(California Daily Catholic) - Among self-described Catholics, Obama leads by 49.5 percent to 44.3 percent, Stephanie DeVries, Zogby assistant director of communications, told CNA in a Monday e-mail...THE CATHOLIC KNIGHT: You heard it here first on 'The Catholic Knight.' The U.S. Catholic Church has a MAJOR problem, that is about to effect it in ways not seen since the days of the Protestant Reformation nearly five-hundred years ago. Current trends indicate that the U.S. Catholic Church will suffer a major schism within the next decade over social and political issues. It will be an extremely large schism and may actually rival that of the 16th century.
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The problem centers around the failure of the U.S. Catholic clergy to effectively teach the moral and social doctrine of the Church to the laity. The above poll by Zogby is a reflection of this. As it stands today, a majority of U.S. Catholic voters are about to throw their support behind the most extreme pro-abortion candidate in U.S. political history. This is after the U.S. Catholic bishops have had over 2 years to get the message out since the Vatican clarified these issues in the political realm. Based on the Zogby poll, it would appear that the percentage of U.S. Catholic voters adhering to Church social teaching has actually gone down over the last 4 years since the 2004 presidential election. The U.S. Catholic bishops have decided to address these issues in their next conference to be held just after the presidential election. On the table for discussion is the issue of automatic excommunication for Catholic politicians who support abortion. Should the bishops actually vote to take this position, it may be too little too late. Had they wanted to prevent the coming schism, they should have done this at least four to eight years ago.
It's called "Cafeteria Catholicism," and it expresses the desire of many North American Catholics to practice Catholicism on their own terms, rather than the terms set down by the religion itself. "Cafeteria Catholics" like to practice the external appearances of Catholicism; such as attending mass, receiving communion, and praying the rosary. However, when it comes to the moral and social teachings of the Church, these Catholics take a "salad bar" approach, picking and choosing which social teachings they prefer to adhere to, and rejecting those they find inconvenient. "Cafeteria Catholics" can be found on both the Left and the Right side of the political spectrum, each "picking and choosing" different aspects of Church social doctrine to support and reject. However, it is the "Cafeteria Catholics" on the Left that are a growing problem in the U.S. Catholic Church. This group tends to accept the Church's social teaching to prevent poverty and oppose war, but reject the Church's social teachings on the sanctity of human life from conception to natural death, and the protection of traditional marriage between a man and a women. The Church has responded to this problem by pointing out a "hierarchy of truths" regarding the Church's social doctrine, emphasizing that protection of human life and marriage from legalized assault is far more important than the other issues of Catholic social doctrine. (Translation: the issues of abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, gay-marriage and gay civil-unions, outweigh other issues of Catholic social justice.) Some U.S. Catholic bishops have been very diligent in getting this message out, as have some priests who assist them. However, there is a fairly large number of bishops and priests who have been "less than enthusiastic" about relating this message to the laity in a strong and concise way. The problem is not recent. It goes back literally decades. As a result, a growing number of "Cafeteria Catholics" on the Left have completely and utterly rejected the Church's social doctrine on human life and gay-marriage. That number would appear to be growing, as is evidenced by the number of Catholics supporting Barack Obama for president - the most radically pro-abortion presidential candidate in U.S. history.
For the most part, Left wing Cafeteria Catholics live in stealth within the Church pews, but their dissatisfaction with the Church hierarchy, particularly as it relates to the Church's social teaching, is growing. These people are Left wing Liberals (or "Progressives") before they are Catholics. They may not understand themselves that way, but that is exactly how they behave. They expect the Catholic Church to be accepting of their progressive beliefs, if not affirm them entirely. For now these people look to Left-wing Catholic politicians as their guide and inspiration.
However, that may soon change. A growing number of U.S. priests are starting to take a militant stand against their bishops and the Vatican, urging the Church to take a more lenient stand on artificial birth-control, abortion, gay-marriage and women-priests. So far their rebellion has been met with discipline and excommunication from the presiding bishops in the diocese they occur. The only question now is how long can this go on? There is a real and present danger that a small group (perhaps just 2 or 3) U.S. Catholic bishops will eventually side with their rebel priests against the Vatican. When that happens, the Vatican will surely respond with excommunications, resulting in the refusal of these bishops to leave their office. Once that happens, the schism is underway. If the majority of U.S. Catholics were practicing in accord with the Vatican, such episcopal rebellion wouldn't amount to much more than a minor scandal. But because at least half (or more) of all U.S. Catholics actually adhere to a value system more in line with popular American culture, than the official teachings of the Church, it is likely that a good number of Catholic Americans will side with bishops who oppose the Vatican. The resulting rupture could split the U.S. Catholic Church right down the middle. Progressively inclined bishops may align themselves with the value system espoused by similar church bodies - such as the Episcopal Church U.S.A., resulting in a "coalition" (if you will) of progressive Catholics and Protestants against the Vatican and orthodox Catholic bishops. The fallout from such a schism would be the most catastrophic wound the Church has suffered since Martin Luther nailed his '95 Thesis' on the door of Wittenberg Chapel.
Again, all of this comes back to a general failure of the U.S. Catholic clergy to strongly teach and enforce Catholic social morality. It is also the result of the U.S. Church tolerating "Cafeteria Catholics" who continue to call themselves "Catholic" when their beliefs and actions clearly indicate they no longer accept the Church's value system. These Cafeteria Catholics now believe their progressive values are a "right" within the Church, and nobody (not even a pope or bishop) has the authority to deny them the sacraments because of it. This has been going on for nearly a whole generation within the U.S. Catholic Church, and because of it, American Catholicism is ripe for schism on a major scale.
Can the crisis be averted? Yes. It is possible. But in order to do it, the U.S. Catholic bishops have about 10 to 20 years of catching up to do, and they'll have to do it fast. They're going to have to enforce an absolute moral standard within the U.S. Catholic Church immediately, resulting in automatic excommunications and strong public rebukes of the progressive value system currently tearing the U.S. Catholic Church apart. Rescuing souls from this value system should always be a priority, but not at the expense of allowing it's adherents to lead more Catholics astray because of it. In other words, it's time to cut out the cancer quickly, before it metastasizes. At best the U.S. bishops could hope to rescue a few souls from the progressive value system, while driving most of it's proponents out of the Church before they have a chance to win over some of their own bishops. The result of such actions will cause the U.S. Catholic Church to lose some members, but sadly, this is necessary to preserve the structural integrity of the U.S. Catholic Church. Failure to act soon may result in the U.S. Catholic Church following in the way of the Episcopal Church U.S.A., which is currently splintering into multiple factions over the issue of women-priests, gay-marriage and homosexual bishops. The events in the Episcopal Church are significant, but not wide felt, because at most the population of the U.S. Episcopal Church tops at 2.5 million members. If (or when) a similar schism occurs in the U.S. Catholic Church, with a population of over 65 million members, it's going to have more widely felt effects. The U.S. Catholic bishops must act quickly, before it's too late. Time is not on their side.