Schism in the Catholic Church

While the title of this essay may be controversial, I think it reflects a certain reality currently unfolding before our eyes. I am not writing to “declare” a schism. I have no authority to do so, nor do I need to. The schism has already been declared by the words and actions of many others. I am not attempting to start a schism. Again, I have no authority to do so, nor do I have the charm or charismatic personality necessary for such a task, nor would I even want to do such a terrible thing. Besides, I cannot now start that which was already started long ago. The credit for that goes to others, far more charming and charismatic than I. Rather, I am nothing more than a spirited little child — metaphorically speaking — like the one who dared to cry out “but he isn’t wearing anything at all!” in Hans Christian Andersen’s tale The Emperor’s New Clothes.  I am pointing out only what is obvious to me — a reality that already exists. It is a reality I am surprised so few others see, or refuse to see, or are afraid to see.

Personally, I think the real problem is the last. In Andersen’s tale, the emperor was hoodwinked into believing that two swindling tailors could make for him a garment so splendid that only those worthy could see it. To the foolish, stupid or unworthy, the garment would appear as invisible. Fearing being called out as foolish, stupid or unworthy, the subjects of the kingdom faked their appreciation for the emperor’s splendid garment, which of course none of them actually saw. Only one spirited child dared to speak up and state the obvious. He was mocked at first, but in time all the subjects came to agree, even the emperor himself.

Now, I’m certainly not alone in this. there are other “children” saying the same thing out there. I hear it constantly in private conversation, and occasionally see it on social media. I’m just one more spirited little child among many. All of us saying pretty much the same thing, in various different ways. There is a schism within the Catholic Church.

Now when I say schism, I should probably define what kind. There are two kinds of schism. The first is a formal schism, which is declared. This is called a de jure schism, which is Latin for “in law.” This means a schism is formalised and declared in a legal sense. A good example here would be the de jure schism that exists between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox churches not in communion with Rome. This is not the kind of schism I’m talking about. No formal or legal schism has been declared (yet) so in a formal and legal sense, the Catholic Church remains relatively intact (for now).

The other type of schism is an informal one, which is not legally declared (yet) but exists in practice. This is called a de facto schism, which is Latin for “in fact” or “in practice.” This is the kind of schism that currently exists in the Catholic Church and continues to grow worse with each passing year. While many refuse to admit it, for fear of being called stupid or unworthy, I cannot help but say the emperor has no clothes!

What are the parameters of this de facto schism?

I think my experience as an Anglican is what causes me to see this so clearly, and fearlessly declare it, like that spirited child. I entered Anglicanism in the late 1990s, just as conditions were ripening for another schism within The Episcopal Church (TEC). To be sure, TEC had already endured multiple schisms over the last 30 years, but the one that was about to start centred around homosexuality. Basically TEC was split between those who wanted to condone homosexuality and same-sex “marriages,” versus those who wanted to adhere to the historic and traditional Christian teaching on sexuality and marriage. I saw the writing on the wall in 1999, and so my wife and I left TEC to join the Catholic Church. In just three years since we left, TEC was rocked with an act that would lead to its greatest schism, the ordination of Canon Gene Robinson as Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. Canon Gene Robinson, who now goes by the name “Vicky,” had previously left his wife and children to pursue a homosexual relationship with another man. There was no attempt to hide this scandal with the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire. In fact, it was openly celebrated! Within six years after this event, an entirely new Anglican province appeared as an alternative for traditional and orthodox Anglicans in the United States and Canada — The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). My brief time in TEC was sandwiched between two major schisms, one that happened in the late 1970s following the ordination of women to the priesthood and bishopric, and one that happened in 2009 following the ordination of open and practising homosexuals to the priesthood and bishopric.

In the year 2000, converting to the Catholic Church seemed like a safe and reasonable option to avoid this kind of nonsense. I still believe the Catholic Church continues to provide a safe and much more stable environment in spite of its problems. Sadly, I’m now watching similar events slowly begin to unfold in the Catholic Church, and I’m getting a very strange and uneasy sense of déjà vu. There are three areas driving the Catholic schism, as I see it…

  1. Departure from a traditional and reverent celebration of the liturgy is a significant problem. Now, I’m not a traditionalists Latin kind of guy. I outlined that in a previous essay. I don’t believe the liturgy has to be in Latin to be traditional and reverent. I am a fan of both the Vetus Ordo and Novus Ordo mass when celebrated reverently. However, it is a departure from traditional and reverent celebration (usually in the Novus Ordo mass) that has led to poor liturgical formation (and by extension, poor doctrinal formation) of an entire generation of Catholics.
  2. Practices regarding the reception of Holy Communion are playing a significant role. It started subtly with reception of communion in the hand while standing. Then there was less emphasis on worthy reception and the need to be in a state of grace before receiving. Then there was refusal to implement Canon 915 in the case of pro-abortion politicians and other persons of public notoriety. We are now beginning to see the administration of Holy Communion to members of the Church who are in a state of objective adultery, having legally divorced one spouse and married another, without an annulment. Now there is the emerging practice of distributing communion to non-Catholics who happen to be married to Catholics. The next logical step in this process would be full open-communion to everyone. I believe it is coming.
  3. Confusion over the issues of sexuality and gender will be the final straw that turns this de facto schism into a de jure schism, just like it did in The Episcopal Church (TEC) multiple times. This manifests itself in the form of ordination of women to the priesthood and bishopric, combined with acceptance of homosexuality and same-sex “marriage.” This is the only thing missing making the schism official, and it’s not far off. Many have been clamouring for the ordination of women for decades. While a growing number of Catholics see nothing wrong with homosexuality, gay clergy and same-sex “marriage.” This will be the proverbial “straw that breaks the camel’s back.” Once women start to be ordained, and/or the Church softens its position on homosexuality to the point of virtual acceptance, the de facto schism will become de jure.

