The 440th anniversary of that memorable day when Martin Luther first posted his theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg and launched the Protestant Reformation is about to be observed.

For me the Reformation occurred not on October 31, 1517, but on a day in 1936 when I could no longer justify the discrepancy between Holy Scripture, the moral pronouncements of the Roman Catholic church itself, and Catholic dogma as it was being taught to me in a Jesuit seminary.

On the advice of a Father Superior who felt that I was not “physically and mentally strong enough” to become a priest, I was expelled from that seminary just a year before I was to have taken the final vows of ordination. Like many another student priest, I did not immediately break completely and become a Protestant. For nine years I found myself wandering in a nether world, coming to disbelieve more and more of the doctrines I had been taught from birth as a Catholic, but appalled by the thought that I should become a complete rebel and actually join a Protestant church. It was not until I was in the military service and met a wonderful Protestant chaplain that I finally made the decision that I ought to accept Christ and not merely compromise about him.

Personal Reformation

This Baptist chaplain counseled with me before my departure on a dangerous combat mission in Germany. He had no idea I was a former student priest. He knew only that I was deeply troubled. He was astonished when he learned that I had attended Catholic parochial schools, graduated from a Catholic college and studied three years in a Jesuit seminary. Then he told me how he himself had come to find Christ one day at a revival meeting when he, like I, had not been inside a church for several years and had lost all sense of contact with God. Under his inspiration I accepted the rite of baptism and for me, as it had been for Martin Luther, the break was at last complete.

For the last 12 years I have been active as a Protestant layman and have found that solace of spirit, that communion with Christ for which I yearned as a boy, for which I was prepared to dedicate my whole life as a priest, but which I could not find in the authoritarian dogmas of a creed which worships church more than Christ.

I look upon the Reformation today somewhat differently than those of my fellow Protestants who were born into the creed of Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley and other great Reformers. I have had to buy my freedom of conscience at a bitter price. I have come to my position as a Protestant by deep personal conviction.

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Not A Matter Of Hate

While I deplore some of the materialistic, worldly influences within the Roman Catholic church, detest the cynicism and opportunism of many of the clerical politicians of the Vatican, I am not anti-Catholic. After all, there is much that is good in the Catholic church, many dedicated and selfless priests, brothers and nuns. There comes before my eyes the vision of my own saintly Irish grandmother saying the prayers of her Rosary and lighting a candle before the image of Mary at our parish church. I know that God has enfolded her into the eternal keeping of his love. I only hope that she can understand now why her favorite grandson could not become a priest as she fervently wished.

She and thousands of good Catholic worshipers like her are seeking God in the only way they have been taught and no church which has so many kindly, consecrated souls within it can be a totally bad institution. So I cannot hate the Catholic church, though I do criticize those who have led her into the path of pride, worldliness and a maze of Mariology that obscures the ethical and spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ.

From my vantage point as a Catholic who has become a Protestant, there are many misgivings which I have concerning the Protestant churches in America in relation to the Catholic church. I hope that I may speak candidly of some of them.

Protestants are the inheritors of a great tradition. I wonder if we realize how hard our Protestant forefathers had to fight for religious freedom, how bitterly they suffered in the Thirty Years War in Europe, and how hard they worked here in the frontier outposts of America, solely for the right to escape the dictates of Popes who said there was only one way to worship God. Today American Protestants take that inheritance of religious freedom for granted. Many of our Roman Catholic citizens take religious freedom for granted just as much, not realizing what clerical dictatorship really means.

Originally, America was a Protestant nation. Its Roman Catholic minority was very small. Today this is no longer true. In the last generation the number of Roman Catholics has doubled in the United States. Catholic church members now outnumber Protestant church members in 12 of our 48 states. They are a substantial and vocal minority in most of the rest. Since Archbishop Cicgonani came here as Papal Delegate in 1933, the number of Catholic dioceses and bishops has more than doubled and enrollment in Catholic schools tripled in the United States.

