From Leonard Klein, Pastor of Christ Lutheran Church in. York, Pennsylvania, USA

Dear Friends in Christ:

After twenty-two years of service in this wonderful congregation and after a
lengthy period of prayer, discernment, and study I have reached the decision to
end this phase of my ministry. With humility and thanks to God and to you I am
submitting my resignation from my call as senior pastor effective July 15, 2003.

I know that this will come as a shock to many of you, but I must add a second
piece of information that will, I fear, aggravate that feeling and require
considerable explanation. It is this: I will on the same day resign the office
of pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. A few days later
Christa, Renate, and I will be received into the Catholic Church by Bishop
Michael Saltarelli of Wilmington, and I will begin a process of study and
formation for the Catholic priesthood. This may cause yet further astonishment
among those of you who are not aware that the Catholic Church makes provision
for the occasional ordination of married converts who were ministers in other
church bodies (usually Lutheran or Episcopalian). If you have noted my growing
dismay over the ELCA, my leaving will not be a complete surprise. It might help
if you think of my situation as comparable to that of a military officer who
thinks the nation's policies insupportable. In such a situation an officer
must resign his commission.

As a congregation Christ Church has the independence to continue on its faithful
path, and I wish you every blessing as you continue to do so. But as a pastor I
am tied to the officer corps of an army for which I can no longer fight.

I am not fleeing conflict. I have played a leadership role in the fight for
orthodoxy in the ELCA for the fifteen years of its existence and in extensive
criticism of the plans for the merger for several years before 1988. If
anything, the desire to stay and continue the battle is a temptation that has
great appeal to my personality. I have never been good at walking away from a
fight. So if I were convinced that I could stay Lutheran, even as a lonely
minority, I would do so.

I have, however, become convinced that I am no longer a Lutheran. Over the past
several years I have had to come to grips with the fact that I am a Roman
Catholic, and that is the positive reason for this radical move. Let me try to
explain as briefly as I can.

It is not that I think Luther was misguided or wicked. No sensible Catholic
thinks that. But I have come to believe that in the Reformers' proper
intention to fix genuine problems in the late medieval church, they made a
number of serious mistakes that cannot now be corrected. We lost the ancient
apostolic form of governance by bishops, a vibrant sense of a communion in
prayer with the saints living and dead, and a full understanding of how God
changes people through the Gospel and leads them to holiness. We lost continuity
and we lost a clear understanding of the role of holy Tradition. Because Luther
expected the world to come to an end soon, he thought that the inertia of the
past would sustain the basic doctrines of the Church and that biblical authority
by itself would suffice to reform the Church until Christ's return. It has not
turned out that way.

Now, after nearly 500 years it has become clear that you cannot simply appeal to
the Bible or count on inertia to sustain the life of the Church. What Luther
intended as a necessary reform on biblical grounds has turned into a free for
all of private interpretation, and our own denomination is a sad case in point.

There is to me an evident alternative to this moral, doctrinal and
ecclesiastical chaos, the Catholic Church. Slowly I came to realize that I have
actually believed for a long time that the Second Vatican Council was correct
when it said that the Church 'subsists in the Catholic Church.' That means
that it exists there in its fullest and proper form. I find that claim to be
consistent with my study of theology, scripture and church history. That
language was drafted with sincere ecumenical intent and meant that valid church
life could surely be found outside the Catholic Church. So I have felt no
impropriety in continuing to serve as a Lutheran pastor. This congregation is a
true and Christian Church. However, I realized that my view of Lutheranism as a
reform movement for the Catholic Church meant that if I was really going to
practice the best insights of the Reformation, I belonged inside the Catholic
Church -- not outside it trying to make the Lutheran Church Lutheran.

So it was a positive realization that I held the Catholic doctrine of the Church
and not just the negatives of the ELCA that led me to this point. Many fine
pastors agree about the negatives, but because they do not share my
understanding of the Catholic Church, they can and will continue as Lutherans. I
am confident that you will find an excellent next pastor from among them, but my
continuance as an ELCA pastor has become morally and intellectually impossible.

The easiest course would have been to continue another seven or eight years
until retirement and then to walk quietly into the Catholic Church, but there
are many good reasons why I should not do that.

First, this congregation is an important institution with a rich tradition and
history. It would have become increasingly difficult for me to lead it
effectively, and I do not wish to harm Christ Church.

Second, I have been here a long time, and I believe that it could be good for
someone to look at things with a fresh set of eyes.

