I suppose everything comes down to the papal dogmas. For example, I explained to my former RC priest how papal infallibility had been explained to me by EC laypeople. He told me that they were twisting the Church's teachings on the papacy.
I too came via the Melkites.
On the dogmatic level, yes, this was the deal-breaker. I simply did not believe what the Catholic Church teaches, as a dogmatic matter, relating to the Papacy, particularly that the decrees of Vatican I and the affirmations of Vatican II on this issue had dogmatic content. That put me at odds with official Catholicism. What I got at the time from the EC clergy was that they agreed with me in substance, but that we shouldn't make mountains out of molehills, the office of the papacy is in flux and is changing, and the important thing is to let the bishops and theologians work this out, and not to worry about it. In other words, it was okay to "disagree with the Roman Catholics" about the papal dogmas, because they were likely to continue to develop and change. I didn't really find that satisfactory at the time, and I suppose that I still don't.
The most clever riposte on this from an Orthodox-minded Eastern Catholic that I heard, several months before I converted to Orthodoxy, was that I was imposing an Orthodox idea of what dogma is upon Roman Catholics, who don't necessarily mean the same thing. In other words, I was assuming that Roman Catholics, when they used the word dogma to describe the papal dogmas, were using dogma in the same way that Orthodox do, but in his opinion in reality the Catholics have a hierarchy of dogma, and if they applied in principle the same criteria for dogma as did the Orthodox they would agree that the papal dogmas are not dogmas in the same way that, say, the Trinity is a dogma, and so I should not be troubled by my own dissenting from these "dogmas", because they were not in fact dogmas as an Orthodox would understand them. The trouble I have with this one is that (1) I do think that the Catholics consider them dogmas in the same way that Orthodox use the word, and certainly Vatican I was worded that way and (2) if it's true that the Catholics said "dogma" when they meant something else, I don't see how this improves the situation, to be honest.
So, on the dogmatic level, this was the most significant issue by far. It was hard for me to remain somewhere where I did not believe things thath the church officially taught as dogma were, in fact, dogma. That seemed like a lie to me and to everyone around me, notwithstanding the capacity of the more intellectual sort of Eastern Catholic for complex mental gymnastics to convince themselves that there is no actual conflict. I guess after a while I got tired of the intellectual gymnastics, as much as anything else.
Ultimately after years of studying traditional catholicism (little "c" catholicism), I've come to share the trad's disapproval of what is called "conservative" Catholicism. And it seems to me that many ECs fall into the "conservative" camp.
True. In my experience with the ECCs around where I live, there are three general sorts of folk in the Eastern Catholic churches: (1) folks who were born into them (either of a certain ethnic background related to the church in question or from folks who came to the ECCs from elsewhere), (2) ex-Latin Catholics who move to the ECCs because of (a) poor liturgical practices in many RCC parishes and/or (b) a desire to be a part of a more conservative, less mainstream community, and (3) folks who are either friends with folks from category (1) or (2) or who actually get interested in the ECC during a visit to one for a food festival or something like that. I've also met a few couiples who decided to visit or ultimately join an ECC parish where one spouse was leaning Orthodox and the other spouse was not willing to leave the Catholic Church, so the ECC was picked as a middle ground.
I think that a lot of the category (2) people are what would be considered "conservative Catholics". But it also depends on where you live. If you are in a community where there is no outlet for the "traditional" community (as is the case in the RC Diocese where I live), the category (2) people also can include a signficant number of folks who might have opted for the TLM, if it were available.
Can you really be 'eastern' and be EC?
From my perspective, not really, because there is less than full convergence at this point in time. As a Catholic there are things you have to accept that are not based on the Eastern tradition at all. I remember during the year before I left the Melkite Bishop at the time published a (not so convincing but strongly worded) defense of the practice of indulgences, for example, stating clearly that this is a part of the Catholic tradition, of which the Melkite Church is a part. When I asked my EC priest (a cradle RC himself) about this, he demurred, and said that the Bishop (a cradle EC) simply wasn't very well educated and didn't know what he was talking about. There's always, it seems to me, that kind of tension in the ECCs. People in them disagree about what they are supposed to be, and that disagreement is also at the level of the clerics.
I don't mean to veer into a Catholic v. Orthodox discussion or a discussion about Catholicism. I'm just trying to get a feel for whether other 'papal minimalists' felt disatisfied with Eastern Catholicism.
Yes. For me it was hard to maintain the mental gymnastics after a while with a straight face and a straight conscience. I *do* think that if someone is the sort of person who can be comfortable in a church community without worrying too much about the niceties of these details, it can work well. I have seen that in numerous cases with my own eyes. But for others who are more reflective it can be an uncomfortable place, as it became for me.
It was a very, very tortured decision for me, just to be clear. The Melkite parish of which I was a member was a vibrant, great community in many, many respects, led by a charismatic and highly intelligent priest. There were a lot of intangible reasons to stick around there, but it became untenable for me after a few years. Still, if I had not felt comfortable over the years with the various Orthodox parishes here, and gotten comfortable that I would feel comfortable being there, I don't know whether I would have converted. In any process like this, it is critical to be clear, I think, about the other options, because in some cases it very well may be better to stay put, depending on what the other options available may be.