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Roman Catholic leaders believe they have Protestantism on the run in America. They are confident as they read that 62 per cent of the children born in Connecticut last year were baptized Roman Catholics, that by sheer weight of outbreeding, as well as by more than 100,000 Protestant conversions each year (mostly in marriages), they will within another two generations (60 years) outnumber Protestants in all the populous industrial states, and in 200 years have a majority in every state.

Catholic Power Politics Explicit

Once Roman Catholics become a majority in an area, the church reaches out, as it always has, for control of the political state in order that the state’s power may be used to further the interest of the church. This has always been done and Catholics are taught as a matter of dogma that it is the duty of the State not to defend religious liberty, but to suppress it and support the church, for the church is a divinely ordained institution. This does not represent any secret conspiracy. It is plainly and explicitly taught in books of Catholic doctrine which are available to any Protestant to read.

We should not hate Catholics because they want to exterminate Protestantism by whatever means they can find to attain this objective, for they are taught that all Protestantism is a heresy, abominable in the sight of God, dividing Christ’s household. Catholics believe it will be for the spiritual welfare of Protestants themselves if they are led back to the chair of Peter, there to submit themselves to the Papal authority.

Protestants have to face the unpleasant fact that this is what the Roman Catholic church teaches concerning them. The Catholic clergy, whatever be their profession of tolerance and brotherhood, have as their one objective the ultimate conquest of Protestantism so that nowhere in America will there be a single Protestant church.

Protestant Apprehension

I think Protestants want to evade this unpleasant truth. I think, frankly, that they are afraid of the Roman Catholic church. They feel a chill run down their spines when they read the statistics of the growing Catholic population in the United States, frown when they see the tremendous expansion of Catholic schools (which now enroll one child out of every eight receiving education in America), and get a frustrated feeling when they see a neighbor boy signing a premarital agreement forever surrendering the religious freedom of his children in order to marry an attractive Catholic girl. But they are afraid to do anything about it.

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Protestants can see what is happening as the emissaries of the Roman pontiff gradually eat into this bastion of religious freedom and convert it into a citadel of Catholic strength.

This is exactly what is happening on the 440th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. What are Protestants going to do about it? Protestants can’t look to the past in America for the answer. Too many of the actions that Protestants have taken in the past make them ashamed today. That is one reason they are so reluctant to do anything, afraid that they will slip back into evil ways that they would prefer to forget.

I know that Protestants would not want to return to the days when a shower of bricks greeted my Irish forebears as they held a St. Patrick’s Day parade on the streets of an American city. They don’t want to go back to the days only too recent when the Ku Klux Klan burned as many crosses on Catholic lawns as in Negro sections. I don’t remember with any relish the time when I applied for summer employment in a New Jersey resort town and was required to state my religion. When I wrote “Catholic” I saw the frown on the personnel manager’s face. That was a predominantly Methodist resort and Catholic boys weren’t welcome.

Can Protestants Meet The Challenge?

Can Protestants meet the Catholic challenge in America without resorting to imbecilic outbursts of violent personal prejudice that are self-defeating? I hope they can and I hope that Protestants can come to see both the need of combatting Roman Catholicism in our free America and the proper manner in which that contest for the minds and loyalty of Americans ought to be conducted.

One thing is clear to me. Protestants are sooner or later either going to have to stand up for their religious beliefs, or see themselves go down to defeat before the machinations and power of Rome. They are losing the fight for the minds and souls of America’s future generations today. Overconfident because they have long been a powerful majority, our Protestant churches seem to feel so secure that to carry the ideological battle to their adversary would be beneath them. They are smug and self-satisfied. The Roman Catholic church isn’t, and that is the difference in this contest at the present moment. That is why Catholicism is making such enormous gains in America.

