An Old Friend's Divergent Path

Yesterday I was feeling bored and decided to browse through some old files on my computer from back when I was a devout Catholic and to check out some websites that I used to visit at that time. I had the idea to look up an old online friend of mine, my first online friend in fact, and to see what he’s been up to in the years since we last spoke. It was quite interesting to compare how our paths have diverged.

I first encountered Mr. Mario Derksen of Coral Springs, Florida, on the Prodigy religion message boards sometime around 1994, when my family first got internet access. He was very active in apologetics threads, primarily debating with Protestants, and I soon joined these discussions armed with what I had read in the new catechism. Mario and I became allies on the message boards, and we began to e-mail each other regularly. Mario recommended the first apologetics book I ever read and watching him debate encouraged me to learn more. At some point, Mario set up and operated his own apologetics website where he published and organized his own materials, and I did the same, though on a much smaller scale. We remained in contact for years, but my interest in apologetics ended when my scrupulosity and doubts caused a personal crisis, and we eventually lost touch about ten years ago.

In order to find Mario, I first tried to visit his old website, Catholic Insight, but the domain is no longer registered, and it seems that he has discontinued it rather than simply moved it. I then tried to load an archived copy of the site, but archiving has been disabled. Next, I simply searched for his name. Most of the results are his contributions to various apologetics websites from about a decade ago. For a moment, it seemed that he had just disappeared off the face of the internet. Then I found some information indicating that Mario, who was already an indult Catholic when I knew him, had moved further into religious extremism.

In particular, I read an excerpt of an announcement by Mario from his website that had been posted elsewhere that he had become a sedevacantist, that is, one who denies the validity of the recent popes and claims the papal throne is currently empty. Sedevacantists typically assert that the Catholic Church largely abandoned its infallible claim to exclusivity of salvation during the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, making the alleged popes since then heretics. Conclavists move one step further and take it upon themselves to elect a new pope to fill the vacant seat, often from among a small circle of like-minded family and friends. I was disappointed not to find the full text of his announcement, but I noted with interest that he had published it in August 2004, while I was in the midst of my intense deconversion to atheism.

I continued searching for anything from the last seven years. I found more excerpts of and responses to his arguments for sedevacantism from around that time but little else. Finally, I found his website devoted to a hundred-page letter to a bishop regarding an ordination controversy by a Vietnamese sedevacantist bishop in France in 1981. The site includes audio files from a presentation by Mario on the subject given earlier this year, indicating that he has maintained his basic position since 2004. I had been hoping that he had quietly followed the trail of logic out of the church completely like me rather than around and around into ever smaller reactionary circles on its outskirts. Mario is certainly a very intelligent man—I largely agree with his conclusion that the popes changed their teachings on religious liberty during the twentieth century—and I know he could see through the entire ecclesiastical charade if he simply had sufficient motivation. Scrupulosity was an absolute nightmare for me, but I suspect I would still be a Catholic if it hadn’t prompted me to question absolutely everything and everyone and that I wouldn't be nearly as happy as I am today if I hadn't left. Our views could hardly be more different today, but I wish him all the best and hope he's doing well.

At the beginning of his audio presentation on his website about the ordination controversy, Mario mentions three things he shares in common with Benedict XVI. In this spirit, I’d like to mention three things I share in common with Mario: We’re the same age. We both grew up in Florida. And neither of us today thinks that Benedict XVI speaks with any authority.

Image: jiggoja | FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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