Blogs > Cliopatria > "Old Catholics" -- A Schism from 1870-71 that Lives On

Apr 20, 2005 8:40 am

"Old Catholics" -- A Schism from 1870-71 that Lives On

The College of Cardinals has elected a pope so stridently conservative and politically activist that his predecessor sometimes had to overrule him, as recently as last year on the matter of Turkey's relationship with Europe. Benedict XVI is poised to make John Paul II look like a compromiser. In some ways, he has been assistant pope for two decades, and liberal hopes that this particular 78-year-old will change after a few months in office seem wildly misplaced.

So will the Catholic Church in the United States see another exodus to the Episcopalian Church, or did those so inclined already leave long ago? If Episcopalians offered to host masses of Catholic liturgy, under (ex?)Catholic clergy -- in effect to house two congregations under one roof -- they might effect some interesting developments....

Liturgy and tradition, as opposed to theology, may be the primary factors retaining many American Catholics in the Church. If those factors can be accommodated elsewhere, Rome's budget will have cause for worry, and Ratzinger may be surprised at how small "small" can be.

Conversely, is there much chance that discontented anti-homosexual-ordination Episcopalians will defect to Rome?

Mass conversions either way seem unlikely, short of strong individual leadership in either or both directions. If the status quo holds, Ratzinger & Company can continue to take liberal money from American and European Catholics to pour into their literalist movement in countries where literacy lags.

Another interesting, but also unlikely, possibility is a broad schism. In 1870-71, the "Old Catholics" set a precedent. Forming in Germany and The Netherlands, they opposed the doctrine of papal infallibility and desired a more democratic Church. Other Roman Catholic splinter groups have since joined them. United in eucharist with the Anglican-Episcopalian Church since 1931, Old Catholics seem to number in the tens of thousands in the United States, but estimates range widely. Look for increased traffic to

Were I a liberal Catholic instead of a historicist Protestant with my own liturgical preferences, I might be more inclined to the vitality of the broader Episcopalian Church than to the curiosity of Old Catholicism.

Update: Here's another one: American Catholic Church,

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Jeff Vanke - 4/20/2005

I've followed Ratzinger for ten years or so, and my comments are based on that. (The article that J. Dresdner linked has more about challenges than past indications, and it's not very incisive on Ratzinger per se.) I have also discussed Ratzinger with a German theologian who is part of a large group of reform-minded international Catholic theology faculty now frozen out of promotions and transfers. I agree it would be different to echo a few quotations from newspapers, but that's not what I did.

David J Merkowitz - 4/20/2005

Clearly I've started a minor discussion here. My point is more about tone than content. One can bring the full power of facts forward on a person like Benedict XVI, the point I was trying to make is do we presume in tone that all of our worst nightmares will immediately come true. I'm not sure a good study of the past will show that is the best place to start.
For instance, clearly Ratzinger is German and carries with him the full baggage of living under Nazi rule as many have noted. The question do we lead as the Sun from England did as making his primary identity that of a member of Hitler Youth and later the army in a society completely controlled by the combination of Nazism and war, or do we point those items out and then move as J. Dresner did more recently on Cliopatria toward the documents he has created over the course of his adult life.

Jeff Vanke - 4/20/2005

At a certain point in learning about any given subject, one begins to exclude certain possibilities as implausible. The specifics of such exclusions will vary with respective observers' subjectivity. But the only way to avoid them altogether is to adopt a comprehensive agnosticism, along with skepticism about learning in general. Pure open-mindedness is pure epistemological agnosticism.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/20/2005

But isn't it really a question of what objectivity would be? Is it objectivity to make note of the fact that Ratzinger was a member of Hitler Youth or that he served in the Luftwaffe? Or is it objectivity to know those things but to ignore them out of respect or patience? And is it objectivity to make note of the fact that the College of Cardinals elected the foremost enforcer of theological orthodoxy or is it objectivity, given John Paul's choice of 113 or the 115 voting Cardinals, to say that the College of Cardinals probably includes few potential candidates who are really much to the left of Ratzinger theologically? That is, it seems to me that apart from the sort of spare post that Josef Cardinal Ratzinger had been chosen by the College of Cardinals as the new pope, you necessarily get into decisions about what is or what is not relevent as fact that makes any interpretative statement's claim to objectivity dubious.

David J Merkowitz - 4/20/2005

I agree. However, I believe I can expect open-mindedness particularly from historians who striving toward objectivity or at least some variation there of.

Ralph E. Luker - 4/20/2005

Mr. Merkowitz, Your reading here is appreciated. I imagine that you mean that you were irritated by some of the comments on the previous post about Benedict XVI's election, because the post itself was a simple announcement of the election. The comments are by a very diverse group of people, including those who are and those who are not Christians and those who are and those who are not Catholics. It's an illusion to expect that such a diverse group of commenters will all be either reverential or patient.

David J Merkowitz - 4/20/2005

This comment is not just directed at this particular post, though it is the second post today that irked me. I find this particular post and a number of the posts on this site to be consistently negative in their tone. I started reading Cliopatria because there was a good mix of humor, history, and current events analysis. The history is there but gossipy and the humor well not so much.
On the content of this post, the RC Church certainly has many issues and Ratzinger probably isn't the best guy for the job, but like the last couple of presidential elections, I plead for a little patience. Give the man a chance to show his true colors rather than pointing toward schism before he is even been inaugerated or whatever they do.