Jesuit Strategy

The Roman Catholic church, whatever may be its other faults, is never lacking in shrewdness or in good strategists. If I may say so with a little “old school pride,” the Jesuits are the sharpest generals in this struggle for America’s future. The Jesuits have urged the Catholic church in America to label every criticism of the Roman Catholic church as “bigotry.” They pretend that anyone who would exhort Protestants to conduct a campaign to convert Catholics—as Catholics spend millions through the Knights of Columbus Bureau of Information to convert Protestants—is trying to start a religious war. And when their sensibilities are offended, knowing how much Protestants want peace and brotherhood, the Jesuits deliberately stir up bitter religious animosity so that Protestants will be frightened and lay off.

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In this manner the Roman Catholic church uses the interfaith movement in the United States as a powerful defense for its own campaign against Protestantism. I have heard a prominent Jesuit scholar (Father Koerner of John Carroll University, Cleveland, Ohio) defend before a Catholic audience participation of the church in interfaith organizations on the ground that it pulls the teeth of Protestant opposition to Catholic doctrine, while Catholic laymen can be “steeled” against any subversion of their own beliefs by proper schooling in the “eternal truths” of their faith.

“Tolerance” And Timidity

It is a tragedy that Protestant leaders are permitting the Roman Catholic church to use “tolerance” as a sham with which to mask their own unremitting campaign of propaganda against Protestantism. Yet the Catholic church does use it so skilfully that any Protestant who criticizes the Catholic church seems to be doing something dirty. I make an appeal to my fellow Protestants on behalf of thousands of Americans who, like myself, were born and raised in the Roman Catholic church but who find its doctrines of Mariology and papal idolatry repugnant to the Scriptures, to common sense and to all concepts of democratic freedom. There are more such Catholic laymen—and even priests—than Protestants could have any means of suspecting. Why are they forsaken? Why is their very existence ignored? Why—except for Protestant timidity?

For nine years after I broke with Rome no Protestant church or minister made a move toward me. There was no agency working among ex-Catholics to give me answers for questions that perplexed me. I was simply an “unchurched” man. There are millions of nominal Catholics listed on the parish baptismal rolls today who haven’t been to Mass for years and who are willing to say openly that they do not believe the doctrines of their church, particularly her claim to be the sole repository of all truth. But they are ignored, even shunned, by Protestantism.

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Freedom Demands Price

I remember how, after my voluntary baptism during the closing days of World War II, I asked the Army to recognize my new religious status by issuing me a new dogtag that said “Prot” instead of “Cath” to indicate which chaplain I wanted in case of disability or death. I had quite a battle to get it and during the course of it the Roman Catholic chaplain of our division came to me belligerently and asked who had been “tampering” with my faith! When he found out the Protestant chaplain had baptized me, there was an immediate vigorous complaint to headquarters and the Baptist chaplain was called on the carpet by his superior (also a Protestant) who explained that the military chaplaincy was not the place to engage in proselytizing! He seemed to regard it as an offense against religious tolerance and brotherhood for a Catholic to be converted to Protestantism. Yet Catholic chaplains were baptizing Protestant boys left and right, particularly on the eve of battle when the St. Christopher medals were so comforting.

Martin Luther was not afraid of Catholic power. He knew the wrath of Rome would descend upon his head when he posted his theses. You simply have to face that violent wrath if you are going to cross the Vatican’s path. I had to face it when I made my own stand, knowing it meant expulsion from seminary, an end to a cherished career, humiliation and disgrace at home. It has meant economic discrimination and personal abuse, ruptured family relationships that may never heal. I paid a terrible price for my freedom, years out of my life, and I’m still hounded and harassed by those who feel that I am a betrayer because I have left the church I once vowed to serve. I know other Catholics who have done the same, other students at my seminary, even a respected monsignor who ultimately had all he could take of Rome’s cynical power politics. They, too, have made the personal sacrifice for freedom.

Time For New Offensive

When Luther rang the tocsin bell, thousands of disillusioned Catholic believers of his day rallied to him. They came out of the church by the thousands—nuns, priests, monks, lay people. Early Protestantism didn’t hesitate to say exactly where, when, and how they thought the Pope had erred in interpreting the Bible. They did not hesitate to condemn the Vatican’s amoral politics, and its greed for gold. Thousands of Catholics listened and followed the Protestant Reformers. More thousands would have, had not the church used the power of the state to threaten with death all heretics within Italy, Spain and other areas. Only ruthless use of the sword saved Rome.

