Why I Left the Catholic Church for Orthodoxy (And Why I Came Back)

I still remember feeling betrayed by the Catholic Church.

I became a Catholic in 2012 because I was convinced that the Church checked out on paper. I was able to see the biblical, historical, and rational reasons for its claims.

However, I soon began to notice a wide chasm between the Catholic Church as described in theory and the Church as seen in action. I came to call it a conflict between “paper Catholicism” and “experiential Catholicism.” The cognitive dissonance from this tension severely tested my faith for several years.

Concerns about my conversion to Catholicism amassed, but I remained faithful to my reception into the Church. With the use of Catholic apologetics, I even defended the Church from opposing family members and friends. However, it wasn’t long before this fidelity to the Church was tried even more, especially as I began to realize that I was surrounded by both clergy and laity who did not believe what the Catholic Church teaches in many areas. To make matters worse, my experiences of evil treatment by Catholic clergy, and betrayal from Catholic friends, rubbed salt in the wounds, and I struggled to find a good spiritual director to guide me through the torment of a scrupulous conscience.

It all came to a head when a local priest gave incredibly injurious and spiritually destructive advice to someone close to me, with disastrous consequences for me and my children. This was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I felt betrayed by the same Church I had defended for over five years.

At this point, I began to wonder if God had allowed me to go through all of this in order to point me to Eastern Orthodoxy. I had considered Orthodoxy for several years before becoming a Catholic. So I re-evaluated Eastern Orthodoxy over the course of the next two years—and then I took the plunge.

From an experiential perspective, my time in Orthodoxy was incredible. I had the exact opposite experience with my priest and local congregation of what I had had with the Catholic Church. However, problems of a different nature arose—namely, theological and practical issues. In other words, I found “experiential Orthodoxy” soothing, but “paper Orthodoxy” did not make sense.

This problem—the result of the Eastern Orthodox lacking an objective and final teaching authority—certainly concerned me, but the biggest issue I experienced  was a conviction that I shouldn’t have broken communion with the Catholic Church because of personal problems. Did I have doctrinal, historical, and liturgical reasons to go to Eastern Orthodoxy? Yes, but these arose after I had already arrived at a point of dissatisfaction with Catholicism. In the midst of it all, the words of the Second Vatican Council rang in my ears:

Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it(Lumen Gentium 14).

These words pierced my heart daily and forced me to question whether I had made the right decision. Having had time and distance from the emotional situations that caused me to be disillusioned with the Catholic Church, I was able to consider the claims for Catholicism and the claims for Orthodoxy in a more objective fashion.

After three additional years of study and discernment, I returned to communion with the Catholic Church out of conviction that I must remain there if I wish to be saved, as the Second Vatican Council states.

I am grateful for my time in Orthodoxy, as it taught me the beauty of the Jesus Prayer, how to live as an Eastern Christian, and how to relate to disillusioned Catholics who look to the Orthodox for greener pastures.

Those who may be tempted, as I once was, by Eastern Orthodoxy may buy in to common Orthodox objections to Catholicism without sufficiently evaluating them. My aim is to help disillusioned Catholics work through common Orthodox objections to Catholic doctrine and communion, many of which I had to work through in order to return to the Catholic Church. By engaging these objections, I hope to urge disillusioned Catholics to re-examine their decision to look elsewhere, since the doctrinal basis the Orthodox use to justify their separation with Rome is without merit.

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Oct 31st 2023 Michael Lofton

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