Where is the real Schism ?

One schism is illusory, and harms no one, while the other is quite real and deadly. Guess which one the neo-Catholics condemn?

Christopher A. Ferrara


Dr. Thomas Woods and I are putting the finishing touches on a book defending the traditionalist position against attacks from within the neo-Catholic (a.k.a. 'conservative' Catholic) current of the Church that has arisen since the Second Vatican Council.  One of the points we make in the book is that neo-Catholicism is a defense of novelty rather than Catholic doctrine as such. That is why when neo-Catholics claim that traditionalists 'dissent from the living Magisterium' or 'reject Vatican II' they are never able to formulate their accusation in terms of  Catholic doctrine. 

An amusing example of this problem is Peter Vere's recent article in The Wanderer wherein this proud possessor of a freshly-minted canon law degree imperiously informs us as follows: 'I conclude a diocesan bishop may declare as schismatic an author who publicly resists the Second Vatican Council…[1]  How exactly does one 'resist' the Second Vatican Council?  Did the Council generate some kind of ecclesiastical force- field to which Catholics must submit, as if to the ministrations of a hypnotist?  What teaching of Vatican II does Vere claim traditionalists are 'resisting'?  What does Vatican II require Catholics to believe which they had not always believed before the Council? The answer is nothing, of course. What traditionalists have prescinded from are novel practices, notions, attitudes and ecclesial policies of the post-conciliar epoch, none of which are properly the objects of Catholic faith. 

For example, there is the 'ecumenical venture,' an ill-defined and hitherto unknown ecclesial policy in which no Catholic can be compelled to believe as if it were an article of faith. Self-appointed authorities like Vere  know so little about the subject that they are unaware of Pope John Paul  II's own teaching that traditionalist objections to the ecumenical venture  have their place in the Church, even if the Pope does not agree with those objections. As His Holiness observed in his encyclical Redemptor Hominis (1979):

There are people who in the face of the difficulties or because they consider that the first ecumenical endeavors have brought negative results would have liked to turn back. Some even express the opinion that these efforts are harmful to the cause of the Gospel, are leading to a further rupture in the Church, are causing confusion of ideas in questions of faith and morals and are ending up with a specific indifferentism. It is perhaps a good thing that the spokesmen for these opinions should express their fears.


But not according to the eminent Mr. Vere! If demagogic traditionalist-bashers like Vere would only think about it for a moment, they would realize that it is quite impossible for a Catholic to 'dissent' from such things as the 'ecumenical venture' in the sense of being unfaithful to binding Catholic teaching.  Are traditionalists less than Catholic because they strenuously object to and refuse to participate in common prayer with pro-abortion Protestant ministers or prayer meetings with rabbis, muftis and shamans, as the Pope has done? Obviously, this kind of activity can never be imposed upon Catholics as an obligation of their religion.  The Holy Ghost would not allow it.

Because they are essentially defenders of novelty, the neo-Catholics are more or less practical liberals, objectively speaking, whether or not individual members of the neo-Catholic current subjectively understand this. Not even the neo-Catholics can genuinely deny that Saint Pius X would have blasted the innovations they have swallowed without a whimper of protest.  The thing speaks for itself. 

Being liberals of a kind, neo-Catholics evince the inconsistency that marks all forms of liberal thought in the socio-political realm.  The socio-political liberal is inconsistent because his thinking is not axiological (based on first principles) but rather positivistic, basing its conclusions upon naked human will as expressed in the reigning Zeitgeist.  The neo-Catholic is to some extent an ecclesial positivist, who inconsistently defends today precisely what he condemned yesterday¾altar girls and common prayer with heretics, for example¾simply because the post-conciliar Zeitgeist has allowed such innovations to exist. 

One of the inconsistencies of socio-political liberalism is its tendency to demonize figures of the Right, such as Joseph McCarthy, while turning a blind eye toward, and even praising, certifiable demons of the Left, such as Mao Tse-tung, whom the liberal press lionized as an 'agrarian reformer.'  There is an analog of this particular liberal inconsistency within the Catholic Church today.  I mean the absurd disparity between the neo-Catholic approach to the so-called schism of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre,  and the truly manifest schism of the communist-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) in Red China.


The Putative Lefebvre Schism


On June 30, 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without a papal mandate¾an offense which, under Canon 1382, carries the penalty of excommunication, subject to various excuses from culpability under Canons 1321-23. One of these excuses is that the offender acted out of necessity or to avoid grave inconvenience. 

