Sunday, September 2, 2018

They Ended in Schism

(Preliminary note: it’s not my intention to accuse anyone involved in this latest dispute of fomenting schism. Rather, I hope to remind everyone that certain attitudes can lead to that danger if not kept in check)

The thing that troubles me about the reaction to the scandals is the open contempt that some are showing to the clergy, treating them as an enemy that the Church needs to be liberated from. They rightly want reform but think that the cause of the corruption are not just some corrupt bishops and priests, but the bishops and priests. The problem is, this is not the first time that this happened. There were other movements in the history of the Church who began with a desire to reform the Church and ended in schism.

We’ve had groups like the Donatists, the Fratricelli, the Lollards, the Protestants, etc. They gradually started viewing the clergy as enemies and rejected them. When the Church told them they were wrong, they retorted that the Church was wrong. Eventually they wound up leaving the Church in the name of reform.

In this current crisis, I’m not accusing those concerned over scandals as fomenting schism. But I do wonder if we’re seeing fault lines that may turn into schism if left unchecked. The mistrust can lead to rejection of rightful authority. That rejection can turn into separation from the rightful authority. But, as Catholics, we cannot reject that rightful authority—even if some misuse it or personally sin grievously—because this authority is given to the Church by God.

This doesn’t mean “business as usual” when it comes to scandals. But it does mean recognizing the authority to teach and govern is not set aside for the bad behavior. John XII was a notoriously bad Pope. The 1911 Catholic Encyclopedia describes him as “a coarse, immoral man, whose life was such that the Lateran was spoken of as a brothel, and the moral corruption in Rome became the subject of general odium.”  Yet, if he had ever taught as Pope [§], the obligation to obey would bind and the faithful would have to trust God would protect him from teaching error. People tried to depose him, but the attempt had no authority.

The situation we have in the Church today is nothing like the scandals of past centuries. I’m not arguing the fallacy of Relative Privation here. The fact that a past scandal was worse doesn’t mean we don’t suffer in a current one. But what it does mean is if the Church survived that, it will survive this and we are not excused from obedience.

What we have is a reaction of revulsion against the evils committed by one bishop and a small number of clergy combined with the revelation of some bishops knew but preferred to keep it hidden instead of stopping it. Yes, we do have evil in the Church. Yes, it does have to be rooted out. Wanting these things corrected is not wrong. But reckless accusations, assuming without proof the Pope must be guilty and demand for him to resign, assuming the clergy are an enemy of reform—these are wrong.

I would urge the faithful who are (quite legitimately) struggling with feelings of hurt, anger, and betrayal to remember this and not allow themselves to fall into these attitudes.


[§] He never did. God protecting His Church sometimes means that an evil Pope doesn’t get around to teaching at all.

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