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Rumors Of Schisms

A Catholic priest wearing a saturno, which, according to Pope Francis, is dressing like a girl (Alessia Pierdomenico/Shutterstock

Pope Francis continues his crackpot war on Catholic traditionalists. Vatican Radio presents a transcript of a talk he just gave, in which he once again lit into one of his favorite targets, the alleged “rigidity” of more traditional priests:

About rigidity and worldliness, it was some time ago that an elderly monsignor of the Curia came to me, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus – and he told me that he had gone to buy a couple of shirts at Euroclero [the clerical clothing store in Rome] and saw a young fellow – he thinks he had not more than 25 years, or a young priest or about to become a priest – before the mirror, with a cape, large, wide, velvet, with a silver chain. He then took the Saturno [wide-brimmed clerical headgear], he put it on and looked himself over. A rigid and worldly one. And that priest – he is wise, that monsignor, very wise – was able to overcome the pain, with a line of healthy humor and added: ‘And it is said that the Church does not allow women priests!’. Thus, does the work that the priest does when he becomes a functionary ends in the ridiculous, always.

Yeah, so that’ll work: insulting a young priest by telling him he dresses like a girl. What a pope. Who would have thought a Roman pontiff would ever pathologize tradition? Vatican II is the gift that keeps on giving. Note this exchange from a recent interview with Edward Pentin, a journalist who covers the Vatican. You might recall Pentin’s name as the journalist whose recorded comments proved Cardinal Kasper a liar during the 2015 Synod on the Family:

REGINA: The Pope’s comments on ‘rigid’ young Catholics. What’s that all about?

Edward Pentin: The common view in Rome is that his ‘rigid’ comments are simply aimed at wearing down so-called “conservative” or traditional Catholics so that orthodoxy gradually disappears, and he can push through his reforms. That’s not necessarily the case, of course, but that is how it is being perceived in some quarters. Of particular concern to some has been the Pope comments in this regard which he has made in reference to seminaries as they see it is as plot to weaken orthodox priests from the start, especially in the area of conscience and sexual morality. It’s just one of many other acts made during this pontificate which has led to the disaffection of a large number of practicing Catholics. But it seems that seminarians, especially in the UK and US, tend to understand what’s happening in today’s Vatican and are trying to uphold the Church’s teachings and Tradition. And in trying to make sense of it all, they see it in a positive sense: of clarifying and uncovering what has long been seen as a veiled schism that’s existed at least since the end of the Second Vatican Council.

Also on the schism front, to the East, the Ecumenical Patriarch has asked the Orthodox Archbishop of Greece and the head of the Synod there to excommunicate bishops and others who opposed the Council he called in Crete this year. The Russian Orthodox Church declined to participate in it. Given that the Russian church contains at least half of the world’s Orthodox Christians, that’s a big deal. The Moscow patriarchate has not accepted the council’s decisions as binding on all Orthodox. The EP is not like a pope, and doesn’t have papal powers of governance, but he is, or is supposed to be, a unifying figure in world Orthodoxy. Prof. Tighe suggests that the EP’s move here could be a step towards fulfilling this prediction from the Russian Orthodox philosopher Vladimir Soloviev, written in 1895:

It is obvious that there are questions on which the Russian Church could and ought to negotiate with the Mother See [i.e., Rome], and if these questions are carefully avoided it is because it is a foregone conclusion that a clear formulation of them would only end in a formal schism. The jealous hatred of the Greeks for the Russians, to which the latter reply with a hostility mingled with contempt — that is the fact which governs the real relations of these two national Churches, in spite of their being officially in communion with one another. But even this official unity hangs upon a single hair, and all the diplomacy of the clergy of St. Petersburg and Constantinople is needed to prevent the snapping of this slender thread. The will to maintain this counterfeit unity is decidedly not inspired by Christian charity, but by the dread of a fatal disclosure; for on the day on which the Russian and Greek Churches formally break with one another the whole world will see that the Ecumenical Eastern Church is a mere fiction and that there exists in the East nothing but isolated national Churches. That is the real motive which impels our hierarchy to adopt an attitude of caution and moderation towards the Greeks, in other words, to avoid any kind of dealings with them. As for the Church of Constantinople, which in its arrogant provincialism assumes the title of “the Great Church” and ‘the Œcumenical Church,’ it would probably be glad to be rid of these Northern barbarians who are only a hindrance to its Pan-Hellenic aims. In recent times, the patriarchate of Constantinople has been twice on the point of anathematizing the Russian Church; only purely material considerations have prevented a split.

