February 20, 2002
volume 13, no. 33

A Tale of Two Schisms
part one of two

by Christopher A. Ferrara

One schism is illusory, and harms no one, while the other is quite real and deadly. Guess which one the neo-Catholics condemn?

      "There are people who in the face of the difficulties or because they consider that the first ecumenical endeavors have brought negative results would have liked to turn back. Some even express the opinion that these efforts are harmful to the cause of the Gospel, are leading to a further rupture in the Church, are causing confusion of ideas in questions of faith and morals and are ending up with a specific indifferentism. It is perhaps a good thing that the spokesmen for these opinions should express their fears."
      Pope John Paul II, Redemptor Hominis
      The following is provided by Michael J. Matt, editor of The Remnant and gives more meaning to the confusion resulting from the Campos Compromise last month. Chris asks Neo-Catholics (conservatives) to consider what really is schism and which group are they persecuting more. Is it a group that remains filially obedient to the Primacy of Peter or is it a group that has totally rejected the Holy See of Rome? The former is the Society of Saint Pius X, while the latter is the Chinese Patriotic Catholic church. Yet, even with Ecclesia Dei, neo-Catholics still persist in accusing those who uphold the ideals of SSPX while ignoring the rebellion of a group that is truly schismatic.

    Dr. Thomas Woods and I are putting the finishing touches on a book defending the traditionalist position against attacks from within the neo-Catholic (a.k.a. “conservative” Catholic) current of the Church that has arisen since the Second Vatican Council. One of the points we make in the book is that neo-Catholicism is a defense of novelty rather than Catholic doctrine as such. That is why when neo-Catholics claim that traditionalists “dissent from the living Magisterium” or “reject Vatican II” they are never able to formulate their accusation in terms of Catholic doctrine.

    An amusing example of this problem is Peter Vere’s recent article in The Wanderer wherein this proud possessor of a freshly-minted canon law degree imperiously informs us as follows: “I conclude a diocesan bishop may declare as schismatic an author who publicly resists the Second Vatican Council…” [1] 1. The Wanderer, November 22, 2001 p. 4 How exactly does one “resist” the Second Vatican Council? Did the Council generate some kind of ecclesiastical force- field to which Catholics must submit, as if to the ministrations of a hypnotist? What teaching of Vatican II does Vere claim traditionalists are “resisting”? What does Vatican II require Catholics to believe which they had not always believed before the Council? The answer is nothing, of course. What traditionalists have prescinded from are novel practices, notions, attitudes and ecclesial policies of the post-conciliar epoch, none of which are properly the objects of Catholic faith.

    For example, there is the “ecumenical venture,” an ill-defined and hitherto unknown ecclesial policy in which no Catholic can be compelled to believe as if it were an article of faith. Self-appointed authorities like Vere know so little about the subject that they are unaware of Pope John Paul II’s own teaching that traditionalist objections to the ecumenical venture have their place in the Church, even if the Pope does not agree with those objections. As His Holiness observed in his encyclical Redemptor Hominis (1979):

    "There are people who in the face of the difficulties or because they consider that the first ecumenical endeavors have brought negative results would have liked to turn back. Some even express the opinion that these efforts are harmful to the cause of the Gospel, are leading to a further rupture in the Church, are causing confusion of ideas in questions of faith and morals and are ending up with a specific indifferentism. It is perhaps a good thing that the spokesmen for these opinions should express their fears."
    But not according to the eminent Mr. Vere! If demagogic traditionalist-bashers like Vere would only think about it for a moment, they would realize that it is quite impossible for a Catholic to “dissent” from such things as the “ecumenical venture” in the sense of being unfaithful to binding Catholic teaching. Are traditionalists less than Catholic because they strenuously object to and refuse to participate in common prayer with pro-abortion Protestant ministers or prayer meetings with rabbis, muftis and shamans, as the Pope has done? Obviously, this kind of activity can never be imposed upon Catholics as an obligation of their religion. The Holy Ghost would not allow it.

    Because they are essentially defenders of novelty, the neo-Catholics are more or less practical liberals, objectively speaking, whether or not individual members of the neo-Catholic current subjectively understand this. Not even the neo-Catholics can genuinely deny that Saint Pius X would have blasted the innovations they have swallowed without a whimper of protest. The thing speaks for itself.

    Being liberals of a kind, neo-Catholics evince the inconsistency that marks all forms of liberal thought in the socio-political realm. The socio-political liberal is inconsistent because his thinking is not axiological (based on first principles) but rather positivistic, basing its conclusions upon naked human will as expressed in the reigning Zeitgeist. The neo-Catholic is to some extent an ecclesial positivist, who inconsistently defends today precisely what he condemned yesterday - altar girls and common prayer with heretics, for example - simply because the post-conciliar Zeitgeist has allowed such innovations to exist.

