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Pope Francis next to a statue of Martin Luther placed in the Vatican’s Paul VI Hall. October, 2016.
Phil Lawler

Opinion,

Why do Pope Francis and his defenders keep talking about schism?

Phil Lawler

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September 17, 2019 (CatholicCulture.org) — Why are we even talking about schism? Who began this extraordinary conversation, and whose interests are served by it?

Ross Douthat of the New York Times admits that he used the term "schism" long ago, as a theoretical possibility — which he now (rightly) regards as remote. But now Pope Francis speaks calmly about the prospect of schism, and even says that it does not frighten him — which, as I've pointed out, is frightening in itself.

How did we come so far, so fast? How did we reach a point at which the nation's most prestigious secular newspaper raises the notion that American Catholics might split from the universal Church, and the Pontiff treats that prospect as a serious possibility?

Have the Pope's American critics threatened to break with Rome? Never! Quite the contrary, the most important critics of this pontificate insist that they — we — are doing our utmost to preserve the unity of the universal Church, to maintain our strong ties with "all who hold and teach the catholic faith that comes to us from the apostles." Cardinal Raymond Burke, often cited as the leader of a rebellious faction, has in fact repeatedly and adamantly pledged his loyalty to the Roman Pontiff. One cannot cause a schism by defending the established doctrine of the Church.

(One can, on the other hand, cause a schism by holding a meeting of a nation's bishops, seeking to change teachings of the universal Church, and ignoring admonitions from the Holy See to drop this divisive plan — as the leaders of the German bishops' conference are doing right now. Yet when the New York Times mentions schism, the threat is said to come from "some conservatives — especially in the United States," rather than from the rambunctious "progressives" in Germany.)

So again I ask: How did this conversation arise, about the alleged threat of an American schism. And if you follow Catholic conversations on the internet, you know the answer. The topic has been raised — and promoted, and repeated, and touted as an imminent threat — by the Pope's busiest and most aggressive online defenders.

Which prompts another question: Why are these folks — who have so enthusiastically championed the Pope's moves to alter Church teachings on issues such as marriage and the Eucharist — so anxious to talk about breaking with the Pope? And again I think I know the answer.

Why did President Lincoln maneuver the Confederacy into the bombardment of Fort Sumter? Because he saw that war was imminent, and he wanted the South to take the first shots. Similarly, the most "progressive" Catholics recognize that they cannot engineer the radical changes they want without precipitating a split in the Church. So they want orthodox Catholics to break away first, leaving them free to enact their own revolutionary agenda.

So let me conclude with a heartfelt plea to my fellow Catholics, and especially to my more excitable friends on the internet. Don't take the bait. We are not thinking of schism. We are thinking of — and working and praying for — the preservation of Catholic unity, a unity that keeps us in full communion not only with the Bishop of Rome and with our fellow Catholics around the world today, but also with all the faithful Catholics of previous generations. It's our Church: the Church of the apostles and saints and martyrs and of us poor sinners. We're not leaving. Hell no; we won't go.

Published with permission from CatholicCulture.org.

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