|The English Martyrs: triptych at Ushaw College. Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew OP|
The supernatural grounds are, of course, the indefectability of the Church. It is conceivable that a Pope could have a thought at odds with doctrine, and even give voice to that thought. In fact, it has happened more than once over the very long history of the Papacy. But it will never be imposed on Catholics as requiring their belief by a properly formulated magisterial act. The Holy Ghost will prevent that. This is something Catholics must believe.
The natural grounds are two-fold. First, everyone knows it would be suicide for the Church simply to say 'sorry everyone it seems we've been wrong all along!'; not only suicide, in fact, but self-defeating, because how can you attempt to make authoritative any new teaching when you've just said that previous claims to authority were a load of nonsense? Secondly, and perhaps connectedly, the liberal modus operandi does not make use of properly formulated magisterial acts.
I'm glad the conservatives are taking seriously the threat to the Church posed by the latest liberal push, in favour of giving Communion to public sinners, of 'recognising the value' of immoral ways of life, and so on. But I fear that their excessive focus on the Papacy is distorting their identification of how, exactly, the problem is going to manifest itself. We don't need to talk about the complicated possibilities involving heretical Popes, schism, and 'what happens then.' What might happen in the future is what has happened over and over again since the Second Vatican Council. Let me spell it out.
1. You get a fairly authoritative document (in terms of its format and origin at least) which is nevertheless vague and disinclined to define its terms, let alone the content of its teaching. Passages of this document lend themselves to a heterodox interpretation, but as a whole the thing can be read in an orthodox sense.
2. The document is given a clearly herterodox interpretation by the liberal media and liberals in the Church. They claim support in interpretations coming from bishops, Cardinals, and even the Pope; on closer examination these interpretations continue to admit a degree of ambiguity in proportion to the authority of the interpreter.
The rule is: the greater the teaching authority, the less clearly heterodox the interpretation.
3. The document is implemented, or at least things are done in its name, in relation to both practice and teaching (for example, how the doctrine is presented in Catholic schools), in a way which leaves the observer to say: this new practice, this way of teaching children, is clearly not inspired by the traditional doctrine. The people doing this do not have the traditional doctrine in mind.
4. If you challenge liberals about this, they will tell you the teaching of the Church has changed. If you challenge reasonably high-up officials, they will tell you that it has not changed, it is just being expressed and implemented differently to suit the circumstances of the times we live in. The latter may even produce the odd document stressing the more clearly orthodox passages in the original document.
5. Twenty years later, if you mention the traditional doctrine in mainstream Catholic circles, they look at you as if you're speaking Chaucerian English. They simply have no idea that the old teaching might still be the teaching of the Church.
I'm not being overly optimistic in presenting this scenario. In my view it is far more difficult to deal with than open heresy. It is a long, grinding campaign of inuendo, appeals to authority, silencing awkward questions and those who ask them, and steadily feeding poison to the Faithful. It is going to take a lot more courage, intelligence, and stamina to deal with this than it would to 'go into schism', whatever that means.
Just ask yourself: what happened to the teaching of the Church that the Mass is a sacrifice? How is it that this has completely disappeared from the way the Mass is discussed, explained, and celebrated? No one with serious authority ever stood up and denied the doctrine. But for practical purposes it is gone. Except that it isn't: the Church's teaching has not been changed, and so it is still there, even if it is actually maintained by only a handful of eccentrics. This is what could happen to the indissolubility of marriage.
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