    One of the inconsistencies of socio-political liberalism is its tendency to demonize figures of the Right, such as Joseph McCarthy, while turning a blind eye toward, and even praising, certifiable demons of the Left, such as Mao Tse-tung, whom the liberal press lionized as an “agrarian reformer.” There is an analog of this particular liberal inconsistency within the Catholic Church today. I mean the absurd disparity between the neo-Catholic approach to the so-called schism of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, and the truly manifest schism of the communist-controlled Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) in Red China.

The Putative Lefebvre Schism

    On June 30, 1988, Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops without a papal mandate - an offense which, under Canon 1382, carries the penalty of excommunication, subject to various excuses from culpability under Canons 1321-23. One of these excuses is that the offender acted out of necessity or to avoid grave inconvenience.

    Another is that the offender sincerely believed, however mistakenly, that his action was justified and he was thus not subjectively culpable for the offense. Given the current chaotic state of the Church, Lefebvre argued that his action was necessary to preserve some semblance of Catholic tradition. I do not take up that defense here, but merely note three things:

  • First, that the defense of necessity was raised by the Archbishop, and that, right or wrong, His Eminence no doubt acted with a good intention, as envisioned by Canons 1321 and 1323.
  • Second, the penalty for illicit episcopal consecrations under Canon 1381 is latae sententiaeľthat is, automatic and without need of a formal declaration by ecclesiastical authority. However, the effects of the penalty become much more severe if the penalty is then declared by ecclesiastical authority. (Canon 1331) For one thing, the declared penalty cannot be remitted by a confessor in situations of urgency, outside of the danger of death. (Canon 1357)
  • Third, the 1983 Code of Canon law nowhere provides that an illicit episcopal consecration constitutes in itself the canonical crime of schism. In fact, Cardinal Castillo Lara, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Authentic Interpretation of Canon Law, admitted to La Reppublica that “The act of consecrating a bishop (without a papal mandate) is not in itself a schismatic act…” [2] 2. La Repubblica, October 7, 1988. (Cardinal Lara claimed that Lefebvre was guilty of schism before the 1988 consecrations, for which claim he offered not the slightest proof.)
    As we know, the Vatican’s reaction to the Lefebvre consecrations was immediate: On July 2, 1988, only two days later, the Pope issued his motu proprio 'Ecclesia Dei', which declares that “Archbishop Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law.” The motu proprio went even further than what the cited canon provides, declaring that “such disobedience - which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy - constitutes a schismatic act.” Yet the canonical admonition sent to Lefebvre before the consecrations had contained no indication that his action would be deemed schismatic, and the only possible penalty cited was that of latae sententiae excommunication. The result was rather like being charged with only one offense, but then convicted of two. The motu proprio also warns that “formal adherence to the schism is a grave offense against God and carries the penalty of excommunication decreed by the church's law.” But the term “formal adherence” is nowhere defined. Later, however, the Vatican made it clear in particular decisions that mere attendance at an SSPX chapel in Arizona is not an act of schism, nor even recourse to an SSPX bishop for the sacrament of Confirmation at an independent chapel in Hawaii. [3] 3. I am referring to Cardinal Ratzinger’s decision in the case of the “Honolulu six,” and the letter from Msgr. Perl, Secretary of the Ecclesia Dei commission, to one Joseph Rebbert, dated September 28, 1999 under protocol no. 539/99, which is published at in the “Documents” section. Perl’s letter even allows that Catholics who do not know any better can contract valid marriages and receive absolution at SSPX chapels, despite SSPX’s lack of canonical jurisdiction, because the Church would supply jurisdiction in the case of inculpable ignorance.

The Neo-Catholics Helpfully Expand the Penalty

    While the motu proprio applied the excommunication and the delict of schism by name only to Lefebvre and the four priests he consecrated, since then, true to form, neo-Catholic commentators at EWTN, The Wanderer and elsewhere have with great alacrity denounced as “schismatic” not only Lefebvre and the four bishops he consecrated, but all the priests of the Society of Saint Pius X, any member of the faithful who frequents their chapels, and anyone who defends Lefebvre’s actions. The neo-Catholics have even coined the terms “Lefebvrist” and “Lefebvrism” to stigmatize “extreme traditionalists” in general.

    Thus, in the case of Lefebvre we have the following: an immediate declaration of excommunication, and, going beyond what the express terms of the Church’s law provide, the declaration of a schism; the unauthorized extension of those delicts by neo-Catholic organs to an entire class of Catholics who are not at all embraced in the original motu proprio; and, for good measure, the demonization of Archbishop Lefebvre and all his followers and sympathizers. Yet there is no question that those whom the neo-Catholics denounce as 'Lefebvrists' - including the bishops, priests and laity actually affiliated with SSPX - possess the Catholic faith and follow the moral teaching of the Church, as even Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos admitted in the course of the recent negotiations toward “regularization” of the SSPX. Further, “Lefebvrist” priests and bishops profess their loyalty to John Paul II and pray for him at every Mass, along with the local ordinary.

