawford – Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, The John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family at The Catholic University of America (Washington DC)David B Currie − Fellow, St Paul Center for Biblical Theology; author; speaker; former fundamentalist missionaryRev. Peter H. Davids − Director, House of Studies of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; Priest-in-Residence, Our Lady of Walsingham Catholic Church (Houston, TX); Visiting Professor of Bible and Applied Theology, Houston Graduate School of Theology; former Episcopal priestAlan J. Doksansky − Former Baptist pastorMost Rev.Peter J Elliott − Auxiliary Bishop, Melbourne; Director, The John Paul II Institute (Melbourne)Peter G. Epps − Visiting Assistant Professor of English, Oklahoma State University;RCIA Coordinator, St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church (Oklahoma City, OK); former professor at College of Biblical Studies (Houston, TX)Thomas F. Farr − Director, Religious Freedom Project, The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown UniversityJohn Finnis − Professor Emeritus of Law and Legal Philosophy, University of OxfordJohn Fraysier − Owner, CastleGuard Pest Management, Inc. (New York); former Area Director, InterVarsity Christian FellowshipClinton Froscher – Member, editorial board of Communio International Catholic Review; booksellerJennifer Fulwiler – Author; radio hostLaura L. Garcia − Scholar in Residence in Philosophy, Boston CollegeSherif Girgis − Research Scholar, Witherspoon Institute; JD candidate, Yale Law School; PhD candidate, Princeton University; authorDawn Eden Goldstein – Author; S.T.D candidate, The University of St. Mary of the LakeGregory Graham, Director of Technology, Cistercian Preparatory School (Irving, TX)George Griffin – Former Methodist pastorMarcus C. Grodi – Founder and President, The Coming Home Network International; host, The Journey Home (EWTN); former Presbyterian ministerJean De Groot− Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of AmericaRev. Lee W. Gross − Dean of Students, Mount St. Mary’s Seminary (Emmitsburg, MD); former Lutheran and Episcopal ministerScott Hahn – Professor of Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville; author; former Protestant pastorKimberly Kirk Hahn – Author; speakerJacqueline Halbig von Schleppenbach – Consultant and Lay LeaderMichael Hanby – Associate Professor of Religion and Philosophy of Science, The John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family at The Catholic University of America (Washington DC)Greta Harper – Founder, Voices in the SquareRev. Brian W. Harrison − Scholar-in-Residence, Oblates of Wisdom Study Center (St. Louis, Missouri); Associate Professor Emeritus of Theology, Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico (Ponce, PR); Chaplain, St. Mary of Victories Chapel (St. Louis, Missouri)Rev. Richard Harrris, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestTodd Hartch − Professor of History, Eastern Kentucky University; former campus minister, InterVarsity Christian FellowshipFather Doug Hayman − Priest Administrator, Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Ottawa, Canada), a Quasi-Parish of the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; Chaplain and Faculty member, Augustine College (Ottawa); former priest of both the Anglican Church of Canada and the Anglican Catholic Church of CanadaJoy Elizabeth Heebink − Associate Professor of Religion, Waldorf College; former Lutheran (ELCA) pastorRichard George Herbel − Monk at St. Augustine's House (Oxford, Michigan); former Lutheran pastorFrank W. Hermann − Associate Professor of English, Franciscan University of SteubenvilleKent R. Hill − International development executive; religious freedom activist; former Nazarene College presidentRev. William Holiday, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestFr. John L. Holleman – Pastor, Holy Name of Jesus Church (Semmes, AL); former Episcopal priestRev. Charles A. Hough IV − Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestRodney Howsare − Professor of Theology, DeSales University; former pastor in the Assembly of God ChurchJane Hartman Irwin − Professor of Music, Lincoln Land Community College; pianist; recording artistMike L. Isbell – Member, Board of Education (Beaufort County, North Carolina); former Disciples of Christ pastorRev. Joseph Jacobson –Chancellor of the Archdiocese of Grouard-McLennan (Retired) (Alberta, Canada); Parochial Vicar, Cathedral Parish of St. John the Baptist (Retired) (Alberta, Canada); former Lutheran pastor and bishop (Alberta Synod, ELCIC)Susan Jenkins − Pastoral Activities Minister, Maria Stein Shrine of the Holy Relics (Ohio)Frank Johnson − Master Catechist; former United Methodist pastorJennifer Johnson − Associate Director, The Ruth Institute.Katherine M. Johnson – Author; adult ministry leader; former missionary with Wycliffe Bible TranslatorsRev. Phillip M. Johnson − Pastor, Parish of St. Thomas More (Cherry Hill, New Jersey); former Lutheran pastorRichard Johnson −Adult and Family Ministry Director, Holy Spirit Catholic Church (Duncanville, Texas); former Director of Personnel, Wycliffe Bible TranslatorsRev. Carleton P. Jones − Prior, St. Dominic Priory (Washington, DC); former Anglican clergymanElizabeth Kantor – Author; Editor, Regnery PublishingRev. Lee Kenyon, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestRev. Leonard R. Klein – Administrator, Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Mary's/St. Patrick's Parish (Wilmington, DE); former Lutheran pastorRev. W.E. Knickerbocker, Jr.Sacramental Minister; St. Theresa Catholic Church (Junction, TX); Professor Emeritus, Memphis Theological Seminary; former Episcopal priestRobert C. Koons − Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at AustinChristopher Marc LaRose − Assistant Director The Coming Home Network International (Retired); former