Saturday, 10th June, 2000

Here is an email I sent to G. (one of my oldest friends) today:

Dear G.,

I have intentionally not been writing to you because I have been going through a bit of a confusing period, and it was hard to write about it. I think now, though the matter is nowhere near resolved, I probably can tell you something of it. Mind you, please keep it under your hat—I tell you because you are a life long friend, and at some stage may become involved in the process and either way will be affected by it.

While I was on my three weeks stress leave, I decided that I would become a Roman Catholic. I can give several reasons for this:

1) I believe that since the Joint Declaration on Justification, the "emergency" situation of the 16th Century is now over. Because Rome clearly teaches that we are fully justified by grace alone, Lutheranism has no more excuse to maintain the schism that happened at the Reformation. If we do, we are at fault.

2) The Lutheran Church is deficient in a number of areas:

a) Though for the first one hundred years, the Lutheran Church maintained the liturgy, it fell into ruin during the enlightenment only to be revived again in the 19th century. I believe that the liturgy is again in decline among our churches, because we have not made the important connection that "word and sacrament" = "liturgy". Unfortunately, we are not only dealing with a Gospel-reductionism but also with a Sacrament-reductionism.

b) We do not have bishops. I have always been an “episcopalian”. However, just getting bishops from Anglicans or from Sweden is not the solution. For a bishop to have authority, his teaching must be in accord with the whole church.

c) This leads me to the major question, the question of Authority. I have been dismayed at the process by which our church (like other churches throughout Lutheranism) has approached the question of ordination of women. The decision process itself here in the LCA has shown that there is no single recognised authority among Lutherans. The Confessions are interpreted out of the context of the catholic tradition, the scriptures themselves are interpreted in new and novel ways that have no bearing on the teaching of the catholic church that created the canon itself. And we are going to decide this issue on a vote!

d) I can no longer accept some of the major tenants of the Lutheran Church, for instance, that the Article of Justification by Faith Alone is the article by which the church stands or falls. In fact, you could say this for many other articles as well: eg. the Incarnation, the Resurrection—but in fact, there are significant teachers in the Lutheran tradition that seem to say that all that matters is that Jesus loves you and you are forgiven and you can believe what you like from there. Also, I no longer accept the "Scripture Alone" tenant, if this means that we can interpret scripture apart from the sacred tradition of the church as is being done in the women's ordination debate.

3) Having read some good Catholic theology, especially in the area of the teaching magisterium of the Church, I have come to accept the claims of the Roman church with regard to authority and infallibility. Once one recognises this, there is not much hope for one as a Lutheran. I think our central tenant has not been "Justification by Faith Alone", but "The Pope is the AntiChrist".

4) finally, I will become a Catholic, because in truth, I am a Catholic. I am no longer a protestant, if I ever was, because there is nothing that I protest against any more. For some time I have been defending what is Catholic because it is Lutheran. From now on, I can only defend what is Lutheran if it is Catholic.

Of course, huge problems faced me once I made this decision. But I didn't know the half of it. When I made the decision, I was aware that I would be giving up my ministry in the Lutheran Church and my income etc. etc, and I was aware also that the chances of becoming a Catholic priest were slim, even with John Fleming's precedent. But what I had completely forgotten about is that I am a divorced person who is married to a divorced person, and under the RC Church's rules regarding marriage, I would be barred from receiving communion for as long as I remained in a relationship with Cathy.

This presented an intolerable situation in which two foundational truths for my life came into conflict. The first truth was the realisation that the fullness of the Church of Christ subsists in the Catholic Church. The second truth is that I am married to Cathy, and together with our child(ren) we are a family, and I love them very very much, and to call this relationship into question was beyond my understanding of what is just or right.

So, where to now? Well, I went to see my friend Fr D. while I was still on leave. He then checked out what I would have to do to be received into the Catholic Church. It was clear that I could only become a Catholic if I were to obtain an annulment of my marriage to Deidre and if Cathy were to do the same with regard to her former marriage. Now, Cathy was happy to stand with me on my decision, but she opposed to having to go through the annulment process herself. Fr D. got me an initial interview with the Tribunal of the Catholic Church (which I finally had on June 7th, last Wednesday). In the meantime, I took the time to think things through.

I talked to my spiritual director and to P. in depth. We also had Continuing Education for Pastors Retreat in the last week of May, so I got to talk to several other clergy friends. I have also talked with DB and friends and lecturers from the Seminary. So I have got lots of advice and direction. CEP also gave me an opportunity to observe the opinions of others generally regarding the church also.