I have no idea exactly how this will play out in a historical sense. Nor could I say when. All I can say is there is now a de facto schism in the Catholic Church, and it’s moving toward a de jure schism slowly. I don’t believe it will happen under this current pontificate (Pope Francis), but I think it’s more likely to happen under the next, and if not the next then most certainly the one after that. It won’t matter if the next pope, or the one after that, is liberal or conservative, heterodox or orthodox. It won’t matter at all, because the actions that have been set into motion are no longer dependent on the pope. Indeed, Pope Francis has played a key role in allowing communion for adulterers and non-Catholic spouses, but now that the “ball is rolling” (so to speak) it no longer needs a pope to gather momentum. Even if the next pope, or the one after, forbids these things, the schism will still take place, because in that scenario a great many spouses will be forced to choose between each other and the Church. Once faced with that, we know what the dominant choice will be. A great number of priests and bishops will cave into the will of their parishioners over the pope, because let’s face it, the pope doesn’t pay for clerical pensions but parishioners do.

All of this seems ridiculously obvious to me, and I find it amazing how few people are willing to declare the emperor has no clothes! The Catholic Church is putting on an act really. It’s trying to convince the world that unity exists when it really doesn’t. Here are the facts. In some dioceses, divorced and remarried Catholics can receive communion, without an annulment. In other dioceses they cannot. In some dioceses, non-Catholic spouses of Catholics can receive communion. In other dioceses they cannot. In some dioceses, homosexuality is virtually accepted and celebrated. In other dioceses it is not. This isn’t unity. This is disunity. Yet many in the Catholic Church would have us believe that everything is fine, and unity has never been greater! It’s sort of like the emperor trying to convince his subjects that he’s wearing a splendid garment, when he really isn’t. I’m not accusing anybody of wilful deceit, even the emperor was hoodwinked in Andersen’s tale. The child pointed out the obvious first. Then the subjects, and then finally the emperor himself was the last to know. A similar situation could exist in the Catholic Church.

I am not the least bit worried about the Catholic Church being destroyed by such a schism, because I know it cannot be destroyed. Rather, I think it will be purified, and it will emerge smaller but stronger than any time in recent memory. But I cannot tell you exactly where the lines will be drawn or who will end up on what side.

The only thing I can tell Catholics to do, indeed the best advice I can offer, is to pray. Then get involved in a traditional and reverent Catholic parish that is solidly orthodox and “old-fashioned” in teaching and practice. It doesn’t need to be a Latin Vetus Ordo parish, as there are some good vernacular Novus Ordo parishes to be found, but getting involved in something akin to either is essential. Then pray some more, and work on personal orthodoxy, as well as personal holiness. Beyond that, there is nothing else to do but wait. If you’re doing these things, when the formal de jure schism happens, it will become obvious what to do next.


  1. The idea that Pope Francis “introduced communion to non-Catholics” needs to be laid to rest once and for all. Canon 844.4 of the 1983 CIC already fully empowers bishops and bishops’ conferences to define “grave” situations in which protestants may be admitted to communion without becoming Catholic, or so much as professing the fullness of the Catholic Faith as a whole, except as regards the specific sacrament. Whether you like Marx and his ilk or not, they are acting canonically. So if you want to blame someone, blame John Paul II. The once-univocal relationship between eucharistic communion and sharing the one faith whole and entire is already broken; whatever follows will just be the logical consequences.


    1. John Paul should never have allowed non-Catholic spouses to receive for any resson. This canon law should be rescinded.


  2. To Tom B. Correction. The article does NOT say that Pope Francis ‘introduced’ communion to non-Catholics. The text in question is: “…Pope Francis has played a key role in allowing communion for adulterers and non-Catholic spouses…” One way in which he has played “a key role” is that when he was given the opportunity to boldly and clearly state Catholic teaching, Canon Law and the Norms as to who may and may not receive Holy Communion, he kept silent. He did the entire world-wide church a disservice the day he sent the guidelines about non-Catholics and adulterers receiving Communion back to the German bishops and told them to figure it out for themselves. He did so again when he implied to a woman who was a non-Catholic married to a Catholic that, if in the proper disposition, she could decide for herself whether or not to receive Communion. And Canon Law does NOT give a bishop free rein in defining what constitutes “a grave reason” for a non-Catholic to receive Communion. Like the Pope, he is a guardian and administrator of the laws; he is NOT a creator. Canon Law specifically states: 1. grave reason (definition of grave: dangerous to life); 2. danger of death; 3. no recourse to a minister of his/her own church. If a bishop sets norms that are obviously contrary to the conditions mentioned, he has shown himself to be a self-serving, disobedient and unfaithful shepherd of the faithful entrusted to his care since unworthy reception of Communion is sacrilege, a mortal sin, and which, according to Church teaching, will most likely condemn that soul to hell unless he/she confesses and receives absolution. Oh, that’s right; Protestants don’t have Confession.


