How the Conservative Schism Unfolds

At this point, I’m thoroughly convinced that a large number of conservative and traditionalist Catholics will deliberately and knowingly choose SCHISM, rather than accept the decisions of Pope Francis on doctrine and discipline. Already, some prominent Catholic priests, lay theologians, authors, bloggers, and annoying anonymous online commentators have decided that whenever the Pope say or does ANYTHING contrary to their own understanding he cannot possibly be right and they cannot possibly be wrong. And they have taken to making condescending comments about the holy Pontiff, as if they had the role to teach and correct him — no, not so much to teach or correct, as to ridicule. They are rushing along the path toward schism, and they don’t seem to realize it.

Some conservative Catholic leaders are in open schism, having declared Pope Francis a heretic. Many others are gearing up to do so; they seem to be waiting for one big controversial decision by the Pope. Cardinal Sarah and Cardinal Burke in particular seem to be headed for schism. They have made public comments suggesting they would fight against any decision of the Pope on discipline or doctrine which (seems to them) to be contrary to Tradition and Scripture. They leave no room in these public expressions for the possibility that they have misunderstood Tradition and Scripture, while the Pope has understood correctly. Once you decide that you understand Catholicism better than the Pope, you are on the threshold of schism.

Pride goeth before a fall.

Here’s how I think the schism will unfold. Pope Francis will decide that the Church does have the authority to ordain women to the diaconate, and he will change the discipline of the Church to permit their ordination and to give them roles in the parish and diocese. He may also teach on salvation, that non-Christian believers can be saved without converting to Christianity, and that non-believers can be saved without converting to belief in God. Then many POPULAR Catholic leaders will accuse Pope Francis of teaching heresy, declare him no longer a valid Pope, and reject his authority, thereby going into schism.

I don’t think anyone realizes how extensive and harmful this is going to be. Some Cardinals and more than a few Bishops will go into schism, along with some priests, male deacons, and religious — all of them conservative or traditionalist. If a traditionalist Cardinal rejects Pope Francis, and you are a traditionalist, will you follow the Cardinal or the Pope? Well, to phrase the question another way, are you a traditionalist Catholic, or just a traditionalist.

And what about popular Catholic publications, discussion groups, bloggers and authors? Over at OMG forums, their leader openly accused Pope Francis (and the 2/3rds majority of Cardinals who elected him) of teaching heresy, thereby committing the sins of heresy and schism himself. A few of his members objected, but most of the objectors settled in and did not leave the group. And now they continue on, as if nothing has changed, giving their group leader their unconditional support. This response is a pattern which I think we will see again and again as the schism unfolds.

I can’t tell you, in advance, which Catholic authors and bloggers will go into schism. But already I am reading many negative posts about the Pope, posts which speak about him with condescension, as if the blogger — whose theological credentials are often quite sparse — had the role to teach and correct the Pope. So I conclude that many of these prideful posters will reject Pope Francis. They will accuse him of teaching heresy, because his teaching conflicts with their own flawed understanding. But I want to stress that these schismatics will include many popular bloggers, who presently are considered faithful Catholics, and are in some sense leaders among the faithful.

Then what will their readers say? Will the readers treat them like pagans and tax collectors, as Jesus advised? “But if he will not listen to the Church, let him be to you like the pagan and the tax collector.” (Mt 18:17). Someone who does not listen to the Pope, does not listen to the Church. But no, I don’t think they will reject these schismatic bloggers. If the blogger is expressing doubts, beliefs, and concerns, similar to their own, I think many readers will behave like the members of the Moth of God forum and follow their chosen leader, who (for some reason I cannot fathom) is not the Pope, but someone of far lesser station.

Some Catholic online publications, which essentially are just a collection of blog posts and articles, have already shown a predilection toward contending with the Roman Pontiff at every turn. So I conclude that some whole Catholic publications will go into schism, firing the authors and bloggers who support the Pope, and replacing them with schismatics. We will see many blog posts and articles from Catholic schismatics, arguing that Pope Francis is a heretic, and that he has led the institutional Church astray, and that the schismatics alone have retained the true faith.

