|I love it, but not everybody's happy|
I have been concerned about the probability of a schism in the American Church for over thirty-five years. While the first ten years or so after the Council seemed to shine favorably on a unified Church moving to implement the conciliar decrees, cracks started appearing somewhat late in the pontificate of Paul VI. There certainly was tremendous disappointment on the left with Humanae Vitae, but that didn’t show any fissures in the fabric of the Church. Yes there were people—including many priests—who voiced their dissent to the Pope’s conclusions and it did turn out to be the first warning shot across the progressive bow that all might not go as the liberals had hoped for in John XXIII’s aggiornamento. There were priests suspended for refusing to support the encyclical and there were many angry married Catholics who had been looking for an acceptable solution to the challenges of family planning, but no one was talking about leaving the Church for some alternative Catholicism. But then the revised liturgy of the 1970 Missal—the Novus Ordo Missae—became as significant an issue for conservatives as Humanae Vitae had been for the left, but again no one, at least in a serious and credible position, was talking about leaving the Church or creating a parallel Catholicism. In 1970, the year that Paul VI promulgated the new rites, a French bishop, Marcel Lefebvre, who had also served as the General Superior of the Spiritans (Holy Ghosts Fathers), organized a “pious union” of priests and seminarians to maintain the traditional doctrines and liturgy which Lefebvre saw as under attack by the very sort of “modernist” theologians and clergy that Pius X had condemned in the 1907 decree Lamentabili Sane Exitu, and Encyclical of the same year, Pascendi Domini Gregis. Nevertheless, Lefebvre had confidence in the Church that it would regain its even keel and not abandon its historic orthodoxy.
Lefebvre had had several reservations about the teachings of the Second Vatican Council, in particular Nostra Aetate (on non-Christian religions), Unitatis Reintegratio (Christian Ecumenism), and Dignitatis Humanae (the right of religious freedom). While he voted against these decrees, he did sign them once they had passed. He seems to have later regretted this choice but he also seems honestly to have believed that the Holy Spirit was guiding the Church and would right the course as time went on. This was not an unreasonable hope as Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI did significantly change the ways in which several of the Conciliar decrees have been interpreted at the time of the Council and by the Council Fathers, though not to the extent that Archbishop Lefebvre would have had it.
Let me say—in the interest of full disclosure—that my own opinion is that despite all the talk about a “hermeneutic of continuity” several of the Conciliar decrees—including the three above named—represent a break with the previous magisterium. I personally don’t think that is a bad thing, but I do believe to claim some sort of magisterial continuity on the questions of religious freedom, ecumenism, and inter-religious dialogue is nothing less than just downright duplicitous.
There were some who from the beginning saw this break in continuity. A seminary dropout from Seattle, Francis Schuckhardt, who was very active in the Blue Army of Our Lady of Fatima—a very conservative association of people in the Catholic Church, though one safely within the bounds of Catholic magisterial authority—was convinced that the Council was heretical and went around the United States warning Catholics of what he perceived to be the "heresies" found in the Conciliar documents. Schuckhardt built a following and founded a religious community of priest, brothers, and sisters called the Congregation of Mary Immaculate Queen. He had the canonical permission of the Bishop of Boise—in whose diocese he lived at the time—to establish this new community. (Ironically this permission was the sort of freedom given to Bishops after the Second Vatican Council to establish such communities ad experimentum.) Remember that at this point, Schuckhardt was a layman. About the same time he established his new religious order, Francis Schuckhardt became convinced that Paul VI was a heretic and that Vatican II was a “false Council.” He claimed that a heretic could not hold the papal office and that when a pope went into heresy, he was automatically deprived of his office. This stance separated him from the Catholic Church. Schuckhardt would go on to get himself ordained priest and then consecrated a bishop by Daniel Q. Brown who himself was a layman and had been ordained and consecrated by Hubert Rogers, an “Old Catholic” bishop whose orders trace back to the Union of Utrecht and through them to the Old Catholic Church of the Netherlands that went into schism with the 1723 illicit episcopal consecration of Cornelius van Steenoven. (I don’t want to go too far down this path or we will get sidetracked from our main focus—but I do promise to return at some future point about the Old Catholic Successions and Schisms. It is sort of an ecclesiastical version of a Chinese Fire Drill.) Suffice it now to say that Schuckhardt stood in a historic apostolic succession. I personally won’t say “valid” though most Catholics would. My reservations are twofold. First I am not sure what “valid” means when we talk about sacraments; I think that it implies our imposing some degree of objectivity that permits us to tie God’s hands. Remember, I am a historian and not a theologian, but I think the “valid” thing has somewhat expired as an effective argument and we need a new category to understand the sacraments and the way they work. Just saying; again I am not a theologian. Secondly, while matter and form may have been there in these ordinations—and intention to pass on the apostolic succession in the office of priest or bishop (depending on to which office the candidate is being ordained)—when a “sacrament” is celebrated with the intention of fracturing the unity of the Church…. Well, I just wonder. Again, not a theologian but I think the theologians need to do some remodeling of the arguments here. Just saying.
