Horizontal Schisms meet Vertical Hope

Every once in a while, something comes across the desk or email and and it makes you aware of how quickly time goes by.

For instance, it seems like just yesterday, I was talking about debuting a new column in The Catholic Answer Magazine, and “holy smokes…a month has gone by!” and here is my second column, entitled “And They Will Set You Free”

Imagine a people, and the church in which they grow up — a church in which the people worshipped with fervor during adolescence and to which, perhaps for a season, they even imagined giving their lives, or their very blood. With age and its distractions, their fantasies fade, but the attachment lasts.

One day, the people — accustomed to material abundance and the nearly immediate gratification of their desires beyond anything in memory — become exposed to something new, full of ideas and possibilities that seem sweet, reasonable, kind and self-affirming; this new thing makes them feel so good about themselves that they must have it. They appeal to the church and say: “Give us this! It will make us happy, and we will thank God, who obviously wants us to have it.” And the church, this wise mother who is charged to teach Truth Eternal, in season and out, says: “This cannot be yours, because it is not within our power to authorize; this goes against the command of the One who is Truth. But if you will remain open, in obedience, you will come to understand these Truths, and they will set you free.”

The people remain, but always with an expectation that their personal truths will eventually prevail. Mindful that they have been denied, though, their resentment builds; they mark every sin within the church, all of its human faults and deep failings, and slowly they convince themselves that their ardent desiring is not objectionable, but the sin-riddled church clearly is. And so they break away. With astonishing speed, a new church is formed in authority, trained in tolerance, unified in purpose and installed within sacred structures confiscated by law, while the disgraced and rigid old church and her clergy are hounded underground.

If this schismatic fantasy sounds like improbable nonsense to you…

Well, you’ll have to read the rest to see where it’s going.

We are going to become a smaller church, of that I have no doubt, and I think Pope Benedict XVI was poignantly prophetic on this count:

“The Church will become small, and will to a great extent have to start over again. But after a time of testing, an internalized and simplified Church will radiate great power and influence; for the population of an entirely planned and controlled world are going to be inexpressibly lonely . . . and they will then discover the little community of believers as something quite new. As a hope that is there for them, as the answer they have secretly always been asking for.”
God and the World

We’re going to become a smaller church because for some, the church will not move enough with the times. Aided by governmental moves like this one, meant to overpower the church and force it into conformity with the age, those folks will happily turn away from the difficult Roman church to embrace the easier progressiveness of the “American Catholic Church” — a government-approved, age-and-world conformist church that will not ask much of its adherents, other than that they all feel fine about everything. It will consider itself to be the “merciful” side of Catholicism, all “spirit of the law” and rather unconcerned about the letters.

But there will also, I think, be schism from the right, and it will be encouraged by those who (like the extreme progressives above) have over-identified their faith with their political activism and ideological instincts and lost sight of the fact that true Catholicism is too broad, too generous and too nuanced to exist comfortably within any one ideology. These folks — hellbent-for-purging and increasingly finding priests and bishops (and sometimes even the Pope, himself) to be insufficiently Catholic for their liking — will declare that they are drawn, as a matter of conscience, to the establishment of a “real” Catholic church — one that suits all of their concerns, and hews to a rigid enforcement of the Catechism, over intangible considerations. They will consider themselves the “Just” side of Catholicism, trusting that if you follow-the-law-to-the-letter, the Spirit will come.

And the poor old, unpopular, beleaguered, self-wounding,
all-too-human and messily-flawed Church of Rome, and clumsy old Peter, they’ll keep trying to balance Justice and Mercy in the face of myriad illusions — as best they can upon the pointed reality of Original Sin — until the One who is All-Just and All-Merciful (in whose Name she struggles) returns to finally puts all things to right, at last.

The schismatics, though emerging from very different spheres, will share a few things in common, including a distaste for the Apostolic Catholic Church as it exists today and an inability to tolerate a different point of view, or argument of any kind. Both sorts will claim that they are either creating or preserving a “purity” that is in keeping with the Gospel or the Catechism, and is absent from the Roman Catholic church.