Another is that the offender sincerely believed, however mistakenly, that his action was justified and he was thus not subjectively culpable for the offense.  Given the current chaotic state of the Church, Lefebvre argued that his action was necessary to preserve some semblance of Catholic tradition. I do not take up that defense here, but merely note three things: 

·         First, that the defense of necessity was raised by the Archbishop, and that, right or wrong, His Eminence no doubt acted with a good intention, as envisioned by Canons 1321 and 1323.

·         Second, the penalty for illicit episcopal consecrations under Canon 1381 is latae sententiae¾that is, automatic and without need of a formal declaration by ecclesiastical authority. However, the effects of the penalty become much more severe if the penalty is then declared by ecclesiastical authority.  (Canon 1331)  For one thing, the declared penalty cannot be remitted by a confessor in situations of urgency, outside of the danger of death.  (Canon 1357) 

·         Third, the 1983 Code of Canon law nowhere provides that an illicit episcopal consecration constitutes in itself  the canonical crime of schism.  In fact, Cardinal Castillo Lara,  President of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of Canon Law, admitted to La Reppublica that 'The act of consecrating a bishop (without a papal mandate) is not in itself a schismatic act…'[2]  (Cardinal Lara claimed that Lefebvre was guilty of schism before the 1988 consecrations, for which claim he offered not the slightest proof.)


As we know, the Vatican's reaction to the Lefebvre consecrations was immediate: On July 2, 1988, only two days later, the Pope issued his motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, which declares that 'Archbishop Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.' The motu proprio went even further than what the cited canon provides, declaring that 'such disobedience¾which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy¾constitutes a schismatic act.'  Yet the canonical admonition sent to Lefebvre before the consecrations had contained no indication that his action would be deemed schismatic, and the only possible penalty cited was that of latae sententiae excommunication.  The result was rather like being charged with only one offense, but then convicted of two.  The motu proprio also warns that 'formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the church's law.'  But the term 'formal adherence' is nowhere defined.  Later, however, the Vatican made it clear in particular decisions that mere attendance at an SSPX chapel in Arizona is not an act of schism, nor even recourse to an SSPX bishop for the sacrament of Confirmation at an independent chapel in Hawaii.[3]

The Neo-Catholics Helpfully Expand the Penalty


While the motu proprio applied the excommunication and the delict of schism by name only to Lefebvre and the four priests he consecrated, since then, true to form, neo-Catholic commentators at EWTN, The Wanderer and elsewhere have with great alacrity denounced as 'schismatic' not only Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated, but all the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X, any member of the faithful who frequents their chapels, and anyone who defends Lefebvre's actions. The neo-Catholics have even coined the terms 'Lefebvrist' and 'Lefebvrism' to stigmatize 'extreme traditionalists' in general.

                                                                                Thus, in the case of  Lefebvre we have the following: an immediate declaration of excommunication, and, going beyond what the express terms of the Church's law provide, the  declaration of a schism; the unauthorized extension of those delicts by neo-Catholic organs to an entire class of Catholics who are not at all embraced in the original motu proprio; and, for good measure, the demonization of Archbishop Lefebvre and all his followers and sympathizers. Yet there is no question that those whom the neo-Catholics denounce as 'Lefebvrists'¾ including the bishops, priests and laity actually affiliated with SSPX¾possess the Catholic faith and follow the moral teaching of the Church, as even Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos admitted in the course of the recent negotiations toward 'regularization' of the SSPX.  Further, 'Lefebvrist' priests and bishops profess their loyalty to John Paul II and pray for him at every Mass, along with the local ordinary.

In fact, the Vatican's private approach to SSPX would indicate that the 'Lefebvre schism' is illusory, and is really nothing more than an internal disciplinary problem of the Church.  For example, as Cardinal Cassidy admitted in a letter of March 25, 1994, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity 'is not concerned with the Society of Saint Pius X. The situation of the members of this Society is an internal matter of the Catholic Church. The Society is not another Church or Ecclesial Community in the meaning used in the Directory.'


The Schism of the 'Catholic Patriotic Association' of China


Fast forward to January 6, 2000.  On that date the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA)  illicitly consecrated five bishops¾one more than Lefebvre¾without a papal mandate. The Red Chinese regime created the CPA in 1957 to replace the Roman Catholic Church in China, which it declared illegal and drove underground, where loyal Chinese Catholics have been forced to worship ever since, following the example of their spiritual father, the great martyr Cardinal Ignatius Kung. Including the five bishops illicitly consecrated on January 6, 2000, since 1957 the CPA has illicitly consecrated one hundred bishops without a papal mandate.  What is more, unlike the four SSPX bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, the CPA bishops dare to assert territorial jurisdiction over sees from which the communists drove the legitimate bishops of the Catholic Church.

