From theSmall logoarchives - Published from 1982-96, Fidelity magazine was the predecessor of  Culture Wars.

Fidelity logosHow I Won the Debate

By E. Michael Jones

From the October 1993 issue of Fidelity magazine

As events like this go, it was a big crowd.  And it was a partisan crowd as well.  Let's face it, there is only one group of people in the world who thinks that the topic, "The Society of St. Pius X is in Schism," is debatable and that is the Society itself.  Schismatic groups have this peculiar characteristic: they never consider themselves in schism.  Eventually they all travel the same trajectory, whose end point is always the same.  We, the schismatic group tells itself, are the true Catholic Church, the true Church of Christ (however you want to phrase it) and they, meaning the almost 1 billion people who in fact do belong to the Church are in fact the real schismatics.  They (say, "the Novus Ordo Church" or some such appellation) have defected from the faith of history and are now imposters.  We (meaning the SSPX) will go on courageously preserving "tradition" (of course, as we define it) until we are vindicated by history and in effect the Novus Ordo Church admits that we were right all along.  I was to hear all of this from my opponent before the night was over, but I was also to get unexpected confirmation of my thesis that the SSPX was in schism as well.

My position, as my remarks make clear, was that the issue of schism was essentially theological and not legal.  Mr. Davies, my opponent, on the other hand, attempted to pose the issue in purely legal terms. The case of Mr. Davies is a sad one.  He seems like a sensitive fellow who is not quite comfortable being where he is, doing what he is doing.  At the beginning of his remarks, he seemed unsure of himself, in fact, a little nervous.  His hands were shaking: he confused what he had to say repeatedly and then claimed to be the victim of jet lag.

Yet as the evening goes on he seems to gather strength from the reaction of the crowd, which has very definite ideas of what it wants to hear.  They want to hear that Archbishop Weakland is a bad man; they want to hear innuendo about the bishop of Honolulu, and, of course, Mr. Davies is only to happy to oblige.  And the more the crowd reacts favorably to his pandering the more emboldened he becomes, working himself and the crowd into a frenzy of mutual self-congratulation.  "Thank God for Archbishop Lefebvre," et cetera; that sort of thing.  The crowd roars back its approval of what it wanted to hear in the first place, namely, that they and not the group who follow the pope in Rome are the real Catholic Church and that they will eventually be vindicated by history, when Rome at some unspecified date finally admits that they were right all along.  It was religious consumerism with a vengeance, as bad as anything you might see at the Medjugorje conference at Notre Dame.  The Lefebvrites have an especially bad case of itching ears.  They love Mr. Davies because he scratches them just where they itch, and if they say a little bit farther down and to the right, Mr. Davies is only to happy to oblige.  Mr. Davies gives them reasons to feel that they are right, and the people in the Society reciprocate by giving him money and attention.  It is a symbiotic relationship in which every one comes away happy, but one which unfortunately lacks any contact not only with Rome but with reality as well.  It is the spiritual equivalent of co-dependency.

Davies, as I said, tries to portray the whole issue from a legal point of view, arguing first from the necessity defense, then plea bargaining so that his client might be convicted instead of the lesser offense of disobedience rather than schism, and then attempting to get the whole case dismissed on a technicality by claiming that the Pope didn't understand the code of canon law and, beyond that, that three unnamed canon lawyers agreed with Mr. Davies in this regard.  The crowd, of course, was not what you might call disinterested observers in this debate.  If Davies was wrong, then they were in deep spiritual doo-doo, and so they reacted in a way to assure Mr. Davies that he was not wrong.  And Mr. Davies reacted to them in a way as to assure them that they were right.  The one fed on the other.  The more Davies pandered, the louder the crowd cheered.