  3. Excellent, practical column, Mr. Shaetzel. Thank you for sharing your experiences. The last two paragraphs of the article summed up well what we need to do.


  4. I grew up before Vatican II when personal orthodoxy was the norm; but I didn’t find my personal holiness at that time. Fortunately, at about 30 years old, I found my instruction for holiness in Scripture. It told to cast all of my care on the Lord and to be anxious for nothing in order to get the peace that passes all understanding (1Peter 5:5-7 and Philippians 4:6-7). I was not taught this in Catholic Orthodoxy. This turned me into an unconventional Catholic after a period of agnosticism.
    There are more options in the Catholic Church at this time. This can be good and bad. I wonder if this is unavoidable at this time.


    1. You cannot know God or Jesus unless you are traditional /conservative. All other ways are false.


  5. How to find an orthodox parish in a large town with 6 churches that all try to out do the others with liberal, unorthodox Catholicism? Last week during general inter sessions we prayed for “people on vacation to return rested and invigorated,”


  6. When I lived in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan my wife and I travelled an hour and a half (3 hours roundtrip)to go to a revently celebrated Mass which was the novus ordo.i personally prefer the Latin Mass which we now attend in Arizona. I believe that we have a de facto schism existing where a smaller and smaller group practices Catholicism or what is known as the Deposit of Faith.

    Some quotes:

    “We shall find out at the day of judgment that the greater number of Christians who are lost were damned because they did not know their own religion.” – St. Jean-Marie Vianney

    “A priest goes to Heaven or a priest goes to Hell with a thousand people behind.” – St. Jean-Marie Vianney

    St. Athanasius who was excommunicated by Pope Liberius became the 1st Doctor of the Catholic Church and who was known as the Father of Orthodoxy stated “The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of Bishops.”


  7. “Who is going to save our Church? Not our Bishops, not our priests and religious. It is up to the people. You have the minds, the eyes, the ears to save the Church. Your mission is to see that your priests act like priests, your bishops like bishops and your religious act like religious” – Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen


    1. The Deposit of Faith that regulates everything is Sacred Scripture. Vatican II, in Dei Verbum 21 says: “Therefore, like the Christian religion itself, all the preaching of the Church must be nourished and regulated by Sacred Scripture.”
      The Church, in the fourth century, had the foresight to compile its earliest writings into a single volume called the Bible in order to provide future generations with authoritative writings to keep us in line. We now have easy access to them. It was not always this way. We can now evaluate for ourselves how much of historic Catholicism is in line with Scripture. I value this availability.


  8. Very well written Shane! And your allegory is… so … apropos.

    Aiello 01 – hello. That is my maternal grandparent’s name from Italy.

    On All Saint’s Day our local pastor used to play “When the Saints go Marching In” on the saxophone in the entrance procession. That encouraged quite a gleeful raucous.
    During Advent he used to scoop up a stuffed toy from the “Toys for Tots” basket in the vestibule – like Bullwinkle, or Mickey Mouse, and puppet it at the congregation during the entrance – and even sit it on the Ambo. It got lots of clapping and laughing from everyone.

    We decided to drive the two hours to an Eastern Rite Catholic parish that has a very reverent Liturgy. No messing around there. They don’t puppet toys at you for laughs. They call you to the salvation the Messiah has purchased for us with His blood.
    Through the prayers of the Mother of God, may our Savior save us!!


  9. to Aiello: it is not up to you and me and Martin Luther to decide “how much of historic Catholicism is in line with scripture”. It is our job to submit our minds and wills and hearts to the teaching of the Holy Catholic Church. Careful, sir, you sound close to slipping into the heresy of protestantism, as it appears to me (and great article, by the way, Shane).


    1. Would this latest change in the catechism constitute a change in teaching of Holy Catholic Church? The Bible is a good thing to have handy in times like these, and at any other time. It may be a good thing to reexamine 2000 years of developed doctrine in light of Scripture because of what the pope just did.
      We can all participate in checking whether Catholic teaching is being regulated by Sacred Scripture. “And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:10-11)


  10. Hi Peter Aiello
    The passage you quote is one often quoted by the Barean Sect, however it does not assert your doctrine of “checking aginst Scripture”. The ancient Bereans in the passage, after reading the OT, submitted to the teaching authority of the Church and St Paul, thus the passage illustrates the Church as final authority. Are you a member of the Berean Sect Peter?


  11. We have this problem because very few people challenged these dissenters publicly back during the 60s and 70s. It was kept private and the gave Father or bishop so and so a benefit of a doubt.


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