About the only non-contentious thing anybody can say about all this is that these are momentous times for the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches.

UPDATE: Just returned from the Sunday liturgy at my parish. It was a beautiful time, so rich, with God so near and present. I thought about how very important the local church is. Without question these doings at the pinnacle of the churches, East and West, are very consequential, but in the end, it’s the local church that’s most decisive in our lives. In the new book of interviews with Peter Seewald, Pope Benedict XVI says that we can’t deny that we are entering into a new era, a post-Christian culture (though he doesn’t use that term, he does speak of the “de-christianization” of Europe — a process that’s well underway in the US too). It is a culture that is “more and more intolerant of Christianity.” Benedict says that believers cannot take anything for granted anymore, and must “strive all the more to continue to form and to bear the awareness of values and the awareness of life. A resolute faith among individual congregations and local churches will be important. The responsibility is greater.” [Emphasis mine]

I was heartened to see those words from the Pope emeritus, but also challenged by them. In The Benedict Option, I talk about how important it is to build up the local church, and one’s own parish, or to find and join a parish where people take the countercultural demands of Christianity seriously. This has always been important for believers, but as Pope Benedict indicates, it is much more so. This is a solemn responsibility, because the faithful at the local level will be carrying more weight. This is why I keep saying: do not wait for your bishop, your patriarch, your pope, your priest, or any representative of the institutional church to get his act together before you act yourself. To be sure, for us Catholics and Orthodox, we must not act against the church. What I’m saying is not to be the kind of Christian I used to be: somebody who sat around complaining about all the failures of the priests, the bishops, and everybody else, but never taking responsibility for my own role as a member of the church to pitch in and help out.

It’s very easy to get fixated on what’s happening in Rome, or Constantinople, and so forth. But in most cases, what happens in either place is not going to make the difference in the life or death of the faith in your heart and in the hearts of your family and your neighbors like what happens — or fails to happen — in your local church. Especially in this new era.

UPDATE.2: A Catholic reader writes in support of Francis. I have changed certain aspects of this e-mail at the reader’s request, to protect his privacy:

Having worked for the Church for almost twenty years, I have seen many problems from the left and the right. Each side needs to be held in check (indeed, the left-right bit is a non-ecclesial construct).
The left is dead. They don’t all know it yet, but they died.

Francis is not really a leftie in my opinion. His emphasis on working directly with the poor is his real gift. I know way too many conservatives wax eloquently about the need to help the poor but do not know them personally. The same goes for lefties.

My children go to a traditional Catholic school that de-emphasizes racism to a ludicrous degree. The people clearly do not even know many poor people. It leaves a horrible kind of Catholicism in its wake. It is a classical education school that does not deal well with truth. It is still far better school than any public school, but that is where the poor are. Public schools are totally against children and the family. (Read Gatto’s “Underground History of Education”?)

When Francis makes fun of people dressing up he is absolutely on point. I have seen what a traditionalist bishop can do in a diocese. In a diocese I’m familiar with, the traditionalist bishop totally destroyed the local church’s ability to evangelize people on the left. That bishop also has no sense for the poor. As ugly as it was under the previous left-wing bishop, the people of that diocese at least had a chance to talk to people without being seen as buffoons, which they now are, thanks to the way the current bishop has spoken and acted.

Francis ripping into the silliness of traditionalists is unlikely to change them, but he is calling a spade a spade. I am worried about Francis’ marriage discussion, but I think he wants more localism in a global world. Whether or not that is possible is up for debate, but I trust his intentions. We need an orthodox church that is with, on a daily basis, the poor. Silly dress is an insult to the poor. What you see as a smack in the face to traditionalists is in fact a much needed needle to the puff of pride.

Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch (Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock)
Bartholomew, the Ecumenical Patriarch (Ververidis Vasilis/Shutterstock)

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. A veteran of three decades of magazine and newspaper journalism, he has also written three New York Times bestsellers—Live Not By Lies, The Benedict Option, and The Little Way of Ruthie Lemingas well as Crunchy Cons and How Dante Can Save Your Life. Dreher lives in Baton Rouge, La.

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