There was no Warning this past Good Friday, but we are still on-track for a severe schism. Pope Francis is not going to submit himself to the conservative Catholic subculture, as if that culture were Lord and God. Pope Francis is not going to resign as Pope, not before the schism occurs (in my view). And he is not going to stop teaching and leading, in accord with his understanding of the Faith.
Will the leaders of the conservative Catholic subculture repent from their pride-filled rejection of the leadership of Pope Francis? I wish they would, but I don’t see any indication of that from their behavior. They don’t believe what the Magisterium teaches. They do not see the Pope as their Teacher and Shepherd. They believe their own understanding and that of their fellow traditionalists or conservatives. They adhere to a distorted understanding of the Faith. And they are indignant that the Roman Pontiff refuses to submit his mind and heart, and his teaching authority, to their misunderstandings and distortions.
They have a few Cardinals and Bishops on their side. So what? Learn from past doctrinal conflicts in the Church. The Arian heresy was held by an estimated 300 bishops. The East-West Schism of 1054 saw the Patriarch of Constantinople and many Bishops with him, depart from communion from the Pope, forming what are now the Orthodox Christian Churches. Therefore, no set of Cardinals or Bishops is sufficient to withstand or oppose or correct the Roman Pontiff. You are not faithful, if you have a few Cardinals and Bishops who agree with your rejection of any Roman Pontiff’s authority over doctrine and discipline.
I expect that Cardinal Burke, perhaps joined by some other Cardinals and Bishops, will issue his much discussed (and very sinful) “formal correction”. But the Supreme Pontiff is not going to stand corrected. A small subset of Cardinals and Bishops, joined together, do not have the role or authority to correct the Vicar of Christ. This “correction” will likely contain doctrinal errors, and it might well constitute, in itself, an act of formal schism, depending on how it is worded.
But even a mild wording to the correction is likely to be followed by exaggerated assertions by many online commentators, pushing more people in the direction of schism. The result, one way or another, will be a further opening of the tear that is already present in the fabric of the Church. A schism is a tearing away of part of the Church. Now in truth, from the point of view of Heaven, the Church remains entirely One. It is merely that some sinners have chosen to separate themselves from the single untorn garment of the Church.
Well, ever since Vatican II, conservative Catholics have claimed to be faithful to the Magisterium, by virtue of being conservative, as if conservatism equaled Catholicism. And as this idea developed, that is to say, as this wound festered, conservatives began to adhere, not to the teachings of the Magisterium or the Pope, but to the majority opinion in the conservative Catholic subculture. By the sin of pride, whatever the Magisterium taught that was contrary to that opinion, or contrary to any individual’s own understanding, was ignored, rejected, or radically reinterpreted. And liberals were utterly rejected by conservatives, as if all liberal theological ideas were heresy.
Then God decided to put conservative Catholics to the test by choosing a liberal Pope. Yes, Pope Francis was deliberately chosen by the grace and providence of God, to purify the Church from the errors and arrogance of certain conservative Catholic leaders. (And then the next Pope will do the same regarding liberal Catholics.) And many conservatives are failing the test.
My theological opinion is that the Church already possesses the authority to ordain women as deacons. A deacon does not minister any Sacrament that cannot also be ministered by a layman or laywoman in extraordinary cases. A deacon does not stand in persona Christi. And so I think that Pope Francis will decide to ordain women as deacons.
How will the conservative Catholic subculture react? They will probably proclaim that these ordinations are invalid and that this teaching (that the Church can ordain deaconesses) is heresy. This conflict could easily put many conservatives over the edge, and into a state of formal schism.
Pope Francis has already hinted that he thinks non-Christian believers and non-believers (atheists) can be saved without converting. I agree with that position, as I explain at length in my book: Forgiveness and Salvation for Everyone.
But the conservative Catholic subculture has already decided the issue, to the contrary. And they treat every issue in theology as if it were subject to their sole judgment. They have dogmatized the majority opinion within their corner of the Church. They have replaced the Magisterium, even the Papal Magisterium, with the theological opinions of a collection of prominent conservative commentators. They speak and act as if they were the Church itself, or even as if they were the Head of the Church. They speak and act as if they, collectively, were the ruler over the Vicar of Christ.
Which persons on earth are children of God by spiritual adoption? The correct answer is this: everyone who is in the state of grace, regardless of whether they entered that state by baptism of water (the formal Sacrament), or by a baptism of desire or of blood, is a true child of God. But already some conservative commentators have claimed that only Christians, that is, persons who have been formally baptized, are children of God by spiritual adoption. And this grave error leads them to further errors on salvation theology.
What will happen if Pope Francis uses Papal Infallibility to teach a doctrine, one that is contrary to the majority opinion of the conservative Catholic subculture? Many conservative opponents of the Pope are already on record as claiming that a Pope can teach or commit heresy (in truth, he cannot). But they at least grant that no Pope can teach heresy under the infallible teaching authority. So what would happen? I suppose they would utterly reject Pope Francis, and claim that he was never a valid Pope.
For their pride in their own understanding of the Faith knows no limits. If the Pope uses Papal Infallibility to teach a doctrine different from their own understanding, they cannot imagine, even for a moment, that they might have misunderstood. The only conclusion they can reach is that the Head of the Church has gone astray and is trying to lead the whole Church into Hell. Due to their extreme pride, they think that such a terrible result — which is contrary to the dogma of the indefectibility of the Church — is the only possibility. They can’t admit that they themselves are fallible and might have misunderstood.
Schism is inevitable
At this point in time, the great conservative schism has already begun. It only remains to be seen how quickly it will unfold and how many foolish souls will be drawn into ruin by its net.
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