My position, as I indicated earlier, was that behind any legal designations was the thing itself.  Schism was refusal to obey the pope and refusal to maintain communion with those who remained in communion with them.  This refusal to maintain communion was the essence of schism and it had grown for years under Archbishop Lefebvre unto it gradually suffused the whole society and the writings of Mr. Davies as well.  In his article "Who is Schismatic?" Davies wonders:

"One also feels bound to ask how much confidence one can place in the resolution of a Pope who maintains communion with Archbishop Weakland and who surrendered so abjectly to the pro-Hunthausen lobby in the American hierarchy."

After citing the above quote in my talk, I asked, almost rhetorically but in a way that was directed at Mr. Davies himself, "Is the pope tainted by maintaining communion with Archbishop Weakland?"  The crowd, however, evidently understood the question as directed at them.  No sooner were the words out of my mouth, than they roared with what seemed one voice, "Yes."

I rest my case.

One wonders if St. Augustine ever got such immediate confirmation of what he was trying to say from the Donatists.  Whether he did or didn't, the crowd decided to prove my point for me that night.  Schism pervaded not only the Society and the writings of Mr. Davies, it pervaded the hall as well.  The only thing lacking was intellectual consistency.  The crowd would maintain that the pope was tainted, and that they were therefore justified in breaking communion with the Pope but they would not admit that was schism.  Mr. Davies abetted them in their evasion although he would not admit that the pope was tainted.  In this he was no less schismatic than the crowd he pandered to, only less forthright.

What follows is the text of my opening remarks.  Tapes of the debate are available through Fidelity. I encourage our readers to check my impressions against their own.

Resolved: The Society of St. Pius X is in Schism

We are here tonight to debate a simple proposition.  Is the Society of St. Pius X in schism?  Yes or no?  In another healthier age this would be tantamount to debating whether the sun rises in the east every morning.  But the fact is we do not live in another age nor is our age known for its spiritual health.  In this regard this debate here tonight reminds me of a debate which took place not too long ago at the University of Notre Dame between Father James T. Burtchaell C.S.C. of the University of Notre Dame and former Father Daniel Maguire of Marquette University in Milwaukee.

The topic was abortion, whether it was right or wrong, whether the Church opposed it, which struck me then as a little bit like debating whether the sun set in the west every evening.  That debate was not a sign of health for the Catholic Church in this country.  It was a sign that Catholic academe had become so contaminated with the categories of liberalism as practiced in this country in this century that a proposition that has been a part of the Catholic tradition since the writing of the Didache -- that abortion was an unspeakable crime to use the formulation condemning it in the second Vatican Council -- a proposition that should have been as obvious to them as "Good is to be pursued and evil avoided" or "A thing cannot both be and not be the same thing in the same place in the same time and manner" had suddenly become debatable.  The fact that the debate took place at all was a sign of how great the apostasy of the Catholic intellectuals is in this country's Catholic colleges and universities.

The fact that we are here tonight is another bad sign.  In fact, there are remarkable similarities between that debate then and this one now.  The fact that we are debating at all is an indication in the first instance of Catholic academe's defection from the Church, and in this instance of the deep divisions that are rending the unity of the Church as a result.  In healthier times, no one would have referred to a solemnly pronounced motu proprio given by the pope as debatable.  But, as I said before, these are not healthy times.  Liberalism is the last modern ideology of our century.  Nazism, Communism, and Fascism along with a whole host of other ideologies have all marched off into the dust bin of history.  But liberalism, as the last election in this country showed, has a hold on this country and in many ways on the world as a whole.  Liberalism, the modern ideology peculiar to this country, is much more widespread than one would imagine.  It would be unfair to blame only the universities, although they are surely guilty of apostasy in this regard.  Even the defenders of "traditionalism" have adopted its rhetoric as of late.

