Action Alert!

the shape of schism yet to come?

By Diogenes (articles ) | Jul 05, 2006

Back in 1994, professor James Hitchcock wrote an article in the Homiletic and Pastoral Review called "How Schism May Come" -- an elaborately articulated scenario of soft schism based on the all-too-real proliferation of Priestless Eucharistic Services in certain dioceses. Most of the elements of Hitchcock's speculation are already up and running, and indeed in some countries --parts of Holland and Switzerland come to mind -- the process is all but complete. One hard shock and the dead meat would fall from the bone. You can read the whole article here. Below are some key steps in the sequence:

1) The priest who visits the parish once a month is delayed. Rather than delay the distribution of communion, once the stock of consecrated hosts has been exhausted, the pastoral minister herself prays over a ciborium of unconsecrated hosts and distributes them to the worshippers.

2) Before long it begins to seem unnecessary to almost everyone -- the circuit-riding priest, the pastoral minister, and the parishioners themselves -- to observe the inconvenient formality of having a priest visit the parish occasionally. Instead the pastoral minister's distribution of unconsecrated hosts becomes normal.

3) Other parishes hear of this and wonder why they too may not follow the same practice. Unofficially they are told by diocesan officials that they may, although there is no formal announcement to that effect.

4) The practice soon becomes normal in all the priestless parishes of the diocese. Those who insist on having a priest visit in order to consecrate the eucharistic elements are dismissed as rigid legalists.

5) The practice begins to spread even to parishes with resident priests, in the same way that "extraordinary ministers" of the Eucharist function even when priests are sitting in the sanctuary. Pastoral ministers preside at services even in large city parishes, functioning in the same way as their rural counterparts.

As this practice becomes known, there will of course be vigorous protests from conservative Catholics, as well as genuinely puzzled inquiries from many others. At this point diocesan officials will give studiously ambiguous, even confusing, answers: "The Church's teaching about the priesthood and the Mass is undergoing development, and certain matters are not clear. No unordained person can celebrate Mass as traditionally understood. But the kind of communion services now in use are perfectly legitimate given our present understanding." ...

The practice will be justified purely empirically -- does it not help to mold and inspire precisely the kind of warm, eucharist-centered community which the parish is supposed to be? Is not the pastoral minister a deeply caring person much beloved and respected by the parishioners? Does the system whereby a priest from the outside visits once a month, leaving a stock of consecrated hosts, not seem very artificial and cold? Is abstract doctrine to get in the way of a vital faith community?

There are two respects in which Hitchcock's time-line may need adjustment. First, though they are still in the minority, several of the newly appointed bishops are combative in the best sense. When the schism occurs, it may not be equally slushy in all places. Second, a sizable percentage of the young people who would fit into Hitchcock's category of "ill-catechised" have turned out, a dozen years later, to be either "nil-catechised" (whence they don't practice at all) or well catechised, by home-schools, etc. As events such as WYD show, while few young people take their faith seriously, those who care at all don't seem thrilled by nuns in business suits. The situation is both better and worse than it was in 1994.

Yet it's noteworthy that Cardinal Mahony's introduction of Lay Ecclesial Ministers into the Archdiocese of Los Angeles is precisely the kind of move that Hitchcock envisaged, and even the accompanying rhetoric of justification is eerily similar to that predicted. What's most telling, however, is the unmistakeable relish for the changes, an underlying eagerness for the shortages that make lay ministry an expedient remedy. Even while the Archdiocesan apparatchiks pretend to deplore the diminishing number of priests and seminarians, they can't quite get the smirk off their faces.

As so often, the outcome rides on the bishops, especially the constitutionally timid vacillating bishops in the middle. If they see the very worst occur in the Anglican Church -- i.e., dioceses parted from property -- they may be moved to preempt schism at home. But their reflexive response will be committees, assisted by sub-committees, assisted by task forces, instructed by workshops ... you get the point. We have recently seen several examples where secular news outlets have reported the ordination of women as "Catholic priests" -- ordinations described not as null or invalid but as "not approved by the Vatican." Many people are genuinely confused, and the incidents deserved an unambiguous response from the bishops, speaking with one voice. Will we get it?

Prof. Hitchcock, twelve years ago, predicted a schism would occur not over invalid priestly ordinations but by gradual assimilation of layfolk into priestly activities. In either case, episcopal inaction or equivocation sends the message that a right answer, if one exists, isn't really all that important:

By the time this pattern of unordained "priests" becomes well known it will be so widespread as to pose a serious disciplinary problem. Liberal bishops will in effect tell people to choose their own theology: "You can either believe that the pastoral minister really is a priest and really does celebrate Mass, or that she is not and merely presides over a ceremony which happens to resemble the Mass." But even to be concerned with such questions will itself be taken as evidence of a retarded theological viewpoint.