United Methodist pastorRev. Mark Lewis and Mrs. Vicki Lewis, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestJody Vaccaro Lewis − Assistant Professor of Sacred Scripture, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception at the Dominican House of StudiesV. Bradley Lewis - Associate Professor of Philosophy, The Catholic University of AmericaJurgen Liias – Pastor, St. Gregory the Great Ordinariate Catholic Church (Boston, MA); former Episcopal priestKatherine E. Lundstrom− President/CEO, Firm Foundations, Inc.Margaret Harper McCarthy – Assistant Professor of Theological Anthropology, The John Paul II Institute for Studies in Marriage and the Family at The Catholic University of America; Editor, HumanumSr. Laura Marie Menge – Novice of the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing; former Lutheran pastorSerena Harper Miggins – Business Operations Manager, Aquinas Companies (Houston, TX)David Mills – Editorial Director, Ethika Politika; Senior Editor, The Stream; former Executive Editor, First Things.Anca Nemoianu − Director, Intensive English Program, The Catholic University of AmericaAlana Newman − Founder and Director, The Anonymous Us Project and The Coalition Against Reproductive TraffickingRev. Jay Scott Newman – Pastor, St. Mary’s Catholic Church (Greenville, S C)Rev. George Ortiz-Guzman, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestRev. David Ousley – Pastor, Church of St Michael the Archangel and Blessed John Henry Newman Catholic Community in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter (Philadelphia); former Episcopal rectorRev. Dn. Joseph A. Pasquella – Deacon of St. Patrick's (Bellfast, NY), St. Patrick's (Fillmore, NY) and Our Lady of the Angels (Cuba, NY); former Pentecostal ministerColin Patterson − Permanent Fellow, The John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family (Melbourne); former minister in the Uniting Church in AustraliaRev. Timothy Perkins − Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestChad Pirotte − Instructor, School of Faith (Kansas City); former Presbyterian pastorDale Pollard − Professor of Sociology and Leadership, Trinity Western University; Director, 8th Day Community non-profit; former pastor in the Assemblies of GodSteve Ray – Author; speaker; producer; pilgrimage guideMark Regnerus − Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Texas at Austin; Senior Fellow, Austin Institute for the Study of Family and CultureRev. Carl Reid, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestJay Richards − Assistant Research Professor, School of Business and Economics, The Catholic University of America; Executive Editor, The StreamKeith A. Rickert Sr.− former priest in the International Communion of The Charismatic Episcopal ChurchAnna Rist – AuthorJohn Rist − Emeritus Professor of Classics and Philosophy, University of TorontoChristopher C. Roberts – Author; candidate for the diaconate, St. Charles Borromeo SeminaryRev. Patrick Rohen − Chaplain (Captain), United States Army (Retired); former Evangelical ministerRev. Richard Rojas − Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestDevin Rose – Catholic apologist; authorAustin Ruse – President, Center for Family & Human Rights (C-Fam)Cathy Ruse − Senior Legal Fellow, Family Research CouncilKaren Sadock – Catechist; former candidate for priesthood in the Episcopal ChurchRev. John Saward − Priest-in-charge, SS. Gregory and Augustine, Oxford; Fellow, Blackfriars Hall, OxfordUniversity; former Anglican clergymanMarianne Scarborough − Former Lecturer in Ancient History, Salisbury University (MD); former Anglican missionaryJoshua W. Schulz – Associate Professor of Philosophy, DeSales University; Editor, Maritain Notebook Rebecca Samuel Shah – Research Associate, The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, Georgetown UniversityTimothy Shah - Associate Director of The Religious Freedom Project, The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, Georgetown UniversityMark Shiffman − Associate Professor, Department of Humanities, Villanova UniversityRev. Chori Seraiah and Mrs. Catherine Seraiah − Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestRichard Upsher Smith, Jr. − Professor of Classics, Franciscan University of Steubenville; former priest of the Anglican Church of Canada and of ECUSAR.J. Snell - Professor of Philosophy, Eastern University; Executive Director, The Agora Institute for Civic Virtue and the Common GoodTim Staples − Director of Apologetics and Evangelization, Catholic AnswersMsgr. Jeffrey Steenson – Ordinary, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Bishop of the Diocese of the Rio Grande in the Episcopal Church USADeacon Mark Stockstill, Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestRev. D. Paul Sullins − Research Professor of Sociology, The Catholic University of America; Senior Fellow, Marriage and Religion Research Institute (MARRI); former Anglican clergymanBruce Sullivan − Parish catechist; advisor, Coming Home NetworkInternational; former minister in the Church of ChristKaren Taliaferro − Thomas W. Smith Postdoctoral Research Associate, James Madison Program in American Ideals & Institutions, Princeton UniversityCharles G. Tate − Special District Judge (Retired), State of Oklahoma; former Protestant pastorRebecca Ryskind Teti − Director of women’s Programs, Our Lady of Bethesda Retreat CenterPaul Thigpen – Author; Professor of Theology (Retired), Southern Catholic College; former member of the National Advisory Council of the U.S.C.C.B.; former Protestant pastor and missionaryRev. Pedro Toledo − Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter; former Episcopal priestHilary Towers − Developmental Psychologist; authorRev. Vaughn A. Treco – Chaplain, The Society of Saint Bede the Venerable Chaplain & Teacher, Providence Academy; former Anglican clergymanWesley Vincent − Clinical PsychologistRev. William G. Waun,