In a recent letter to the editor, Mr. Davies, my opponent in this debate, announced that "the Society [of St. Pius X] is in no way schismatic and I do not have the least scruple in assisting at its masses."  In addition to being dismayed at his defiance of the clear words of the Pope, I was struck by the uncanny similarities between "traditionalism" as practiced by the Society of St. Pius X and the rhetoric of liberalism as practiced by Professor Maguire and groups like Catholics for Free Choice.  Both Davies and Maguire were proselytizing for a position in direct defiance of either faith or morals, and both when faced with the insurmountable mountain of evidence against them fell back on the rhetoric of liberalism to make their point.  Professor Maguire would claim that Catholics of good will could disagree on whether abortion was wrong.  Mr. Davies takes the same tack on the position of schism.  "The status of the Society of St. Pius X," Mr. Davies opines, "is a matter concerning which there can be a legitimate difference of opinion."  In his pamphlet I Am With You Always, published in 1986, Mr. Davies tells us that the faithful "have the right to refuse to obey (the Pope) if they are convinced in conscience that a particular command will harm rather than build up the Mystical Body."

This is the rhetoric of Catholics for Free Choice, but it brings with it a number of unanswered questions in its wake.  Just how do we know that the Society is "convinced in conscience" any more than Catholic for Free Choice is?  Both groups are adamant in telling the Pope he is wrong on something.  Both groups posit criteria for disagreement that reveal themselves to be nothing but subjectivism.  In essence both Catholics for Free Choice and the Society of St. Pius X are, first of all, telling us that private judgment is equal to the authority of the pope in matters of faith and morals and, secondly, that this liberal notion is somehow compatible with the Catholic faith.

My position, which I hope to show is the Catholic position, is clear.  First of all, schism is in its way every bit as bad as abortion.  Secondly, the Society of St. Pius X is in schism.  Thirdly, if they are not then there is no such thing as schism and fourthly that in presuming to be traditional in defiance of the wishes of the pope, Mr. Davies and the Society are not only committing the grave sin of schism, they are also in an uncanny fashion succumbing to the very liberalism they claim to oppose by making private judgment the ultimate criterion in matters of religion.

But let s get back to some basic definitions first.  First of all what is schism?  Mr. Davies implies more than once that only a person who denies that he is subject to the pope is guilty of schism.  He contrasts this with what he terms mere disobedience, where the person refuses to do what the Pope orders.  In an article in the Christian Order which appeared in November 1982, Davies claims that "If anyone denies that he is subject to the Supreme Pontiff . . . he is schismatic."  In a letter to the editor which appeared in Daily Telegraph of July 6, 1988 he writes that "a Catholic who for some grave reason, on a matter not involving faith or morals, feels bound in conscience to disobey the pope in a particular instance without wishing to sever himself from the Church or deny the authority of he Pope, cannot be said to be in schism."

These definitions are, as they say, interesting, but they are totally the creation of Michael Davies.  As before, Davies puts heavy emphasis on the subjective.  In true liberal fashion he claims that the subjective state of the person committing the act is more important than the ontological status of the act itself.  If the person believes sincerely that there is a state of emergency in the Church or does not question the authority of the pope then the act of schism is not present.

That is Mr. Davies position.  But what is the position of the Catholic Church?  Canon 751 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law states that schism is the refusal of submission to the roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.  In case Mr. Davies finds the 1983 Code tainted with the spirit of Vatican II, I draw his attention to Canon 1325 of the 1917 code which states that "if anyone refuses to be subject to the Supreme Pontiff or if he refuses communion with those members of the church who are subject to him he is schismatic."  And if Mr. Davies feels that the 1917 code is hopelessly tainted by proximity to the twentieth century I refer him to St. Thomas Aquinas.  In the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas defines schism in the following manner: "Schismatics are those who refuse obedience to the Sovereign Pontiff and who refuse to communicate with the members of the Church subject to him." (Summa Theologiae, IIa, IIae 39)  This formulation is almost verbatim the definition we find in the 1983 code which brings things full circle and shows that on a matter as basic as schism the Church has maintained a remarkable consistency throughout the centuries.  It also shows that Mr. Davies definition is unique to Mr. Davies.  There are no subjectivist escape clauses in the Church's definition of schism.  The Church from earliest times has maintained adamantly that there is no justification whatsoever for breaking communion with the Church, "even" as St. Augustine says "on the admission of evil and sacrilegious men."

