The Church, in terms of its many members who are fallen sinners, is unfortunately divided in many ways. Though the Church is pure and holy, as the body of Christ, led by the Spirit. The Church is also, in part, a human institution, with human failings. One of these failings is the division of the people of God into conservative and liberal, as if religious views were a type of political opinion, as if the flock of Christ were divided into parties. That is one of the imperfections, to say the least, of the Church on earth, at the present time. So forgive me if I speak of the Church, in this article, in human terms.
There is a battle currently underway for the conservative wing of the Catholic Church. Previously, conservatives were led by moderate conservatives. And those who were further to the right were mostly ignored in the mainstream conservative Catholic media publications. But since the election of Pope Francis, many conservatives in the pews have over-reacted to the liberal Pontiff by becoming more conservative, and by taking positions that are more extreme. As dissatisfaction with the Pope grew, the leaders on the far right played on these negative emotions to grow their support, and to gain influence in mainstream conservative outlets. Some of these leaders constantly attack the Pope and his faithful Cardinals and Bishops because they see that this gives them more supporters and more money. They realize that their complaints are popular, so they increase the severity of those complaints against the Vicar of Christ.
Over the years, I’ve watched as conservative Catholic outlets published one heretical article after another, undermining the Magisterium and replacing it with the majority opinion of the conservative Catholic subculture. These articles were from persons in the mainstream of the conservative wing of the Church, not from the far right. And neither Bishops, nor priests, nor most theologians, nor Catholic outlets supposedly faithful to the Magisterium objected to this dissemination of heresy on matters of faith and morals. The conservative Catholic wing of the Church became politicized, and conservatism began to matter much more than faith or doctrine. Conservative opinion became a type of pseudo-doctrine.
Then, due to the reaction from conservatives to a liberal Pope and the increasing popularity of those on the far right, these media outlets slowly became more conservative; they were taken over by either opinions on the far right, with the same persons in charge, or by persons on the far right. Those conservative Catholics who remained moderate were swept away or ignored. The more boldly one opposes Pope Francis, the more readers and supporters one receives. And now the far right mostly controls the conservative wing of the Church and its media outlets.
So now the media outlets which used to defend the Magisterium, openly oppose not only Pope Francis, but any Pope whom they wish to oppose, and any Council as well. Once it became common and acceptable for conservative Catholics to reject the authority and teaching of Pope Francis, they quickly advanced to attack all the recent Popes (e.g. Infiltration) and Vatican II.
But it doesn’t stop there. Having rejected the idea that the Magisterium cannot err gravely, having put themselves above the Pope and the body of Bishops, there is nothing in principle to prevent them from rejecting any Pope or Council. An example would be the article by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski which calls on the faithful to ignore “Lyons I, Lateran V, and other councils you’ve never heard of.” Then he calls for people to pass judgment on Vatican I, which was supposedly “the impetus for a runaway hyperpapalism capable of leveling centuries of tradition. In many ways, we are more threatened today by the spirit of Vatican I, which it will take a mighty exorcism to drive away.” This type of language, directed at an Ecumenical Council, saying we are threatened by the “spirit of Vatican I” and calling for a figurative “exorcism” to drive it away is in essence a rejection of The Church Herself and of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of every Ecumenical Council. It constitutes a rejection in principle of the authority of every Pope and Council. For if the people can choose to ignore any Ecumenical Council, or what is worse, accuse any Ecumenical Council of being evil, they are not members of the flock of Jesus Christ anymore. For they have rejected His authority to teach and have rejected the authority of the Holy Spirit.
Right now, a vast number of conservative Catholic are in a state of formal schism and heresy for rejecting the Magisterium, the authority of the Popes, and the authority of Ecumenical Councils. They believe whatever they like. They act exactly like “those liberals” they have been complaining about for many years. They are cafeteria Catholics. They have rebelled against the Roman Pontiff and now they pick and choose which teachings they will accept and which they will reject. They long complained about liberal Catholics being influenced by secular culture to go against Church teaching. But now they themselves have been influenced by conservative culture to go against Church teaching. And there is no fundamental difference between the two errors.
Some conservative Catholics still remain faithful to the Church. To them, I say, be careful what you believe and whom you accept as teacher. The Pope, the body of Bishops, and the Church as an institution which is both human and divine are indefectible. Do not lose your trust and faith in them. The Pope can never teach any grave error, nor can the body of Bishops ever accept a false Pope as their head. And the Church is indefectible; She can never lead you astray. So do not choose to become a part of the conservative Catholic subculture which has rebelled against the Church just as Satan rebelled against God.
There is a parallel here between the political situation in the U.S. and the religious situation in the Church (especially in the U.S.). When the nation elected President Obama, conservatives took a turn further to the right. The resulted in the “Tea Party” and in the rise of more conservative politicians. After his terms in office, President Trump was elected, and this gave more power to persons further on the right. The more moderate conservatives were pushed aside, and more conservative persons and views have prevailed. Similarly, the reaction to a liberal Pope has caused conservatives to move further to the right in religion, and has brought to power religious leaders on the far right, pushing aside the more moderate Catholics.
The end result will be a schism. In truth, the schism is already here. Many conservative Catholics are openly schismatic and heretical. But they still claim to be Catholics in communion with the Roman Pontiff. I disagree that their position is mere material heresy or mere material schism. For some of the laity, this may be true, as they do not understand some of the theological issues and implications at stake. But for most of the leaders who openly oppose Pope Francis, other Popes, and various Ecumenical Councils, they have sufficient knowledge for their opposition to be formal schism and formal heresy. They have their excuses. But that is always the way with heretics and schismatics. They are in a state of manifest obstinate schism and heresy. They have put themselves above the Magisterium, the Popes, and the Ecumenical Councils. They know what the Church teaches, and they prefer their own ideas.
May God have mercy on the Pope, the faithful Bishops, and the poor and weak flock of Jesus Christ.
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
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