I enjoy telling this story, if for no other reason than its irony. Warning: it is fairly lengthy.
My critical eye towards the Roman Catholic branch of the church started while in the seminary at Mt. Angel. We were taught to be critical (i.e. “analytical”). The critical eye opened wider while at Claremont School of Theology, which is first and foremost a Methodist seminary. (I went there because of its fantastic Scripture study program.) While at Notre Dame the critical turned into the skeptical. I was the Teacher Assistant for ‘Bill Storey, one of the church history profs. Bill is Roman Catholic but one who saw a huge stumbling block (scandalia) in the RC. We call it the papacy. When the Patriarch of the West (i.e. the Pope) attempted to grab power from other patriarchs around 1000, we had the Great Schism. When the Pope decided to crack down on the prophets aligned with new national states in the 16th Century (i.e. Luther, Calvin and others), we had the Western schism. The papacy has been the major factor in Christians, both Eastern and Western, failing to come anywhere not to the ideal of being “Öne”(as in one, holy, catholic, apostolic)
In addition, Dick McBrien’s influence in ecclesiology and his sympathy with Hans Kung, helped me realize the fallacy of the papal primacy claim in both its succession and juridical aspects.
Immediate cause of the transition:
When we moved back to California, I joined our local parish RCIA team. I was invited to “teach” (yes, [shame, shame], I lectured in the catechumenate) two sessions on the Roman Catholic church stance towards scripture. I focused on the results of the Vatican II “Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation” (i.e. that it gave greater freedom to scripture scholars to use historical-critical method and to see myth and story for what they are, myth and story) and provided examples in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament. At the end of all this, a candidate remarked, “So it sounds like you’re saying that Catholics are not fundamentalist.” I told her that, in terms of scripture, that was exactly what I was saying.
But I didn’t stop there, because I don’t like to whitewash the Church. If you’re going to join us then know all aspects of this institution. “However,”I said, “what you will find in the Catholic Church is what I call ‘Papal Fundamentalist,’ that is, people who believe that every word out of the Pope’s mouth is infallible. That’s not the case.” At this point one member of the team got up and said, “I’ve had it,” as she stormed out of the room. Another person shouted out, “That’s your opinion!
I responded, “No it isn’t.” and cited the Vatican II “Declaration on Religious Freedom”(Chapter 1, Par 3) as well as Romans (14:5-10). I qualified this with saying that each of us has a responsibility to the magisterium and to seek counsel while making ethical decisions (yada, yada, yada). “We will go into this more when we discuss Catholic ethics,”I concluded. (I quote because I remember the moments very clearly.)
Later that week the pastor asked for my resignation from the RCIA team. He took away my main ministry in the parish and I knew I had nowhere to go for an appeal. So I started looking around for a denomination that had as full a sacramental life as the Roman church has. From what little I knew, the Episcopal church seemed a solid alternative. And the rest is history.
Moral of the story: we all can and do grow through the catechumenate!