I literally laughed out loud after reading C. Michael Patton’s part 2 on Roman Catholicism. I’m not trying to be a jerk. I’m sure that Patton is a nice enough person, who does seem to have interacted with at least some streams of Cahtolicism, as evidenced by his second post. Some people whose blogs I read and thoroughly enjoy confess to appreciating Patton’s writing, though being surprised by this particular set of posts. I laughed because of my own life experience as a Roman Catholic.
The part I found a bit amusing was his discussion of being “kicked out” of the Catholic Church, or being a “true” Catholic (and by the way, I think he is misusing the word “apostasy,” which according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church  is a “total repudiation of the Christian faith”; I doubt that’s where the Catholics he is referring to are). As many readers of this blog know, I am a revert to the Catholic Church. I grew up Catholic, left, and returned. In the time that I spent away from the Church, I actually went so far as to be ordained a Southern Baptist minister. I was “baptized” (I’ll explain those quotation marks in a bit) in Baptist Church and married in a Baptist Church.
Upon returning to the Church, however, I was surprised to find out that my marriage was invalid … yes, that’s right invalid. The Church considered it invalid in the sense that it was not sacramental. I literally could have gotten divorced and gotten a quick annulment at that point (Thankfully my wife didn’t seize on her last opportunity for freedom as we had our marriage convalidated shortly after I returned to the Church and she started the RCIA process). And why was my marriage invalid? “Lack of Canonical Form.” In other words, I had not, as a Roman Catholic, obeyed the canonical requirement of being married in a Catholic Church witnessed by a priest or deacon (or with a dispensation from the bishop of my archdiocese outside of the Church).
But, wait a second … I was an ordained Southern Baptist minister not a Roman Catholic. Well, as it turns out, a person is Roman Catholic by virtue of their baptism. I discussed this with my instructor when trained to be an advocate for annulment cases. I knew this from the Catechism (paragraph 1280) at that point: “Baptism imprints on the soul an indelible spiritual sign, the character, which consecrates the baptized person for Christian worship. Because of the character Baptism cannot be repeated.” But, he put it a bit more eloquently; he said something to the effect: “you may have gotten wet, but you didn’t get baptized again.” Baptism is an indelible mark, and not even becoming an ordained Southern Baptist could remove it.
Now, at the same time I was a Southern Baptist minister, I was also getting my MA in Old Testament and Hebrew language and starting my doctoral program in Biblical Languages (which praise and glory to God I just finished). I get my years mixed up, but I believe I gave my first SBL presentation and wrote a peer-reviewed journal article before returning to the Church (though these did not deal with theology, I obviously dealt with theology in local church settings). It’s possible my papers and publication came a little after, but regardless of the time frame there is a sense in which I was a scholar before returning to the Catholic Church.
So, this presents an interesting situation. While I was a Southern Baptist, I was still, according to the Church, a Roman Catholic bound by canon law with with regard to my marriage, so much so that I could have had a short form annulment. And, I was also a scholar in the area of Biblical Studies and Biblical Languages. Ironically, I believe there is some real sense in which I could have been considered a Catholic biblical scholar when I was a Southern Baptist minister, at least in the eyes of the Catholic Church. Otherwise the Church holding me responsible for canon law wouldn’t make a great deal of sense. Again, baptism is indelible.
Now, would I have been a Catholic scholar faithful to the Magisterium of the Church? Of course not. Would I have been a scholar with a mandate from a bishop to teach Catholic theology? Of course not. But, a Catholic is Catholic by virtue of their baptism, not because of agreement to doctrinal formulations. Of course, the Church would hope that faithfulness to Magisterial teaching would follow upon baptism, otherwise there might not be that much point in remaining Catholic. And, there are ways of being excommunicated or even excommunicating oneself. I suppose even I could have pleaded for excommunication. But, I don’t imagine that this is where the majority of Catholics who disagree end up.
Now, am I advocating departing from the Magisterium of the Church? No. I consider myself to be faithful to the Magisterium of the church. Though I struggle with some doctrinal issues, I seek to handle them in accord with the document I cited in my previous post. I’m only saying that Catholic theology is sacramental. A Catholic can be a good scholar or a bad scholar (or great, or horrible, or aberrant, or sinful … and anywhere else on that spectrum) in relation to the Magisterium. But, he or she cannot be a non-Catholic scholar, or a fake Catholic scholar, or a “not true (in the sense of identity)” Catholic scholar in relation to the Magisterium.
At least, this is what I read into my experience as it relates to the Church’s teaching. I could be wrong.