Over the decades since Schuckardt’s renouncing the papacy as sede vacante, that is there being no (valid) sitting pope, sede vacantism has spread among the ultra-kooks in the katholic korral. Some groups like Schuckhardt’s Congregation of Mary Immaculate or a particularly peculiar group (of 2 monks with a handful of followers) known as Holy Family Monastery in Fillmore NY, or Bishop Daniel Dolan (a Lefebvrist run-away) claim that because Paul VI, John Paul I, John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and now Francis were "heretics," there is no true pope and the see is empty (sede vacante). Some sede-vacantists push the claim of heresy/invalidity back to include John XXIII. There are also small groups known as “conclavists” who have decided to fill this supposedly vacant papal office by having conclaves to elect a new pope. A Kansas whack-job named David Bawden, aka “Pope Michael” who was elected “Pope” in 1990 by a conclave of six people (including his mother and father) to fill the chair of Peter left vacant by the aforementioned heretical popes, has a few dozen followers. Bawden is not the only person who claimed a conclave to elect him pope to fill the empty seat. The late Lucien Pulvermacher, a former Capuchin Franciscan friar disgruntled with Vatican II, was elected in the ballroom of a rural Montana hotel in 1998 and took the name Pius XIII. (Some votes were phoned in, a progressive move way beyond the official Catholic Church.) There are several other conclavist claimants in Europe and South America. I had a maiden grandaunt who thought she was Empress of Austria. This sort of thing happens even in good families.
All these various groups—the Congregation of Mary Immaculate People, the Holy Family Monastery folk, the Pope-in-Kansas crowd don’t add up to much over a thousand people. Even the Lefebvrist faction, the Society of Saint Pius X, are really not a force to be contended with seriously, having perhaps 20,000 followers in the United States and perhaps another 30,000 worldwide. With Pope Francis in the Chair of Peter, the left seems mollified. Actually they seem delighted as many felt they were being edged out of the Church in the previous two papacies. (Indeed there were a small number of people who went into groups that formally rejected Church authority such as Spiritus Christi Church or Holy Wisdom Monastery or the Catholic Church of the Beatitudes in Santa Barbara, and a much larger number—in the hundreds of thousands who joined Episcopalian, Lutheran, Methodist and other congregations because they had grown disillusioned with a Catholicism they perceived as having backed away from the Second Vatican Council.) But after the pax benedictina there are grumblings on the right again as there were in the days of Paul VI. Will it come to schism? I would think probably not in the formal sense of a mass movement to an alternative Catholicism, but marginal groups like the Society of Saint Pius X and the more moderate schismatic networks that maintain the old rite and the old catechism will probably draw several thousand of the more neo-traditionalist crowd that find Francis’s directions increasingly troubling. If Pope Francis makes any move limiting the pre-conciliar rites, or permits local bishops to suppress the TLM, that number would be considerably higher though there are probably less that 200,000 American Catholics who regularly attend the Tridentine Mass. A more serious threat would be any significant change on the status of the divorced and remarried. That would be a huge opportunity for the sede vacante groups which I would not be surprised to see triple in size—or even more.I plan to continue this question of the growing tension between the Catholic Right and the Catholic Left in a few more postings and in particular to look at how Pope Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI laid the groundwork—unwittingly—for the divide