Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Controversy and Schism in the Catholic Church

Throughout her history, the Church has always faced schisms, large and small. The two largest schisms were the Great Schism in 1054 between the east and west and the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. The Great Schism preserved the Sacramental system of the separated Eastern Churches including their Sacrament of Holy Orders and thus the Order of Bishops. The Protestant Reformation dismantled the sacramental system of the various Protestant denominations. Most Protestant denominations only recognize Baptism and Holy Communion as sacraments. However, they have dismantled the traditional sacramental theology of Holy Orders held by the East and the West which has implications for the validity of their sacramental understanding of Holy Communion.

What possible schisms do Catholics have to avoid today? There are several and these come to us from the left and right, literally, politically and theologically.

As it concerns “far right wing Catholics” we have those groups that have gone into schism based upon their rejection of Vatican II’s theology especially as it concerns the Mass, the manner in which the other sacraments are celebrated, ecclesiology and ecumenism. There are groups that have been excommunicated from the Church, the most noteworthy group that was once headed by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. This group rejects Vatican II altogether although their exclusive embrace of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass symbolizes their schism. Pope Benedict lifted the excommunication of their bishops as an effort at internal reconciliation in the Church. Time will tell if this effort will prove fruitful.

As it concerns “far left-wing Catholics” we have those groups born of radical feminism who have actually “simulated” the celebration of the rite of ordination for various women. These individuals and groups who have done so have faced public excommunication. Their mock ordinations are completely invalid. Recently a priest in Arizona was automatically excommunicated for participating in one of these mock or simulated sacramental celebrations. These acts and the groups and individuals who participate in them are clearly schismatic.

In between, we all are buffeted by issues surrounding human sexuality based upon a secular and non Christian agenda. Many mainline Protestant denominations have already embraced parts of this agenda giving these movements supporters in the Christian world. The official teachings of the Catholic Church and the teachings of many Evangelical Protestants are at odds with the trends and fads of the day thus placing us on the fringe of current secular, sociological, political and psychological thought.

The most controversial issues of sexuality that potentially could lead some Catholics into schism or to join current Protestant denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, are issues surrounding artificial contraception, abortion, marriage, divorce, homosexuality, and women’s ordination and medical ethical issues.

Most of us have family members, friends and acquaintances who profess to be Catholic but nonetheless use artificial birth control, are pro-choice, live together outside of marriage, are divorced, are actively homosexual, advocate for women’s ordination and the redefining of marriage. Some of these Catholics believe that they can effect change in the Catholic Church on these issues. Others have joined schismatic groups practicing such change.

Someone was once asked where she stood on all these controversial issues. She responded, “I stand with the Pope, whoever the pope might be at any given time. Doing so keeps the Catholic Church together.” It should be of no irony that many Catholics now attack the pope, question his authority over the universal Church and carp at any perceived inaction as it concerns the discipline of the clergy in the area of sexual abuse. These groups would like nothing more than for a sitting pope to be deposed or to have his moral authority diminished in the eyes of the world in general and Catholics in particular.

Just study what happened to the Protestant Reformation. Initially it was a noble movement to reform some aberrant practices that had developed. But once these reformers rejected the leadership of the Pope and his God-given authority, it splintered and continues to splinter to this very day. A modern day example of this is the Episcopal Church which in so many ways resembles the Catholic Church, yet its liberalizing agenda for the last 35 years has caused it to splinter into further groups all because there is no one person, such as the pope, that can set boundaries.

The Pope and the Magisterium of the Catholic Church have the authority to declare what is in bounds and what is out of bounds. This authority has been handed onto to them by our Founder, Jesus Christ Himself. When we align ourselves with the pope, even though we might have our own differing opinions on orthodox Catholic teaching, we will always avoid schism. This means that we must humbly put aside our own opinions and inclinations and humbly accept the Pope and the Magisterium in the areas of faith and morals and even Church law.

Although it is a part of the “Deposit of Faith” that the Church cannot ordain women to the priesthood and thus an infallibly held belief, we could hypothesize that if the pope or the pope together with an ecumenical council decided that women could be ordained priests, to remain in union with the Church, those Catholics who personally oppose women’s ordination in humble faith would have to accept the Church’s authority in this area. Fidelity to the Holy Father and the Magisterium cuts both ways!

The above hypothesis will not happen but the converse has. Women’s ordination in the Catholic Church was ruled out definitively on May 22, 1994 (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis) by Pope John Paul II and he defined it in such a way that future popes or ecumenical councils could not reverse. Thus those who advocate for women priests and bishops in the Catholic Church must in humble faith place their personal desires or opinions aside.