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The Roman Catholic church in free America ought to be challenged by Protestants to defend her dogmas, particularly her bigoted assertion that she alone is the true church of Christ. The type of bigotry which is taught in Catholic parochial schools should be castigated as a positive subversion of America’s heritage of freedom—which it is.

If the Roman Catholic church were compelled to engage in debate in the free forum of ideas, if her communicants were regularly presented with the Protestant side of issues as well as the Catholic, she would soon be on the defensive.

The Catholic church can and is through its opposition to birth control outbreeding Protestants. It indoctrinates its young people so that if they marry Protestants the latter must sign away all rights to the children. It can thereby—and is—increasing its numbers. But it cannot indefinitely hold the minds of its adherents if they are given freedom of choice.

Make Reformation Real

Freedom of religion simply doesn’t exist for the average Roman Catholic in America today. If you think it does, you should see the pressure the church brings to bear upon any members who leave its fold or try to question its teachings. Every Catholic child, it is insisted, must be educated in a Catholic school. It is massive indoctrination, a process of education designed to make America in the future a Catholic country, utterly submissive and obedient to Rome. Yet Protestants are contributing more and more of their own tax dollars to the parochial schools!

The Protestant Reformation is more than an historical event. It has been in my own life, and in the lives of thousands of Catholics like me, a vivid and present event. We have broken away from the dictatorship of Rome and its false doctrines, its purchased Masses and ritual prayers, in this generation and in this country. Unless the Reformation confronts her with a continuous challenge, Rome will win the contest of the centuries. She has already succeeded in containing Protestantism and narrowing its influence. She has succeeded in pulling its teeth so that its challenging doctrines no longer reach the ears of her faithful adherents. Now she is beginning the slow, inexorable task of conquering it and forcing it into isolated pockets for ultimate destruction.

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Rome would lose adherents by the millions in free America if she had to defend her dogmas. Thousands who will never know anything but a sterile service before a high altar in a mystical long-dead foreign tongue will never come to know Christ. They will only come to fear a church which damns them to thousands of years in an imaginary but vividly-described purgatory. Their souls may be lost to Christ entirely because they will drift away from that church, rejecting her ridiculous holy waters, indulgences, sacred wooden images, and other medieval superstitions. No other door is open to these Americans. No evangelist is calling them. No organization tries to help them. For lapsed Catholics, no challenging alternative to agnosticism is offered.

Results Would Benefit All

The Reformation must be born anew in America. Protestants—not throwing bricks or burning crosses—but nailing theses to church doors, are needed today to combat the spread of Catholic totalitarianism in free America. If the Catholic church faced such an intellectual challenge it would be good for her. She would learn to rely less on force and more on logic. And as events which followed the Reformation in Europe showed, under pressure she would reform herself. The Catholic church no longer burns Protestants at the stake as she once did; no longer openly sells indulgences for gold; no longer has a corrupt Borgia as sovereign Pope. She has made considerable progress and, if confronted with a serious challenge, would make more adjustments. Millions of Catholics who would remain loyal to their church as well as other millions of nominal Catholics who would leave it for a warmer, more vivid faith would benefit from a new Reformation in America.

Do Protestants dare to defend their faith and reassert its truths in the face of the certain fury of Rome? Only if they have the kind of courage and conviction to do so will they be worthy of their heritage. Only if they join the battle for America’s future being forced upon them by Rome will they preserve their heritage for their descendants.

The writer of this article is a former Roman Catholic Jesuit trainee. Christianity Today is assured of his identity, respects his plea for anonymity: “The power of the Catholic church to exact retribution upon its opponents is so great that I dare not sign my name to this article, for the employer for whom I work has Catholic customers and would be bound to feel the pressure of economic reprisal. If he were to stick by me, it would cost him thousands of dollars.”

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