All of the definitions of schism proposed by the Catholic Church share two points in common.  Schism entails either refusal to obey the pope or refusal to remain in communion with those who remain subject to him.  It is important to keep this essential definition in mind because in discussing the status of the Society of St. Pius X, Mr. Davies invariably treats schism as if it were exclusively a legalistic issue.  It is not.  Behind the term lies the thing itself, a refusal to obey and communicate which is the ultimate sin against the unity of the Church, and as St. Augustine says a sin against charity.

In his definition of schism, Mr. Davies tries to have it both ways.  In this he is just like Archbishop Lefebvre himself.  He claims that the pope has authority, but he refuses to obey, invoking some higher law.  Now while it is true to say that not every act of disobedience is an act of schism, schism is not avoided by paying lip service to the authority of the pope and then going on to disobey him anyway.  Some acts of disobedience are so grave that committing them threatens the unity of the Church.  Such acts are acts of schism and while the subjective state of the person committing them is important in judging culpability, it in no way changes the magnitude or gravity of the act itself.  Nor does it change the acts ontological status.

Consecrating a bishop without the permission of the Holy Father is just such a grave attack on the unity of the Church.  According to Canon 1382, "a bishop who consecrates someone a bishop and the person who receives such a consecration from a bishop without a pontifical mandate incur an automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication reserved to the Apostolic See."  Aquinas writes that "the essence of schism lies in rebelliously disobeying the commandments (of the Church): I say rebelliously because the schismatic shows obstinate scorn of the Church's commandments and refuses to submit to her judgment.

According to Davies explanation, Archbishop Lefebvre was not guilty of schism because he sincerely believed that it was necessary for the health of the Church.  This is a bit like saying that abortion is not wrong if the doctor who aborts the child is sincerely convinced that it is necessary for the health of the mother.

What Davies is proposing here is the theological equivalent of the fundamental option.  According to this theory an action is only a serious sin if the person committing it wills to destroy his relationship with God.  We all know and I think that Michael Davies would agree that this essentially subjectivist notion is not compatible with the position of the Church.  Some acts are so intrinsically disordered -- so evil if you will -- that committing them breaks the person's communion with God regardless of whether that is the person's explicit intention or not.  The gravity of the action is not affected by the subjective state of the actor only his culpability is.  If we transpose Mr. Davies' theory about schism to the moral realm for a moment it becomes clear that he is in effect telling us that if the person was acting out of sincere motivation an abortion would not be the taking of innocent life.  The subjective intentions of Archbishop Lefebvre may gain him some benefit before the judgment seat of God -- for all we know the man may have been in his dotage during the negotiations with the Holy See.  This is the impression I got from Cardinal Gagnon -- but it does not change the objective gravity of what he did here below.  It does not change the fact that his act was schismatic by any reasonable definition of the term.

But is the Society really in schism?  How can we be sure?  It seems obvious that, according to canon law, Archbishop Lefebvre and the four he consecrated were excommunicated.  In an article which appeared in the Angelus in December 1990, Davies claims that "If such a consecration is an intrinsically schismatic act it would always have involved the penalty of excommunication.  In the 1917 Code of Canon Law the offense was punished only by suspension (see Canon 2370 of the 1917 Code).  Pope Pius XII had raised the penalty to excommunication as a response to the establishment of a schismatic Church in China.  The consecration of these illicit Chinese bishops differed radically from the consecrations carried out by Mgr. Lefebvre as the professed intention was to repudiate the authority of the Pope, that is, to deny that he has the right to govern the Church, and the illicitly consecrated Chinese bishops were given a mandate to exercise an apostolic mission.  Neither Archbishop Lefebvre nor any of the bishops he has consecrated claim that they have powers of jurisdiction.  They have been consecrated solely for the purpose of ensuring the survival of the Society by carrying out ordinations and also to perform confirmations.  I do not wish to minimize in any way the gravity of the step taken by Mgr. Lefebvre.  The consecration of bishops without a papal mandate is far more serious matter than the ordination of priests as it involves a refusal in practice of the primacy or jurisdiction belonging by divine right to the Roman Pontiff.  But the Archbishop could argue that the crisis afflicting the Church could not be more grave and that grave measures were needed in response."

