Father Edward Gallagher's homily at Saint Gregory the Great began with a story of the son of a minister who left the Protestant church to become a Catholic. After Mass, Father Gallagher said many Protestant ministers are leaving their traditions to join the Catholic Church. "They usually become Catholic because of the 6th chapter of John, on the Eucharist. They realize what they are teaching is not what they are practicing." Father Gallagher added that the Catholic tradition is the only valid priesthood. "We are not condemning [other traditions], just acknowledging the reality. Their priesthood is not valid. The Catholic Church has been around for almost 2000 years. There is a history of who founded the Catholic Church and we can trace our steps back to Jesus Christ. There is a Real Presence of the Sacraments administered by people who trace their roots to Jesus." Father Gallagher said he did not want to judge these other traditions but wanted "people to participate in true Sacraments." Gallagher recommended I contact the Coming Home Network which supports Protestants who become Catholic. Jim Anderson, at the Coming Home Network, is a liaison with Protestants who seek to learn more about the Catholic Church. This year, Anderson said there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of Protestants who have contacted the Coming Home Network. Anderson said many pastors sacrifice their vocations and occupations upon conversion to the Catholic Church. I asked Anderson why people decide to leave their tradition to join the Catholic Church. "Many of the clergy as well as lay people in the Protestant denominations are having a crisis of faith, not in Jesus, but in, 'What is truth and how do we know it?' In the past, beginning in the 16th Century, Protestants answered the question of authority with 'Sola Scriptura,' or 'the Scriptures alone'. Beginning in the 19th Century through the 20th, and continuing to our own century, there has been continuing erosion amongst mainline Protestant denominations in the authority of the Bible. If the Bible was your only authority, and your denomination had rejected that, all that is left is subjectivism. If all that is left is subjectivism, you now have truth being decided by the annual national convention through popular vote."
Anderson encouraged all Protestants who become Catholics "to enjoy the fullness of the faith, grace and truth, which Christ intends for them offered through all the means He wishes to grant them. These means include the full Bible, Apostolic tradition, the secure teaching authority of the Church, as well as all the Sacraments established by our Lord Jesus, especially the Holy Eucharist, wherein Jesus is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity."
"Jesus said that his desire is that we all may be one as he and the Father are one. I pray every day that all the churches would unite into the Roman Catholic Church," said Father Edward Gallagher. "If there are non-essentials we can change, we should." Gallagher listed celibacy of the priesthood as one non-essential the Catholic Church should allow. "There are a lot of Catholics who are leaving the Catholic Church because we value life issues in areas such as embryonic research, life at conception; we are against birth control, abortion, divorce or homosexuality," added Gallagher.
I spoke with several parishioners at St. Gregory about the Catholic Church and its relationship with Protestant churches. Rosa Vendermar said she believes the Protestant Church has improved the Catholic Church. "The Catholic Church was stricter but now is more open and flexible because of the Protestant Church." Vendermar said she believes "God wants all the churches to get back together." Domini Scigliano said, "Martin Luther had it right when he pointed out the abuses of the Catholic Church, but he never meant to make a new church." Scigliano said he would like to see more dialogue between the Catholic Church with other churches. "Christ is the center of our beliefs; we should have more fellowship with one another," said Scigliano.
I asked Father Gallagher what happens to a person after he dies. "After death, they are judged. Whether they go to heaven or hell is up to the Lord. When people who go to hell see the beauty and glory of the Lord they will miss it for eternity. That will be hell."
11451 Blue Cypress Drive, San Diego
Denomination: Roman Catholic Church
Founded locally: September 3, 1985
Senior pastor: Nicholas Clavin
Congregation size: 2600
Staff size: 10+
Sunday school enrollment: would not disclose
Annual budget: would not disclose
Weekly giving: would not disclose
Singles program: would not disclose
Dress: business casual
Diversity: white, Asian, Hispanic
Sunday worship: Saturday, 5:00 p.m.; Sunday, 7:30, 9:00, 11:00 a.m., 5:00 p.m.
Length of reviewed service: 1 hour