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We’re Going to Keep Talking About Schism! Wherein Steve Rants.


I consider Fr. Z an ally in our cause. I respect him, and I agree with him more often than I don’t. But something about his post yesterday isn’t sitting well with me. He writes:

Some people are talking about “schism” because of the Synod.

No matter what happens at the Synod, there will be no schism by either side.

Schisms are passé. Catholics don’t schism.

Indifference and apathetic drifting are the real threats.

Conservatives have no where else to go (e.g., the SSPX simply not an option). Conservatives accept Vatican II AND the Catechism of the Catholic Church AND Code of Canon Law.

Liberals love to hear conservatives talk about “schism”, because liberals are actually the ones trying to bring it about. As they try to impose NewChurch, liberals are already in de facto schism. But they’ll never make it official. They are basically Congregationalists. They are still in the cafeteria. They take what the want and leave the rest. Schism would take too much effort and money.

Schism talk is for journalists only, for headline effect. But it’s to the liberals’ advantage.

So, I want to assures the world that there will not be a schism.

There is no real threat of schism from the right. There will be no formal schism on the left, for different reasons.

So – get over it. Stop the distraction.

For a working definition of schism, let’s grab the handy Catholic Encyclopedia off the shelf, shall we?

Schism (from the Greek schisma, rent, division) is, in the language of theology and canon law, the rupture of ecclesiastical union and unity, i.e. either the act by which one of the faithful severs as far as in him lies the ties which bind him to the social organization of the Church and make him a member of the mystical body of Christ, or the state of dissociation or separation which is the result of that act. In this etymological and full meaning the term occurs in the books of the New Testament.


“Between heresy and schism”, explains St. Jerome, “there is this difference, that heresy perverts dogma, while schism, by rebellion against the bishop, separates from the Church. Nevertheless there is no schism which does not trump up a heresy to justify its departure from the Church (In Ep. ad Tit., iii, 10). And St. Augustine: “By false doctrines concerning God heretics wound faith, by iniquitous dissensions schismatics deviate from fraternal charity, although they believe what we believe” (On Faith and the Creed 9). But as St. Jerome remarks, practically and historically, heresy and schism nearly always go hand in hand; schism leads almost invariably to denial of the papal primacy.

Put more simply, we find this in the current Code of Canon Law:

Can. 751 Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.

Schism is on the table. We hear a lot of talk these days about de facto vs. de jure schism. Fr. Hunwicke gave some consideration to the distinction earlier this week in a brief  analysis of the canonical situation of the SSPX:

A year or two ago, Cardinal Mueller suggested that, although the excommunication of its bishops had been lifted, the SSPX was still in de facto schism.

At first, I disliked this idea, because it seemed to nullify the emollient effects of the removal of the excommunications, as intended by Benedict XVI. But, upon lengthier thought, I came (as I usually do … honest, no irony here …) to the conclusion that his Eminence is right. After all, with whatever justification, the SSPX does not have any recognition in Rome or throughout the world-wide churches which are in unflawed communion with the Holy Father. De facto there is no communicatio in sacris between SSPX clergy and diocesan bishops. To call this a de facto schism, which after all does imply that the Society is not in a de iure schism, and thus is not canonically schismatic, does seem at least arguably to be a useful analytical category.

I wonder exactly how far heterodox or heteropractic elements in the hierarchy need to go before they themselves can prudently be judged to have entered this interesting new category of de facto schism. I have in mind Cardinal Marx and his like, with their threats “go ahead without waiting for the Synod” et similia. How different is this from the SSPX going down its own path without waiting for Rome to “return to the Eternal Rome”?

I think the answer, to both Fr. Z and Fr. Hunwicke’s points, is that yes, real, actual schism is here right now.