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Show 32 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: - Jul. 09, 2006 12:46 AM ET USA

    "May I simply ask... what is your solution to parishes which have no priest or a visiting priest once every month?" Very simple. You open your copy of M. Eugene Boylan's This Tremendous Lover, flip to the relevant reference about Thomas Aquinas' Summa for when you can't receive communion and you pray for the grace that you would have received. Better this solution than encouraging the lay harpies pictured above in full sartorial flare. Ick.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 08, 2006 11:55 PM ET USA

    Celibacy cannot, perhaps, be blamed wholly for the proliferation of homosexuality in the priesthood, but it's got to be an imponderably huge factor. I'm still not convinced that married faithful, who have their own separate professions and are financially responsible for themselves and their families, have no history of deviancy (e.g., my parish's deacon, a physician and all around good guy), wouldn't make a much better priest than the mincing, infantile types one sees so often of these days.

  • Posted by: fisherman129 - Jul. 08, 2006 12:43 PM ET USA

    May I simply ask... what is your solution to parishes which have no priest or a visiting priest once every month?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 8:57 PM ET USA

    At a Catholic Mass in Iowa last summer a very masuline sister gave the homily for mission Sunday, with the lisping effeminite priest sitting across the "sanctuary" from her. My 5-year-old whispered, "Is that a man or a woman?" Then I looked from one to the other: a man acting like a woman and a woman acting like a man. In the sanctuary. At Holy Mass. I'm sure we cause Jesus more suffering now than we inflicted during the Passion. Blessed Virgin, pray for us.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 8:51 PM ET USA

    Centurion: I don't believe there is a man in the foreground of this picture. esalkin: Our good priest has been directed to use a "speaker's list" put out by the diocese for Mass--including women. The Mass we attended on Mother's Day is 5 mins from our house, and believe me, a female homilist is the LEAST of their problems.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 2:04 PM ET USA

    Coco, It wont do any good but you can point out that only a Priest or Deacon may give a homily during mass. There are *NO* extraordinary homilists - period. "All that evil requires to triumph is for good to remain silent"

  • Posted by: - Jul. 07, 2006 2:01 PM ET USA

    The woman behind the man is looking to her left, apparently at the camera, with a pleased smirk on her face: Look at me. I am dressed like a man. What a clownish fiasco!

  • Posted by: Art Kelly - Jul. 07, 2006 12:00 AM ET USA

    WHO are the people in the picture? WHERE was the picture taken? WHEN was it taken? WHAT is happening in the picture? A detailed caption might help to solve the mystery.

  • Posted by: Fatimabeliever - Jul. 06, 2006 6:52 PM ET USA

    I firmly believe we wouldn't be having this horrible mess if the Priest and the congregations said the Rosary immediately following the Mass!!! And if you don't believe it will, JUST TAKE A LOOK AT THE HISTORY BEHIND THE ROSARY!

  • Posted by: sparch - Jul. 06, 2006 5:44 PM ET USA

    Let us hope that the United States is blessed with either vocations from it's own ranks, or other more fortunate countries send missionaries in abundance to us.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 4:11 PM ET USA

    The 'good' Bishop of St. Petersburg has just about killed off every diocese wide program except one. Which one? Notice the "Lay Person" has to undergo 4 years of "discernment" after which they have a "qualified" "vocation." At no point does anything actually say what they are "qualified" to do. (hint: The 'good' Bishop originally wanted this program to replace the Diaconate until Rome 'advised' against it.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 12:14 PM ET USA

    Diogenes is correct in his analysis of the "gradual assimilation of layfolk into priestly activities." I see our parish administrator deacon dressed in a chasuble not unlike the sacramental "minister" who consecrates. When the deacon greets the assembly with the traditional "Good morning," the people respond, "Good morning, Father." And when people raise their hands to "bless" children or whomever, it's not unusual to see them doing it with priest-like gestures. Won't be long, folks.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 12:10 PM ET USA

    Benedict - we need celibacy now more than ever. Priests have to be single minded, with a heart only for God. Only God can give true vocations to the priesthood. It is not surprising that He is stingy with these graces after the deliberate suicidal changes in the Church over the last 40 years. When we pray and fast enough, perhaps He will hear us and send us the priests we want and need.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 12:07 PM ET USA

    Again, mention is made of "the vocations crisis." But this is not limited to priestly vocations, for throughout the West couples are shacked up. There is a contest between the "culture of vocation and the culture of distraction," nowhere more evident than in the parenting crisis. If we got the distractions (TV, secular papers, video games etc) out of our homes, there would be no "vocations crisis." The fault is not with the hierarchy, but with the Catholic family, particularly fathers.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 11:41 AM ET USA

    BTW: When the children are lead out of the church during Mass on Sunday for the Children's Liturgy of the Word (complete with a Homily given by one of the Moms who has volunteered for this "ministry") we are doing the same kind of desesitization. An entire generation of Catholic children are being taught that anybody's Mom can give a Homily, so what makes the priest so special? This is then reinforced on Mother's Day, when the wife of the deacon gives most of the Homily during Mass...