So last Wednesday, I fronted up at the Tribunal. An annulment means that what is to all appearances a binding sacramental union (defined as the marriage of two baptised persons entered into with consent and the full awareness of the nature and the responsibilities of marriage—including childbearing) is declared to have been deficient in some way from the very beginning that reduces its binding nature. The process of getting an annulment includes writing an 8-10 page statement on many detailed points of the family background, courtship, wedding and honeymoon and early years of marriage and the eventual breakdown. 3-4 witnesses are required to give independent evidence that might corroborate the written statement. Then the tribunal goes to work and 8-18 months later they pass down a decision.

You can appreciate that such a process will be very emotionally demanding. A hard process to go through while one is conducting a demanding ministry and while all along this process is taking place because one believes that ministry to be in some sense no longer valid. At the same time, after hearing all this, I became less sure that I wanted to drag Cathy through it. There was, however, another possibility for Cathy—if her husband had not in fact been baptised then there is no need for this process. Her marriage is simply declared "invalid", and she is declared free to remarry.

I came close, on Wednesday, to the decision to resign my ministry there and then, just so that I had the strength to do what had to be done. But on Thursday I left to go to a Chaplains Conference at Horsham. While there I had a chance to talk to my spiritual director again. He especially emphasised that I should hasten slowly in this matter and give it as much time as possible. That night Cathy rang to say she had spoken to her former husband, and he had never been baptised. Coming back yesterday, I thought things over again, and I have, so to speak, come back from the brink. I am still certain that the time will come for me to act, but it is not yet. In the mean time, I have decided that I will initiate the annulment process, and take steps to see that Cathy's marriage is declared invalid, but that I will make no move until the way is clear.

I am not yet sure that this is indeed God's will for me. I also need to see what happens at Synod in a month's time. That will have a big effect on my decisions from here.

As you can appreciate, this is all pretty life shattering stuff, and I wanted you to know just so that the lines of communication were open and honest between us. Please do not breath a word of this to another person.

Again, sorry for the silence. I hope this explains a little of what has been going on.


I have put this email letter into this journal in order to give a quick overview of where I have come from. I now have to back up a little to add in what has been happening the last few days.

Wednesday morning I went entered the doors of the Tribunal of the Catholic Church in Albert Street to meet with Fr K. The interview was straightforward enough. He ran me through the details of what would be required and took preliminary details. He also read a draft statement that I had put together. He then told me what was required from this point on (see separate documentation). The interview was a little like a mixture between seeing a solicitor and seeing a marriage counsellor.

He said that as far as he could see, there were grounds upon which I would probably get an annulment. These would be that due to immaturity there was an improper understanding and evaluation of the nature and responsibilities of marriage, including childbearing. He distinguished between intellectual knowledge and mature evaluation. The process, once embarked upon, would require a donation toward the costs of $500, and would take between 8 and 18 months. He also said that it would be necessary for Cathy either to show that Ian had not been baptised, or to go through the same process before our marriage could be blessed. It would, however, not to be necessary for the annulment process to be complete before I was professed and began communing, because I could show that I was doing all in my conscience to set the situation right.

I must say that I felt quite emotional during this interview. Afterwards, because I had half an hour free before the parking was up on my car, I went across the road to the Cathedral, and sat down in one of the front pews. There I suddenly found myself weeping. Not for long, but really weeping. I felt as if my heart had become as heavy as lead within me, and I just could not see how I was going to get from where I was to where I wanted to be. I think part of it was fear, fear at the loss of my ministry, fear at the loss of my livelihood, fear of the loss of my identity as member of the Lutheran Community. Anyway, I just wept.

I felt better afterwards, but still quite drained as I walked back to my car. When I got home, I found that Cathy was still out, so I took our dog Misha for a walk. While I was walking, I said to Misha, “I don’t know why I am doing this, but I guess it is all good for the soul.”

Later that afternoon, I got a chance to sit down with Cathy. We talked for a long time. I told her about the process, and my feelings, and my fears. She said that she was not afraid, that she was willing to find out about Ian’s baptism, but that she did not want to go through the annulment process. We talked about whether it was in fact time for me to resign, since I could not see how I was going to handle the trauma of this change and still carry out my ministry. I think, at that point, I believed that the time had come to act.

