There are troubling signs around the Catholic World and particularly in Rome. One could even say that storm clouds are hovering over the Eternal City. In my estimation, we are approaching a time of immense darkness but on the other side of this tribulation could lie great fruits for the Church because often spiritual martyrdom precedes a period of Church renewal.
With the last two synods that produced Amoris Laetitia, we have witnessed battlefronts being formed between the neo-Catholic, progressive faction and the orthodox, traditional wing of our Church. During the pontificate of Saint John Paul II, the more liberal faction waged war with him and his followers, but they could never fully achieve their objectives. Why? Besides being the Sovereign Pontiff, he was also a global actor of immense talent who was the main force that brought down the Iron Curtain. Karol Wojtyla fought all the isms of his day: Nazism, Communism and even Liberalism in his own Church. The progressives dared not take on a man who was seen as a liberator and living Saint.
After Saint John Paul the Great died, the veil was lifted on the war being fought between the progressives and the orthodox. His successor, Benedict XVI, did not possess the Teflon charm that the Polish Pope enjoyed. Controversies stuck to Benedict XVI and festered, opening the chasm between the two factions up for all the world to see, when the Catholic Left felt emboldened to attack on all fronts.
After the Papal resignation came Pope Francis whose free-wheeling style was the complete opposite of his predecessor and delighted the progressive wing that pined for a sea change. Troubling signs were seen from the beginning when Francis said that the Church fixates too much on abortion, so-called gay marriage, and contraception. This kind of statement went directly against the grain of those whose faith was formed during the John Paul II pontificate.
More unfortunate comments soon came from Pope Francis, such as accusing faithful Catholics of being “rigid” as well as being “self-absorbed, promethean neo-Pelagian.” There were the purges of churchmen that disagreed with him to include the eminent Cardinals Burke and Sarah. The list of slights to those Catholic leaders of traditional bent are too numerous to catalog here.
Now we have the Dubia from the four courageous Cardinals who have asked for clarification from the Holy Father on the controversial issues arising from Amoris Laetitia and what they see as a walking away from settled doctrine. Truth be told, there really was no reason for the two synods and Amoris Laetitia because these matters have been settled for two millennia of Church history, and were fully articulated in John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio (1981) that spoke directly, and comprehensively, to the issues of the family. The hotly-debated proposal by Cardinal Kaspar of admittance to communion for the divorced and remarried which Amoris Laetitia proposed had already been settled in Familiaris Consortio.
What Amoris Laetitia has managed to do is go straight to the heart of Catholicism. It has, in many ways, fractured the Church’s universality by allowing for different doctrines of the Eucharist to be taught by bishops in different nations. The German interpretation of communion for the divorced and remarried is different than neighboring Poland and different than Africa’s. Even in the United States, we are seeing different interpretations from other disparate regions of the country. Archbishop Chaput is taking a line similar to Familiaris Consortio, while Bishop McElroy in San Diego is going with the more liberal approach of Cardinal Kaspar.
Just this week, Cardinal Burke stated that in the New Year, if the Dubia is not answered by the Pope; there will be a formal Correction issued by he, and I’m suspecting, other members of the hierarchy who have not yet gone on the record but who are sympathetic to his initiative. While not creating a schism, the correction will further exacerbate the deep fissure within the ranks of the Catholic world. Pope Francis, and his collaborators in the Vatican, has no intention on answering the Dubia. The dilution of the doctrine was the end game, or they would have never readdressed the issue that was already settled and merely reaffirmed Familiaris Consortio.
I believe that after the correction a further divide will occur. More orthodox Catholics will seek out parishes and media outlets that affirm their position, as will the progressive Catholics. A more pronounced Catholic ghetto will emerge, and a deeper division between the factions. No formal schism will be proclaimed because we have been living in de facto schism since the closing of the last session of Vatican II and the mass protest of the liberal intelligentsia to Humane Vitae.
In the beginning of this article, I spoke of a Church renewal. Those who cling to the faith and do not cede to the current trend could become a model for the faithful during this crisis. This will not be the end for the progressives, even now Cardinal Kasper is talking about intercommunion with other denominations. They will want a softening of our stance on abortion, so-called gay marriage but at some point Francis or a successor will have to stand for what the Church has always stood for in the past. At that point, these faithful will be counted on to rebuild from the current chaos.
Some have talked about a “Benedict Option” or a “Dominican Option” as we face the uncertain future of our Church. However, I like to think of pursuing the “John Paul II Option,” a radical evangelization of the world while holding fast to the eternal truths of Christ and His Church.
I pray the current crisis dissipates, and I pray for the Holy Father. I pray that St. Thomas More who lost his life defending the faith on the issue of divorce and remarriage will intercede on behalf of the Pope, revealing to him the wisdom of his predecessor John Paul II.