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A note on the other kind of schism

November 7, 2018

Most Catholics correctly, but incompletely, understand schism as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff” (1983 CIC 751). Overlooked here—perhaps because it is much rarer than is typical ‘anti-papal schism’ and is harder to spot when it does occur—is the second kind of schism, namely, “the refusal … of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (1983 CIC 751). In other words schism comes in two varieties, ‘vertical schism’ whereby one refuses submission to the Roman Pontiff and ‘horizontal schism’ whereby one refuses to extend that Christian unity owed to others who are, in fact, in union with the pope. If the poster boy for vertical schism was, say, Martin Luther, the horizontal schismatic is, I suggest, one whose devotion to the pope is so extreme that he regards as disloyal those who don’t share his opinions on all things papal and, for that reason, shuns them.

Of course Catholics’ opinions on popes and prelates may vary widely, and, to be sure, the canonical requirements for proving schism, vertical or horizontal, in actual cases are high. But Catholics critical of Pope Francis and/or his governance of the Church—Catholics, mind, in full communion with the Church per Canon 205—notwithstanding their demonstrable communion with the pope, are frequently disparaged these days, sometimes by ranking bishops, as being adversaries, accusers, and gossip-mongers. To some extent, of course, such verbal insults should be written off as Life in This Valley of Tears and those subjected to them simply reminded that others have endured far harsher treatment for the Faith. But lately I wonder whether this demonizing of papal critics risks taking a canonical turn.

Long-time Vaticanista Marco Tosatti recently claimed (Eng. trans. here) that word has been passed down by papal representatives to bishops not to invite Raymond Cdl. Burke to their dioceses and that, should Burke appear at an event in their churches, they should not even appear with him. If this report is true, then understand: bishops working in close collaboration with the pope are instructing other bishops to avoid and, if necessary, to refuse manifestations of Christian unity due to a bishop who is, beyond any question, in full communion with him and them. That report, if true, would suggest something well beyond mere verbal disparagement of a fellow bishop.

Again, journalist claims of such counter-catholic (in the sense of ‘unity’ and ‘oneness’) directives are a long way from constituting proof of horizontal schism in their authors, but that such measures could even be plausibly alleged is a sign of the times and deeply troubling. Like Catholics admonished to avoid sin and even near occasions of sin so prelates should avoid schism and even actions suggestive of schismatic attitudes. If such disgraceful directives were quietly issued may they be quietly and quickly withdrawn; if they were even contemplated may be they be rejected lest they open the door to even deeper divisions than we already suffer.

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