20 October 2015

"Schismatic Mentality" and St. Catherine of Siena

St. Catherine of Siena, pray for the Church and for the Holy Father.

When one investigates the Society of St. Pius X, one tends to come across the phrase "schismatic mentality" a lot.  The phrase designates something about the SSPX: a sense of separation from the Church at large, and a reluctance to submit to the Pope on all questions.

So far as I can tell, based on listening to Bishop Fellay and reading Abp. Lefebvre, the attitude of separation and resistance is real, though it is intended mainly as a separation from sacrilegious practices and heretical doctrines, rather than from the Church at large or submission to the Pope.

Standing on the outside of the SSPX, it's hard for us to understand why the people associated with the Society have this so-called "schismatic mentality".  It's easy to write them off as being cultish, paranoid, obsessive, and lacking in charity.  In the past few days, though, the phrase has returned to me and I've thought again about what's really at the root of the "mentality" of the SSPX.

On Saturday the Pope delivered a discourse on his plans for the structure of a new "synodal Church".  Along with the escalating panic surrounding the Synod of Bishops, the scandalous opinions of numerous high-level clerics, and the general sense that Francis sides with the party of Kasper and has all along, this has left me feeling a lot of sadness and fear about the future of the Church.

The Church of Francis, the one Francis envisioned, with its new directions "discerned" by the faithful under the supposed guidance of the Holy Spirit, with its devolution of authority, its democratic leveling, and its preference for sentimentality and mollification over the hard, unchanging truths of the Gospel—this is not the church I belong to.  This is not the Church I was baptized into.  I was baptized into the Church of Christ.  While Jorge Bergoglio is no doubt a kindly man with a generous spirit, he is a wicked pope: worse in outlook and in tendencies than the liberal Paul VI, whose pontificate was an utter disaster.  By his fruits we know him: scandal, confusion, the emboldening of heretics, the elevation of the faithless, the trivialization of the sacred. . .

Yet this man, despite all his imprudence, and confusion, and preferential treatment of the wicked, is still the Vicar of Christ.  And because he is the Vicar of Christ, he still deserves our reverence and, so far as it is possible without sin, our obedience.

But Francis is very blessed— the Church he envisions, the one he described on Saturday and has been nudging us all toward for the past two years, is not the Church he belongs to either.  And while he is the Head Steward of the house Christ built, he has no authority to rebuild it.  For this reason, even if the Pope starts preaching heresy openly, and advocates the devolution of authority to the point where the Church is thrown visibly into chaos—even then, the true Church will remain in the midst of it, and Francis, though stained by error and imprudence, will remain its visible head.

St. Catherine, who lived through the tumultuous years of the Babylonian Captivity, under a series of imprudent popes, and who died just after the outbreak of the Great Schism, said that "Divine Providence is always present in the Church.  But it is most evidently present when the Church is suffering."  Francis may abuse the flock and scatter it, but Christ will gather it together more deeply in the midst of the confusion, with a supernatural firmness that comes only through grace.

Where does this leave the SSPX and their "mentality"?  I think as time goes on, assuming Francis stays the course and allows things to continue their descent into chaos, we will all be able to sympathize more with the situation of the SSPX, even though we must remain obedient.  St. Catherine said that we should have pious reverence for Christ's vicar, even if he is an "incarnate devil" (and by most accounts, toward the end of her life he was).  Perhaps this means that we should acclimate ourselves to the piety appropriate to a pope who is also visibly damaging the Church—without pretending that he is not damaging the Church.

Now is the time to pray for the Pope and to deepen your knowledge of Catholic tradition. And if you can, imitate St. Catherine by writing letters of exhortation and correction to the Holy Father.

His Holiness, Pope Francis 
Apostolic Palace 
00120 Vatican City 

Who knows whose voice God might use to help him change his mind?