As a convert, I think a lot about others like myself who realize (or at least suspect) that their Christian community is not in full accord with our Lord’s true teaching. We discover that it is NOT a matter of opinion, that there is truth and that it is knowable. We find that Jesus actually DID institute a Church for the purpose of preserving and teaching that truth until He comes again. When by the grace of God we are led to the Catholic Church, we know that we are home at last.
It is difficult then, to understand Catholic dissidents. “Cradle Catholics” (typically) to which faith has been given as a birthright, yet who walk away from it. Why do they do it? The Bible warns:
If we sin deliberately after receiving knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains sacrifice for sins but a fearful prospect of judgment and a flaming fire that is going to consume the adversaries.
This is a very serious, very blunt warning. The Catechism puts it this way:
How are we to understand this affirmation, often repeated by the Church Fathers? Re-formulated positively, it means that all salvation comes from Christ the Head through the Church which is his Body:
Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation: the one Christ is the mediator and the way of salvation; he is present to us in his body which is the Church. He himself explicitly asserted the necessity of faith and Baptism, and thereby affirmed at the same time the necessity of the Church which men enter through Baptism as through a door. Hence they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.
That is trying to “re-formulate” the concept (extra Ecclesiam nulla salus) “positively.” There really is no nice way to warn of eternal damnation.
There seems to be different classes of dissidents, among whom are:
- lapsed Catholics: these are people who no longer honor the precepts of the faith. Often they attend no worship service of any kind (yet still consider themselves Catholic). Some have joined Protestant communities or other religions (these no longer consider themselves Catholic).
- active dissidents: these are people who are active in the Church and consider themselves to be faithful Catholics but are not. They reject Christ’s teaching, infallibly interpreted by His Church, in favor of their own sinful preferences. Liberal Catholic politicians are the best example of this.
- independent parishes: these are like the active dissidents, but who have broken away into schismatic groups.
It is that third group (“independent” parishes) that I want to look at here. It is important to keep the scale of this in perspective. Estimates vary, but there is on the order of 300,000 Catholic parishes worldwide. The number of these self-described “independent” parishes appears to be on the order of dozens (excluding the SSPX, schismatic but quite the opposite of the groups referenced here). Probably the sum total of parishioners in such schismatic groups would compare to a single, large Catholic parish such as mine here in the Atlanta area.
Yet, they get showered with the media attention and acceptance they desperately seek. The mainstream media is always in favor of attacking the Church however it can in hopes of diminishing her influence. To wit, a recent article in the New Haven Register caught my attention. It has been picked-up and spread by various media outlets (as its content so appeals to them).
When I read the article, I was taken aback by it. The only word that popped into my mind to describe them is “delusional” (adj: 1. having false or unrealistic beliefs or opinions; 2. maintaining fixed false beliefs even when confronted with facts). Consider:
- They have separated themselves from the authority of the Church, given to her directly and explicitly by our Lord.
- They think that they have all 7 sacraments. Lacking validly ordained priests, they do not. The only sacrament they validly offer is baptism. This is 1 less than any protestant community has. This is because as baptized Catholics, they are subject to canon law and their marriages outside of the Church are invalid by defect of form.
- The article asserts that they have the “feel” of a Catholic “service.” So do Anglicans, but they do not claim to be Catholic. Our faith is about truth, not how we “feel.”
- They embrace all the liberal sins: “re-marriage,” female priests, gay priests, re-married female gay priests, an so on. The article doesn’t mention abortion or contraception, but it is a safe bet that they strongly support a woman’s “right to choose” (the destruction of her unborn child).
- This entire parish is objectively living in a state of mortal sin (if for no other reason than not fulfilling their Mass obligation). Their women ordination involved “priests” have excommunicated themselves latae sententiae.
The article notes that “all are welcome” by this group. Ditto the real Catholic Church. The difference is the real Church wants you to turn away from sin and turn to God. People turn to this group “because they’ve found their church no longer meets their needs” (to sin).
One couple notes that they “were really looking for a church that was all-inclusive in the world, because Jesus loved everybody.” That is the universal Church – the Catholic Church. The difference is understanding love. Jesus was clear that we are to repent of our sins and to sin no more, not do whatever we are tempted to – which rejects His love. There is more in the article, but you get the idea.
The Catechism describes groups like this as (at least) incredulous and schismatic:
Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”
So how will they be judged? We never go there, thank God! Such judgment is His alone and in His mercy He may make allowances for genuine ignorance. However the Catechism warns:
Ignorance can often be imputed to personal responsibility. This is the case when a man “takes little trouble to find out what is true and good, or when conscience is by degrees almost blinded through the habit of committing sin.” In such cases, the person is culpable for the evil he commits.
The bottom line: do not be confused by these few groups or the common media coverage of them. Instead, pray for their return to God on His terms over prideful, arrogant viewpoints more in line with consumerism and politics than the Glory of God.