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 11:29 AM ET USA

    Our pastor in a small parish in Nevada only celebrated daily Mass 3 days a week, leaving the other days to Communion Services. He was busy! We did not bring our children to those services because they looked and felt so much like the real Mass on Sunday, using a lay person instead of the priest. You see, if you remove reverence and awe from the Holy Mass on Sunday, and institute an erzats mass on weekdays, it becomes hard to tell the difference.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 10:40 AM ET USA

    Yes, from the picture it is obvious that they are not priests. They're wearing chasubles...! I'm not sure about that lei though... Or is that a 'female' pallium...?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 10:02 AM ET USA

    Welcome to the Church of Later Day Mahoneyites.....a vibrant sect of the American Catholic Church.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 9:07 AM ET USA

    As I looked at the picture again, some words of Cardinal Cushing came to mind, "We've been ordaining women for years."

  • Posted by: - Jul. 06, 2006 12:06 AM ET USA

    I like the picture.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 11:02 PM ET USA

    The on-going insistence on Rome's part to link mandatory celibacy with the eucharist is responsible for the dilemma Hitchcock paints. As a eucharistic people we need the eucharist, but do we need mandatory celibacy?

  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Jul. 05, 2006 9:16 PM ET USA

    No, I don't see it this way. Not today. Rome has notified our abp that he's going to have to make do without a new auxiliary to replace our superannuated ones. That says to me that they are marshalling their forces to do some significant continuing replacements of some of the mushy middle to left. I see a real swing in the next ten years to the orthodox, at least in the US. God grant our German pope long life!

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 8:56 PM ET USA

    " Lay Ecclesial Ministers" Absolute heresy. It reads like a declaration of schism deffinitely.

  • Posted by: KateQ - Jul. 05, 2006 8:33 PM ET USA

    'What some refer to as a "vocations crisis" is, rather, one of the many fruits of the Second Vatican Council, a sign of God’s deep love for the Church ...' (Mahoney) Only an ordained priest can confect the body and blood of Christ and can hear confessions. Ergo, I don't consider the "crisis" to be something to cheer about. I will NEVER confess to a "lay ecclesial minister."

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 8:13 PM ET USA

    We are called to take the gospel to the world, wheather they want it or not, so faithful, educated Catholics better be out there evangelizing. We have plenty of work to do in our own calling, we don't need to be trying to take over Holy Orders as well.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 7:17 PM ET USA

    I just read part of the document, "Lay Ecclesial Ministers". I'm sure glad I don't belong to the Los Angeles Church of Mahoney.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 6:15 PM ET USA

    But after the Summer of Schism come the cold winds of autumn spelling the end of Father Brittany, et al. All of the signs within the mainstream Protestant chuches point to certain erosion and collapse. In Chicago, one pastor changed a 5:30pm mass into an all-female communion service with a consequent loss of three-quarters of the normal attendance. The next pastor summarily ended the communion service and reinstated the mass.

  • Posted by: Quadratus - Jul. 05, 2006 5:36 PM ET USA

    The answer is more complex. On one side the Church tells lay people “stay out of our business, go out to the world and be good Catholics there, but don’t mess with our stuff”. On the other side the world says “don’t bring your religion here”. So what is a fairly well educated, practicing catholic to do?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 5:01 PM ET USA

    The solution, of course, is more priestly vocations. But in dioceses where vocations are subtly (or not so subtly) discouraged, we will see a concerted attempt by (mostly female) lay ministers to administer the sacraments. The remedy is replacement of outgoing bishops with new, orthodox bishops committed to the Holy See. After all, the promise that the gates of hell would not prevail was made to Peter.

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 4:56 PM ET USA

    Interesting this should follow the article on Provisionals. Is one a provisional if one indicates they would rather become Orthodox than experience the degeneration of the Roman Catholic Church as described in this article? If the degenerates take control of the Roman Church and begin to remake it to their own liking, can one be in communion with the degenerates and still profess orthodoxy and orthopraxy? What does this mean to one who is RC and strives to live an orthodox/prax life?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 4:23 PM ET USA

    If there is cancer in a body, the doctor immediately begins an aggressive therapy consisting perhaps of chemo, surgery, or radiation. Early detection and treatment is the key for cure. Why not the Church? Do we not hve medicinal penalties? Why they may seem harsh (chemo, surgery and radiation are no walk in the park either) is not the well; being of a soal and the end of scandal paramount?

  • Posted by: - Jul. 05, 2006 4:18 PM ET USA

    But again isn't Rome partly responsible for this? What did Rome expect given the "signs of the times" when it issued the "Priestless Sundays Ritual.It practically invited this kind of "lay minister" nonsense. Even when the rules are followed will ordinary Jane/Joe Catholic realize it's just a Communion service not a Mass? Or will they not come home and say I liked Sister's Mass or Mrs. X's Mass? Rome is allowing this to happen.It will not be solved by issuing documents. The time to act is now.