A Schism by Abdication of Authority

Par l'abbé Claude Barthe

Français, italiano

If we suppose the latent schism, in which the Church finds herself, might become an open schism by the fact of a separation of a part of the Church, we are wrong: Germany will not secede of her own, no more than the Netherlands in the late sixties: indeed, for a schism to happen, as history teaches us, those who have lost the faith must be declared outside the communion by the ecclesiastical authorities, that is the bishops or the pope. The problem of today is that these people are no longer willing to condemn. So, this is the situation we are in today in regard to schism.

A schism made by the absence of condemnation

This absence of condemnation leads to a schism different in nature than the schism of the past. In the story of the Synod of Germany, discussed by Father Perrot in this issue, we can sadly presume they will look for a solution relatively similar to the one found in 2018 concerning spouses in religious mixed marriages. Representatives of bishops, favorable or hostile to the permission for these to participate together in the eucharist, were gathered by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to be told that Rome would not decide on the matter. The Congregation was also asking them to find among themselves “an agreement as unanimous as they possibly could.” This abstention can be seen as a kind of abdication on the part of the ecclesiastic authority as it refuses to take a stand: positively, through statements referring directly or indirectly to the charism of the infallibility in the cases when the governing of the christian people requires it; negatively – which is actually the same thing – by dispensing themselves from condemning those who go astray from the confession of faith.
But, the subject on which the apostolic authority holds a part is, in a way, the confession of faith of all and every baptized person, in words and in acts. Today, de facto, the authority abstains from playing a role of an instrument of unity (at least, unity in a classical sense), and presents itself, on the contrary, as an administrator of a certain diversity. It seems it now understands its role as one to federate and no longer to unify.
It would need a few volumes and libraries to go over the public doctrinal errancies, verified, confirmed, of many priests, theologians, professors, or Christian groups of all sorts. The worst is that the free expression of its sentiment in matter of faith and moral has become like a fundamental liberty for each Catholic. In fact, it is not so much the heresies than relativization of the dogma, in the manner of the modernists. And the relativization intensifies because of the fact that these contestations of the Creed are peacefully and freely expressed. For half a century, except for rare or marginal cases, no more condemnation for heresies and exclusion from the Church have been pronounced by the episcopal or Roman hierarchies. Even better, in certain cases, and it is better than nothing, there was a “notification” of the errors, as in the famous case of Fr. Dupuis, a jesuit, in regards to the heresy concerning Christ and the Church, only path of salvation (notification of 24 January 2001), to which the instruction Dominus Jesus, on the unicity and universality of salvation of Jesus Christ and of the Church, of 6 September 2000, was a response. Certainly, in the past, there were periods of many errors, if not as grave at least as dramatic. But today, the diversity makes no turmoil: faithful, priests, cardinals, can hold diverse professions in regards to faith or moral, considered fundamentals previously (indissolubility of marriage, for example), and at the same time all still being considered Catholic. As a result, Dogma becomes optional.

From the unity of faith to the federalism of beliefs

External Ecumenism thus serves to mold a new way to confess the faith, no longer in the unity, but in the diversity. Cardinal Kasper, when he was president of the Council for Christian Unity, had made this fundamental declaration which took on his predecessor Willebrands: “We understand ecumenism today no longer in the sense of an ecumenism of return which implies the others must “convert” and become “Catholic.” This was expressively abandoned by Vatican II. […] Each Church has her richness and her gifts of the Spirit, and it is about their exchange and not about the fact that we have to become “protestants” or “catholics” in the sense of the confessional form of Catholicism”. (interview in the Austrian review Die Furche, 22 January 2001).
The external consequences of such principle of “unity” are evidently disastrous for the mission of the Church, but even more disastrous is the fact that this principle is being applied inside the Church: ad extra, such an approach has for first effect to modify the ecclesial being of Catholics (faith, the sense of a communion) and not of those separated from the Church; ad intra, in the same way, it modifies the catholic essence of those who remain faithful to the Creed (their faith becomes an option) and not of those who do not respect it. This means that an authority who brings together the diversity of beliefs inside the Church tends to replace an authority who regulates the unity of the faith. This diversity holds together by the fact that the old matrix of the regula fidei is replaced by an ecumenical matrix, the demand for plurality in the unity. This phenomena of organization of the co-existence of opinions is one of the aspects of the osmosis of ecclesial life today and of the operation of modern democratic society, wanted notably by the German Synodal Path. It is actually precisely in terms of synodality and advisory that the mechanic of government of opinion applies itself in the easiest way to the life of the Church, as we explained previously (Res Novæ n. 3, November 2018, “what is the purpose for the Synod of the Bishops?”). The regular assemblies of the Synod enter the game of elaborating a consensus, which comes on top of the traditional obedience of faith, bond of the communion to Christ. When the Roman line was conservative, the consensus was, for example, in favor of the priestly celibate (assembly of 1971); now that it is liberal, the consensus opens the sacraments to adulterous spouses (2014 and 2015 assemblies).
Furthermore, on an institutional view point, no need to insist on the powerful role played by the episcopal conferences in the transmutation of the authority in the Church. The mold of the episcopal conferences, under the pretext of rehabilitating the authority of the bishops in opposition to the Roman “centralization”, to the contrary, has drowned their personal responsibility as successor of the Apostles in a regime of assembly, of secretaries and of offices. Nonetheless, centralism has not disappeared and, instead has even increased. In truth, the type of government of the Church, more authoritarian today than ever, reminds the one of the democratic regimes of our times, where the head of State or Government has a power quasi-monarchical (see: Res Novæ n. 12, October 2019), except that it is not in the service of the traditional common good, either in the State or in the Church in the service of one faith.