The SSPX, for our purposes, is an actual distraction from this larger point. When it comes to the active, raging heterodoxy amongst apostolic successors happening this very moment across the world, the debate over de facto or de jure is a technicality. The effects of this schism, wherever you stand on taxonomy, are markedly less academic – though they would probably be far less damaging if they were juridically declared rather than allowed to fester as they have. Tragically, like the proverbial boiled frog, we’ve been steeping in this toxic amalgam of legitimacy and schismatic heresy within the institutional Church for such a long time that few of us seem able to tell for certain just how bad it really is right now. Like good sheep, we await the guidance of our shepherds; like good subjects, we await the judgment of our monarch.

Yet none is forthcoming.

And here is the crux of the issue: the reason we are dealing with de facto schism left uncondemned instead of de jure schism declared and denounced is astonishingly, frighteningly simple:

The chief legislator of the Church has chosen not to pronounce sentence.

The Encyclopedia cites St. Jerome in saying that “schism leads almost invariably to denial of the papal primacy.” But why deny papal primacy when it is the mechanism by which a break into the Church’s communion and from its teachings has been imposed?

In other words: how did Kasper and Marx and Daneels and Forte and Baldisseri and Galantino and Maradiaga and Wuerl and all the hairy hordes of prelates who infect the Church with error wind up at the top of the Synod food chain to flout Our Lord’s teachings with impunity?

Because Pope Francis put them there, and has not seen fit to remove them.

This is the reality Catholics around the world are struggling with right now. They don’t know what to think. We’re all papists, we faithful sons of the Church. But when do you say to Peter: “I’m sorry, your holiness, I can’t follow you down this road.”?

I’ve seen people — real, actual, non-hypothetical people — asking what they are to do if, at the conclusion of this year’s portion of the Synod, one of the following scenarios plays out:

  1. Pope Francis blesses some document or language allowing the divorced and remarried to receive communion after some prescribed process that does not involve removing themselves from the adulterous relationship, or
  2. Pope Francis does not make such a decision, but rather delegates the discretionary power to do the same to either the regional bishops conferences or the local ordinary.

What these concerned people want to know is simple: “Can I go to Mass or communion at a parish or in a diocese where they are allowing Eucharistic sacrilege by inviting those who are living in adultery to receive communion? And if I can, should I?”

The fact is, even the sacraments of a heretic or schismatic are valid, ex opere operato. So the reality on the ground is that it’s like the Arian crisis all over again. At the time, St. Basil wrote:

“Religious people keep silence, but every blaspheming tongue is let loose. Sacred things are profaned; those of the laity who are sound in faith avoid the places of worship as schools of impiety, and raise their hands in solitudes, with groans and tears to the Lord in heaven.” Ep. 92. Four years after he writes: “Matters have come to this pass: the people have left their houses of prayer, and assemble in deserts,—a pitiable sight; women and children, old men, and men otherwise infirm, wretchedly faring in the open air, amid the most profuse rains and snow-storms and winds and frosts of winter; and again in summer under a scorching sun. To this they submit, because they will have no part in the {460} wicked Arian leaven.” Ep. 242. Again: “Only one offence is now vigorously punished,—an accurate observance of our fathers’ traditions. For this cause the pious are driven from their countries, and transported into deserts. The people are in lamentation, in continual tears at home and abroad. There is a cry in the city, a cry in the country, in the roads, in the deserts. Joy and spiritual cheerfulness are no more; our feasts are turned into mourning; our houses of prayer are shut up, our altars deprived of the spiritual worship.” Ep. 243.

Can you imagine living like this? I’ve heard tell of parish priests in my own diocese who have warned their flocks that such a time may be coming, and soon.

There is a third possible outcome, which is that Pope Francis will pull a sneak attack, surprising everyone by strongly and unequivocally re-stating Church teaching on the Sixth Commandment and possibly even disciplining those who had chosen to attempt to transmogrify the Church into an institution that accepts illicit sexual unions. Some Catholics are really holding out hope that Wildcard Scenario #3 is going to happen. And theoretically, it could. If Pope Francis is planning a surprise attack, however, he’s doing the surprise part very, very well. Still, the Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways, and Pope Vigilius was a huge letdown to Empress Theodora and her not-so-merry band of Monophysites, so never say never.