                                                                                The CPA constitution requires express disavowal of allegiance to the Roman Pontiff.  As the Kung Foundation points out: 'The Patriotic Association's own fundamental and explicit principle is autonomy from the Pope's administrative, legislative, and judicial authority'¾the very definition of schism under Canon 751. By comparison, the SSPX professes its acceptance of papal authority and has entered into papally-ordered negotiations for regularization as an apostolic administration directly under the Holy Father.  (As Cardinal Hoyos told the press, Bishop Fellay said to him that 'when the Pope calls we run.')  And while there is no question that Archbishop Lefebvre's acts constituted disobedience to a particular papal command, disobedience in particular matters is not in itself schism, which is defined by rejection of the papal office itself: 'However, not every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors, denial of their Divine right to command.' (Catholic Encyclopedia)  But since denial of the Pope's right to command is the founding principle of the CPA, it is undeniably schismatic by definition. CPA bishops swear their allegiance not to the Pope, but to Premier Jiang and the Red Chinese regime, of which they are pawns.   Thus, in 1994 the CPA bishops issued a 'pastoral letter' calling upon Chinese Catholics to support China's population control policies, including forced abortion, and, as the Cardinal Kung Foundation notes, 'the Patriotic bishops passionately denounced the Holy Father's canonization of the 120 Chinese martyrs on Oct. 1, 2000.' 

In short, the CPA is a communist-created, communist-controlled, blatantly schismatic, pro-abortion organization founded by the devil himself, acting through Mao Tse Tung and the Red Chinese regime, now headed by 'Premier' Jiang.   Accordingly, in the performance of his apostolic duty, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical denouncing the CPA as an assault on the integrity of the Catholic faith and the Mystical Body:


For by particularly subtle activity an association has been created among you to which has been attached the title of ‘patriotic,' and Catholics are being forced by every means to take part in it.

This association¾as has often been proclaimed¾was formed ostensibly to join the clergy and the faithful in love of their religion and their country, with these objectives in view: that they might foster patriotic sentiments; that they might advance the cause of international peace; that they might accept that species of socialism which has been introduced among you and, having accepted it, support and spread it; that, finally, they might actively cooperate with civil authorities in defending what they describe as political and religious freedom. And yet¾despite these sweeping generalizations about defense of peace and the fatherland, which can certainly deceive the unsuspecting¾it is perfectly clear that this association is simply an attempt to execute certain well defined and ruinous policies … 

For under an appearance of patriotism, which in reality is just a fraud, this association aims primarily at making Catholics gradually embrace the tenets of atheistic materialism, by which God Himself is denied and religious principles are rejected.[4]


Pius XII went on to condemn the CPA's illicit consecration of bishops as 'criminal and sacrilegious,' declaring that CPA bishops had no authority or jurisdiction whatsoever, and were subject to a latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to himself.


The Neo-Catholic Double Standard


Now, what was the reaction of the neo-Catholic establishment to news of the CPA's five illicit episcopal consecrations on January 6, 2000? According to Zenit news agency, Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls 'criticized Beijing's decision, expressing ‘surprise' and ‘disappointment,' and stating that ‘this gesture will raise obstacles that certainly hinder the process' of normalization of relations between the Vatican and China.'  Surprise and disappointment!  A hindering of the process of normalization! But no declared penalty of excommunication. No declaration of schism.  Not even a statement to the faithful in China that, as Pius XII warned even before the CPA condoned forced abortion, the CPA has the aim of 'making Catholics gradually embrace the tenets of atheistic materialism, by which God Himself is denied and religious principles are rejected.'  Indeed, that is precisely why the 'underground' Catholics in China, following the example of Cardinal Kung, have endured fierce persecution rather than join the CPA.

