So it’s official now. Everything is a mess. The Catholic Church is in complete and total chaos. Civil war is erupting among the bishops. Some bishops are about to go under federal investigation. Some are trying to get out of the country. The pope has been credibly accused of knowingly covering-up, and even rewarding, a serial sexual abuser. The pope has also chosen to remain silent and not answer the accusations against him. The federal government is considering implementing RICO statutes against the U.S. Catholic Church. There is talk of international police intervention with the Vatican. It’s 2018 and the Catholic Church is literally imploding before our very eyes.
A lot of Catholics are worried and don’t know what to expect next. I don’t have the answer to what happens next, because I don’t have a crystal ball, but I do have logic, and I’ll tell you what my guess is. I see any one of the these four possible scenarios playing out over the next six months to two years. These are the four possibilities as I see them. Again, I can’t predict the future. I don’t have a crystal ball. This is just what I see as the four logical future possibilities based on the current situation as of today…
- Pope Francis could launch an internal investigation and thus present irrefutable evidence proving his innocence in all of this and thus bring some stability to the papacy at least, although the Vatican will still be in turmoil, as will national bishops conferences and many regional dioceses.
- Pope Francis will simply resign for the good of the Church, with or without an admission of guilt. This would be the most merciful solution, as it would spare the Church from possible schism and could result in the election of a new pope that might deal with this problem more effectively.
- Pope Francis will continue to remain on the Chair of Peter, refusing to answer questions, and obstruct justice as much as possible, while continuing to make pronouncements and decrees that add to the confusion. If the pope decides to take this route, it will almost certainly result in a schism.
- Pope Francis will remain in office and simply do nothing. The bishops in turn will simply let this play out with law enforcement, and gradually the credibility of the papacy itself will be ruined for generations. Pope Francis will then die at a ripe old age and a new pope will be elected, whom nobody will really listen to, because the moral credibility of the papacy will be trashed. Under this scenario, the papacy would be reduced to nothing but an administrative office, good only for making bishops and canonizing Saints. The moral teaching authority of the pope would be gutted. His popularity would vanish.
On the topic of schism, there are multiple ways a schism could happen. The pope could simply become a tyrant and begin excommunicating any bishop who dares to question his innocence. Since so many bishops are now calling for an investigation of the Vatican, that would mean a lot of excommunications. If that happens, the pope himself would effectively be creating a Church outside of the Church, and that would be a type of de jure schism similar to what happened to the Eastern Orthodox churches. I think this scenario is highly unlikely.
Another way a schism could happen is through an “Imperfect Ecumenical Council” of the world’s bishops. It’s called “imperfect” because the council is not called by the pope and he would likely have no part in it. Such a thing cannot happen under canon law. It operates outside of canon law and follows a historical precedence. Such an Imperfect Ecumenical Council was called in the Council of Constance (1414 – 1418) which ended the Western Schism when three men claimed the papacy. Two of the men who claimed to be pope resigned, and the third one, John XXIII (not to be confused with the 20th century pope by the same name) was deposed by the council. The council did not seem to concern itself with the canonical legality of the deposition, but simply did so by its own authority. So the precedence exists in history, but not necessarily in canon law. I’m neither advocating such a thing nor opposing it. I’m just saying it already happened once before in Church history, so it could happen again.
The Council of Constance ended with the election of a new pope (Martin V) which ended the Western Schism and gave us the line of popes we all recognize today. So if it were to happen again, I suspect such an Imperfect Ecumenical Council would likely end with the election of a new pope.
What about the issue of an anti-pope? In such a situation, I would suspect that the newly elected pope would declare the previous pope an anti-pope if he still maintained his claim to the Chair of Peter. Likewise, I suspect the previous pope would also declare the newly elected pope an anti-pope. Mutual anathemas would be exchanged, etc. Bishops would just have to line up and choose which pope to follow. Once that’s done, we have a full de jure schism — a very unfortunate circumstance.
Personally, I think unless the bishops in Africa decide they’ve had enough, I don’t see an Imperfect Ecumenical Council happening. It seems to me that they are the only group of bishops with enough chutzpah to get the ball rolling on such a thing, and without their full support such a council would be dead before it started. So if an Imperfect Ecumenical Council is to happen, look to Africa for the cues. Otherwise, I don’t see it happening at all. Basically, Pope Francis would have to really stir things up with more pronouncements and decrees that cause all kinds of doctrinal confusion, before the African bishops would even consider it.
So if #3 doesn’t happen, and #1 is unlikely, then we are left with either #2 or #4. These two options are dependent entirely on Pope Francis’ actions, and at this moment there is no way of knowing what he will do. We can hope and pray for him to do #1. At this point, however, that seems highly unlikely.
So, in the face of not knowing, what do we do? The following is a list of my own recommendations, and I think if we follow them, we’ll know the right thing to do when the time comes…
- Pray the rosary every day.
- Frequent the sacrament of confession and get as much sin out of our life as possible.
- You can sign a petition formerly requesting that Pope Francis authorize an investigation into the Vatican. This petition will get to him, because it will be given to the current apostolic nuncio to the United States.
- Don’t give any money to a bishop unless he publicly says that bishops who cover up sexual abuse should resign. If he can’t say it publicly, he’s probably part of the problem, and he shouldn’t get a dime of our donations.
- Find a liturgically traditional parish and go there. I’m talking about a parish where people kneel to receive the Eucharist, and the liturgy is done in an old-fashioned way. It doesn’t have to be in Latin, but it should be very reverent. Support this parish with your attendance, prayers and donations.
- Encourage your pastor to challenge the parish with homilies that are orthodox and touch on the difficult moral topics of our time.
- Make friends with other Catholics in your traditional parish, develop support networks, and talk about what’s going on in the Church with them.
- Don’t broach the subject of the Church crisis with non-Catholics, but if they bring it up with you, assure them that whatever pain or confusion they’re feeling over it, it’s far worse for Catholics. If you need help, refer them to this article I wrote.
- Don’t leave the Church. That’s a Protestant solution not a Catholic one. Besides, running away from the Church never solved anything. You’ll just be, proverbially speaking, jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. Trust me on this. I used to be a Protestant. I know. Leaving the Catholic Church is no solution.
I believe that if we do these things, we will put ourselves into a good position regardless of whatever happens with Pope Francis and the Church-wide crisis. We will put ourselves into a position where it will be much easier to know what to do when the time comes. We will put ourselves into a position where it will be much easier to do the right thing. We will have eliminated much of the confusion in our faith, and we will have clarity of mind and heart. It simply won’t matter which scenario above happens, because we will be right with God and allied with our Lady.