"You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd." ~Flannery O'Connor

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The schism that balances

From one point of view, one might say it just gets weirder and weirder. Now living in DC, reunited with the Korean wife chosen for him years ago by the Rev. Sung Myung Moon of the Unification Church, Archbishop Emmanuel Milingo, 76, has launched a schism in the Catholic Church by illicitly ordaining four men as bishops. They too are married, and the aim of Milingo's acts appears to be to agitate for a married priesthood in the predominant "Latin Church" of the universal Catholic Church. Of course the Vatican excommunicated him within 48 hours. So now we have another schism on our hands—the last one being the "traditionalist" schism launched by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefevbre in the late 1980s by his ordination of two bishops for his Society of St. Pius X, which persists despite earnest talks seeking reconciliation.

The question I have about this Milingo thing is why so few Catholics seem to care. The ordinations, though illicit, are pretty clearly valid, which means Milingo has created a new church that is out of communion with Rome. That should be big news, but it's caused hardly a blip: I spent last weekend in intense contact with committed Catholics, but not one seemed to find the event worth discussing. In my puzzlement, I've just read the Catholic journalist I always turn to on extraordinary occasions, John Allen of the National Catholic Reporter. His column—part news, part speculation—is as interesting as always, but it doesn't really clear things up for me. Perhaps Catholics don't particularly care because they're too cynical to imagine that a schism over married priests and bishops will really change anything.

I care but I'm not perturbed. On the one hand, we have a twenty-year-old trad schism maintained by celibate bishops who find the Vatican too liberal, and in fact consider themselves more Catholic than the Pope. On the other, we have a new schism led by an elderly and demonstrably rather unstable bishop, whose PR line seems to be the "need" to bring back the 150,000 or so Catholic priests who have left the ministry to marry. But what's really propelling Milingo's defiance is, by his own account, the Vatican's "lack of appreciation" for his "deep spiritual gifts." Well, if those gifts are genuine, he is squandering them with this act of disobedience and schism. His misplaced and misspent pride, if nothing else, will keep this schism from growing because it's not rich enough soil for anything big and long-term. But the situation gives me the pleasure of knowing that we now have a prog schism balancing the trad one. All the sweeter for being led by a flake.
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