I look forward to this smaller church,
and feel great excitement at its coming — not for the sad divisions we will see, but for the clarity and energy that will ensue. I expect we will be a much less-propertied church, and one full of martyrs, whose blood will sustain it, nourish it and keep it alive. And there will be new growth.

Already, in stories like this, you can see a choosing of sides, and get the sense that, for some — even if they disagree with the church on some issues — there is a realization that (as Una Kroll, the subject of that linked-to piece said) we are “. . . called by God to move to a Church where [we] could not exercise dominion of any sort, but where [we] could still learn what servant priesthood actually meant when put into practice.”

And there, in an excellent nutshell, is why I will stick with imperfect, struggling-to-maker-her-message-understood-Rome, regardless. I prefer not to hold Dominion over anyone or anything — not from my sentimental left, or from my rigid right — nor do I wish to belong to a church that does not challenge me with difficult teachings.

Someone wrote to me, today, “I don’t see biblical evidence for all male priesthood, but I do see value in obeying the Church . . . disagreement does not mean division.”

I concur. But many, many more do not. And so, schism there will be.

Wow. Hadn’t planned on writing that.

Who needs a drink?

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://www.catholiclifewoman.wordpress.com Jo

    After years of being confused and wounded by both sides in the horizontal schism, I am firmly with you in Rome, in the coming smaller church. Whatever that brings, I am there.

  • vox borealis

    I’m not looking forward to the inevitable smaller church, since I think that getting smaller must almost certainly mean the loss of millions of souls.

    [Yeah...that's the problem with free choice. But then again, there is mercy in invincible ignorance, so there's still an out! -admin]

  • kenneth

    Lions and tigers and schisms! If it makes you feel any better (doubtful), I’m offering attic space for up to three Catholic loyalists when the pogroms get underway. You may have to share space with Julian Assange, since I already offered him a slot (no word yet), but we’ll make do. All I ask is that you keep the racket down at night and when the patrols are out. And no incontinent pets of any kind!

    Alternatively, if you don’t make it to sanctuary and get locked into a ghetto, I’ll do my best to throw some sacks of ammo and bread over the wall on my way home each Friday.

    Pagan and apostate though I am, I’m not entirely unsympathetic to the old team……:)

  • jkm

    ” . . . nor do I wish to belong to a church that does not challenge me with difficult teachings.”

    This was precisely the epiphany that, coming to me with grace in the challenging peace of Assisi last year, called me back home.

    However small the lump of leaven, however few loaves and fish at our disposal, I do not believe God will allow the loss of souls in this. Like Our Holy Father, we have a mustard seed and we’re not afraid to use it.

    This WILL end well.

  • Kt

    “Schism from the right”? Why would any conservative catholic who hasn’t already ditched the Church after living through any portion of the the past forty-plus years suddenly do so now? You clearly have an irrepressible urge to dissociate yourself from (i.e. trash) conservative Catholics, but always fail to give a reasoned argument for doing so. Meanwhile, Catholicism exists very comfortably with the “ideology” of limited government.

    [I never allow anyone to put words in my mouth, and if you think I'm attempting to "disassociate" from "trash" that's your own projection. I reject its ad hominem application to me. I watch videos of disaffected conservative Catholics who feel the church is not Catholic enough, or get emails from them, every day. Some of them will have no choice but to go into schism if they're sincere. Or, maybe they'll calm down by the workings of the Holy Spirit. That's certainly a possibility. -admin]

  • http://www.stateofplayblog.com Thomas L. McDonald

    I agree that the church will become smaller, but I’m not sure I agree with prediction of schism resulting in an American Catholic Church. Schism requires bishops, and if even our daffiest bishops have not drifted into schism over the past 40 years, I find it difficult to imagine a new generation feeling the call to set up shop under the Magisterium of Me.

    [I can see it. If the government starts imposing itself on the church in ways that a bishop would actually like to see the church go. It has happened elsewhere, why not here? -admin]

  • http://catholicsensibility.wordpress.com/ Todd Flowerday

    Small-mindedness and the Hermeneutic of Subtraction.

    A smaller Church is not in keeping with the Great
    Commission. I’m convinced it’s a trap. It’s certainly not an apostolic attitude.