But it gets worse.

What happens when a Bishop rejects the Pope? Do his priests support him and go into schism, or do they leave the diocese? Or if individual priests go into schism, what will their parishioners do? We may see whole dioceses or whole parishes go into formal schism, leaving the still-faithful members of the diocese or parish in a quandary. If your favorite priest rejects Pope Francis, what will you do? I think that many parishioners will support their favorite priest, over the Pope.

The result will be a major schism in the Catholic Church, worse than the schisms which occurred after Vatican I and again after Vatican II. And this conservative schism is ironic because, in the controversies that developed after Vatican II, many conservatives decided that they were faithful merely because they were conservative, and that liberals were necessarily unfaithful. Conservatism became, for many Catholics, the essential mark of faithfulness, and the conservative answer to every theological question was thought to be necessarily correct.

Then God chose an outspoken liberal Pope, to prove them wrong and to put them to the test. Do you love conservatism or traditionalism more than Christ? Do follow the Church led by the Vicar of Christ, or a popular Catholic subculture and its majority opinion?

Conservatism does not equal Catholicism. Liberal Catholics can be just as faithful as conservative Catholics. The good Samaritan was a liberal, and the self-righteous believers who ignored their neighbor in need were conservatives. Not kidding.

[Luke]
{10:30} Then Jesus, taking this up, said: “A certain man descended from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he happened upon robbers, who now also plundered him. And inflicting him with wounds, they went away, leaving him behind, half-alive.
{10:31} And it happened that a certain priest was descending along the same way. And seeing him, he passed by.
{10:32} And similarly a Levite, when he was near the place, also saw him, and he passed by.
{10:33} But a certain Samaritan, being on a journey, came near him. And seeing him, he was moved by mercy.
{10:34} And approaching him, he bound up his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. And setting him on his pack animal, he brought him to an inn, and he took care of him.
{10:35} And the next day, he took out two denarii, and he gave them to the proprietor, and he said: ‘Take care of him. And whatever extra you will have spent, I will repay to you at my return.’
{10:36} Which of these three, does it seem to you, was a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”
{10:37} Then he said, “The one who acted with mercy toward him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go, and act similarly.”

Jesus was responding to a religious lawyer, and the lesson concerns, in part, law versus mercy. The Old Testament disciplines, interpreted legalistically, or we might say conservatively, would prohibit a priest or Levite from touching a dead body (the robbed man seemed like he might be dead, as he was “half-alive”), or binding up an open wound (i.e. touching blood), lest they be ritualistically impure. Jesus says that they were descending from Jerusalem, suggesting that they were returning from a holy feast, at which time these rules would be particularly a matter of concern.

But the Samaritan violates discipline on this matter, since mercy is the greater good. And such a judgment is considered liberal, rather than conservative. For conservatives argue against violating any of the rules and disciplines of the Church, regardless of circumstances, making excuses to push mercy aside, while liberals today see no reason to follow mere rules and regulations, if and when mercy requires the contrary.

It is very disturbing to me to read so many articles and posts by Catholic conservatives recently, arguing against mercy. They pay lip service to Mercy, which is the very Nature of God. And then they offer all kinds of limitations and qualifications, so that whatever disciplines and distorted doctrines they favor will not be corrected by the Mercy of God. What the Hell! The Pharisees of old would be impressed.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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16 Responses to How the Conservative Schism Unfolds

  1. Francisco says:

    The Pharisees of the old have in their defense that they only had the O.T. teachings. But we today have the advantage of having Jesus Christ’s corrections, teachings and revelations. So woe to the Pharisees of today! Those who reject the Pope’s authority, are rejecting Jesus Christ nowadays.

  2. Matt says:

    Excellent post, Ron!

  3. María Dolores says:

    This paragraph of yours was enlightening to me:
    “The Old Testament disciplines, interpreted legalistically, or we might say conservatively, would prohibit a priest or Levite from touching a dead body (the robbed man seemed like he might be dead, as he was “half-alive”), or binding up an open wound (i.e. touching blood), lest they be ritualistically impure”.
    Ron, how many priests or “Levites” from today may be also refraining from touching the wounded flesh of our Lord and Saviour, present in so many people with open wounds who need spiritual help from their Mother, the Church? Or is the Church only for the pure, the perfect, and the spiritually wholesome?
    I also want to thank you. The consistency of your thinking about the papacy and Pope Francis has been certainly a great help to me.

  4. As a long time reader of your blog, I was quite surprised by your second to last sentence; however, it does clearly indicate your level of frustration with many Catholics.

    I think your analysis is spot on. Keep fighting the good fight, and hope you’re feeling better!

  5. domzerchi says:

    As you know, if one were to do anything so disrespectful as to predict of a particular Catholic Bishop that he is likely to go into schism or become a heretic, one would be objectively guilty of a grave sin. Not to disrespect you but there is a paragraph in your article that might seem be taken to be saying something like that. Perhaps a clarification on your part might be order?

    I know that it is easy to be misunderstood in “cyberspace.” Since nowadays the virtual “world” of the web seems to begin to be having effects in the real world, perhaps we should be extra-vigilant to avoid scandal and misunderstanding. That would be my suggestion to you, with all due respect.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Both Cardinal Burke and Cardinal Sarah have made public statements tantamount to schism, saying they would oppose the Pope if he decides certain questions of discipline or doctrine contrary to the Cardinal’s understanding. So it is not a prediction. Those two Cardinals are essentially already in schism, having publicly made themselves judges over the Pope and saying they would oppose his teaching, if that teaching (or even a decision on discipline) were contrary to their own minds.

  6. John Gallagher says:

    Ummm…the two issues you raise that might cause “schism” are not matters of mercy vs. law. The Pope may well do the first – women ordained to the deaconite. I doubt any Cardinal, even Cardinal Burke, will depart over that. As to your second issue, we have the words of Jesus himself to consider “for man it is impossible, but nothing is impossible for God.” These words, however open ended, are not considered by Catholic scholars to be in opposition to the current doctrine or the Catechism. Catholic apologists almost always make a “both/and” argument here, as Jimmy Akin might say. While no man can judge another’s salvation (whether they be non-Christian believers or non-believers) they will make the same argument that exists in the Catechism that the Catholic Church is still necessary for salvation as a door is necessary to enter a room.

    In your second example, if you are suggesting that the Pope might teach that when non-Christian believers or non-believers, after having fully received the Good News, and “knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it” (CCC 846) are still somehow saved, then even Jimmy Akin will have a problem with this – because that opposes Lumen Gentium, etc. and would require a rewriting of the Catechism as it currently stands.

    I think that Jimmy, Cardinal Burke, and even other Cardinals who consider themselves “liberals” (in the sense that you are using that word) are going to find that to be problematic – and I very much doubt that all will sit idly by as the Catechism is so diametrically opposed, because that would be to give in to a classic logical fallacy: the “appeal to authority” – meaning that those who would go along with Francis’ hypothetical new, opposing, notion are doing so strictly because of the office he holds, without considering (1) the lack of logic or validity of Francis’ new, opposing, assertion or (2) the fact that the new assertion comes from a man (who holds an office) rather than from Christ or the line of Popes that preceded Francis.

    So, if Francis taught this hypothetical assertion, in the manner I have described, would Francis at that point be actually teaching truth with the full authority of the Christ’s Church, or would he be simply a man who made a mistake, teaching in error, who happens to hold the highest office of the Church?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Jimmy Akin is a prolific teacher of heresy. Cardinals do not have the role to judge, teach, or correct the Pope. And no, it is not contrary to the Catechism. The question is somewhat open, although I would argue that many past teachings of the Magisterium can be understood, as a set, to arrive at that conclusion. For example, JPII: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.” [RM 10]

    • John Gallagher says:

      Mr. Conte, I tried to be clear in my comment, by referencing CCC 846. Casting aspersions at Mr. Akin – the chief apologist of Catholic Answers – seems odd given the efforts he employs to defend Pope Francis at every turn. The quote you provide from JPII is not at all opposed to CCC 846. Your initial hypothetical regarding Pope Francis, at least in the manner I expanded on, however, very much opposes CCC 846 – vis-a-vis persons who fully receive the Good News but who, with full knowledge, refuse to enter. CCC 846 doesn’t imply that the question is “somewhat open” for such persons.

      So if Pope Francis officially attempts to teach that such persons can still be saved, after having fully rejected the Church, – opposing CCC 846 – are you saying that his teaching will have to be accepted by all as the de facto Truth because of the office he holds? Or because Pope Boniface VIII or the First Vatican Council have said that it is impossible for any Pope to teach something other than the Truth?

      If so, then doesn’t CCC 846 need to be edited, if not deleted, immediately after Pope Francis pronounces said teaching in an official capacity?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Jimmy Akin has directly contradicted the infallible dogmas of Trent on transubstantiation and Confession in kind and number, thereby publicly teaching heresy. And you have no problem with that because he’s “chief apologist”??!! But if the chief Teacher of the universal Church, Pope Francis, were to say something that seems contrary to the CCC, you assume he’s wrong? You have a very poor understanding of salvation theology. The Church already has taught that persons who explicitly reject the Church can still be saved. Whether or not they have full knowledge, specifically of the grave immorality of the act, only God can judge. See RM 10 and All Salvation Comes Through Christ, both by JP2. The Pope can err in personal opinions and, to a limited extent, in non-infallible teachings. But no Pope can teach heresy. So if it seems to you that a Pope has taught heresy, YOU HAVE MISUNDERSTOOD.

    • John Gallagher says:

      There’s really no need to shout in all caps, Mr. Conte. This is merely an exercise, and I thought, a friendly one, in conjoining faith with reason. In reviewing my own words so far, I come back to my inexact reference, which I repeat here with more specificity: “And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men [it is] impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.” Mark 10:27 (King James version sourced from kingjamesbibleonline.org). That being understood, the Catechism is more than clear regarding the necessity of Christ’s Church for salvation. This is where apologists tend to make the “both/and” argument with respect to the notion that the Catholic Church is still necessary for salvation: “How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Reformulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body” (CCC 846).

      Francis, speaking to 800 or so women of religious orders in 2013, said, quoting Pope Paul VI “It’s an absurd dichotomy to think one can live with Jesus, but without the Church, to follow Jesus outside the Church, to love Jesus and not the Church.”

      Finally, a more complete reference to CCC 846: “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.” (CCC 846)

      Now, my hypothetical involves Francis making an official teaching that a non-believer, after having investigated and heard the Good News in full, and wantonly rejected it, would still be saved or be save-able, even should he die in that state of mind of rejection.

      Nevermind Mr. Akin or anyone else, what would you say about such a teaching?

    • Ron Conte says:

      let’s remove the adverb “wantonly”. The rejection of Christianity or the Church, after receiving sufficient accurate knowledge, is objectively a mortal sin. But it might not also be an actual mortal sin, and so the person could possibly be saved. The true love of neighbor, for such a person, would be an implicit acceptance of Christ and His Church, despite the outward rejection. The full knowledge needed for the sin to be actual is not merely the exterior objective information, but the person’s internal realization in conscience that the act (of rejecting Christianity or the Church) is gravely immoral. The person might not have this realization because of many factors, such as the influence of family, upbringing, friends, society, etc.

    • John Gallagher says:

      If all Francis were to do were to come out an pronounce generically that non-believers can yet be saved because “nothing is impossible with God”, then it wouldn’t be worth the intellectual exercise to have this conversation – because that would not be a change in doctrine. But that is not what we are speaking of here.

      One doesn’t become part of the Body of the Christ by having/showing love for, or by doing good for, one’s neighbor, after having rejected, with full information, an invitation to enter the Church – or after having rejected an invitation to at least become a believer (even removing the word “wantonly”). A non-believer’s loving good deeds for his neighbor could emanate from any number of secular philosophies (some pre-date Christianity). One is saved by God, through faith, at least after having received the Good News (I’m well aware of the doctrine accepting those who have not heard the Good News). No amount of neighborly love or good deeds merits salvation (for man it is impossible) – this is true even for those who do fully believe in the faith and have the sacraments. Good deeds done by those who have the faith, are gifts that are derived from the faith, and an expression that their faith is truly alive (if we are to take St. James seriously). But a non-believer, who rejects the faith (even if not wantonly) after being fully informed, and who happens to do good by his neighbor, can’t be said to be doing good out of an inferred acceptance of the Christ, in whom the non-believer, by definition, doesn’t believe (in his brain or his heart). While I’m in no position to judge whether such a person might yet be saved (because nothing is impossible with God), and, while I might be well pleased to hear His Holiness (or any other Pope not named Francis) assert that such a person can yet be saved, even if he does so as a matter of doctrine, I’m simply asserting that such an hypothetical official teaching from Francis would be a significant shift in doctrine, as a de facto admission that the Roman Catholic Church is not, after all, really necessary for the salvation of this particular type of non-believer.

      As I say, I might actually be ok with such a change in doctrine, and it is most definitely a change, but I would be the last person to suggest that someone who takes issue with such a change (especially if they should raise the issue prior to a Papal publication of the change) is by definition in schism or is a de facto heretic – because such a person would be relying on the Catechism as currently written, and prior established doctrine (Lumen Gentium). Both are still part of the magisterium. And so, I assert that such a proclamation by His Holiness would cause a fair amount of confusion. And that it would be a sad day indeed. So we’ll have to agree to disagree on this point. And that is what I was after in this discussion – not persuasion toward my point of view, but rather – clarity on exactly where we disagree.

      I suspect virtually all, if not all, non-believers would be indifferent to the news that the Church, through this Pope’s hypothetical new and different doctrine, really considers them still to be in the fold, even after they have explicitly rejected the Christ’s established Church. So when the Christ himself said, “He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters” (Mt 12:30), this Pope might yet interpret that to not really mean what it clearly says. Ergo, the non-believer is then left with even less incentive, than we might have hoped, to consider becoming a believer, and enter into the Body.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It’s not a shift or change in doctrine. Pope John Paul II: “The universality of salvation means that it is granted not only to those who explicitly believe in Christ and have entered the Church. Since salvation is offered to all, it must be made concretely available to all.” [RM 10]. He also taught that the grace of salvation is sometimes given to those who reject the Church: “It is mysterious for those who receive the grace, because they do not know the Church and sometimes even outwardly reject her.” [All Salvation Comes Through Christ]. The love of neighbor is not a way to merit salvation. But it is a way to obtain a baptism of desire. Pope Pius XII states this idea in his Address to Midwives: “An act of love is sufficient for the adult to obtain sanctifying grace and to supply the lack of baptism.”

      What is happening today in the Church is that persons who have not bothered to study theology speak as if their understanding were greater than that of the Pope. They judge what is doctrine, error, or heresy without having studied or written in the subject area. They are unaware of most of the magisterial teachings on the subject in question, yet think themselves fit to decide the same. Your arguments in your comments show a superficial and distorted understanding of salvation theology.

  7. Antoinette Barry says:

    First Vatican Council. On faith and reason. If anyone one says that it is possible that at some time, that given advancement of knowledge a sense may be assigned to the dogmas propounded by the Church which is different from that which the Church has understood or understands, Let him be anathema

    • Ron Conte says:

      Yes, but the Church also teaches that Her own understanding of the dogmas of Tradition and Scripture increases as time passes. In addition, I must point out that any Catholic’s understanding of dogma can err, even though dogma itself is infallible. And this is a common mistake. People are adamant that a particular idea cannot be incorrect, since it is dogma, but they don’t consider that they themselves may have misunderstood the dogma taught by the Church. Sometimes they even claim that an idea has been taught infallibly by the Church, when it has not. The dogmatization of one’s own understanding is a serious problem in the Church today.

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