I quote Mr. Davies at length here for a number of reasons.  First of all to point out factual inaccuracies.  The fact is that the Society did consecrate a bishop in Campos, Brazil with explicit powers of jurisdiction.  Secondly, every bishop by the simple fact that he is a bishop is given the mandate to exercise an apostolic mission.  That is what a bishop does.  Thirdly, every time the Lefebvrite bishops perform a consecration or their priests hear confession or say mass they violate the code of Canon law and the unity of the Church by flagrant disregard of the bishops whose jurisdiction they violate.  Mr. Davies himself admits this but invariably justifies it by appealing to Archbishop Lefebvre's intentions which will forever remain a mystery to us.

What we have here is a combination of psychological subjectivism -- Lefebvre's act is essentially different from that of the Chinese bishops because of his intention -- and legalism.  Davies discusses the matter of schism almost exclusively from a legalistic perspective.  That is certainly one way of discussing schism but it is not the most important issue.  Since schism is a sin against religion and charity the major issue is theological.  The legal simply ratifies what was already in effect theologically.  It does not, as in the case in criminal proceedings create it by its deliberations.

Davies discussion of the case is also complicated by the fact that the notion of law he falls back on is not the Church's notion of the law.  Davies acts like a clever lawyer for the defense who can't get his legal strategy straight.  Half the time he argues for the necessity defense and then without proving that conclusively he tries to win the case on a technicality.  After first attempting to show that what Archbishop Lefebvre did wasn't really schism, because he felt the situation justified it, Davies goes on to give the impression that Archbishop Lefebvre hasn't been read the ecclesiastical equivalent of his Miranda rights, and therefore, not only that he should go free -- a moot point now -- but also that there was no schism in the first place because his man got sprung on a technicality.  Count Capponi, taking another tack in the matter, argues that the new code of canon law is so inadequately formulated that no one can be convicted of anything anymore.

Both men betray a faulty idea of the role which law plays in the life of the Church.  Church law is, in this regard, completely unlike constitutional law because it is derived from a completely different idea of authority.  In the American Constitution, the people get together and grant sovereignty to the government under certain closely specified terms.  If those terms are violated, the law has no hold.  If they are violated repeatedly, the people have the right to replace whoever it is in their opinion who is not enforcing the constitution.

The authority of Peter, unlike the authority of President Clinton, comes directly from God.  The pope does not receive power to govern from the populace according to norms specified in the constitution or code of canon law.  He is not bound by the code: the code is bound by him.  He precedes the code both historically and metaphysically. In the dogmatic constitution Pastor Aeternus of the First Vatican Council, the Church specified in no uncertain terms that "primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church of God was immediately and directly promised and given to Peter the Apostle by Christ the Lord."  This power is emphatically not "a primacy of honor merely," the type of sovereignty Davies concedes to the pope when he gives lip service to the his authority but denies the obedience which should follow from it.  The power of Peter is more than that.  It is not delegated to the pope by the Church or any council, or we might add any code of canon law. It is "immediate."

"This power," the fathers of Vatican I continue, "obligates shepherds and faithful of every rite and dignity, both individually and collectively, to hierarchical subordination and true obedience, not only in matters pertaining to faith and morals, but also in those pertaining to the discipline and government of the Church throughout the world; so that by maintaining with the Roman Pontiff unity of communion and unity in the profession of the same faith, the Church of Christ may be one flock under one supreme shepherd.  This is the teaching of Catholic truth.  No one can deviate from it without danger to faith and salvation."