    Whether people stay, go, or embrace a more comfortable fraction of the outward reality of the institution, is beyond my control, power, or whatever. The task of believers is to attend to the opportunities of grace for themselves, and to present the Gospel to everyone they encounter.

    With all the new bloggers you’re lining up, please make sure somebody is sticking up for an evangelical spirit. Maybe Fr Barron!

    [I don't really see where anything I've said contradicts evangelism. People are still going to -- increasingly, it seems -- make decisions involving faith and worship that are informed by their ideologies and beliefs. I haven't advocated that Rome cease to evangelize; I merely suggest, rightly, I think, that her efforts are encountering ears unwilling to really listen and minds that are "already made up". Part of that is due to the distractions of our day and part due to Rome's well-chronicled inability to grab a moment -- although that is changing. That said, expressed yourself very well. Please forgive me for really not having a chance to sit down and read your stuff. I do want to...emails keep getting buried and so forth. I work pretty much the entire time I'm awake, and still can't keep up. -admin]

  • friscoeddie

    An 84 year old Pope predicts a smaller church.. how is this much different than Louis XIV saying ‘apre moi le deluge?’

    [I posted this on the other '18 year old' blog by mistake]

    [He wasn't an 84 year old pope, when he said it. He was a cardinal some years away from that elevation. -admin]

  • Greta

    When I hear of a smaller church, I think of our Lord who watched as many walked away saying His teaching was too hard. Not only did Christ not chase them offering to compromise or make the teaching more acceptable or modern, but he turned to those who were left at his side and asked if they wanted to go as well. This of course led to Peters answer “Lord, where would we go? You have the things that give life forever. We believe in you. We know that you are the Holy One from God.”

    I have often wondered why those who do not accept Catholic Church non negotiable teaching decide to stay with the Church. Do they not understand that these things can never change nor will the Church teaching that they must be accepted and believed.

    I use to believe I was a good Catholic woman, mom, grandma, and great grandma. I would hear someone describe a teaching as non negotiable and being an American, I felt that everything can be negotiated and compromised. After all, didn’t the American Catholic Church largely reject Humane Vitae including many priests and bishops. When tragedy struck our family, it was as if a lightening bolt went through me and I seemed to hear a voice asking if finally I would go to war to end abortion mills at any and all cost. I now had first hand experience with what Christ feels with the death of every child to the grave evil of abortion on a personal basis. His Church, with wide acceptance of birth control had traveled down the road that Pope Paul VI had warned us about. My granddaughter and great grandchild had been victims of the American Catholics cooperation with this evil. While I had not supported pro abortion politicians and was pro life, I had not confronted the evil with direct and ongoing vigor that would be needed from all Catholics to end this holocaust. It was my personal 9/11 when America had the opportunity to realize that it faced a very great evil inherent in the Islamic faith. We have to a great extent missed that opportunity on the altar of political correctness. Now, in our last election, Catholics were responsible for the election of the abortion mills candidate and we have failed again.

    The mistake some make is that we can somehow have our faith isolated from our social and political lives in the midst of this holocaust. Now we see the same evil working to try to force children into the hands of gravely disordered gays and to remove our ability to live our lives as Catholics in areas where the state does not approve. The sin is in compromising with evil thinking that some good can be achieved. Chamberland tried this with Hitler in Munich and we allowed the evil to grow. We know now from history that Hitler and his henchmen were waiting for a massive negative response and in fact, those who opposed Hitler were counting on it to allow them to reign him in. When nothing happened, Hitler gained full power. When Catholics began to support the party of abortion, we did the same thing and emboldened it to go further in its attack on the morals and values once held sacred in this country.

    Catholics have long been asked why they did not do more during the growth of nazi germany. We will be asked that same question on the holocaust of 54 million babies. This week we begin to put up 4000 crosses on the church lawn to show the number of babies being killed each and every day. It is higher than all those killed in all the years of the Inquisition that gets hammered at Catholics. It is higher than all those lost on 9/11 and it happens each and every day and has been going on for almost 40 years. Imagine getting hit with 9/11 each and every day, over and over and over. Christ is hit with that each day and wonders if His Church will ever unite to end it forever. If we cannot do this, maybe His Church should become very small for I have to believe that he has already in his mind decided that those who do nothing, those who support this evil in any way, have isolated themselves from His Church a very long time ago and do not yet realize their place has been decided in eternity. I know His pain, but not in its full measure for I would crumble with the weight of that cross.

