One of the most amazing works of the Holy Spirit over the past couple of decades or so has been the wave of Protestant converts coming into the Catholic Church. Notable among them have been the Protestant ministers — the tip of the iceberg of whom have been the names that have become well-known in apologetics circles. Though what they have been given by the Church surely dwarfs anything they have brought to her, it is also true that they have enlivened the faith of many a cradle Catholic with their enthusiasm and evident joy at discovering the truths of the faith.
Teaching Protestants who come into the Church is a challenge that any well-managed RCIA program should be able to meet. What has proved more difficult however has been finding ways to make use of the gifts and training that Protestant ministers bring with them and assisting them with their very special circumstance — that their conversion has met the end of their career. The Coming Home Network, founded by Marcus Grodi, has served a very valuable role in helping these men (they are mostly men) make the difficult double transition into a new faith community and career at the same time.
What Marcus Grodi has found, as those who watch his show, The Journey Home, may have noticed, is that sprinkled among the converts from Protestant denominations have been here and there, converts, not merely from among our separated brethren, but from religious groups that deny nearly everything that we and the Protestants have in common. At first it was rare and notable to see a former Jehovah’s Witness or Mormon being interviewed on his show. That has begun to change as converts from these groups become more common. Within recent weeks both a former Jehovah’s Witness and a deacon who was in The Way International appeared in separate episodes of The Journey Home.
These conversions from such high-control groups are often very dramatic and the choices these converts face may go well beyond the Protestant minister’s career upheavals to encompass cruel ostracism by close family members, shattering self-doubt, and difficult navigation through a socially alien terrain.
More and more, we are seeing converts whose backgrounds are much stranger, theologically and socially, than any former Baptist or Episcopalian. Have we noticed that they are coming in? Are we ready for them?
One way we can get ready is by understanding more about what life in cult does to a person, the wounds that may be left from years of spiritual and emotional abuse, from years of living in existential terror of violating dehumanizing and arbitrary — and constantly changing — rules. The people most equipped to convey this understanding to us are the people who have lived the experience of being in a cult, coming out, and coming into the Catholic Church. The richness of their experiences cannot be overstated any more than can the depth of their gratitude. The one who has been forgiven much, loves much, and the one in whom the light itself has been darkness finds special joy in the true light.
So come and learn from these people whose amazing journey will inspire and educate you. Come to the Welcome Home! Catholic Conference in Weirton, WV from August 1-3. The conference is sponsored by the Fellowship of Catholic Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Speakers include our own Mark Shea, Tom Cabeen, a former overseer at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses and yours truly. I will be giving an extended talk on the subject of cults on Friday evening. It is called “Hijacked Lives” and will cover how people get recruited into cults, what happens to them while they are in the group and what kind of help they need when they get out.
I especially urge Catholic social workers, counselors, and other mental health providers to come and learn how to effectively help people with this history. Priests, DREs, and catechists will benefit from understanding how to
meet the unique needs of this population as they enter the Catholic Church in increasing numbers — because whether we are ready or not, God is bringing them to us.
This conference will also be invaluable for anyone with a family member in this group — or in any similar group that wrecks havoc with family life. Come meet others who understand the deep sense of loss, the holiday turmoil, the walking on eggshells.
Weirton, WV is about 20 minutes from the Pittsburgh International Airport and 30 minutes from the Franciscan University of Steubenville. Special early-registration rates are available now through June 30th. To see the agenda and to register for the conference click here or follow the link on the website of The Catholic Fellowship of Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses, www.catholicxjw.com.