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promise breakers

By Diogenes (articles ) | Feb 05, 2005

Rod Dreher flags this excellent editorial on John Stack, the ex-Jesuit who attracted our own attention by his decision to ignore his vows and take a wife. The author is Wick Allison, editor of D Magazine, whose "Open Letter to the Bishops," issued just prior to their Dallas meeting in June 2002, is a classic of well-targeted lay remonstrance. His essay on Stack is worth a read in its entirety. Here are the concluding paragraphs (bear in mind that he's not writing in the Texas Catholic but in a self-consciously secular magazine):

Some 4,200 sects have sprung up in Martin Luther's wake. Anybody, it seems, can have an idea and call it a church. It is so routine as to be almost banal. But to Catholics there is only one Church. If John Stack has willfully disengaged himself from it by rejecting vows freely given to it, why make the claim to be part of it? Surely, if nothing else, we can ask for a little honesty in advertising.

But we want to ask for something more. We want to ask those Catholics who sympathize with John Stack to ask questions of their own Church. Is it a divine institution or purely a human invention? Who founded it? Why does it exist? How has it survived the countless John Stacks of the last two thousand years? What does it mean to be in communion with it?

These questions go to the core of what it means to be a Catholic. And the answers to these questions should be enough to guide any Catholic who is uncertain about the events of the last month in Plano.

As for John Stack himself, we wish him well. To start a marriage, as he intends to do, is to take one vow by breaking another, which seems to us a little like building a house upon the sand. But he has his conscience and knows his own mind.

That there is a better guide than one's own mind is a matter of faith, and it is a faith that comes to us from the Apostles. For those of us who remain, it remains the rock. It is our deepest belief that on this rock Christ built His Church.

Judgmental? Not in my book. Stack, at age 37, made a solemn and public profession of vows, by which act he publicly invited those who witnessed the ceremony to hold him accountable to his public promise. Now, at age 65, he wants out -- and at zero cost to his reputation. But no one forced Stack to put himself under the obligation of perpetual chastity (can Stack, after all, give back the esteem paid him over the years by those who thought he intended to keep his vows?) and no one should feel abashed if he refuses to be complicit in Stack's self-serving amnesia.

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