But we have to deal with what we know, and the realm of probability. The last half of the Synod empowered some very bad men to do some very big damage to Church teaching on marriage and sexuality. And we have an as-yet uncontested account from the guy appointed by the pope to run the show that the pope was actually…running the show. Make of it what you will.

So where does this leave us?

Faithful Catholics are not going to start a schism. It’s not how we work. Fr. Z is right about that. We believe in docility and obedience to the Magisterium. But the fault lines have already appeared, and they’ve begun looking more like battle lines now. Groups of the faithful are making pledges to uphold Church teaching. Pledges that others have been respectfully asked to make, to no avail. The other side is already saying they won’t be made to do anything other than what they want.

With so much of the outcome already on the table, it seems that the Synod itself may be only a formality.

This is real, not imagined, division. This is not just “indifference and apathetic drifting,” though these are present too (which explains the lack of resistance in most places). We are a house divided, and we know that unless something changes, the house — as it is — cannot stand.

No, talk of schism is not a distraction. It’s the main event. The men who are seeking to violate Christ’s commandments from within an official Church body under the guidance of the pope and to foment widespread Eucharistic desecration and the normalization of homosexual relationships within the moral law will never win the war, but the battles are theirs for the taking. The tide is turning against us in society, and I fear that we are in the minority within the Church.

One way or another, these fractures and fissures are going to turn into breaks and chasms. People will choose new parishes that align with their ideologies. Faithful priests will be persecuted. Holy Masses may eventually have to be said in secret. The Bride of Christ will, once again, share in His Passion.

Our Lady warned us of this as recently as 1973. She said:

“The work of the devil will infiltrate even into the Church in such a way that one will see cardinals opposing cardinals, bishops against bishops. The priests who venerate me will be scorned and opposed by their confreres…churches and altars sacked; the Church will be full of those who accept compromises and the demon will press many priests and consecrated souls to leave the service of the Lord.

“The demon will be especially implacable against souls consecrated to God. The thought of the loss of so many souls is the cause of my sadness. If sins increase in number and gravity, there will be no longer pardon for them”

Our Lady speaks also of temporal annihilation:

“As I told you, if men do not repent and better themselves, the Father will inflict a terrible punishment on all humanity. It will be a punishment greater than the deluge, such as one will never seen before. Fire will fall from the sky and will wipe out a great part of humanity, the good as well as the bad, sparing neither priests nor faithful. The survivors will find themselves so desolate that they will envy the dead.”

Does this sound familiar? It should:

And the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrha brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven. And he destroyed these cities, and all the country about, all the inhabitants of the cities, and all things that spring from the earth. And his wife looking behind her, was turned into a statue of salt.  And Abraham got up early in the morning and in the place where he had stood before with the Lord, He looked towards Sodom and Gomorrha, and the whole land of that country: and he saw the ashes rise up from the earth as the smoke of a furnace. (Gen 19:24-28)

The destruction of Sodom, but on a mass scale. As fitting as it is terrifying.

So, to answer the question that’s on your mind right now: what do we do? Fast. Pray. Resist. Teach as many people as we can to think critically and to learn the unchangeable truths of our faith. Prepare our children. Learn the Litany of Humility, because you’re going to need it when people start coming out of the woodwork to condemn you for standing up for what’s right. Ready ourselves even for the possibility of martyrdom, as Cardinal Burke has said.

Of course, Our Lady gave us the only sure remedy:

“The only arms which will remain for you will be the Rosary and the Sign left by My Son. Each day recite the prayers of the Rosary. With the Rosary, pray for the Pope, the bishops and priests.”

We have our marching orders. In the words of Winston Churchill, “This is no time for ease and comfort. It is time to dare and endure.”

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