Third, there is a great danger that the ELCA will endure a schism over the
question of blessing homosexual unions and ordaining people who are in them. I
have lived through one church division in the Missouri Synod. It turned out
badly. I will not take part in another.

Fourth, I feel good about the life and vitality of this congregation. I believe
that my reservations about the denomination have not seriously harmed my
ministry here and may have strengthened it. At this point I can leave you in
good shape to discuss the next phase of your life. There is faithful and
competent staff in place to continue parish life, and you are blessed with many
fine pastors in the membership. I hope they will be willing to provide some
service in the interim.

Fifth, I could not be your pastor forever, and as I approach the age of 58 that
is increasingly apparent. If I were to stay until retirement, I would soon be
entering upon the last quarter of my ministry among you. I had reached the point
where a decision to leave or remain until retirement was becoming necessary.

Sixth, I need to face the question of what I will do with the rest of my life.
If God grants me the years he is granting to my father and granted to my
grandfathers, I have a third of my life to go. I have never intended to go out
to pasture at age 66 but to continue to serve, to preach and to celebrate the
sacraments in some context. I could not see doing that in the ELCA.

Seventh, I do not wish to be a guru. In mainline Protestantism that is the
danger every pastor faces. I earnestly believe that I have faithfully presented
a sound Lutheran position, but in the end the system leaves you having to take
my word for it. We are perpetually asking you to trust us because you trust us.
I hope that I have been trustworthy, but I prefer not to stand on my own
authority. Also, it is because I do not wish either to be a guru or to harm the
congregation that I have kept my deliberations private. I want to leave the
legitimate heritage of this congregation intact. This is your spiritual home.
Pastors on the other hand must come and go.

Eighth, this was a relatively good time for the family. My wife Christa has
worked with and studied Catholic institutions for a long time and has been
reaching the decision to become Catholic in parallel fashion. Our daughter,
Renate feels the affinity between Lutheranism and Catholicism. Both are deeply
grateful for this parish, and even as they look ahead, it pains them to leave.
Our family history is entwined with Christ Church.

It is not that I am personally unhappy here. There are challenges, some of them
difficult, but that is true everywhere.

I have continued to be happy to show up for work each morning and many nights. I
have no regrets about the hours or energy I have expended. It would be hard to
imagine a finer, more motivated, and more responsive congregation. You have been
generous with your support, your encouragement, your personal warmth, and your
prayers. Many of you are an example to me. I have been grateful for the role I
could play in your lives and through Christ Church in the affairs of this
community. No pastor could ask for a better opportunity than the one I have
enjoyed for these many years.

I have been blessed, and I am not bitter, even about the ELCA leadership.
Already at my ordination I knew that the road for Lutheranism would be bumpy.
Like many other orthodox clergy in mainline denominations I have long wondered
whether or when I might have to leave. You should know that the conversation
'Could you go to Rome?' or 'Would you go to Orthodoxy?' is painfully
common among mainline clergy of traditional beliefs. In the last few years at
least a half dozen pastors have had lengthy conversations with me on this
matter. Three of them are now Catholics. That so many have seen me as an obvious
person to talk to required me to be honest about where I really stood and
finally to act.

As I close, I ask of you only that you make your best effort to understand the
decision I have made. I ask no special considerations or favors as I leave. You
have been most kind and generous in every way up to this point. I do ask your
prayers and your continued friendship. We will for some time continue to live in
York. I look forward to greeting you and talking with you, even after formal
pastoral relations come to an end. Also, I want you not to be afraid to ask me
questions and press me about my decision, if you feel the need to do so.

I want also to make one pledge to the council and staff: not only will I make
every effort to help with a smooth transition but I will also be more than
willing to answer questions about details of parish operations at any time in
the future.

I continue to affirm many of the insights of the Lutheran Reformation, wishing
only that the necessary reforms might have moved ahead without a schism. I wish
I had never had to make the decision to stay or to leave. I wish that I had done
a thousand things better. I wish that many of you had done a lot of things
better! Which is to say I wish for the Kingdom of God. But until it comes, our
lives will be shaken by the consequences of sin and by circumstances we never
bargained for. By the grace of God even in a broken world and broken Church we
can live with hope and joy. I am stepping forward in hope and joy, and I pray
that those virtues, inculcated by the Holy Spirit, will continue to carry each
of you and this fine congregation forward into the future that God has in mind
for you.

Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Leonard R. Klein
14 May 2003


Leonard R. Klein wrote this in January 2005:

From Lutheran to Catholic

After a year and a half as a Catholic and three semesters in a Catholic seminary
there is a lot that I could say. I could say that I have no regrets, and that
would surely be true. I might confess to still enjoying a certain sense of
relief in leaving behind the struggle to be Church in a body (The Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America) which wanted to be nothing more than a denomination.
It is good to be where Church teaching actually corresponds to the Christian
tradition and not to have to fight for such basics as marriage, the liturgy or
the episcopate.

I could speak of the difference that it means to read Ignatius, Augustine,
Aquinas, or Therese of Lisieux in a context where they are invoked in prayer and
understood to be contemporaries. I could speak of the difference it makes when
there is no question that eucharistic worship is sacrificial. Suddenly, just to
take one example, the debate over meat offered to idols in I Corinthians comes
into clearer focus.

Advent is richer when it includes the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the
Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (all the more so when distributing the Sacrament
in Spanish in a church packed with Latinos), and a final week of daily Gospels
moving through the infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke.

Seminarians are orthodox and profoundly committed, and at least at St. Mary’s in
Baltimore they are respected and supported by their faculty. They are too few,
but these men will inspire new vocations. De rigeur progressivism may dominate
much of the theological establishment, but it is on the defensive and the more
thoughtful progressives will concede that the pope and Cardinal Ratzinger aren’t
always wrong.

There is plenty of room for improvement in preaching, liturgy and music, but it
is a lot better than many Protestants prefer to imagine as they test Catholic
reality against a non- existent Protestant ideal. (My high-church Lutheran
friends were often prone to this.) I have seen much warmth and human interaction
in the large parishes. Morale seems pretty good, and the numbers help.

Over the years before my conversion I had taken to naming three pieces of Church
life that Lutheranism sorely needed to restore: magisterial authority, moral
theology, and a true sense of the communion of sense. When I first listed them
in 1996, I had no hope that it could ever happen. In the Catholic Church –
because it is the Catholic Church – they are of course assumed

I could go on in this manner, but I want to spill some ink about one thing that
I had not anticipated or looked for. It is quite the opposite of what many would
expect, but it became apparent within a very few months. When I recognized it, I
was pleased but not all that surprised. It is a sense of freedom.

How can this be, the Protestant polemicist might ask? How can one speak of a
greater freedom under the burden of the Roman obedience? The answer is simple.
Catholics – and this is especially true of the good priests – know that it is
not all up to them. Every Protestant pastor bears a burden of thinking that the
fate of the congregation is entirely up to him or her, and the blame that often
comes underscores the truth of that sensibility. A similar reality obtains for
the congregations; they are largely on their own. Some would interpret this as
the true existential Christian stance of depending upon the Word of God alone;
it might more properly be seen as hubris. But in either case the Catholic
reality is vastly different.

Catholic priests are often thought to see themselves as but cogs in a wheel.
That is too negative. More positively and genuinely they see themselves as
members of a presbyterate called to serve the Church where they can best be
used. The Church is there; the parish is there; the priest is sent. He has a lot
of authority and freedom to act. He can of course mess up politically or
personally, but if he has half a brain, his principal decisions will be
canonically and theologically supportable and relatively free from blame.

Moreover, because there are clear canons, liturgical directives, etc., many of
the issues that become political burdens in a Protestant parish are stripped of
their capacity to cause controversy. Authority can be very salutary and
liberating in this way. Because the limits and rules are relatively clear, the
playing field is well-defined. As a result, there is a lot of freedom to
improvise, create programs, and tolerate odd diversity within those limits – for
priest and people alike.

There are many ways to describe this freedom, but my point is to note its
existence. Toward the end of my time as a Lutheran pastor I used to protest that
we were all reduced to being gurus. I tried to be authentically Lutheran, but
who was to say that I was and the liberal feminist or church-growth ersatz
Evangelical down the street wasn’t just as Lutheran as I? Certainly not the
ELCA, which was on their side. By contrast a Catholic priest or lay person can
speak of what the Church teaches or permits, and that is freedom. It should come
as no surprise to anyone who understands that our true freedom lies in
obedience, not the quivering obsequiousness imagined by post-Enlightenment
people but the liberating obedience of faith. When the Church is Church,
“liberating obedience” begins to make sense even in the most routine matters.

Leonard R. Klein