The media love a good squabble, and they also love to frame squabbles in a particular way, which is why newspapers like the L.A. Times run headlines like this one:
Conservative opposition to Pope Francis spurs talk of a schism in the Catholic Church
Note the dichotomy: it’s “conservative opposition,” rather than the Holy Father’s own doctrinal undertakings and impulses, that is threatening a “schism.” I guess this is the “Republicans Pounce” of the Catholic beat.
It is repugnant to imagine a Catholic encouraging, much less desiring, anything resembling a “schism” within Church hierarchy: we are called to be “one Body, one Spirit in Christ,” which is a little difficult to do if you’ve driven a wedge between yourself and your brothers, as the Protestant Revolution so aptly demonstrated some several centuries heretofore. Really, the gap between Pope Francis’s pastoral ambitions and the “conservative opposition” of the cardinals is best styled not as schismatic but rather logical, viz:
As Francis enters his fourth year in office, his conservative opponents have chosen to stand and fight over his 2016 apostolic exhortation titled “Amoris Laetitia,” or “The Joy of Love,” in which he suggested bishops can use discretion in granting Communion to Catholics who divorce, then remarry in a civil ceremony.
Francis’ guidance was seen by many as contradicting the ruling, which dates to the early days of the Roman Catholic Church, that couples are living in sin if they remarry, because their first marriage is still valid in the eyes of the church.
The passive voice (“was seen by many”), the weasel construction (“as contradicting the ruling”)—it all undersells the rather inexplicable and indefensible nature of the whole proposal. Unquestionably, Francis’s idea flies in the face of Catholic teaching, which holds that “divorced” and “remarried” Catholics are unable to receive Communion. But this is simply a workaday application of the Church’s long-established rule that forbids Catholics from receiving communion while in a state of mortal sin. And so the Kasper proposal ultimately strikes at the heart of the Church’s understanding of sin itself: if one objectively mortal sin is okay—if bishops are going to permit Catholics to consciously and deliberately live in mortal sin as a principle feature of their lives while behaving as if they are reconciled to, and in full communion with, the Church—then why not another one, or two more, or all of them? Why even preach against sin at all, if ultimately you are prepared to proactively tolerate it?
I have not yet found or been presented with a way to resolve this dilemma; the best explanation that pro-Kasper folks have been able to give usually runs along these lines: “If we don’t allow [Catholics living with mortal sin] to receive communion, then they’ll feel alienated and leave the Church.” It is mystifying to me why these appear to be the only two options—why more vigorous catechizing and moral instruction is overlooked or otherwise ignored—and moreover the proposed solution is effectively worse than the problem: rather than instruct against one mortal sin, we might—by encouraging these folks to receive communion—have them commit two! Surely we can do better than this; we do not need to throw around words or concepts like “schism” to recognize that this is a bad path for Christianity, which is to say ultimately the Christian faithful.