Which Words or Deeds constitute Formal Schism?

Many conservative Catholics are in a state of formal schism. They continue to go to Mass and receive Communion. They continue to think themselves to be Catholics. But they are, as a matter of fact and law, schismatics who are automatically excommunicated.

Canon 751: “schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him”.

Canon 1364, n. 1: “an apostate from the faith, a heretic, or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae excommunication”

Can. 915 “Those who have been excommunicated or interdicted after the imposition or declaration of the penalty and others obstinately persevering in manifest grave sin are not to be admitted to holy communion.”

Faithful Catholics versus Schismatics

If the Pope teaches a non-infallible doctrine, we are required to submit our minds and hearts to that teaching. There is some limited room for faithful disagreement, but never with any type of contempt, malice, ridicule, disparagement, nor with the pretended certitude that you are right and the Pope is wrong. The ordinary situation is that the faithful accept what the Pope teaches because it is taught by the Pope.

We also must submit to the Pope’s authority over discipline, which is generally non-infallible (except for dogmatic facts). Again, some disagreement or disobedience can be faithful. To automatically and in every case prefer one’s own judgment over that of the Pope is in itself schismatic, even absent disagreements on doctrine.

Many Catholic leaders have been teaching the faith for a long time, and in doing so have fallen into an error, that of thinking that they have the role to decide all matters of doctrine and discipline. A related error is that of thinking that the conservative Catholic subculture cannot err on doctrine or discipline. They long ago substituted their own understanding for the teaching of the Church. They were schismatics in their hearts and minds, by putting themselves above the Magisterium.

Then God appointed a liberal Pope to put conservatives to the test: to see if they would submit to the Pope in humility, or reject him in pride; to see if they would be faithful to the Church, or to their own understanding and to the conservative subculture. And very many conservatives are failing. Many have already committed schism by public expressions of contempt for Pope Francis, by judging his every word and deed, as if they were above him in authority; by refusing to submit to his teachings and decisions.

Do Schism and Heresy go together?

St. Thomas and St. Jerome have the answer:

“Reply to Objection 3. Heresy and schism are distinguished in respect of those things to which each is opposed essentially and directly. For heresy is essentially opposed to faith, while schism is essentially opposed to the unity of ecclesiastical charity. Wherefore just as faith and charity are different virtues, although whoever lacks faith lacks charity, so too schism and heresy are different vices, although whoever is a heretic is also a schismatic, but not conversely. This is what Jerome says in his commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians [In Ep. ad Tit. iii, 10]: ‘I consider the difference between schism and heresy to be that heresy holds false doctrine while schism severs a man from the Church.’ Nevertheless, just as the loss of charity is the road to the loss of faith, according to 1 Timothy 1:6: ‘From which things,’ i.e. charity and the like, ‘some going astray, are turned aside into vain babbling,’ so too, schism is the road to heresy. Wherefore Jerome adds (In Ep. ad Tit. iii, 10) that ‘at the outset it is possible, in a certain respect, to find a difference between schism and heresy: yet there is no schism that does not devise some heresy for itself, that it may appear to have had a reason for separating from the Church.’ ” [Summa]

Whoever is a heretic is also a schismatic, for refusing to accept a dogmatic teaching of the Magisterium constitutes a refusal of submission. And from this we see that schism is not only a refusal of submission of Papal Authority, but also of Ecumenical Councils and the ordinary and universal Magisterium. Thus, rejecting the body of Bishops, in their teaching authority, constitutes schism, since the latter two types of dogma require the participation of the body of Bishops with the Roman Pontiff.

One can be a schismatic without being a heretic, just as one can lose charity, but not faith. However, schismatics soon fall into heretical error. They no longer accept the teaching authority of the Church, and so, relying on their own understanding or that of a schismatic group, they soon devise heretical errors.

All heresy is indirectly schismatic, in that the person rejects magisterial authority. But some heresies are directly schismatic, as when the heresy itself deprives the Roman Pontiff or the body of Bishops of their teaching authority.

So, for example, the heresy of Dr. Ed Peters, claiming that the Pope cannot teach non-infallibly by his sole authority, but must have the agreement of the Bishops, is a direct attack on papal teaching authority, and so is both heretical and schismatic.

Is Calling for Resignation a Schismatic Act?

If a Catholic calls for the Pope to resign, due to a concern over the Pope’s health, for example, that call would not be schismatic — not as long as the person accept the Pope’s authority and his decision not to resign.

If a Catholic calls for the Pope to resign, because he is judging the Pope, condemning the Pope, or acting as if he were above him in authority, such a call is schismatic. No one has the role or authority to tell the Pope to resign. In a democracy, a leader can sometimes be impeached or recalled by the process of majority rules. In the Church, no number of persons suffices to counter the authority of the Roman Pontiff. For he is the rock on which the Church is founded, and they are the many grains of sand.

A Partial List of Schismatics:

By name:
* Michael Voris – for his claim that Pope Francis is in a state of unrepented actual mortal sin and for his utter rejection of not only papal authority, but the authority of any Cardinals or Bishops who disagree with him in the least.
* Christine Niles – for her heretical teachings on baptism and salvation, and for her adherence to the pretended teaching authority of Michael Voris.
* Dr. Ed Peters – see above
* Cardinal Raymond Burke – See this post
* John-Henry Westen – See this post
* Dr. Taylor R. Marshall – for his attitude that he and other conservatives should judge each teaching of the Pope and decide what is and is not correct, and for his public call to “Resist” the Pope.
* Phil Lawler – for his two books, one against the Pope and the other against the body of Bishops
* Henry Sire – author of the dictator Pope book
* Ann Barnhardt – Do you have to be so mean in rejecting Bergoglio? Seriously.
* Various bloggers under pseudonyms openly rejecting Pope Francis

By type:
* The signatories to the Filial Correction
* Anyone who accuses Pope Francis of teaching heresy. According to Vatican I dogma, no Pope can teach or commit heresy, due to the gift of truth and never-failing faith.
* Anyone who claims that Pope Benedict XVI is still Pope.
* Anyone who claims that Pope Francis is an antipope, as no antipope can be accepted by the body of Bishops (due to the Church’s indefectibility).
* Anyone who treats the Pope with contempt, ridicule, malice, denigration, or the like; for no one submits to the authority of a person they treat in such a manner, not truly from the heart and mind, as is required.
* Persons who call for the Pope’s resignation, IF the call is based on a claim of heresy, unjust or baseless accusations, or the attitude that they should judge and correct the Pope, and not the other way around.

The Next Pope

What if Pope Francis resigns, and the next Pope is very conservative? Will all be set right for the conservative opponents of Francis? No. The sin of schism will remain on their consciences, until and unless they accept the authority and teachings of Pope Francis. It is like the case of a man who commits adultery. After a time, his mistress leaves him, and he returns to faithfulness with his wife. But his past actual mortal sin remains on his conscience, until he repents. He cannot claim to be in the state of grace due to current faithfulness, not without repentance from his past sin. So the schismatics who departed under Francis will remain schismatics, until they repent.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian
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