Sunday, August 26, 2018

A Schism In All But Name

No doubt by now you’ve heard many accounts about the 2018 abuse scandal. I want to discuss a certain aspect of that story that went unreported—the aspect of dissent that was building for decades and came to fruition in the opposition to Pope Francis. No doubt some will disagree with my observations here. But I do believe it explains how the backlash to this scandal could have erupted so quickly. To get to the point we’re at in late August, 2018 didn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t need a conspiracy theory either. 

What it took was years of dissenters pretending (or deceived into thinking) their opposition was faithful Catholicism. I think it can be traced to resentment after changes in discipline. Certain Catholics, who thought these changes went against what they thought the Church was supposed to be, believed the Church to be in error. They blamed the Church for any negative behavior from dissenters—a post hoc fallacy. Over the decades, this mistrust and blame led to a growing suspicion that the magisterium was wrong while they were the arbiters of what was orthodox.

By the pontificate of Pope Francis, the suspicion became open contempt. People believed that the Pope was a heretic and whatever he did was suspect. His critics, through suspicions, gave the worst possible interpretation of his words, “confirming” their suspicion that he was a heretic in a vicious circle. What he said was compatible with his predecessors, but was assumed to be a contradiction by Catholics ignorant of his predecessors’ teachings. The result of this was a refusal to accept the authority of the Pope. His critics refused to accept his authority to govern or taught. Confusion resulted, but the critics blamed the Pope for the confusion.

The result was when the renewed outrage over the abuse scandal arose, his critics blamed him for a problem that went back to the 1940s and was mostly eliminated by 2002. What was different was that we learned some bishops were involved in concealing abuse in the same period—and one cardinal stood credibly accused of abuse. Understandably, Catholics wanted those who covered up to face the consequences for their acts. The problem was in determining which living bishops did wrong, and which ones merely inherited the problem.

The anti-Francis Catholics demanded immediate results, even though a just investigation and canonical trial takes time. Much longer than the two weeks between the Pennsylvania report and the time of writing this sentence. Because the Pope did not mention specific policy changes in his condemnation of the evil, critics accused him of doing nothing—again two weeks after the release of the report.

Finally we had the Vigano letter. Putting aside the arguments about his motives, we have an accusation that Benedict XVI imposed sanctions on McCarrick in 2010, but Pope Francis knowingly removed these sanctions in 2013, taking part in the coverup. As of the time of my writing this, nobody has proven that Benedict XVI made such a decision. In fact, Cardinal Wuerl has explicitly said nobody told him that such sanctions were in effect—and he would be the one responsible to make sure they were enforced. [§] In his press conference, Pope Francis told reporters to stop being lazy and investigate the accusations. I believe he is confident of the results of that outcome.

But the mistrust this faction caused has reached such extremes that any bishop who denied being part of the coverup was deemed a liar. As a result, the critics had a “heads I win, tails you lose” situation. Any bishop who didn’t go along was “part of the problem.” Any bishop who did was “proof” that the other bishops were liars. There’s no way a bishop can prove his innocence under these circumstances.

And, here we are. A vocal faction has hijacked the narrative and attacked anyone who challenged the claims. They were so loud that many people are beginning to believe them. Now, when the Pope and bishops reject the accusations, people believe the propaganda.

This is schism in all but name. I will not be part of it. Like this Pope or hate him, he is the Vicar of Christ. Like or hate the bishops, they are successors to the Apostles. They do have the authority to bind and loose regardless of personal sins. Yes, reform is needed. But it cannot be a revolt. It must work with the magisterium, not against it.


[§] Also of note, if Benedict XVI imposed sanctions and Pope Francis lifted them, Cardinal Wuerl would have an excuse for not getting involved in the McCarrick case. But instead of saying he was ordered to end sanctions, he insisted he received no instructions to begin them.

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