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Why There Will Never Be a Modernist Schism For most of this pontificate, Francis has been the most turbulent figure in Roman Catholicism, Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times. He has dropped …More
Why There Will Never Be a Modernist Schism

For most of this pontificate, Francis has been the most turbulent figure in Roman Catholicism, Ross Douthat wrote in the New York Times. He has dropped rhetorical bombshells, made unexpected gestures and appointments and used his power and influence to reopen old debates. But over the past two years, the sources of Catholic turbulence have shifted. Now, the centrifugal forces Francis has set in motion are pulling at the Church.

For Douthat the latest and starkest example happened in Germany with the recent homosex “blessings” which challenged the Vatican. He notices that the debates driving this confrontation are the kind of arguments that Francis seemed intent on opening up when he called for – quotation mark – “more debate” within the Church. Thus, the German bishops seemed to be working in a tacit partnership with Francis. Douthat explains that their push for maximalist change created space for Francis to go partway with the liberalizers, changing church teaching gradually and with a certain deniability.

For Douthat, a German schism is not likely although the Modernists in Germany and elsewhere have not much respect for the pope’s authority and power. Nevertheless, Douthat believes, “liberal Catholicism without the Catholicism part would instantly lose much of its interest, energy and flavor.” But this is only a minor reason. The main reason is that German Modernist are able to destroy, but they don’t have the force and the people to build up something anew.

In a too simplistic way, Douthat connects the divisions in the present Church to the triumph of secular progressivism in Western culture and the emergence of right-wing populism as the major source of resistance to its rule. However, this account is not very convincing as the problems with Modernism in the Church go back to the 19th century. The fight in the Church is not about politics, it is about the truth.