Remember the Great Schism from your world history class? No? Well there were actually two Schisms (pronounced /SIZ em/ by the way) that go by this name. The first one was when the Eastern Orthodox Churches split with the Catholics back in the 11thcentury, but the one I mean was in the 14thcentury. Here’s what happened:
The cardinals elected a new pope in 1378 but they later regretted it—he had a bad temper and was a bit of a crank. Most of the cardinals snuck off to a neighboring town and elected a new Pope, but–! the old one wouldn’t go quietly, so there were now two popes. All the countries of Europe chose sides, there was anger and fighting and a very unhealthy situation for Catholic Europe for 21 years, so finally some of the Church leaders held a council and elected a reconciliation candidate to take over as pontiff. The church bells were ringing to celebrate, but that quickly changed to wringing of hands when the other two popes refused to recognize the new guy. Now there were 3 popes! –all calling each other “the antipope”. Fortunately, 5 years later two of the three decided to resign for the good of the Church, and a brand-new pope was elected. The third antipope who would not resign was excommunicated and the Great Schism was over.
Sound familiar? Today there is a similar rebellion underway. Over in Italy Archbishop Vigano and a faction of prelates who are fed up with Pope Francis have called on him to resign. Francis says he won’t dignify it with an answer. The battle lines are being drawn, and the first pot shots are being fired.
And what is the reason they say Francis should resign? It’s all driven by the priest sex scandals that continue to grow faster than you can say mea maxima culpa. Vigano et al. claim that Francis knew about allegations of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s sexual abuse but despite that made him “his trusted counselor”. Vigano believes that there is a subculture of homosexuality among priests and within the hierarchy of the Church and that Francis is allowing it to flourish.
So there it is. Vigano and the traditionalists see Church teachings as immutable. Homosexuality is evil. Priests must be celibate. Why? Because that’s the way it’s been for a long, long time. The Bible’s words are clear on homosexuality. Not so clear on celibacy, but still it’s canon law. Others believe it’s time for the Church to change. The Church is hurting. The number of people wanting to become priests is dropping precipitously, churches are losing members and attendance has fallen off in most countries. Maybe, this group of reformers says, maybe we should let priests marry, or let women become priests. Celibacy ain’t easy if you’re not St. Paul.
My question is: if you think priests should marry and/or that women should be priests, why not just make it easy on yourself and admit you are on the road to becoming an Episcopalian (Anglican if you’re outside the USA). They fought that anti-celibacy battle back in the 16thcentury, and women were allowed into the priesthood in the 20th.
Or let’s go even further: If you had to back either Vigano or Francis, who would it be? And why? If you’re on Vigano’s side are you saying that literally every single word of the Bible is God’s word? Every single decision made by a Pope in the past or by a Church council was correct? If you’re on Francis’s side and think the Church should lighten up, what’s your authority? Is it because you trust the Pope because he IS the Pope? or do you sense some feeling in your being that is directing you toward a different understanding of the way the world works than what was handed to you in a catechism in your impressionable years. If that is the case, you are a humanist, and you are in a position to weigh decisions in an entirely different way than the Catholic Church, or either of the two future Catholic Churches, would dictate.