Ironically enough, the ecclesiastical public law reflected in Canon 1381, under which Lefebvre and the four bishops were punished, originated with the pre-conciliar Holy Office's  announcement in 1957 of a latae sententiae excommunication for illicit consecrations in Communist China. That is, the penalty envisioned by Canon 1381 arose to address communist interference with the Apostolic Succession.[5]  But far from declaring the excommunication or schism of the CPA bishops, the Vatican apparatus has assiduously courted them, to the applause of the neo-Catholic gallery.  In September of 2000, some nine months after the five illicit consecrations, Cardinal ('Spirit of Assisi, come upon us all!') Etchegaray went to China to attend a conference on 'Religions and Peace'¾which is akin to attending an Herbalife rally on death row. During his trip Etchegaray was shuttled around by CPA bishops, while being denied access to underground bishops loyal to Rome.  CWNews.com (another neo-Catholic organ) favorably reported Etchegaray's remark that 'Basically it is a question of one Church, and one common faith, trying bit by bit to overcome the unhappy separation into ‘underground' and ‘official.''  So, the CPA, which condones abortion, rejects submission to the Pope and denounces his canonization of Chinese martyrs is part of the same Church as the loyal Catholics who have been driven underground because they refused submission to the CPA.  To demonstrate this view, the Cardinal celebrated Mass in a Marian shrine the communists stole from the Catholic Church and turned over to the CPA 'hierarchy.'  

The Cardinal wished to make it clear, however, that 'none of my steps should be interpreted as an approval of the structures of the official [state-approved] church.' (What would give anyone that idea?)  Notice the careful hedging: the Cardinal does not approve the structures of the CPA, but as for the adherents of the CPA, Etchegaray clearly rejected the notion that they are schismatics: 'The fact that I recognized the fidelity to the Pope of the Catholics of the official church [i.e., the CPA] can in no way diminish my recognition of the heroic fidelity of the silent Church.'  Let us see if we can make sense of this remark: The adherents of an organization whose very constitution rejects submission to the Pope and which condones forced abortion are faithful to the Pope!  Ah, but the underground Catholics, you see, have heroic fidelity to the Pope because they suffer persecution¾for refusing to join the faithful Catholics of the CPA.  It seems we have reached a new height of post-conciliar absurdity.

Well, what about the five illicit episcopal consecrations the previous January?  According to Etchegaray 'This is a very serious fact that affects ecclesiology. If it is repeated, there is a risk of impeding the rapprochement among Catholics.'  A risk of 'impeding rapprochement' if it is repeated?  Well, it has been repeated¾a hundred times!  Etchegaray added: 'I had the opportunity to say it clearly to the official bishops of Beijing and Nanjing. The question of the ordination of bishops is a crucial point for the Church and state; it can neither be avoided nor easily resolved, given the differences and points of view. However, history shows that reasonable solutions can be found in all political climates.' So, when it comes to the illicit consecration of abortion-condoning communist puppets, 'reasonable solutions can be found in all political climates.'  But as for Archbishop Lefebvre, it took the Vatican only 48 hours to cast him and all his supporters into outer darkness, while warning the faithful to have nothing to do with him or his Society.

Is Cardinal Etchegaray just a lone wolf in this matter?  Not at all.  The Kung Foundation notes that Cardinal Tomko, one of the Pope's closest advisors, has been quoted as saying that the ' ‘two groups in the Church in China' (the underground Roman Catholic Church and the Patriotic Association) are ‘not two Churches because we are all one Church,' and that the ‘true enemy' of the Church is ‘not inside the Church but outside the Church.''[6]  Far more telling is the Kung Foundation's Open Letter of March 28, 2000, addressed to Cardinal Sodano, Archbishop Re, Cardinal Ratzinger and other members of the Vatican apparatus, which notes that CPA priests have been trained in American seminaries, given faculties in American parishes with Vatican approval (according to Archbishop Levada and other American prelates) and are being supported by Catholic charities, while loyal seminarians and priests of the underground Church receive no support.  The Vatican's answer to the Open Letter has been a resounding silence. 

Here it must be noted that John Paul II has at least attempted to distance himself from the neo-Catholic establishment and the Vatican apparatus in this matter.  For example, in his speech to Chinese Catholics on December 3, 1996 the Holy Father declared that 'today too all Chinese Catholics are called to remain loyal to the faith received and passed on, and not to yield to models of a Church which do not correspond to the will of the Lord Jesus, to the Catholic faith, or to the feelings and convictions of the great majority of Chinese Catholics. From these models would come a division capable only of causing confusion, to the detriment both of the faith itself and of the contribution which the faithful can make to their homeland as instruments of peace and social progress.' 

