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A note on the other kind of schism

Like Catholics admonished to avoid sin and even near occasions of sin so prelates should avoid schism and even actions suggestive of schismatic attitudes.

Cardinal Raymond L. Burke leaving a papal audience to exchange Christmas greetings with members of the Roman Curia at the Vatican in this Dec. 22, 2016, file photo. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

Most Catholics correctly, but incompletely, understand schism as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff” (1983 CIC 751). Overlooked here—perhaps because it is much rarer than is typical ‘anti-papal schism’ and is harder to spot when it does occur—is the second kind of schism, namely, “the refusal … of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (1983 CIC 751). In other words schism comes in two varieties, ‘vertical schism’ whereby one refuses submission to the Roman Pontiff and ‘horizontal schism’ whereby one refuses to extend that Christian unity owed to others who are, in fact, in union with the pope.

If the poster boy for vertical schism was, say, Martin Luther, the horizontal schismatic is, I suggest, one whose devotion to the pope is so extreme that he regards as disloyal those who don’t share his opinions on all things papal and, for that reason, shuns them.

Of course Catholics’ opinions on popes and prelates may vary widely, and, to be sure, the canonical requirements for proving schism, vertical or horizontal, in actual cases are high. But Catholics critical of Pope Francis and/or his governance of the Church—Catholics, mind, in full communion with the Church per Canon 205—notwithstanding their demonstrable communion with the pope, are frequently disparaged these days, sometimes by ranking bishops, as being adversaries, accusers, and gossip-mongers. To some extent, of course, such verbal insults should be written off as Life in This Valley of Tears and those subjected to them simply reminded that others have endured far harsher treatment for the Faith. But lately I wonder whether this demonizing of papal critics risks taking a canonical turn.

Long-time Vaticanista Marco Tosatti recently claimed (Eng. that word has been passed down by papal representatives to bishops not to invite Raymond Cdl. Burke to their dioceses and that, should Burke appear at an event in their churches, they should not even appear with him. If this report is true, then understand: bishops working in close collaboration with the pope are instructing other bishops to avoid and, if necessary, to refuse manifestations of Christian unity due to a bishop who is, beyond any question, in full communion with him and them. That report, if true, would suggest something well beyond mere verbal disparagement of a fellow bishop.

Again, journalist claims of such counter-catholic (in the sense of ‘unity’ and ‘oneness’) directives are a long way from constituting proof of horizontal schism in their authors, but that such measures could even be plausibly alleged is a sign of the times and deeply troubling. Like Catholics admonished to avoid sin and even near occasions of sin so prelates should avoid schism and even actions suggestive of schismatic attitudes. If such disgraceful directives were quietly issued may they be quietly and quickly withdrawn; if they were even contemplated may be they be rejected lest they open the door to even deeper divisions than we already suffer.

(This post originally appeared on the “In the Light of the Law” site and is posted here by kind permission of Dr. Peters.)

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About Edward N. Peters 120 Articles
Edward N. Peters, JD, JCD has doctoral degrees in canon and common law. Since 2005 he has held the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit. His personal blog on canon law issues in the news may be accessed at the "In the Light of the Law" site.


  1. Would not surprise me at all is this kind of isolating a “trouble maker” is happening. Certainly read lightly veiled criticism by C. Cupich and such of other clergy who question the new “paradigm” and its consequences. Then there are those Cardinals around P. Francis disparaging anyone who raises questions re the several new commissions to study well established traditions and doctrine. It is also interesting that C. Muller is being more and more blunt in his assessments of these actions to introduce “discernment”, etc., everywhere. Has any bishop or cardinal made it clear that Fr Martin is a dissenter, that C Tobin giving an address to the New Ways Ministry recently, an organization that several years ago was termed not Catholic, but dissenting and its 2 organizers were out of the Church? Except for very few, our Church leaders are hiding behind those robes! It is clear to me that such silence is equivalent to approval. The backbone to fight for our Church is sorely lacking. And that is just amazing!

  2. The “chronological snobbery” of up-to-date modernity, as labeled by C.S. Lewis, finds its counterpart in the “geographical snobbery” of a few progressive (regressive!) red-hat cardinals the closer one gets to Rome. The challenge, of course, in any playground bureaucracy is to “commit truth and to get away with it.”

    And the predictable punishment? In the secular world the ostracized and banished need not resort to canon law for suitable nomenclature (“horizontal schism”); they can settle quite nicely for something more generic.

