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At multiple times throughout the Church's 2,000 years, schisms have erupted, and adherents to these schisms first develop and then come to embrace the idea that the Church is in error about one thing or another, and they want no part of that error. So they break away and believe themselves to be breaking away from error, and, therefore, they are the true Church.
They refer to themselves in many ways: "The Remnant," "Eternal Rome," this or that "Catholic Church" — but they are all schismatic. Most famously, even the Eastern Orthodox fall into this camp. When Church historians, in fact, reference the "Great Schism," it is the 11th-century schism with the Orthodox that is being talked about.
When it comes to heresy, most often they eventually leave the Church — although they have remained somewhat stubborn about that in recent decades. But historically, they leave, and, over the ensuing generations, Catholics no longer have any kind of relationship with them. They simply left. They no longer even claim anything Catholic, at least in substance. There might be some overlap, but the differences are pretty stark. They are a different religion, distinct from Catholicism.
But when it comes to schism, an entirely different aspect is at play. It's not that they so much leave but stick around and claim a legitimacy they do not actually possess. They keep the Catholic shingle hanging above the entrance to the door, but inside the store — not so much. This is where a type of seduction comes into play. It looks Catholic, and in some way, still is — valid sacraments, for example, but what could be called a "breakaway mentality" has set in, and that rules the day.
The approach they have and present is sometimes found in the political realm when, for example, Ronald Reagan types will say, "I didn't leave the Democratic party. The Democratic party left me." That certainly rings true in politics but in the Church — not so much. In fact, it's impossible. The world of politics does not enjoy the promise of divine protection the Church does.
It is, of course, true and more than substantiated by the current crisis that the Church can be in shambles — a veritable dumpster fire because of mistakes or wickedness or bad calls, etc., by Her individual leaders. They can be cowards or malicious or greedy or just weak men or even massively naive — and their actions can have horrible effects on the life of the Church as it is lived out, understood and even believed by the faithful.
But it is never true that the Church can cease to be the Church. Yet this is what we could call the seduction of schism. In claiming to embrace and hold all that the Church teaches and professes over and above scoundrel bishops, they end up denying the authority of these same bishops. So, in truth, they really don't believe everything the Church teaches because they don't believe that. They end up operating as their own church, in effect, which is exactly what has happened with dozens and dozens of schismatic groups just in the past century or two.
The Society of Saint Pius X certainly does not hold a copyright on schism. In fact, in a historical analysis, they're actually a little late to the game. The SSPX emerged in the carnage of the aftermath of the Second Vatican Council and were eventually declared to be in schism. They still are. Even though, like all schismatics, they still have valid sacraments, just like the Eastern Orthodox possess valid orders and sacraments.
But the First Vatican Council, a hundred years earlier, had its own breakaway schismatic group: the Old Catholic Church. They rejected Vatican I — and they are still around. So historically, there's nothing new or even exceptional about the SSPX and its approach, nor the approach of the laypeople who support it.
Schisms and heresy and so forth have a long, sad history in the Church and each one was characterized, ultimately, by the hardheaded, never-compromise, lack-of-humility attitude that the Church had abandoned her mission, and we are the loyal sons of the Church, maintaining tradition and the teachings — all, of course, except for that one about authority. Sound familiar?
The very sad part of this, aside from the obvious, is schisms maintain a veneer (at least) of Catholicism. In this way, they are seductive. Because they have not renounced the Church (in fact, just the opposite of heretics) they can draw unsuspecting souls into them, and those souls can labor under the delusion that they are in the Church.
And schismatics have a zillion and one proofs or reasons why they are the real Catholics, and Rome no longer is. Those arguments all sound reasonable to people who don't know much or (at least) enough to retort with the other side. And schismatics are experts at setting up the Church's position in a straw man manner and then destroying it. But that, of course, is not intellectually honest.
Whether a person is a schismatic or a heretic, they all have good intentions — at least at the start. They all believe what they are doing is justified and right. And that morphs into a pride and arrogance that are then transmitted through successive generations. It's why schisms, in particular, are almost never come back from. In the end, because they look Catholic, they are just as dangerous as heresy and, one could argue, even more.
A schism takes on a life of its own and develops the character of a church. The SSPX, for example, will not accept a priest who was ordained in the post–Vatican II Church. They conditionally ordain him because they do not believe (or at least entertain a very serious doubt whether) his ordination was valid. Talk about a serious problem right there. Likewise, they have their own marriage and annulment courts apart from Rome.
Schisms grow and develop and take on a life of their own. They beget an attitude of exclusivity even to fellow baptized Catholics. They develop their own hierarchy. They doubt a priest is a priest and a couple that is sacramentally married is married, for example. And yet, for the uninformed, they look Catholic. That's the seduction.
In fact, we'd wager it's far easier to convert a Protestant who clings to heretical ideas, often without knowing it, than a schismatic who rejects out of hand that the Church is the actual Church and alone possesses the authority to speak. Many Protestants typically embrace the notion that authority resides in Scripture and your own personal interpretation as befits you — "the-Holy-Spirit-told-me" kind of thinking.
If they can be shown that authority resides in the Church — Who produced the Scriptures — now you can begin to make some headway. But for the schismatic, no such argument is possible. They embrace, not personal authority, but the authority of the breakaway group and its "infallibility." That is a very different horse you're dealing with.
What really is a shame these days, given the ability for all this misinformation to spread via the internet and social media, is that Catholic media types refuse to talk about all this. And the reason is because many of them actually support the schism for a variety of reasons (ideological as well as financial). And since they support schism — carry the water for it — and will not discuss the grave danger to souls, they should not be listened to, even if some of what they are saying is correct.
When they are saying correct stuff, they certainly aren't the only ones saying it. There are plenty of resources — hundreds in social media — speaking the truth about all sorts of things in the culture and the world. Catholic internet types talking about politics or health issues and policy issues who don't really possess any expertise in those given areas are doing that to lure people in by presenting themselves as knowledgeable and reasonable, so when they switch to matters of the Church and the Faith life, they will be afforded that same level of respect, when they don't actually deserve it.
Too many Catholic media types just stay mum on their support of schism and rejection of the Second Vatican Council as a legitimate council. They refuse to answer your questions because it provides them a certain cover. Why not debate these issues openly and live? Church Militant is happy to do so. Why not allow your underpinnings to be questioned? Why not go directly on the record and lay your cards on the table?
Is Francis the pope? Do you accept the determination of the last three popes that the SSPX is in schism? Was Vatican II a legitimate council? All yes-or-no questions. Yes, there is much to discuss, falling from those questions, but the questions themselves are very straightforward. Media have an obligation to present the truth. Covering up your position and keeping it out of the public's eye is not honest.