Today in the National Catholic Reporter, columnist Michael Sean Winters argues that the biggest threat to the unity of the Catholic Church (especially in the U.S.) is the expansion of a highly visible and well-organized movement that opposes Pope Francis and seems determined to split the Church in two. He even goes on to suggest that the highest priority for the USCCB’s November meeting should be developing a response to the question, “To what degree are the seeds of a de facto schism being sown within the U.S. church?”
That question is very close to the heart of WPI, and this website is in many ways a response our response to it. But we are just a small group of lay Catholics, and while most of us are deeply engaged in the life of the Church, we lack the finances and platform to sound this alarm in the way that bishops other prominent Catholic leaders could. In many quarters of what has been described as the Church’s “sanity caucus,” Catholic leaders believe that the most effective way to address anti-papal extremism is to ignore it, and to avoid “giving them a platform.” Unfortunately (and Winters now agrees), they have built prominent platforms for themselves. Thanks to well-funded publishing operations and media outlets, as well as the cooperation (if not open support) of accommodating bishops, more and more well-intentioned and ordinary Catholics have been sucked into the anti-Francis Vortex.
Those who are in public leadership of the Church and stand with Pope Francis must begin to address the dangerous narratives that have drawn in so many of the faithful. Those who have been consuming the onslaught of American Catholic media against the pope–without ever hearing the other side of the story–are not to be entirely blamed. Many of these Catholics are devoted, well-meaning, and sincere. Additionally, I know many hardworking priests and religious who are too busy in their ministry and pastoral work to consume much of this media, but their friends and parishioners have forwarded Lifesite and Crisis Magazine articles or Church Militant videos to them. After a while it has an effect.
Due to the lack of an effective response to this propaganda, we’ve reached a point where some of them can’t even conceive of a faithful Catholic enthusiastically loving and supporting Pope Francis. To them, we’re all modernist liberals who want to take down the Church. This isn’t because they’ve actually read Francis’s documents or balanced opposing views. It’s because they’ve been pulled into an ideological mindset, and are largely unaware that there’s even another side to the story.
How extreme have they become? Winters writes:
I do not believe that any bishop, not even the bishop of Rome, is beyond criticism. But what makes this Faithful Shepherds website so nefarious, and indeed what makes LifeSiteNews and other conservative outlets so nefarious these days, is that fidelity is defined as being in opposition to the pope. They do not cite a single instance in which agreement with the pope is a mark of fidelity. Silly me. All these years, I thought being in communion with the successor of Peter was a significant mark of Roman Catholicism.
Canon 751 of our Code of Canon Law says, “Schism is the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.” Yet some Catholics think that if there is any schism at all, they are on the truly “Catholic” side of it while Pope Francis and those loyal to him are the schismatics. The idea is simply and radically absurd. A pope can’t go into schism against himself! Where Peter is, there is the Church, after all.
That said, some of these extremists seem to have recognized the extreme cognitive dissonance that it takes to believe that the pope is the one in schism.
To be continued….
Mike Lewis is a writer and graphic designer from Maryland, having worked for many years in Catholic publishing. He’s a husband, father of four, and a lifelong Catholic. He’s active in his parish and community. He is a founding editor for Where Peter Is.