Why the “Deep Anxiety”?
POPE JOHN PAUL II expressed “despair” at the schism of Archbishop Lefebvre’s traditionalist Catholic movement. The church, he said, reacted with “great distress.”
Catholic priest Joaquín Ortega, deputy secretary of the Roman Catholic bishops conference in Spain, deplored the situation: “We have fallen into a ‘supermarket Catholicism.’ People are picking and choosing among what suits them as if our doctrines were cans of vegetables.”
Archbishop Lefebvre maintains that the Second Vatican Council betrayed the traditional Catholic Church, opening the church to changes. Thus, he feels, the council shook the belief of Catholics that they belong to the one true church.
Summing up the arguments of Lefebvre and his followers, the International Herald Tribune wrote: “The traditionalists argue that either the church was in error before the council, or it is in error now, but cannot have it both ways. If it erred before the council, they say, then it may have been wrong about other doctrines. ‘We are here to manifest our attachment to the church of all times,’ the archbishop said.”
However, many sincere Catholics are wondering whether what the pre-Vatican-II church taught and practiced was the truth or it was error.
Liberal Catholics Are Worried
Many liberal-minded Catholics are worried that what they consider to be progressive steps taken at Vatican II are being sabotaged because of the Lefebvre affair. They are frightened by recent official Vatican statements, such as those by Cardinal Ratzinger, the watchdog of Catholic orthodoxy. He is the head of the Vatican agency that for four centuries was known as the Congregation for the Holy Inquisition.
Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, in Rome, stated: “Schisms come about only when people have stopped living and loving certain truths and values of the Christian faith.” Progressive Catholics are afraid that the cardinal had in mind “truths and values” that characterized the Roman Catholic Church in pre-Vatican-II days.
Voicing such fears, an article entitled “The Price of a Schism,” published in the French newspaper Le Monde, stated: “Who knows if the Vatican is not—unknowingly or unadmittedly—starting to practice ‘traditionalism without Lefebvre’? . . . Is [the Vatican] not now trying to win back the traditionalist-inclined clergy and laity and above all reasserting Catholic authority and values where they are the most openly challenged, particularly Western Europe and North America?”
In January 1989, 163 Catholic theologians from West Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, and Switzerland issued a statement now known as the Cologne Declaration. In the ensuing weeks, they were joined by hundreds of Catholic theologians from other countries, including Italy. The wave of dissent was triggered by the arbitrary Vatican appointment of a conservative prelate as Catholic archbishop of Cologne, Germany, against the wishes of the local hierarchy. But the protest went beyond the appointment of right-wing bishops. It included Vatican disciplinary measures to silence theologians who reflected “the theological thinking which the Second Vatican Council emphasized.” The theologians also questioned the pope’s right to impose his views “in the field of doctrinal teaching,” particularly concerning birth control.
Reacting to this declaration, Cardinal Ratzinger stated bluntly that those who reject the Vatican’s position on birth control and divorce are giving an erroneous interpretation of “conscience” and “freedom” and are violating the traditional teaching of the church. He recently reminded U.S. prelates that they should not let their teaching be influenced by the “discordant concert” of theologians.
Many Catholics Are Perplexed
A French Catholic theologian declared in an interview with Le Monde: “It would be a mistake to claim . . . that this crisis affects only the theologians. They are merely expressing the deep anxiety of a great many Catholics.”
Many sincere Catholics are wondering if rebel archbishop Lefebvre, although excommunicated, may not have ‘lost a battle but won the war.’ In fact, concessions are being made to Lefebvre’s followers in an effort to win them back into the fold. Mass is again being said in Latin in many Catholic churches, and conservative bishops are being appointed to positions. Interestingly, traditionalist Catholics are asking: ‘Why was Monsignor Lefebvre excommunicated when Catholic priests in Holland who bless homosexual “marriages” and South American priests who advocate revolutionary liberation theology are still a part of the church?’
All of this leaves many Catholics confused. A French Catholic wrote to Catholic daily La Croix (The Cross): “Simple Christians, like myself, are suffering because those involved [in the church’s dissensions] are not discussing things and coming to an agreement. Some people are tiptoeing away from religious practice, if not the Church.”
Doubtless, such people cannot understand why what they consider to be the one true church is so divided. Even Catholic priest René Laurentin asked: “Why these divisions among Christians?” Let us briefly consider some reasons for them.
[Blurb on page 7]
“The traditionalists argue that either the church was in error before the council, or it is in error now, but cannot have it both ways.”—International Herald Tribune.