    In fact, the Vatican’s private approach to SSPX would indicate that the “Lefebvre schism” is illusory, and is really nothing more than an internal disciplinary problem of the Church. For example, as Cardinal Cassidy admitted in a letter of March 25, 1994, the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity “is not concerned with the Society of Saint Pius X. The situation of the members of this Society is an internal matter of the Catholic Church. The Society is not another Church or Ecclesial Community in the meaning used in the Directory.”

The Schism of the “Catholic Patriotic Association” of China

    Fast forward to January 6, 2000. On that date the Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA) illicitly consecrated five bishops - one more than Lefebvre - without a papal mandate. The Red Chinese regime created the CPA in 1957 to replace the Roman Catholic Church in China, which it declared illegal and drove underground, where loyal Chinese Catholics have been forced to worship ever since, following the example of their spiritual father, the great martyr Cardinal Ignatius Kung. Including the five bishops illicitly consecrated on January 6, 2000, since 1957 the CPA has illicitly consecrated one hundred bishops without a papal mandate. What is more, unlike the four SSPX bishops consecrated by Archbishop Lefebvre, the CPA bishops dare to assert territorial jurisdiction over sees from which the communists drove the legitimate bishops of the Catholic Church.

    The CPA constitution requires express disavowal of allegiance to the Roman Pontiff. As the Kung Foundation points out: “The Patriotic Association’s own fundamental and explicit principle is autonomy from the Pope’s administrative, legislative, and judicial authority” - the very definition of schism under Canon 751. By comparison, the SSPX professes its acceptance of papal authority and has entered into papally-ordered negotiations for regularization as an apostolic administration directly under the Holy Father. (As Cardinal Hoyos told the press, Bishop Fellay said to him that “when the Pope calls we run.”) And while there is no question that Archbishop Lefebvre’s acts constituted disobedience to a particular papal command, disobedience in particular matters is not in itself schism, which is defined by rejection of the papal office itself: “However, not every disobedience is a schism; in order to possess this character it must include besides the transgression of the commands of superiors, denial of their Divine right to command.” (Catholic Encyclopedia) But since denial of the Pope’s right to command is the founding principle of the CPA, it is undeniably schismatic by definition. CPA bishops swear their allegiance not to the Pope, but to Premier Jiang and the Red Chinese regime, of which they are pawns. Thus, in 1994 the CPA bishops issued a “pastoral letter” calling upon Chinese Catholics to support China’s population control policies, including forced abortion, and, as the Cardinal Kung Foundation notes, “the Patriotic bishops passionately denounced the Holy Father’s canonization of the 120 Chinese martyrs on Oct. 1, 2000.”

    In short, the CPA is a communist-created, communist-controlled, blatantly schismatic, pro-abortion organization founded by the devil himself, acting through Mao Tse Tung and the Red Chinese regime, now headed by “Premier” Jiang. Accordingly, in the performance of his apostolic duty, Pope Pius XII issued an encyclical denouncing the CPA as an assault on the integrity of the Catholic faith and the Mystical Body:

    "For by particularly subtle activity an association has been created among you to which has been attached the title of ‘patriotic,’ and Catholics are being forced by every means to take part in it.     "This association - as has often been proclaimed - was formed ostensibly to join the clergy and the faithful in love of their religion and their country, with these objectives in view: that they might foster patriotic sentiments; that they might advance the cause of international peace; that they might accept that species of socialism which has been introduced among you and, having accepted it, support and spread it; that, finally, they might actively cooperate with civil authorities in defending what they describe as political and religious freedom. And yet - despite these sweeping generalizations about defense of peace and the fatherland, which can certainly deceive the unsuspecting - it is perfectly clear that this association is simply an attempt to execute certain well defined and ruinous policies …

    "For under an appearance of patriotism, which in reality is just a fraud, this association aims primarily at making Catholics gradually embrace the tenets of atheistic materialism, by which God Himself is denied and religious principles are rejected."[4] 4. Ad Apostolorum Principis, June 29, 1958

    Pius XII went on to condemn the CPA’s illicit consecration of bishops as “criminal and sacrilegious,” declaring that CPA bishops had no authority or jurisdiction whatsoever, and were subject to a latae sententiae excommunication, reserved to himself.

Next Week: part two - The Neo-Catholic Double Standard

Your email:
Your name:
E-mail it  to:

For previous articles regarding matters that affect the Ecclesia Dei commission, see Archived installments

Wednesday, February 20, 2002
volume 13, no. 33
Exspectans exspectavimus Ecclesia Dei
Return to Current Issue