The Biggest Schism in the "Western" Church

Whenever I blog on Orthodox issues, my readership always goes through the roof. The division between the eastern and western churches is a tragedy of immense proportions, the healing of which is to be earnestly sought.

But there are also divisions within the Western church. I am not referring to Protestantism, which strictly speaking is not a schism from the Catholic point of view, partly because the two groups do not share the same Catholic faith, but more significantly because it is not a schism at the level of the episcopal hierarchy, which has direct consequences for the ecclesial reality of the communities concerned. Those hierarchical schisms which do exist in the Western are actually few and quite small (the Catholic Church has done a marvellous job of maintaining its unity through a combination of firm adherence to the Truth and diplomacy), but are nevertheless taken very seriously by the Holy See. Among these are the Levebrists (Society of St Pius X) and the more recent schismatic circus created by Archbishop Malingo.

But the greatest schism in the “Western” Church is not in the West at all but in the Far East: the division between the Chinese underground Church loyal to The Holy See and the “Official Church” directed by the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association loyal to the Communist government in Beijing.

The Official Church maintains valid sacraments, and much of the discipline and form of the Catholic faith. In fact, in many cases there may be said to be a kind of communion between the Official Church and the Underground Church. Many of the bishops of the Official Church have expressed desire for closer ties with the Holy See, and the Vatican and the Underground Church continue to regard the people and bishops of the Official Church as brothers and sisters in Christ.

But while the relationship between these two communities was once much sharper than it is now, the division persists — in ways that sometimes create some confusion. In recent years, The Patriotic Association has tended to seek Vatican approval for the ordination of its bishops. But this tendency is erratic, and recently there has been a spate of episcopal ordinations without Vatican approval.

Asia News reports that there is a “sub secreto” meeting taking place in the Vatican today, in which the Pope is meeting with the number of prelates, including Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong, one of his auxiliaries, the Bishop of Macau, and Cardinal Shan, emeritus Bishop of Kaohsiung in Taiwan. “Sub Secreto” means that what is discussed that the meeting is secret, not the meeting itself. But the topic is clear: the situation of the Church in China and relations between the Holy See and the Chinese government.

And this is the nub of the matter: while the search for unity between the underground Church and the “official” Church in China is truly an ecumenical concern, the issue is really one of diplomacy between one state (the Holy See) and another (the Chinese Goverment). For while the two Churches are almost indistinguishable in matters of faith and order, they answer to two very different authorities, whose respective ideologies are so opposed that it would be hard to imagine a greater contrast.

There are interesting insights in the Asia News article. The writer refers to the Underground and Official Churches as “two branches of the Church…which have, over the past ten years, become ever more reconciled. Certain Catholics and bishops of China have even asked that the Pope issue a letter on the unity of the Church in China.” Nevertheless, at the same time, “the Patriotic Association statute forsees the creation of a national and independant Church, separate from Rome.”

And so the greatest schism in the Western church, while being an ecumenical concern, continues falls under the category of political diplomacy. Well, the Vatican has had lots of practice at that. But sooner or later, someone has to give way, and I suspect it won’t be the Pope.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The Biggest Schism in the "Western" Church

  1. Lucian says:

    Whenever I blog on Orthodox issues, my readership always goes through the roof.

    Offcourse it does. We, Catholics and Orthodox, should allways be there for one-another, and stick with each-other through bad times, and through worse, and try to help each-other’s readership-percents go way-way-WAY over the roof-top, in order to make people think that there’re so many of us, and that our subjects-under-discussion are just sooo important, that there, like, has to be some sort of bare-minimum percentage that our blog-posts just HAVE to get in order to reflect their due and intrinsec high standardly value.

    Ok, I admit I’ve posted this extremely important and overtly valuable comment on Your out-of-the-ordinary and up-to-date brand-new post out of sheer brotherly, Christian commitment to our great ‘common cause’ and ‘common good’, the same that You were talking about.

    In a kindred, common, and familiar spirit,

    Yours truly in union and conspiracy


  2. The same. says:

    P.S.: This comment will also help increase the amonut of comments You allready have, and therefore making Your statement the more-so-true, in the same brotherly-Christian manner.

    The same.

  3. The last. says:

    If You care for another one, just ask, and I, Your conspiratorial brother in Christian unity, will most gracefully grant You Your most dear wish.

    The last (1 I promise!)

  4. Anonymous. says:

    See? There’re 3 comments to Your post allready ! … oops! … This one wouldn’t make a 4th one, now, … would it?

    Anonymous — I’m not the previous guy, … really I’m not :( !

  5. A completely different person alltogether says:

    Huh! Can You even imagine the nerve of this guy! Just posting non-sense like that! (Get your own blog, why don’t you?, you little barbarian vandal!)

    A completely different person. (Honestly, now!)

  6. Schütz says:

    Chuckle. I was astounded when I went out to have lunch, and came back to find that this blog already had 5 comments!

  7. 318@NICE says:

    I would like your comments on some recent posts and comments on my blog:
    The recent concern is where do Lutherans belong? Are they outside the Church, especially in light of Luther’s excommunication.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *