The Roots of the Conservative Schism

I am teaching you the true Gospel: The Church is indefectible, and is founded on Peter and his successors as a house built upon a rock.

Since the Church can never go astray, neither can Her head. For if the head is corrupted, so is the entire body. “But if your eye has been corrupted, your entire body will be darkened.” (Mt 6:23). The Pope is the eye of the Church, as well as Her head. So the Pope must be indefectible. Otherwise, the Church founded upon him would not be founded upon a rock.

The First Vatican Council taught, infallibly, that the “gift of truth and never-failing faith” has been “divinely conferred on Peter and his successors”. Jesus prayed that the faith of Peter, and therefore also of his successors, would not fail (Lk 22:32). And anyone who says otherwise rejects the teaching of an Ecumenical Council and the interpretation by an Ecumenical Council of the Gospel.

How can each and every Pope, whether Saint or sinner, be necessarily always free from the sins of apostasy, heresy, and schism? The prevenient grace of God prevents these sins in the Roman Pontiff. And this grace is not contrary to free will. For any Pope can resign, and after he does resign, he can commit any of these sins (though no such case of an heretical resigned Pope is known). But as long as any man is the Roman Pontiff, God prevents him from teaching material heresy, since he has the gift of truth, and prevents him from committing the sins of apostasy, heresy, and schism, for he has the gift of a never-failing faith.

Similarly, the Blessed Virgin Mary had the gift of prevenient grace, so that she never committed any personal sins at all in her entire life. The gift of the Immaculate Conception prevented her from inheriting original sin. But it was a different and subsequent gift of prevenient grace that preserved her from all personal sins.

Now Mary is a figure of the Church — each is similar to the other. But the Church does not have the very same gift to be preserved from all personal sins. Even so, the Church does have a similar gift, that the Roman Pontiff and the body of Bishops (as a body, not individually) are prevented from committing the three sins against faith: apostasy, heresy, and schism.

The Schism

The conservative schism is the rejection of the authority of Pope Francis over doctrine and discipline. Already, some Catholics (if they can even be called by that name) have utterly rejected the Vicar of Christ. They have accused him of heresy. They claim that he, the Supreme Head of the whole Church, has been automatically excommunicated, due to heresy. Some say he has taught material heresy; others say that he has committed formal heresy.

The conservative schism has already begun. Some few ignorant and arrogant Catholics have openly rejected the Pope, and have thereby departed from communion with the Church led by him. Their refusal of subjection to the Roman Pontiff is formal schism. They are the ones who are automatically excommunicated.

Other sinful Catholics are publicly speaking about the holy Pontiff with denigration, ridicule, and contempt. They speak as if their understanding of doctrine and discipline cannot possibly err, and as if they had the role to judge and correct the Vicar of Christ. If an atheist or agnostic were to speak about Pope Francis the way that these Catholic Christians do, I would say it is a grave sin. How much more sinful is it, then, when Catholics speak about their own leader this way?

Roots

The single deep taproot of the conservative schism is pride. These papal critics have long been speaking and acting as if their own understanding of Catholicism were Catholicism itself. As if they have the role of authoritative interpreter of Tradition and Scripture, instead of the Magisterium, and as if even the teachings of the papal Magisterium were subject to their judgment. How filled with pride do you have to be to see yourself as above the Supreme Pontiff, so that you would somehow be justified, not only in teaching, judging, and correcting him, but also in treating him with the utmost contempt? Even if they are sincere but mistaken in their disagreements with the decisions of the Supreme and Universal Pastor on doctrine and discipline, they sin nevertheless by pride in the way that they respond to that disagreement.

They lack sufficient humility, by which they would admit that perhaps the Father and Teacher of all Christians is right, and they have misunderstood. They lack sufficient knowledge, for their explanations are not even sound as a theological argument. They rarely even offer a theological argument, as they think their own position is obvious to any faithful person. And any argument to the contrary is deemed unfaithful, without regard to its content. They see themselves as the guardians of truth, when in fact that is the role of the Magisterium and the Roman Pontiff. They assume that their own understanding of doctrine and discipline cannot err.

Yes, pride is the main cause of the conservative schism. But the wound of pride did not appear overnight. It has been festering and increasing for many years. Even the teachings of previous Popes are treated by them as if subject to their judgment and approval. Never have they encountered a papal or Church teaching, contrary to their own understanding, which they accepted as a correction. Instead, they ignore, contradict, or radically reinterpret every past teaching that cannot be reconciled with their own limited understanding and misunderstandings.

Aside from the main root of pride, several lesser roots are easily identified.

Ignorance is widespread in the Church today, not only among the laity, but also among priests and theologians, deacons and religious. Asking a local priest a question on doctrine or discipline is no longer a reliable way to obtain a correct answer. Teachers in RCIA classes, in Catholic schools, even at the university level, often teach grave doctrinal errors. At best, they are teaching from their own ignorance. At worst, they have made a deliberate decision that puts their own ideas above Church teaching.

I know from reading the posts and articles of many Catholics, who now criticize the holy Pontiff, that they have a poor understanding of Roman Catholic theology. They err gravely on many matters of faith and morals. They teach on ethics, but they never mention the three fonts of morality or the moral object. They falsely claim that Humanae Vitae only condemns contraception within marriage, and that contraception outside of marriage is not also condemned by the Church. They have badly misunderstood grace and salvation, especially for non-Christians. They propose one error after another on the Sacraments.

So for many years they have been displaying their ignorance openly, especially online. Then, after Pope Francis was elected, they compared his teaching to their own understanding. And whenever it doesn’t match, they assume that the Supreme Teacher of the Universal Church must have erred. They think perhaps he is even a heretic or a false prophet. What other explanation could there be? It is not as if their own understanding could be filled with hypocrisy, ignorance, and grave errors. Their combination of extreme pride and profound ignorance is astounding.

Another lesser root of the schism is found in the conservative liberal divide, which developed after the Second Vatican Council. For a long time now, I have watched as conservative Catholics presented themselves as the definition of faithfulness, as if conservatism equaled orthodoxy and conversely, as if liberalism equaled heterodoxy or heresy. So when a liberal Pope was elected, they reacted badly. They treated the new liberal Pope, Francis — who in my view may well be a literal Saint — just as they have been treating liberal Catholics for a long time: with denigration, ridicule, and contempt.

In truth, Catholicism is not conservatism. Jesus did not teach conservatism, He taught truth. If we evaluate His teachings in terms of their position on the spectrum from liberal to conservative theology, which is perhaps a silly thing to do (cf. 2 Cor 11:21), some teachings are very liberal and some very conservative and others more moderate. His utter rejection and nullification of the Mosaic death penalty was more liberal than the liberal Sadducees. This position on divorce and remarriage was more conservative than the conservative Pharisees. And his teachings on love and service to others was so extreme, from a human point of view, that some claimed he was either insane or possessed (Mk 3:21; Jn 10:20).

Whosoever adheres to the conservative opinion on every theological question undoubtedly errs, first by his method, since conservatism is not truth, and second by certain points where the majority opinion among conservatives is erroneous. For example, does the Church have the authority to ordain women as deacons? Conservatives have decided the answer is “No”, but in fact the Magisterium has not decided the question. Are most persons saved? Can non-Christians and non-believers be saved if they do not convert? The teachings of the Magisterium, in my understanding, imply an answer of “Yes”. But conservatives have decided the answer is “No”.

Due to pride, ignorance, and the mistaken idea that conservatism is faithfulness, many open theological questions, not yet decided by the Magisterium, have been decided and taught as if doctrine by the conservative Catholic subculture. So when a liberal Pope comes along, and teaches the contrary, he is treated as if he were a heretic — not for contradicting the teachings of Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, but for contradicting the mistaken understanding of conservatives.

Are there other causes? If conservatives where humble, knowledgeable, and respectful of liberal theological opinions, there would be no schism. But there may be one other important influence on the schism: the internet.

People complain that Pope Francis is changing discipline. Pope Saint John Paul II changed the entire code of Canon Law, which had stood with few changes since the early twentieth century. The new Code was signed into law in January, 1983. And there were few complaints about this vast change, perhaps because the internet was in its infancy at the time. Similarly, John Paul issued an encyclical, Redemptoris Missio, which proposed a liberal view of salvation theology (e.g. RM 10). Yet few objections were heard, perhaps because, in the year of its publication, 1990, relatively few persons were on the internet.

With the advent of the worldwide web, Catholics have been able to discuss the faith with their fellow believers around the world. Good! But there is a downside to this discussion. Catholics who have an incorrect understanding can easily find agreement with others whose errors are the same or similar. So they reinforce their mutual misunderstandings, rather than being corrected. Then, when even the Pope disagrees, they use the internet to drum up support for their contrary point of view. They use online petitions to propose that so many persons disagree with the Pope, that the Rock must be wrong because the sand has many grains. The internet has made opposition to any controversial decision of the Church on doctrine and discipline much worse.

For example, support for an heretical understanding of Humanae Vitae has spread over the internet and has reached a fever pitch. This new type of dissent from Humanae Vitae does not directly oppose the condemnation of contraception, but instead radically reinterprets it, so that the grave and intrinsically evil sin of contraception becomes justifiable in very many cases, for various absurd reasons (as I’ve explained many times in previous posts). Without the internet, I don’t think this new type of Humanae Vitae dissent could have arisen.

Well, here we go. Into the darkness of schism and heresy. A dark time for the Church is approaching. Only those Christians who put their faith in each successive Roman Pontiff, liberal or conservative, and in the teaching of the Ecumenical Councils will survive with their faith unsullied. Do not be fooled by your own pride, or by the foolish argument that so many “leaders” of the Church, in opposing the Pope, cannot be wrong. Do not be fooled by reputation. God is no respecter of persons. Many supposedly reputable Catholic leaders will fall away. Do not join them.

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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7 Responses to The Roots of the Conservative Schism

  1. Mark P. says:

    I claim guilt in reacting to some headlines concerning the Church with anger and frustration. Very good post. I personally need to work on keeping things in perspective when I read some stories that I disagree with.

  2. Matt says:

    Ron,

    The January 31, 2017, message from the Blessed Virgin Mary to Pedro Regis has the following ‘google translated’ excerpt:

    “A proud man will command change in the Profession of Faith and his actions will please the wicked men. It will be a great offense to My Son Jesus.”

    Who can command a change in the Profession of Faith?

    • Ron Conte says:

      No one can do so. That message perhaps refers to the false church that is set up by the liberal schismatics, several years from now. Or it might refer to schismatics in the distant future.

  3. John Platts says:

    There are many online commentators who falsely claim that Pope Francis will change various infallible teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, including but not limited to the Catholic Church’s teaching against contraception, the Catholic Church’s teaching against abortion, and the Catholic Church’s teaching on the indissolubility of the bond of a valid marriage that has been properly consummated. However, I believe that Pope Francis is the valid pope, that Pope Francis cannot teach any position that constitutes actual heresy while he is still the Pope, and that God will prevent Pope Francis and his successors from teaching heresy during their papacies. Furthermore, Pope Francis has actually upheld Catholic Church teaching against abortion in Laudato Si’ (n. 120).

    Will Pope Francis ever teach that direct abortion or contracepted sexual intercourse can be morally justified under some circumstances, as claimed by some online commentators? Or will Pope Francis actually uphold the Catholic Church’s teaching that direct abortion and contracepted sexual intercourse are intrinsically evil acts that are always morally wrong and always gravely contrary to natural law, regardless of intention or circumstances?

  4. matt z. says:

    Hi Ron,

    I am almost positive that in the book Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, all ordained even deacons must be men?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Currently, only men can be ordained as deacons, priests, bishops. However, the dogma is that the Church does not have the authority to ordain women to the priesthood. So the ordination of women to the diaconate is an open question. The book you cite is not of the Magisterium.

  5. matt z. says:

    OK, Thank you so much for your time, and explanation. I will check into this book again and see Ludwig Ott’s reasoning for this.

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