What is the basis of schism? It is the basis of Adam and Eve’s original sin and all the actual sins that have been committed ever since. It is the sin of pride. This pride leads us to think that our way is better than what God has revealed to us through His Word in the Church’s Scripture, Tradition and Magisterium. Humble obedience to the Word of God in the areas of faith and morals is the antidote to the sin of pride. Let us humbly accept what our Church teaches in the areas of faith and morals as well as Church law even though accepting these will entail struggle and persevering prayer.


Anonymous said...

The essence of schism, it seems, is contention over the Church rather than the individual. People who do not accept tenets of our faith are free to go to other churches. Instead they wish convert us, essentially by force, through changes in canon law. They sometimes jump the gun and hold ordination ceremonies, e.g., when they can no longer contain themselves.

It is interesting, Father, that you don't think your hypothesis will ever come to pass. I was contemplating such an event just this week. I would not be surprised at all if the next Pope allows homosexual marriage and even married priests.


Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

RCG, I would be very surprised if the next pope were to do such a thing as to allow homosexual marriage. However, married priests could be extended in our Latin Rite as it already has with former Episcopal priests and I think other ministers of other denominations. We would simply go by the Eastern Rite tradition which would mean that married men could be ordained priests but priests could not marry. Bishops, as in the Eastern Rite and Orthodoxy would remain celibate and chosen from the celibate clergy.

In terms of female priests, I just don't see it. Deacon ordination is another story and I don't think the door is completely shut on that, but I could be wrong.

But let's say you are right, I might disagree with what is happening, but I'd still remain a "papist!"

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it is the full moon that puts me in this state. But it comes to mind when I hear some voices say "His" and some say "God" in mass. I am wholesale for the concept that God the Father is beyond our understanding and certainly not a human. But it seems that to replace "His" with "God" is prideful as if we are openly proclaiming our enlightened understanding of Yahweh's person as being something other than asymptotic to zero.

I think that we want to retain people in the Church so badly that we are willing to discuss their intellectual struggles with spiritual matters in an attempt to explain them. This is then taken for negotiation and in fact it is we who are being proselytized.

I hope I am wrong that we will follow the Episcopal path for the things we discuss here precede revisiting, as they have, the divinity of Christ as God.

Paul M. Young said...

"When we align ourselves with the pope, even though we might have our own differing opinions on orthodox Catholic teaching, we will always avoid schism. "

Therein is the whole tempest and the solution.

There are several areas where my natural self finds great difficulty in accepting the Church's teachings. That said, I totally and fully submit to the Holy Father and through him, Christ. There are many, many things that we Catholics can discuss and even fight about (with good graces!), but there are certain things that if we wish to be called Catholic, we simply must hold as true.

Templar said...

I consider myself a Papist. Where stands Rome stand I.

However it is a bit of a problem to say this is always true. Certainly there have been bad Popes, even corrupt Popes. The Pope is Human and capable of error, except when teaching Ex Cathedrea, so why then must it follow that to disagree with the Pope is to be in schism? The SSPX has always been organizationally loyal to the Pope, and loyal also to all of the Dogma's of the Church. It is wrong to label them schismatic.

If you are a heretic and deny the tenets of the faith you are in Schism. I'll wager the Lay faithful of the SSPX are, man for man, more Catholic than almost any Diocesan Parish.

Anonymous said...

The SSPX are certainly interesting because the Church has gone out of its way to admit them back, when essentially they have admitted no wrongdoing. The Church also never formally proclaimed that they were in schism, even after excommunicating them. Instead, we were given the gymnastically-twisted explanation that its bishops were guilty of "schismatic acts". Cardinal Castrillon even stressed that a Catholic could attend Mass at an SSPX chapel and would not be committing a schismatic act unless that was his specific intent. He even suggested that it would be appropriate for any person attending to offer a small donation at the time of collection.

The heart of the problem with the SSPX is religious freedom. Vatican II"s document on religious freedom takes an abrupt departure from all previous Catholic teaching by suggesting that we have the freedom to disobey God.

So is VII invalid? History has shown us that councils have made mistakes. Has it been misinterpreted? No doubt it has and it is a pleasure to watch the pope slowly correct the vagueness of its misinterpretations with his clarifications. However, it is still not enough.

it would indeed be VERY surprising if the next pope were to drop celibacy requirements for priests and it is impossible to imagine homosexual marriage in the Church, since that would be a complete departure from Catholic morality.

The next pope should prove to be a source of wild speculation, since, according to St. Malachi, he will be the last. So far, St. Malachi's prophecies have been on the money.

Ratramnus said...