    So I do not think the Catholic Church will grow smaller in the future, I think it already has but some have not yet understood the price they must pay for their role. As we buried by granddaughter and her child, I managed to pray for the souls of those who do not yet see and asked God to be slow to anger.

  • Greta

    friscoe eddie. That same Pope when Cardinal Ratzger also had this to say about abortion and receiving the Blessed Sacrament in the state of grave sin. Just making sure all Catholics hear this message would go a long way to saving souls and to shrinking the Catholic Church. This letter was hidden by one of the Bishops from the USCCB. The Vatican, on seeing what was then put out by the USCCB, made sure that it was in the hands of the press for the American people.

    Worthiness to Receive Holy Communion. General Principles

    by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

    1. Presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion should be a conscious decision, based on a reasoned judgement regarding one’s worthiness to do so, according to the Church’s objective criteria, asking such questions as: “Am I in full communion with the Catholic Church? Am I guilty of grave sin? Have I incurred a penalty that forbids me to receive Holy Communion? Have I prepared myself by fasting for at least an hour?” The practice of indiscriminately presenting oneself to receive Holy Communion, merely as a consequence of being present at Mass, is an abuse that must be corrected (cf. Instruction “Redemptionis Sacramentum,” nos. 81, 83).

    2. The Church teaches that abortion or euthanasia is a grave sin. The Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae, with reference to judicial decisions or civil laws that authorise or promote abortion or euthanasia, states that there is a “grave and clear obligation to oppose them by conscientious objection. In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to ‘take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law or vote for it’” (no. 73). Christians have a “grave obligation of conscience not to cooperate formally in practices which, even if permitted by civil legislation, are contrary to God’s law. Indeed, from the moral standpoint, it is never licit to cooperate formally in evil. This cooperation can never be justified either by invoking respect for the freedom of others or by appealing to the fact that civil law permits it or requires it” (no. 74).

    3. Not all moral issues have the same moral weight as abortion and euthanasia. For example, if a Catholic were to be at odds with the Holy Father on the application of capital punishment or on the decision to wage war, he would not for that reason be considered unworthy to present himself to receive Holy Communion. While the Church exhorts civil authorities to seek peace, not war, and to exercise discretion and mercy in imposing punishment on criminals, it may still be permissible to take up arms to repel an aggressor or to have recourse to capital punishment. There may be a legitimate diversity of opinion even among Catholics about waging war and applying the death penalty, but not however with regard to abortion and euthanasia.

    4. Apart from an individuals’s judgement about his worthiness to present himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, the minister of Holy Communion may find himself in the situation where he must refuse to distribute Holy Communion to someone, such as in cases of a declared excommunication, a declared interdict, or an obstinate persistence in manifest grave sin (cf. can. 915).

    5. Regarding the grave sin of abortion or euthanasia, when a person’s formal cooperation becomes manifest his Pastor should meet with him, instructing him about the Church’s teaching, informing him that he is not to present himself for Holy Communion until he brings to an end the objective situation of sin, and warning him that he will otherwise be denied the Eucharist.

    6. When “these precautionary measures have not had their effect or in which they were not possible,” and the person in question, with obstinate persistence, still presents himself to receive the Holy Eucharist, “the minister of Holy Communion must refuse to distribute it” (cf. Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts Declaration “Holy Communion and Divorced, Civilly Remarried Catholics” [2002], nos. 3-4). This decision, properly speaking, is not a sanction or a penalty. Nor is the minister of Holy Communion passing judgement on the person’s subjective guilt, but rather is reacting to the person’s public unworthiness to receive Holy Communion due to an objective situation of sin.

    A Catholic would be guilty of formal cooperation in evil, and so unworthy to present himself for Holy Communion, if he were to deliberately vote for a candidate precisely because of the candidate’s permissive stand on abortion and/or euthanasia. When a Catholic does not share a candidate’s stand in favour of abortion and/or euthanasia, but votes for that candidate for other reasons, it is considered remote material cooperation, which can be permitted in the presence of PROPORTIONATE reasons.”