    As one in the lowly public sector who was most-assuredly black-listed from time to time (just the heat of working in the kitchen!), I once was enlightened with a broadly applicable, and shall we say even universal, elucidation…

    The generic and down-to-earth explanation given to me, and in all cases (?), is simply this: “In this world there are more horses asses than there are horses.”

  3. I believe such an order did come down from the Vatican. Whenever the good Cardinal Burke is in the U.S. you almost always see him at a shrine or retreat house without any other bishops.

  4. Dr. Peters: When are any but traditional Catholics ever admonished to avoid sin? Perhaps that’s the problem with Cardinal Burke: he admonishes the sinner and is therefore being admonished himself.

    • It is not Loving or Mercyful to desire Salvation for me and not for thee.

      That is the difference between a Pope who is for Christ and a schismatic pope.

      Let no man deceive you; it is not possible for any man who, prior to his election as Pope, denied that which a Catholic must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith regarding the Sanctity of the marital act within The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony, by condoning certain same-sex sexual relationships that he defined as being private because they were not called marriage, did not include children, and thus society was not affected, to be valid.

      The erroneous notion that private morality and public morality can serve in opposition to one another and are not complementary, has led to grievous error in both Faith and reason.

      Thus It is not possible to even suggest that the “absolute authority” of the Pope, could rest in a man who first and foremost, does not believe what every Catholic must believe with Divine and Catholic Faith, which, every Faithful Catholic knows, includes Christ’s Teaching in regards to sexual morality.

      “it is not possible to have Sacramental Communion without Ecclesial Communion”, due to The Unity of The Holy Ghost, for it Is Through Christ, With Christ, and In Christ, In The Unity Of The Holy Ghost, (Filioque), that Holy Mother Church exists.

    • When Cardinal Burke was restored to a (reduced) position at the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in Rome(after having been removed by Pope Francis), he said that he did not know why.

      Could it be simply that he was simply needed there, or perhaps that there was push-back against his removal? Or, could it be that this restoration keeps him off the road and ineligible for speaking tours? (Scheduled keynote speakers Bishop Schneider and Cardinal Burke both appeared only by video screen at the “supplemental” Conference of Catholic Families in Ireland.)

    • But Tossatti has clarified the Burke story is a year old or he heard such things a year ago but others have presently made it into a big story. There is also nothing really false regarding the basic account of Schneider- he was asked by the holy see to limit his travel. Yes, Tossatti describes it as an “imposition” and tries to ascribe motives for it, but the basic facts are true. One can quibble with words and what is meant by the italian “impone” but the idea is arguably accurate, e.g., someone at the holy see has taken pains to keep track of his travel, and took pains to make a point of it. Such a thing is odd and rare, even more for an auxiliary bishop. Many, perhaps most, bishops are easily away from their dioceses for more than 30 days a year. This is clearly not being applied uniformly or consistently. One wonders how much time the pope’s confidants and inner circle are out of their dioceses and why they aren’t asked to conform themselves to the law, e.g., maradiaga, “tucho” hernandez? We also know Schneider is going to put the best face possible on it, especially as he knows he is now being “watched.” I think it is right to see someone odd in this.

  5. The despicable thing is that when the divisive culture invades the unity of the People of God it immediately disrupts the one and same Body of Christ. This Body once accepted, neigh, (I know it is actually “nay” but I thought I would play with Peter’s horse metaphor), rejoiced that it had social servants and dogmatic servants, those that served the poor and those that served the Word (see the Apostolic Church). Now those who serve the poor want to corner the market on teaching also. They want it all, and will dismiss the teachers from their teaching office just to get it all. (One sure way to distinguish a progressive from a true servant is the the progressive can’t serve the poor without satisfying his hunger for power).

  6. I sincerely hope and pray that some brave US Bishop would invite Cardinal Burke ASAP to their diocese to appear and speak in a very public forum!

  7. This is a good reminder: the more cult-like followers of Francis like to label people posing rightful questions and concerns as fomenting schism or being dissenters or disobedient; but they don’t realize they may be doing so and fomenting such with a majority of the world’s bishops, who have not implemented the error of communion for adulterers, for example. One has to ask such people if most of the world’s bishops are in schism or are “dissenting.”

  8. The Deceiver, often referred to by Francis recently, is a liar. Burke and Vigano are not. Burke’s profound questions (only one of which deals specifically with Amoris Laetitia) desperately need answers but are ignored. All evidence from the outside has supported Vigano. So neither men deceive or lie. Instead the Holy Spirit speaks the truth. If the Deceiver is at work, he’s busy at the Vatican as illustrated by crude tricks used to turn the “Youth Synod” into the much more important “Synodality Synod” which creates a back door for a host of heterodox (or heretical) practices.

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