Then, surprisingly, I got a call from my Seminary mentor. He is on long service leave, travelling with his wife around northern Australia, and he was ringing from a gold phone in far-north Queensland. He was ringing to check with me on the ACOL (Australian Consultation on Liturgy) meetings that were coming up, but he also said that it had been on his mind for the last week to ring and have a chat to see how I was going with things in general. I asked him “Who has told you about me”, and when he said he didn’t know what I meant, I told him “I’m leaving the Lutheran Church and becoming a Roman Catholic.”

I should have broken it to him much more gently than that, but a part of me wanted to present it as a fait accompli so that he would realise how far it had gone. The poor man—he said that this had “ruined his holiday”. He really was dreadfully upset. He said “Do you have any idea how much hurt you will cause a lot of people? And how hard this will make it for those of us who remain in the church, like myself and P., and DB?” We talked for about three quarters of an hour (he had his credit card in the machine). He raised several theological problems for consideration, but he also said “I will bless you whatever you do—but please do not act in haste. Especially, since I know you are likely to want to make some sort of big romantic stand out of this, don’t resign, but take leave of absence to consider this.” Especially, he thought that I was “jumping the gun” and should wait to see what happened at Synod. He also argued that the LCA General Pastor’s Conference was the true teaching magisterium of the church.

With this in mind, I headed off for Horsham and the National LCA Chaplains Conference on Thursday morning. I had four and a half hours to think things over. In the afternoon I went rock climbing at the Arrapiles near Natimuk  with three other pastors: S. (one of my closest clergy friends), C. (whom I had gone to school with) and J. (who was my former senior pastor in my first parish). Actually, the S. and C. climbed, while J. and I watched. That is, until they challenged me to do an “easy” climb up the rockface...

Anyway, I got the chance to talk things over with my S., and bring him up to date on where things were while we were driving there (we went separately from J. and C.). While at the rocks, I talked over church issues with J. (just like old times). He said that he has changed his position on women’s ordination to opposing it, because he has seen the way the pro-ordination side has been treating scripture.

Then, in the afternoon, I met again with my spiritual director at the local pub and we talked for about an hour and a half. He raised a number of issues for me to consider:

1) in response to my question: How do I keep on getting myself into these situations? He suggested that I might want to try a clinical psychologist. This would round out the consideration of what I am trying to work through, as DB and my seminary mentor can provide the theological analysis, and he himself can help with the spiritual, but perhaps the psychological must be examined too. A good idea, but it will cost about $120 an hour.

2) He asked the question: Are you being selfish? What good will be served by this for any one other than yourself? This is one that I have to think through a lot, lot more. For instance, what will all this do to Cathy and Maddy? What about our child that is about to be born? What about the three congregations, all of whom are depending upon my continuing ministry for the stability to sail some very troubled waters?

3) As we were talking about decision-making, he raised the image of playing chess, and having to consider all the possibilities before moving the piece. I found this particularly enlightening for me, because I have always been a very reckless chess player--along the lines of “I wonder what will happen if I do this?”—and then having to face the consequences afterwards. I don’t want to make the same mistake here.

4) He asked if I had considered the possibility, that before I make the final decision, I should get all those whom I have spoken to about it: DB, B., S., my seminary mentor, P. and himself, and himself--and even perhaps Fr D.—together for a round table discussion along the lines of “Okay, give it to me straight.” I had considered this, in fact, but thought it was a bit fanciful. He, however, thinks it could be useful.

Finally, he instructed me to tell Cathy when I next spoke to her “You have a good woman there.”

I had, after all this, decided that I would not resign at this point: I had a lot more to think through. I also decided that if I found that Cathy’s former husband had been baptised, I would abandon the idea of converting to the Catholic Church entirely, because I would not ask Cathy to do what was abhorrent to her.

When I got home to S.’s place that night, Cathy rang to say that her previous husband had never been baptised (except as a Mormon!). I was so relieved. I slept perfectly that night, knowing that for the moment, I was continuing in the Lutheran Church, and, that when the time came to make the shift, it would be all the more easy now that Cathy would not require an annulment.

I determined that I would initiate the annulment process on my own marriage (not sure when, but soon—possibly after talking to my District President, possibly after the Synod) and the arrangements to get Cathy’s marriage declared invalid. This way, I would have my marital affairs sorted out when the time came for me to approach the Catholic hierarchy for admission into the fold. That way too, there could be continuity of employment, as I would be able to enter into employment in church agencies.