The necessity for acts of concrete refusals, a spark to catholic crisis.

As a result, when the latent schism will become an open schism, the exclusion will not be on a first level that is the Creed, as it happened in the past; but it will be an exclusion of those who demands a plural Church and affirm the relativity of the Dogma. There will be no schism between those who believe, for example, that the sacramental marriage is indissoluble and those who accept these exceptions, or between those who hold that only men can have access to the sacred orders and those who claim that women could have access too, but there will be a schism between, on one hand, those who believe one can’t be Catholic when denying such part of the confession of faith and, on the other hand, those who believe one can be catholic either way. In other words, the rupture which will happen sooner or later will be a separation between a Catholic ecumenical Church and a plain Catholic Church, without additional qualifying terms.
This federalism is thus the target if we want this latent schism to cease. It is this unnatural co-existence, most detrimental to the salvation of souls, between a federal ecclesiality and the unity in Jesus Christ which will have to be overthrown. This could only happen by the intervention of the teaching Church, Pope and bishops united. We are apparently very far from this considering the lead weight of a suffocating conformism preventing all vague desire to go against the dominant ideology. But, the christian liberty is like an extraordinary detonator. Aren’t there more than 5000 bishops in the world? An express manifestation, with real actions, of the “whoever listens to you listens to Me,” from a number of them, even only a few, a handful let’s say, could only but produce a shudder of a great force.
When some bishops – though it is extremely rare – have clearly declared after the promulgation of Amoris Lætitia that nothing had changed in their respective diocese in terms of sacramental discipline, and especially that the absolution and the communion could not be given to “remarried” divorcees staying in their sinful state, a division necessarily took place between those who followed their instructions and those who did not. Normally, what should have followed would have been explanations by these bishops of their refusal to follow a false doctrine, and a salutary predication on the evangelical doctrine of marriage, and of the disciplinary sanctions against priests and faithful refusing to submit.
Whatever ecclesiastic field, each call to order, if need be followed by exclusions – which are salutary for the ones of refuse to submit and for the Body entirely-, priests or faithful who profess obvious errors can only but be the start of crisis, oppositions and hostile manifestations, not only in the particular Church but also, very quickly, at the level of the universal Church. It is actually quite natural, for each bishop to participate in the common mission of the Church because of the divine institution and the duties of his apostolic mission, each of them being responsible for the Church, together with the other bishops (Christus Dominus, n. 6): what is of the interest of a particular Church is of the interest of the universal Church. It has been seen many times in the life of the Church a bishop would condemn a spreading heresy, in the name of his authority as Successor of the Apostles, and before the Pope or a council would even intervene.
The disturbance that would result inevitably of the targeted intervention of one or several bishops at the service of the unity of faith would only be an apparent disorder: this would be a medicinal scandal which, in reality, would unveil the true scandal, the one of the established heterodoxy which eats away the entire Body. More than general declarations, more than stances intended to rally an ecclesiastic opinion, but without effective consequences, they are acts of concrete refusal of evil and of errors the Church needs. For example, in regards to the defense of the liberty of the Church, during the ban on public worship because of the epidemic in many countries, we heard beautiful episcopal declaration, but the decision of the bishops of Minnesota to resume public worship without taking into considerations the directives of the Governor of the State had far superior weight. One can think that if, in order to defend the faith and by respect for the eucharist, a bishop required of his priests to return to the rule of communion on the tongue, the effect would be noticeable, even eventually considerable in case of opposition of certain priests and open crisis. Equally, if he imposed celebrations turned towards God. We could even imagine -we can still have Catholic dreams- a bishop sanctioning the heterodox claims of one of his fellow bishops.
Certainly, to make these assertions/suppositions can seem vain and desperate, so much it is difficult to imagine, in a state of weak and soft catholicism, how prelates having charge of souls would have today the sufficient force of soul to take on their own the start of these sorts of Catholic crises which would place them outside the majority of their fellow bishops (and of their priests and the majority of faithful in the diocese: see Mgr Haas, when he was bishop of Chur, Switzerland). And yet, we can’t doubt that an efficacious grace of Christ could move the heart of those who have been called by Him to succeed His Apostles for the salvation of His Church.

Father Claude Barthe