ROME — The former doctrinal chief of the U.S. Bishops Conference (USCCB) warned this week that Pope Francis is presiding over an “unprecedented new schism” in the Catholic Church of his own making.
The Capuchin priest, Father Thomas Weinandy, whom Pope Francis himself named to the Vatican’s International Theological Commission in 2014, writes that it is out of America that Francis receives “his most theologically challenging and pastorally concerned criticism, which centers on a questionable remaking of the faith and of the Church.”
Yet what Francis fails to grasp is that “the overwhelming majority of his American critics would never initiate a schism,” Weinandy writes. “They recognize that he is the pope and thus the successor of Peter, and that to remain within the Catholic Church is to remain faithful to the pope, even if it entails being critical of the pope in one’s faithfulness to him.”
The schism, Weinandy insists, comes not from conservatives faithful to the Church, but from progressives who never really accepted Church teaching and who use the Francis pontificate to bestow an air of legitimacy upon their heterodox positions.
We perceive a situation, Weinandy says, in which a majority of the world’s faithful are loyal to the pope as St. Peter’s successor (though critical of his pontificate), while a large contingent of progressive Catholics “enthusiastically support Francis precisely because he allows and fosters their ambiguous teaching and ecclesial practice.”
This confusion stems from a number of facets of the Francis pontificate, the priest notes:
The theological ambiguity within Amoris Laetitia; the not so subtle advancing of the homosexual agenda; the “re-foundation” of the (Roman) John Paul II Institute on Marriage and Family, i.e., the undermining of the Church’s consistent teaching on moral and sacramental absolutes, especially with regard to the indissolubility of marriage, homosexuality, contraception, and abortion.
“What the Church will end up with, then, is a pope who is the pope of the Catholic Church and, simultaneously, the de facto leader, for all practical purposes, of a schismatic church. Because he is the head of both, the appearance of one church remains, while in fact there are two,” Weinandy concludes.
It is “the nature of the present possible schism that is new, and this unprecedented new schism is frightening,” Weinandy writes.
This problematic situation has become even more evident with the currents pervading the Vatican synod taking place this month.
The present Amazon Synod “is teeming with participants sympathetic to and supportive of all of the above,” Weinandy writes. “One must likewise take into account the many theologically dubious cardinals, bishops, priests, and theologians whom Francis supports and promotes to high ecclesial positions.”
The expression coined by Weinandy to describe this situation is “internal papal schism,” since the pope “will effectively be the leader of a segment of the Church that through its doctrine, moral teaching, and ecclesial structure, is for all practical purposes schismatic.”
“This is the real schism that is in our midst and must be faced, but I do not believe Pope Francis is in any way afraid of this schism,” he adds. “As long as he is in control, he will, I fear, welcome it, for he sees the schismatic element as the new ‘paradigm’ for the future Church.”
We need to pray that Jesus will deliver us from this trial, he notes, while acknowledging that he may want us to endure it to purify the Church “from all the sin and corruption that now lies within her.”
It will be the laity, especially lay women, who will bring about the needed purification, he concludes.
If the laity raise their voices, “they will be heard,” he states.