SYMMETRY CATCHES THE EYE: obvious order, balance, opposition, and similarly in something tells us that it may have some underlying unity. While we are used to symmetry in organisms and art, society is often chaotic enough to lack clear symmetry. When we do see a clear symmetry in the news, then we ought to take notice, and attempt to understand what principles underly it.
The Society of Saint Pius X (SSPX), a traditionalist group founded in 1970, rejects many of the reforms in the Church since the Second Vatican Council. The Society fell out of communion with the Church in 1975, and time is running out for bringing the Society back. According to a deadline issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), the Society must give assent to a “doctrinal preamble,” which presumably is about certain documents of the Council and vows of obedience. Apparently, there is a strong disagreement within the leadership of the SSPX as to how they ought to proceed.
The Leadership Council of Women Religious (LCWR), which got its current name in 1971, represents the majority of religious Sisters in the United States. In 2009, the CDF started an investigation of the Council, because of its promotion of opinions contrary to the teachings of the Catholic Church. The CDF subsequently appointed an Apostolic Delegate to oversee the reform of the LCWR. The Council has yet to decide how to respond to the CDF, and will hold a meeting later this month.
As far as I know:
- No members of the SSPX serve with the permission of their local bishops.
- All members of the LCWR serve with the permission of their local bishops.
- The leadership of the SSPX accepts many of the doctrines and teachings of the Church, except for certain Declarations of the Second Vatican Council.
- The leadership of the LCWR rejects many of the doctrines and teachings of the Church, except for certain Declarations of the Second Vatican Council.
- The SSPX gets no support whatsoever from the mainstream media.
- The LCWR gets overwhelming support from the mainstream media.
- Ardent supporters of the SSPX, especially on the Internet, tend to be very nasty and uncharitable, and seem to care little for the wider Church.
- Ardent supporters of the LCWR, especially on the Internet, tend to be very nasty and uncharitable, and seem to care little for the wider Church.
- Writings from the SSPX often appear to be antiquated, excluding contemporary language and thought.
- Writings from the LCWR often appear to be in line with the latest academic and political writing, excluding older language and thought.
- The SSPX in France wants an Absolutist monarchy, and is allied with the far political Right.
- The LCWR wants socialism in the United States, and is allied with the far political Left.
- The SSPX rejects the magisterium, with disobedience to the Holy See primarily in matters of unity.
- The LCWR rejects the magisterium, with disobedience to the Holy See primarily in matters of doctrine.
- The SSPX is invisible. They have little involvement with the outside world.
- The LCWR is visible. They are actively and clearly engaged with the outside world.
- The SSPX is growing, young, and has many new vocations to the priesthood and religious life, for it is easy to find youth who reject the Second Vatican Council.
- The LCWR is shrinking, aging, and has few new vocations to the religious life, for it is difficult to find Catholic youth who reject the authentic teaching authority of the Church.
- The SSPX generally opposes the U.S. bishops’ attack on the Obama administration, because the bishops are arguing from religious liberty, and religious liberty is a concept rejected by the SSPX.
- The LCWR generally opposes the U.S. bishops’ attack on the Obama administration, because the LCWR supports the administration’s goals.
The Catholic Church makes the audacious claim that it was founded by Jesus Christ, who personally selected a college of Apostles, with one of them as their leader, and the same Jesus intended this group to exist until the end of the age, and that it does truly exist to this day, led by the Pope and his Bishops, who authentically teach the doctrines of Jesus Christ through sacred scripture and tradition and the authority of the Church. Add to this the claim that Jesus is the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, and therefore God Himself, the source and sustainer of all, means that we have to take the Church's authority very seriously.
The actions of the SSPX and the LCWR seem to imply that they don’t believe this, that rather, the Catholic Church is merely a human institution. I think the symmetry of the situation accentuates this: although both organizations are very different, their actions compared and contrasted with each other seem to imply this belief.
Obedience (and I know this from experience) is very difficult for someone who considers themselves smart, especially when their superior appears to be dull-witted, uneducated, or just unthinkingly following the latest fads. As I said, I know personally how difficult it is to submit to a superior when I know I am right (or perhaps, I just think that I am right). But this submission is called the “martyrdom of the mind,” and is praiseworthy. Disobedience — found in both groups — may be a sign of the capital sin of pride. The best way to combat pride is to overlook the failings of others and instead to concentrate on, and have sorrow for, your own failings, while praising others.
The SSPX can be praised for keeping the holy traditions of the Latin Church, and for insisting on an authentic, magisterial interpretation of the more ambiguous parts of the Council, an interpretation which has been sorely lacking. Will Archbishop Lefebvre, founder of the SSPX, be universally praised one day as a new Athanasius contra mundum?
Likewise, the LCWR can be praised for abandoning a normal life, and for taking the dangerous and insecure life, “the road less traveled,” of service to the Church and to world. They worked hard, and with much opposition, to reform their religious orders according to the requirements of the Council.
But if the Second Vatican Council is binding and authoritative, then so are the other Councils of the Church, and also binding and authoritative is the magisterial authority of the Pope, for it is he who determines whether or not a Council is binding and authoritative. The LCWR cannot have it both ways. If the Superior of the SSPX does not submit to the authority of the magisterium of the Church, then why should any of his subordinates submit to him? What authority does he have?
These are difficult situations, and the fact that they are both reaching a critical point at the same time is very important. I pray for a happy resolution of both.