Nothing much has changed since, other than I spoke in depth about the state of the church to Pastor C.S. who came home with me, and wrote the email to G.  

What now? I will talk more to my three close pastor friends, A., S., and B. (and their wives) as we are going away to Bendigo together this week. I am reading Jaroslav Pelikan’s “The Riddle of Roman Catholicism”, even though it is 40 years old and rather out of date. I will continue to investigate.

Probably the next big step is talking to my District President on the 22nd of June. That may determine the way for me.

Tuesday 6th June, 2000

I have not made an entry into this journal for a few days. Tomorrow I have my first interview with the Marriage Tribunal. I am both eager for this to happen and also fearful.

I have not been able to resist talking to people about my crisis. I have had an incredible need to talk about it. So, in the past week, I have talked to the following people:

NG: I met with N for lunch on Friday. He has asked me to be his marriage celebrant. I told him because I felt he ought to know that I may not be a Lutheran pastor for much longer. His reaction was a bit along the lines of “golly!”.

Fr D: D asked me to have coffee with him after the Faith and Order meeting on Friday afternoon. We had a long discussion together, going over many of the same issues again. Again he said to me that he is fearful for me. He described himself as “a happy Catholic”. I long to be a “happy Catholic” too...

Pastor V: Well, actually I didn’t tell V, but he said to me (on the phone) that he had written to his “liberal clergy uncles” to say that they should realise there are a number of pastors in the LCA who would go over to Rome if the LCA ordained women. I said “Who?” and he replied: “Well, myself for one, and your friend P., and probably Marco*, and well, I guess, you too.” And I said to him, “Yes, but don’t you realise that I would never be able to receive communion in the Catholic Church because I am divorced and remarried?” No. It hadn’t occurred to him.

*[see Fr Marco’s blog “Heretics Anonymous” to find out what happened to him!]

And I wish I could put J [a seminary lecturer and mentor] on this list. Actually, I got a little excited when I learned that next week we have Australian Consultation on Liturgy meetings, and I thought “Yippee! J will be coming over, I can invite him to stay and we can talk this out at leisure.” But then I found out that he is on long service leave and won’t be back on deck until Synod...

So, tonight, on the way to a meeting at the Casey congregation, I talked to DB. I didn’t intend to really at first, but we were talking about the parish and all its problems, and I said, “Well, I don’t think I will have to worry about it much longer.” and he said: “Why? Because you’re going to Rome?” and I said: “Yes. If I can.”

And then I spilled the whole story to him. If I take both the journey there and the journey home, and the half hour we spent talking out in his car, I must say that next to P, talking to D was the best thing I have done yet. His insight—his logical, clear thinking—was wonderful. He put the finger on the nub when he said as we were arriving at the meeting: “Well, you must ask yourself whether, having even gone this far, you can still continue as a Lutheran pastor, or whether you should resign.” And in one sense he was right—I am already experiencing great difficulties in functioning in my pastoral role. On the way home, though, as we explored the ways of God in allowing me to consider this question just when this hurdle had to be crossed, we wondered if, out of all of it, I might not emerge even more Lutheran than when I went into the issue.

There were very many aspects to our conversation. Yet the one thing that was not there was condemnation. D understood entirely. He said that his own leanings were toward Constantinople (mind you, I challenged him on this one), but he understood my decision and sympathised. He did not question my Lutheran-ness—we even discussed the fact that it is possible to be a Lutheran in the Roman Catholic Church, but not possible to be a Catholic in the Lutheran Church.

Tonight I am afraid. I have been singing the Pentecost sequence to comfort myself:

“Holy Spirit, come we pray,
send from heaven your inward ray,
and brighten darkness into day.

Come now, Father of the poor,
come now, source of all our store,
light up our hearts for evermore.

Of all comforters, the best
is the soul’s sweet, heavenly guest;
so come, and let us be refreshed.

In all labour, be our rest,
be our comfort in distress,
and strengthen us in every test.

Light immortal, fire divine,
fill our hearts and in us shine;
and claim your people for all time.

Grant us virtue’s full increase,
grant us safe and sweet release,
and grant us everlasting peace.”

Amen, Lord, so be it.

Sunday 28th May, 2000

On Friday, I made an appointment with Father Tony Kerin of the Dioscesan Marriage Tribunal. I am to see him for an intitial interview on June 7th. I don’t hold out a lot of hope. I don’t know what will happen...

