Ever since Vatican II, there has been serious polarization and politicization of the Church and her Magisterium. It all had to do with the proper interpretation of the Vatican II documents. And like Scripture, there were and are many interpretations.
And these interpretations are now to be classified into two distinct camps and the camps are now headed by two living popes, but the actual reigning pope is responsible for this new polarization, not those who are on either side of the great polarization.
In other words, we should not blame the victims, as the institutional Church seems to have an inclination to do, but rather the sources of it, Vatican II and its various interpretations and Pope Francis who has become the pope who most clearly shows his rupture with an authentic interpretation of Vatican II as well as a rupture with his two immediate predecessor’s long reigns.
We all know that Pope Benedict, but without being a dictator, set the proper agenda for interpreting Vatican II, “renewal or reform in continuity with what preceded.”
Pope Benedict was and is against “rupture” with the Church prior to Vatican II.
This is not true with Pope Francis, the now reigning Pope. From day one, the moment he set foot on the loggia of St. Peter’s with the look of “pathology” in his eyes (that was my first reaction to seeing him, NOT to the fact he did not wear the “proper clothing” of a newly named pope). Pope Francis was making clear his rupture with Benedict and the school of theology that Benedict supported, renewal in continuity.
Every since that fateful day to the current day, Pope Francis’ ideology of rupture, returning to the 1960’s and early 70’s with His Holiness’ ambiguities and incoherence in speaking and writings, we have a Church more polarized now then it was in the late 60’s and 70’s prior to Pope John Paul II strivings to restore the great discipline of the Church.
We can blame no one but Pope Francis for the state of affairs in the Church today. We need not blame the victims, those polarized political realities of left and right, progressive and conservative, all of which is a result of Vatican II. Diverging interpretations of Vatican II should be blamed as well as the current pontiff who has placed this polarization on steroids and which will surely lead to a major Schism.
Read the Pillar’s commentary on this:
We have been tracking this week the publication by Belgium’s Flemish bishops of a new document on the pastoral care of Catholics who identify as LGBT, which includes the outline of a ritual of blessing for same-sex couples.
Belgium’s French-speaking bishops have signaled that their own version is coming soon, so it seems that church blessings for same-sex unions are to be part of the national ecclesiastical landscape in that country, despite the Vatican having explicitly ruled out the possibility of such blessings just over a year ago.
This is likely to be a topic of conversation when the Belgians head upriver to Rome for their upcoming ad limina visit, during which they will meet with the pope and heads of the various curial departments. That was supposed to happen next week, but the visit was postponed until November.
You might ask how the Belgian bishops could possibly get away with adopting an idea that the Vatican’s doctrinal office so recently terminated, with extreme prejudice. Surely this is a recipe for a serious breach of communion with Rome?
For the last several years now, Rome has been issuing “no” after “no” to various “progressive” plans coming out of different European bishops’ conferences, most often the German one.
But with the pope usually disinclined to settle matters directly, things have settled into a kind of a punt — a frosty “Whatever. We’ll talk about it at the synod next year.”
But it seems that some bishops are no longer prepared to wait that long. Why?
The answer, most Vatican sources suggested, is the pope.
In the standoff between the Vatican’s doctrinal department and the Belgians, both sides have invoked Francis’ own teaching to support their positions, even quoting from the same documents. And the two sides of that argument represent a broader split between rival camps, which both support the pope’s reforming agenda and see themselves as natural heirs to it, but interpret it very differently.
On the one hand, there are what we can call the “pastoral institutionalists,” who see Francis’ great work as setting the Church’s unchanging teachings to new, more welcoming music. On the other are the arch-progressive reformers who, like the Belgian and German bishops, want to see real, substantive change on issues like the ordination of women and same-sex relationships.
The arch-prog camp does seem to be getting bolder. Some suggested their strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others. But a more compelling theory, to me at least, is that they are growing impatient and increasingly doubt that Francis will deliver for them after the 2023 synod, if his pontificate lasts that long.
Instead, it was suggested to me, they are looking to provoke a confrontation now — setting the stage for a conclave that will (so the theory goes) have to elect a pope prepared to stop a schism at the expense of universal teaching authority. And candidates for this role are already being quietly floated around Rome.
I’m not sure this is the explanation for what’s going on in the Church right now, but I’m absolutely convinced that the pastoral-institutional/arch-progressive split is going to be the most important dynamic in the next conclave. Absolutely more so than the hackneyed conservatives vs. liberals stuff we are bound to see.
In the meantime, the Belgian proposal seems sure to be adopted by bishops’ conferences in some places, and condemned by others. As these dominoes start to fall, the divisions in the Church will only become more intractable and — it seems to me — the possibility of schism that much more likely.