From this, it follows that "a decision of the Apostolic See, whose authority has no superior, may be revised by no one, nor may anyone examine judicially its decision."  This decree of Vatican I has been embedded in Canon 333 of the 1983 code which states, that "there is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman pontiff." (para. #3).

Nowhere in this discussion is there any notion that the pope is somehow subjected to the authority of the code of canon law, much less as Count Capponi indicates, handcuffed by its inadequacies.  In this sense Archbishop Lefebvre won't be sprung on a technicality because Church law simply doesn't function that way.  President Clinton is not above the law of the land but the pope is very emphatically above the law of the Church and he most certainly cannot be bound by any alleged inadequacies in the code.  If someone is acquitted of a crime, that crime did, in effect, not exist, at least with regard to that person.  That is, of course, a legal fiction but it is a legal fiction which safeguards citizens against arbitrary use of power on the part of their government.

There is no court of appeal higher than the pope.  His decision is not undone by an interpretation which disputes his decision based on necessity or the parlous (fraught with danger or risk; hazardous) state of the Church or anything else.  Mr. Davies proposes all sorts of principles but none of them are found in the teaching of the Church in regard to schism. In schism as in abortion there are no exceptions.  One is never allowed to break the unity of the Church any more than one is allowed to taken the life of the unborn.  In the case of Church law as specified in Pastor Aeternus, Archbishop Lefebvre is in schism if the pope says he is and that mirabile dictu is precisely what the Pope said.

I don't want to belabor the obvious but I suppose under these circumstances I will have to.  On July 2 1988 Pope John Paul II stated solemnly that Lefebvre's act of consecration was an act "of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the Church such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated.  Hence such disobedience -- which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy -- constitutes a schismatic act." (his emphasis)

The pope here cites canon 751 which we have already cited, as the Church's definition of schism.

"In performing such an act," the Pope continues, "notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on June 17 last, Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard N. Williamson and Alfonso de Gallareta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law."

The pope here cites canon 1382 which we have already cited.

Every statement here is completely consonant with the code of canon law, but even if it weren't, it would still be a valid statement and Archbishop Lefebvre and company would still be excommunicated and the Society would still be in schism.

Schism is not just something that is established by legal fiat.  It doesn't come into being because the jury pronounces a certain verdict, as lets say, manslaughter in a criminal trial.  Schism precedes the edict which solemnly defines it.  The Society of St. Pius X had been behaving in a schismatic manner for years before the consecrations.  The fact that they hadn't been solemnly separated from the Church sooner is more a function of the Church's patience than the Society's attitude toward the Church.  The consecration of bishops was the line beyond which the Church would not permit the discussion to go.  Lefebvre defied the pope on the grave matter and the schism was denounced formally according to the procedures established by the Church.

But let's remember schism is not just refusal to obey the pope.  It is also refusal to maintain "communion with the members of the Church subject to him."  In this respect schism is not something that happened on the last day of June in 1988.  Schism is something which grew and grew over years and gradually suffused the entire Society as it became more and more estranged from Rome and more and more convinced that it alone was the "visible Catholic Church" as Archbishop Lefebvre himself said shortly before his death.

Schism gradually began to suffuse the writings of Michael Davies as well.  I'm not talking about his ecclesial plea bargaining here.  I'm talking about the underlying attitude that made the plea bargaining necessary in the first place.  Mr. Davies felt compelled to get Archbishop Lefebvre off on a lesser charge, disobedience not schism, as if the final verdict had some sort of ontological (relating to or based upon being or existence) hegemony (preponderant authority or influence especially of one nation over others) over the act itself.  It did not.  The schism was there long before the pope pronounced on it.  It was there long afterwards as well and it is readily apparent in the writings of Mr. Davies himself.  In his article "Who is Schismatic?" he wonders:

"One also feels bound to ask how much confidence one can place in the resolution of a Pope who maintains communion with Archbishop Weakland and who surrendered so abjectly to the pro-Hunthausen lobby in the American hierarchy."

