Like many I have been eyeing the rumors that Pope Francis’s completed (but yet released) post-synodal exhortation will open the doors for “integrating” those in “irregular situations” back into the Catholic Church. No one expects the doors to be flung open, just cracked a bit. Even if that proves true, however, the chances are high that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Catholics living openly in various states of mortal sin will feel emboldened, and perhaps even encouraged, to participate in the sacramental life of the Church without repenting, amending their ill ways of life, and trying—like all of us—to sin no more.
Two years ago I found myself in a mild panic over what the first “Extraordinary Synod on the Family” might lead to. Following that sorrowful event, I felt convinced that the time had come for all Catholics of good will (traditional, conservative, whatever) to set aside their sometimes acrimonious differences in order to struggle for the good of Holy Mother Church and the upholding of her indefectible teachings on marriage, the family, and human sexuality. In an October 2014 post, “A Step Toward Disarmament,” I swore off using the polemical neologism “neo-Catholic” on Opus Publicum and hoped traditional Catholics might fully suit. Not surprisingly, that didn’t happen. A brief perusal of almost all high-profile traditional Catholic websites and blogs indicates that things are as bad ever as far as Catholic internecine strife is concerned. According to traditionalists, “neo-Catholics” are naïve, ill-informed, blind, dangerous, etc. because they continue to deny that the Church is in a state of crisis—a crisis exacerbated by the words and actions of Pope Francis. “Neo-Catholics” or, rather, contemporary conservative Catholics by and large believe that while the Church is facing serious troubles, traditionalist rhetoric, with its lack of charity and open hostility toward the Holy Father, is neither helpful nor accurate. Traditional Catholics are the “Chicken Littles” of the Church and their hyperbolic declarations need not concern a single serious soul.
While I too often find myself cringing at the vitriol pouring out of publications like The Remnant and One Peter Five, I can’t help but disagree with their overarching point—one often made by the leadership of the Society of St. Pius X—that the Mystical Body of Christ is undergoing its Passion and that like the Apostles themselves, we do not know what to make of it. How can it be that the Church should suffer so? Did not our Lord Jesus Christ promise that the gates of hell would not prevail? And yet if you look sobermindedly at the Church today, it is impossible to deny that the devil has crept aboard the Barque of St. Peter and is misleading it through a storm right into the rocks.
Some will say that the Church has always had trials, and this is true. The Arian Crisis, Iconoclasm, the Great Schism, the Reformation, and so on and so forth have presented great challenges to the life and integrity of the Church and yet in the end the Church prevailed. By faith all Catholics believe that the Church will prevail this time as well, but it is so incredibly difficult to see how. Traditional Catholics are right to remind all that demons are only driven out through prayer, repentance, and fasting, but they could stand to be reminded now and again that faith, hope, and charity rather than scorn, mockery, and derision are essential as well. With respect to conservative Catholics as a whole, I sympathize deeply with their desire to remain truly hopeful for the future and to work for the preservation of the Faith in the face of innumerable intellectual, historical, and political challenges, but there comes a point when it is necessary to call a spade a spade or, in this instance, a crisis a crisis and to fight—truly fight—against Christ’s enemies, no matter what guise they may appear in.
I occasionally wonder if Eastern Catholics feel the crisis in the Church as acutely as Latins do. Given that so many have fought, suffered, and died for the Faith for centuries, it is entirely possible that the present Eastern ecclesiastical consciousness is now hardened against the understandable fears and worries which plague many in the Church today. The Catholics of the Middle East haven’t the time to squabble over budgets, carnivals, and The Vatican II Hymnal. Their churches are not oriented around bourgeois values and petty pious posturing; they are literally built on the blood of martyrs. The Greek Catholic churches, many of which were nearly wiped out during the last century, produced some of the most outspoken voices for the Truth of Christ at last year’s painful installment of the “Extaordinary Synod.” Latin Catholics sometimes lament that they have been left without shepherds, but there are icons of the Faith in the East to be found to this day, lay and clerical alike. By their example—and by the prayers of their martyrs—the Church Universal can and will be saved.