Sunday, September 25, 2016

A Whiff of Schism

At a Catholic parish in Athy, Ireland, a lesbian couple who resigned from parish ministry after entering a legal marriage has returned to active participation—and to loud applause. So now everyone is welcome in St. Michael’s parish, right?


Anthony Murphy, the editor of Catholic Voice—the man who objected to the lesbian couple’s prominent role in parish life—has received so many threats that he is, on the advice of the local police, staying away from the parish. But then again, if you know the whole story, you may wonder why Murphy would ever want to attend Mass at St. Michael’s.

The bitter dispute in this Irish parish is an extreme example of a sort of conflict that has become sadly familiar within Catholic communities. These conflicts erupted in the 1960s, peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, then subsided for a few decades. They have escalated again during the past three years, since the election of Pope Francis. They involve fundamental disagreements about what it means to be Catholic: debates between people with irreconcilable views, who sometimes suggest (and sometimes forthrightly proclaim) that their adversaries must be excluded from the Church. These conflicts pose a clear and present danger to the unity of the Catholic faith, and they will continue until the fundamental questions that are now in dispute have been resolved.

Many good Catholics, motivated by the best of intentions, have sought to downplay these tensions, to avert a showdown. But the conciliatory approach cannot succeed when two sides are irreconcilable. A healthy Church cannot long accept a situation in which some members anathematize what other members endorse. (The worldwide Anglican communion, desperately fighting to avoid formal recognition of a schism that is already apparent to the world, illustrates my point.) Fundamental questions cannot be ignored and finessed and explained away indefinitely. Eventually the failure to answer a question is itself a sort of answer: a judgment that truth and integrity are less important than temporary peace and comfort. Such an answer is unworthy of Christians.

Since the shocking case of St. Michael’s in Athy is the starting point for this essay, let me recount the story:

Read the rest here.

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