Since we are here face to face tonight we get to ask the question directly: Is the pope tainted by communion with Archbishop Hunthausen?

This is a very old question really.  St. Augustine put it to the Donatists, the schismatics of his age, and he never got an answer.  What Mr. Davies implies here is clear.  The Pope is tainted by communion with Archbishop Weakland, and we by extension are tainted if we maintain communion as well.  Therefore, according to Davies, we must break the unity of the Church in order to maintain doctrinal and moral purity.  When all the legal plea bargaining and amateur psychologizing is stripped away, this is what remains, and this attitude expressed by Mr. Davies is the quintessence of schism.

Mr. Davies is a schismatic.  And the society is schismatic as well.  And all those who support the Society are in schism and therefore excommunicated from the Catholic Church.  Anathemas is how the people at Vatican I would have phrased it.  "Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre," wrote Bernard Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, "notwithstanding the formal canonical warning of 17 June 1988 and the repeated appeals to desist from his intention has performed a schismatic act by the episcopal consecration of four priests, without pontifical mandate and contrary to the will of the Supreme pontiff, and has therefore incurred the penalty envisaged by . . . the Code of Canon Law."

But that is not all that Rome has to tell us on the matter.  "The priests and faithful," Cardinal Gantin continues, "are warned not to support the schism of Monsignor Lefebvre, otherwise they will incur ipso facto the very grave penalty of excommunication."

This is the Church speaking now.  She is saying nothing more than what she has said for her entire history.  Breaking the unity of the Church is never justified.  It is to religion what abortion is to the moral law.  Anyone who appeals to private judgment to justify such an act is not only wrong; he is also a liberal.  As Cardinal Ratzinger wrote to Archbishop Lefebvre on 28 July 1987, "by producing your own interpretation of the texts of the Magisterium, you would paradoxically display the very liberalism which you have combated so strongly and you would be acting against the aim you are seeking."  When it comes to Mr. Davies and Archbishop Lefebvre, the disciple is not superior to his teacher, nor the slave to his master.  The philosophy at the heart of the Society of St. Pius X is not "traditionalism;" it is pick-and-choose liberalism.

That was Cardinal Ratzinger six years ago (1987).  Sixteen hundred years ago, St. Augustine had virtually the same thing to say, when he claimed that "it is a manifest rule that one ought in no wise by the establishment of a separate communion to secede from the Catholic communion, that is from the body of Christians throughout the world, even on the admission of evil and sacrilegious men...."

Needless to say, there was a state of emergency, in Mr. Davies sense of term in existence back then as well.  But no state of emergency and no amount of evil and sacrilegious men in the Church ever justifies defying the pope on a matter this grave or breaking the bond of unity with those who maintain communion with him.  "If the communion of wicked men destroyed the Church in the time of Cyprian," St. Augustine write to the Donatists, "they have no source from which they can derive their own communion; and if the Church was not destroyed, they have no excuse for their separation from it."  The Church is not destroyed, nor are her sacraments adversely affected by communion with wicked men.  If they were, she would have ceased to exist long before Archbishop Lefebvre had ever been born.

Experience, Ben Franklin once said, keeps an expensive school.  But fools will learn in no other.  A group of people better schooled in tradition than the so-called traditionalists are would have known that separation from the Church is never justified.  It looks as if the Society of St. Pius X will have to learn this lesson the hard way.  As they descend into the fever swamps of neo-Nazism and cult-like behavior, they will have to learn the hard way that the Catholic Church under Peter's successor is the only barque of Christ, and that no matter what waves of heresy buffet its sides, one is never justified in jumping ship; not even during the fiercest storms.  Those who do jump overboard during the storm learn the hard way that it was the Church, no matter how beleaguered, that was sustaining them all along.  They also learn that the only alternative to an uncomfortable position on her tossing decks is to sink beneath the waves and drown.  Fidelity

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