Friday, April 13, 2012

NOW can we please have our schism?

Back in the late sixties, right after Humanae Vitae was panned by many soi-disant sophisticated American Catholics, and Catholic colleges and universities had declared that they would no longer consider themselves bound to teach Catholic doctrine or even a Catholic viewpoint, a curious thing happened.

Well, actually, what was curious was what didn't happen. Discipline didn't happen.

Instead of applying a little firm pastoral correction to those rebellious Catholics, most bishops and the Vatican said, and did, almost nothing. The thought was, as I recall: "Don't risk a schism by making a big deal of this. Unity is everything. This will pass. You'll see."

Yes, we've seen. Not quite what was predicted, though. This didn't pass; instead, it got steadily worse.

The news today has given us yet another example: contrary to the wishes of their archbishop, several parishes in Seattle are refusing to allow parish property to be used in gathering signatures for Referendum 74, whose purpose is to overturn the Washington legislature's recent redefinition of marriage to include same-sex couples. In other words, to bring the law back into line with Catholic teaching, where it had been since the founding of Washington state.

Why the parish refusals? Because even the meek action of allowing others to collect such signatures would be "divisive" in these parishes' congregations, which are proudly said to be "open to all." Which, translated, means: "We've got lots of gay couples in our parish, and we don't try to help them with their particular temptations because we don't agree with the Church's teachings about homosexual acts anyway, so why should we make waves? Get lost, archbishop."

Of course, Archbishop Sartain didn't make matters easier for himself when he gave his own permission for the signature-gathering, by leaving it up to individual parishes. Maybe he misread his people, expected compliance, and was surprised at the opposition. Or maybe he was looking for a way to support the Referendum while not actually requiring any of his flock to do so, as perhaps he knew they would not. I don't know.

One thing's clear, however. As it did 40+ years ago, the familiar choice presents itself: will Catholic leaders finally insist on unity and obedience, and start getting the Church back on track? or will they close their eyes to error and evil again, and kick the can down the road?

The smart money would be on the cowardly second option; it's what most bishops have chosen in recent decades, after all. But that'll just make things worse, when the you-know-what finally hits the fan.

And it will. As dissent within the Church becomes ever more serious and more deeply embedded in Catholic parishes, schism is inevitable. Whenever the bishops finally decide to draw the line someday, the dissenters won't give up and obey. Instead, they'll double down, go public, try to wrest formal control of their parishes away from their bishops (with "Occupy" tactics, perhaps), and finally break away, perhaps in league with other schismatic parishes, to form a "New American Catholic Church."

The longer the day of reckoning is postponed, the stronger the dissenters will grow, and the worse the schism will be. Archbishop Sartain, to spare your flock even nastier things later, confront the schismatics now.