    Later in an inteview when asked what he meant by Proportionate reasons or for some examples, he said that he has searched for anything that might come up to that level, but when considering the huge numbers of those killed, nothing came to mind.

    And so, the deluge has already begun, but some do not yet understand they are drowning.

  • http://www.sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com Sherry

    I do not know if the schism will be formal or if it will continue to be one of the hearts, where the soul calcifies against the call to smallness, to sacrifice, to obedience, to sublimation of self just as the Christ calls us to surrender everything out of love, for love, with love and out of love. I do know, we’d best hope to find a way to be smaller than camels if we would pass through the needle’s eye.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Make mine a double Anchoress!

    I hear ya! The bottle’s empty after reading these comments! :)

    All kidding aside where do we start?

    (in whose Name she struggles)

    Adam had no right to leave Eve to fend for herself against “Satan” and His Followers!

    Ah Ya folks, don’t be fools, Adam was listening to every words that came out of “Satan” invisible mouth and “IT” even sounded good to U>S (usual sinners) I mean Adam knew that he could blame the woman for “IT” and long story short Adam did and woman is still paying for “IT”. I better not get started!

    Adam left Eve to fend for herself just like my dad left my dear old 87 year old mother alone and she told me so in the summer of 2004 while we were watching Mass on TV. I told her in so many words that yes, mom, men and woman have a right to marry each other and with eyes of fear, she replied, “Your Dad had no right to leave me here!”

    I hear ya Anchoress! I BETTER NOT GET STARTED!

    Ok! I’ll just close by agreeing with jkm when he or she says “I do not believe God will allow the loss of souls in this.” Me and myself might even add that “GOD” has got His Eyes on U>S so chose your sides carefully and remember that time is but “Alpha Bets” for “Good Old Dad” and He can’t lose so says “I”! :)

    God Bless and keep praying for me Anchoress.


  • Teresa

    There is somewhat of a schism now. I can count the number of parishoners who don’t believe what the Church teaches but continue to attend Mass. At a funeral Mass I attended recently the young priest announced that those who are not Catholics should not receive the Eucharist. he went further and said that those Catholics who have not gone to confession for some time should also refrain receiving the Eucharist. At the reception later a man said to me that he had not gone to church for some time and doesn’t think it necessary to attend Mass every Sunday. “Nobody does that any more” he said. He was quite indignant when the Priest made that announcement.

  • Gregg the Obscure

    There’s something close to schism on the right already. Men of good will on both sides are working diligently to resolve it. As one of my favorite bloggers notes, “Benedict XVI is the Pope of Christian unity”. May God prosper those efforts!

    There have been an awful lot of heretical activities conducted in the Church under the banner “Spirit of Vatican II”. If the day comes when those are no longer tolerated in the Church, then one or more schisms will come into the open. Many in the current US government (in both major parties, FWIW) likely want that to occur as neither party is very close to any truth. The schismatics will, of course, approve of most forms of euthanasia, but it will be a little interesting to see if they try to hold the line on euthanasia of adults. It will also be interesting to see if any of the schismatics try to retain any of the essential elements of marriage.

  • Elaine S.

    I absolutely DO NOT “look forward” to a smaller church, or if I do, I “look forward” to it only in the sense that I might look forward to having major surgery… only as a necessary evil, something that may have to be done in order to save the life of the Body but that SHOULD NEVER have had to happen.

    I fear many, including people I love very much whom I cannot seem to evangelize, will be lost in a schism-divided church. Perhaps even I myself, who although assenting fully to what the real Church teaches, am too weak and timid to practice it in the face of opposition from within my own family, will also be lost because I won’t be strong enough to do what it asks of me. So don’t tell me this is great news. It scares the crap out of me, to be quite honest.

    [Do not be afraid. Look at Jesus on the Cross. An unjust and terrible thing that had to occur in order to defeat death and bring us everlasting life. That's the lesson -- that sometimes awful things must happen, so that the transcendent and unthinkable can take place. As Tug MacGraw used to say, "ya gotta believe!" -admin]

  • Spera

    At every Mass we confess that we have sinned. All of us admit our human failings and weaknesses. I feel profound sorrow when any one of our brothers or sisters in Christ is not included because of their blind spots. Breaking apart of the Body of Christ breaks my heart.