But this statement is rather mild compared to the condemnations by Pius XII long before the CPA's promotion of forced abortion.  And John Paul's statement was only undermined by his utterly appalling apology to China on October 24, 2001, which praises the communist regime's 'important objectives in the field of social progress' and even states that 'The Catholic Church for her part regards with respect this impressive thrust and far-sighted planning. The Church has very much at heart the values and objectives which are of primary importance also to modern China: solidarity, peace, social justice, the wise management of the phenomenon of globalization, and the civil progress of all peoples.'  One can scarcely believe that this tribute to the diabolical Jiang regime came from the mouth of the Supreme Pontiff.  In my view, the text is clearly a product of the Vatican Secretariat of State, which doggedly persists in its morally bankrupt Ostpolitik.  The Chinese reciprocated this disgusting obsequy by almost immediately moving to crush the loyal underground Catholic diocese of Feng Xiang.  According to a Zenit report on November 29, 2001, communist goons 'arrested Bishop Lucas Li Jingfeng and his assistant, confined a dozen priests, closed a monastery and two convents, and sent seminarians, monks and nuns home ¾all in the past month. These faithful are part of an underground Catholic community that refuses to join the state-approved ‘patriotic' church…. The 81-year-old bishop was taken with his assistant to an unknown locality. They haven't been heard from, since Nov. 4.'   Yet another diplomatic 'triumph' for Ostpolitik.

It is only typical of neo-Catholic thinking that they would find a way to endorse the Vatican's disgraceful pandering to the CPA.  Catholic World News, for example, has adopted the line that adherents of the CPA 'while openly loyal to the government association, secretly pledge allegiance to the Pope.'[7]  CWN seems to have forgotten Our Lord's teaching about the impossibility of serving two masters.  Cardinal Kung spent 30 years in solitary confinement rather than uttering one word dictated to him by his communist persecutors. But it seems the neo-Catholics have come up with a new standard of Catholic fidelity¾'secret loyalty'¾to go along with all the other absurd novelties they have embraced.

The parallel between all of this and the duplicity of liberals in the socio-political realm is startlingly precise.  Taking the case of Senator Joseph McCarthy as an example, we can recall that the same leftist demagogues who demonized him and coined the epithet 'McCarthyism' were at the same time finding ways to excuse the depredations of Mao Tse Tung and Joseph Stalin. 

Today, the neo-Catholics demonize Archbishop Lefebvre and coin the term 'Lefebvrism,' while they tell us that CPA members and underground Catholics are both part of the same Church, and that CPA bishops and priests are 'secretly' loyal to the Pope. For Catholics of the 'extreme Right' in the Church there is uncompromising rigor, fierce denunciation and ostracization, while putative Catholics of the extreme Left are shown every possible indulgence and given every benefit of the doubt¾even where there is no doubt.  The parallel could not be more exact.

This is a tale of two schisms: the one illusory or at best technical, the other very real and very deadly to souls; the one incurred in an effort (however misguided some may think it to be) to defend Catholic Tradition, the other incurred to subject the Catholic Church to communist domination.  Sad to say, we are not in the least surprised to see which schism the neo-Catholics condemn, and which they ignore.  We have witnessed yet another addition to the mounting legacy of shame neo-Catholicism is heaping to itself.

[1] The Wanderer, November 22, 2001 p. 4

[2] La Repubblica, October 7, 1988.


[3] I am referring to Cardinal Ratzinger's decision in the case of the 'Honolulu six,'  and the letter from Msgr. Perl, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei commission, to one Joseph Rebbert, dated September 28, 1999 under protocol no. 539/99, which is published at unavoce.org in the 'Documents' section.   Perl's letter even allows that Catholics who do not know any better can contract valid marriages and receive absolution at SSPX chapels, despite SSPX's lack of canonical jurisdiction, because the Church would supply jurisdiction in the case of inculpable ignorance.  I do not suggest that anyone should marry or seek absolution at an SSPX chapel.

[4] Ad Apostolorum Principis, June 29, 1958


[5]  The decidedly neo-Catholic commentary on Canon 1382 by the Canon Law by the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA), dishonestly suggests that Canon 1382 was 'perhaps' enacted as the result of the 'increasingly intense Holy See-Archbishop Lefebvre conflict in the late 1970s  and early 1980s.'  This is a complete fabrication of canonical legislative history, since there was not the slightest suggestion at that time that Lefebvre would consecrate bishops some eight or nine years later. Clearly, Canon 1382 was carried over from the 1957 Holy Office penalty directed at communist-controlled episcopal consecrations. In typical neo-Catholic fashion, a footnote to the commentary argues that there could be an exemption from the penalty in the case of the Chinese consecrations due to 'extreme governmental pressure.'  That is, the CLSA is willing to give communist schismatics the benefit of the doubt, but not Archbishop Lefebvre.


[6] Kung Foundation online newsletter, July 2001.

[7]  CWN news report, June 20, 2001