I rang an old friend from my Seminary days today. He had been something of a mentor in my discovery of “catholic” worship and liturgy at the Seminary. I  told him of my decision—for the first time I met with some resistance to my idea. He seems to be convinced of the traditional view of papal authority—as long as it is by “human right”.

But such authority is no authority at all! Either authority in the church must be divine or it is no better than any other individual’s opinion.

Further, my friend believes that the insistence on male celibate priests is a hindrance.

But what problem is there in this? Especially compared to the rather ridiculous abuses taking place on the Lutheran side of the coin.

Wednesday, 24th May, 2000

[This journal entry was written at a gathering of all the pastors of the Victorian District of the LCA at Holy Cross, a Passionist retreat centre in Templestowe - David]

Last night, Father Michael Casey from the Cistercian Abbey at Yarra Glen (Tarrawarra) came out to speak about the Divine Office. Toward the end of his session, I began reflecting that I had once considered the celibate life very seriously. I realised however that when I was considering this, I did not consider the possibility of being anything but Lutheran. In a real sense, it was the difficulty in there being no Lutheran community that I could join that prevented me from taking vows as a monk sometime during the intervening period between my divorce at the beginning of 1995 and my marriage at the beginning of 1997. I then suddenly realised that had my decision to become a Roman Catholic come three years ago—or, to put it another way, had I not already remarried before last night—I would not have had the slightest hesitation in converting to Rome and going off to the Abbey to join the monks. The following conclusion then hit me forcibly, so forcibly that I almost physically reeled from the revelation. I had to write it down immediately, and this is what I wrote:

God has trapped me--I didn’t realise this till now. Did he know that if I were still single, I would have found it easy to leave the LCA and join the Cistercians at Yarra Glen?? Has he led me into my new family so that I would be bound to remain in my current ministry? Must I accept that the door is bolted on the other side and that God has me cornered? And he lets me realise it now when I have no choice or freedom to act???

I have to think about this. The God who has led me into a trap before setting me loose to ask the crucial question...

Other developments: Over the last two days, I have spoken about my decision to my three closest pastor friends. I can’t say that any of them were surprised—one said simply “I didn’t know that you had come so far.” I shared my complete predicament with them. They certainly have not treated me any differently with this knowledge.

Furthermore, I have had many conversations with many other pastors regarding the crisis of authority in the LCA. The matter of the election of a new General President, and the whole matter of accepting the Anglican proposal for shared ministry, will heighten this crisis. I am convinced that I am far from being alone in recognising this crisis. I do think I am alone in answering it the way that I have. However, I do not think many will be puzzled by my action if I ever find the way toward my goal.

Tuesday, 16th May, 2000

[Reading this journal entry now seems quite surreal. Readers will have no difficulty in spotting the incorrect logic in the fourth paragraph. I eventually spotted it too! – David]

Drawing out more on what my spiritual director told me, I was explaining to Cathy my view of how I will proceed from here.

Essentially, this call to the Catholic Church is something that will not go away if I ignore it. It is an old issue for me that has resurfaced precisely when my ministry is shaky. It is therefore a foundational issue for me, and I have to deal with it eventually.

So I will “follow truth where it leads...” and as far as it leads. I will not enter the Catholic church if it means I can never receive communion in the Catholic Church. My director talked about some Russian king who wanted to enter the church, but because of his murderous life was not permitted to be anything other than a catechumen all his life—he was only allowed to “look in through the windows”. I have asked myself whether I would be content to “look in through the windows” and I cannot think that this is what God is calling me to do. So I would take such a conclusion as a full stop.

That is, God has urged me to follow this to its conclusion. If the conclusion is that I simply cannot, as a divorced and remarried person, be a communicant member of the Catholic church, well that’s it, I have to remain a Lutheran (there is no other alternative). This in turn will give me the solid foundation that I require to continue my ministry in the Lutheran church. If, on the other hand, I turn back at any stage before I reach the point at which I can go no further, the question of whether I should be a Catholic will always remain unresolved.

The one thing that must happen from that point on, however, is that I must cease all dissembling. I am doing this for the sake of my integrity. I am at heart a Catholic. I will be a Catholic whether the Catholic church will have me or no. So if I remain a Lutheran, I will no longer defend what is Catholic because it is Lutheran, but rather defend and teach what is Lutheran because it is Catholic. I will be known as a Catholic, even if I remain a Lutheran.