  • http://www.catholiclifewoman.wordpress.com Jo

    “The Church will become small, and will to a great extent have to start over again. But after a time of testing, an internalized and simplified Church will radiate great power and influence; for the population of an entirely planned and controlled world are going to be inexpressibly lonely . . . and they will then discover the little community of believers as something quite new. As a hope that is there for them, as the answer they have secretly always been asking for.”
    – God and the World

    These are the words of the Holy Father. I agree with them, but I also agree with the hope, faith, love and vision in the last part of his statement. I only pray to continue to remain, as I have already been gone and have returned. I never want to be gone again.

  • kt

    You watch videos of disaffected conservative catholics every day — so what? What’s your beef with them? They should only criticize the church to the extent you would do so, or else they flirt with schism? You and you alone set the bar for moderation and non-schismatic orthodoxy? I’ll say it again: stop trashing conservatives.

    [I never trashed them, and I have no beef. This is not about me, no matter how much you want it to be. I'm just telling you that if what I watch and get in my inbox is sincere, I don't see how they have a choice but to schism. "I'll say it again: stop trashing conservatives." Ummm...I'll say it again: I'm not. But even if I were? You're not the boss of me! :-) -admin]

  • kevin

    Cardinal Ratzinger was making an off the cuff remark basically when he predicted the coming of the smaller church. Im sure some of the Cardinals like Ottaviani, who vigorously worked against some of the changes Ratzinger worked for as a periti at the Council would ruefully laugh at his remark.

  • http://victor-undergo.blogspot.com/ Victor

    Laugh all we want but remember that “Christ” doesn’t need our help cause He started “HIS CHURCH” for “HIS FATHER” and He’ll finish “IT” and if He doesn’t then that will be “HIS DOING” so don’t worry “Bout IT” so much! :(

    God Bless,


  • Ray

    This is not a new topic or revelation. Bishop Fulton Sheen said the same things back in the late 70′s. He was a true prophet of our Church.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    I wish I had read this earlier and put out my thoughts. This is an important blog. Unfortunately I don’t have much time for a complete outline of my thoughts. Let me say that I agree with those who don’t see a schism from either the left or the right. There are certainly tensions from those directions, but schisms require too much complexity. Those on the left could leave the church and go to the progressive protestants. But really they are disappearing too. Those on the right will grumble and complain, but really are devout and will compartmentalize.

    The real danger to the church which will cause it to shrink is an absorbing agnostic secularism that really snuffs out our internal religious flame. Those that give into it will be non religious. That is the fastest growing demographic.

    How small will the Catholic Church get? I’m not a pessimist. I think our Pope’s words are overly dramatic, in my humble opinion. I think there will still be a good billion Catholics fifty years from now. But we must work at it. The atheists are proselitzing like you wouldn’t believe. And the secular culture sucks out brains when there is nothing to counter it.

  • Nemo

    I think a lot of the “ardent desiring” got its biggest impetus with Vatican II. There was a lot of instant gratification with the promise of more, especially with ecumenism and liturgical change. If Catholics are at one with this spirit, that’s where it began. And the accommodation with the “spirit of the age” and government desires started here, too (cf. John Courtney Murray). So the notion of an “American Church” is not beyond the pale, either. After all, there is a subset of Catholics who identify their religion with their political party, so why not the government?

    And those terrible people who want “purity,” are simply responding to what they have observed for nearly fifty years. Some of them long for a golden age. But the majority just want what the Church has always preached.

  • joan

    “There CANNOT be a pre-Conciliar Church and a post- Conciliar Church.”

  • JohnS

    I’m confused: What conservative schism? I’ve never seen any videos or web-sites that suggest a need for “conservative” Catholics to schism. I’m not even sure what the definition of “conservative” would be in this context.

    I did know a man who left the Church because of the elevation of Pope Benedict, but that was because he was more of a Democrat first, and a Catholic only second, and thus he was following his true love.