"Before him (St. Jerome) St. Cyprian had said: "It must be understood that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishop and he is not in the Church who is not with the bishop" (Epist., lxvi, 8)."

Those who reject / ignore / dismiss / overlook the teaching of their diocesan bishop, or an ecumenical council of bishops teaching in union with the pope, are dangerously close to, if not actually in, schism.

Anonymous said...

Pope Pius IX's Syllabus of Erros, a solemn and definitive pronouncement says in article 79:

"Moreover, it is false that the civil liberty of every form of worship, and the full power, given to all, of overtly and publicly manifesting any opinions whatsoever and thoughts, conduce more easily to corrupt the morals and minds of the people, and to propagate the pest of indifferentism". -- Allocution "Nunquam fore," Dec. 15, 1856.

In Mortalium Animos, Pius XI wrote in article 4:

4. Is it not right, it is often repeated, indeed, even consonant with duty, that all who invoke the name of Christ should abstain from mutual reproaches and at long last be united in mutual charity? Who would dare to say that he loved Christ, unless he worked with all his might to carry out the desires of Him, Who asked His Father that His disciples might be "one."[1] And did not the same Christ will that His disciples should be marked out and distinguished from others by this characteristic, namely that they loved one another: "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another"?[2] All Christians, they add, should be as "one": for then they would be much more powerful in driving out the pest of irreligion, which like a serpent daily creeps further and becomes more widely spread, and prepares to rob the Gospel of its strength. These things and others that class of men who are known as pan-Christians continually repeat and amplify; and these men, so far from being quite few and scattered, have increased to the dimensions of an entire class, and have grouped themselves into widely spread societies, most of which are directed by non-Catholics, although they are imbued with varying doctrines concerning the things of faith. This undertaking is so actively promoted as in many places to win for itself the adhesion of a number of citizens, and it even takes possession of the minds of very many Catholics and allures them with the hope of bringing about such a union as would be agreeable to the desires of Holy Mother Church, who has indeed nothing more at heart than to recall her erring sons and to lead them back to her bosom. But in reality beneath these enticing words and blandishments lies hid a most grave error, by which the foundations of the Catholic faith are completely destroyed.

Did the Second Vatican Council have the authority to contradict these teachings? Did a council of bishops hijacked by liberals and influenced by nefarious forces have the authority to rebuke long-standing teachings of the Church?

Maybe someone else knows the answer, but I maintain that "religious liberty" is the heart of the beast that created the so-called schism of the SSPX.

Ratramnus said...

Anonymous, referring to the Syllabus of Errors, sets him/herself over and above the Pope and Bishops of the Second Vatican Council, thus separating him/herself from the legitimate authority established by Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself whilst he did walk upon the face of the earth.

It is an act tantamount to Henry VIII's schism when he made himself head of the Church in England. We know the damage done by that Act of "Supremacy."

There is a very, very dangerous trend in the Church found in those who are not bishops to take it upon themselves to propose and/or interpret the Teaching of the Church. This charism was given to Bishops, not to Bloggers or Blog Posters. The attempted usurpation of that charism is rending the very heart of our Tradition by producing overt disobedience and arrogance in those who are not competent to teach in the name of the Church.

Sadly, this "ear-tickling" strikes the fancy of a few who, like the usurpers, want it done a la Frank Sinatra - "their way."

Anonymous said...

Dear Retramnus:

I fear you have leaped into assuming things that aren't quite here, specifically by accusing me of setting myself above the pope and the bishops. I was only pointing out the conflict about the Church's traditional position on religious freedom and contrasting it with the position of Vatican II. That is one breach of continuity that no one has been able to explain away yet. I do not place myself above anyone, especially bishops and the popes. However, I am also not obliged to blindly agree with every utterance that comes from their lips, unless they are using the magisterium.

I do not know the answers to this contradiction, but I am obliged to respect and obey the pope and his bishops, unless they command me to sin, which, fortunately, they almost never do. However, no one can deny the disaster that has followed Vatican II. Because I refuse to drink the Kool-Aid of calling it a "new springtime" does not mean that I have placed myself above the pope. I love the pope and am proud of his record. I take offense at someone who doesn't even know me jumping to the ridiculous conclusion that I do the faith "my way" because I ask a few questions.

Based on your accusation of my "usurping" authority, I could draw a few of my own conclusions about you. Instead, I propose we dispense with assuming what we do about each other and stick to the argument. Can anyone tell me how something as doctrinally definitive and solemn as the Syllabus of Errors and Mortalium Animos can be contradicted? I honestly don't know the answer. I don't want the pope's chair, just an answer.