Are You a Schismatic if you Disagree with the Pope (e.g., Cardinal Burke)?

by Steve Ray on November 7, 2018

A note on the other kind of schism

Most Catholics correctly, but incompletely, understand schism as “the refusal of submission to the Supreme Pontiff” (1983 CIC 751). Overlooked here—perhaps because it is much rarer than is typical ‘anti-papal schism’ and is harder to spot when it does occur—is the second kind of schism, namely, “the refusal … of communion with the members of the Church subject to him” (1983 CIC 751).

In other words schism comes in two varieties, ‘vertical schism’ whereby one refuses submission to the Roman Pontiff and ‘horizontal schism’ whereby one refuses to extend that Christian unity owed to others who are, in fact, in union with the pope. If the poster boy for vertical schism was, say, Martin Luther, the horizontal schismatic is, I suggest, one whose devotion to the pope is so extreme that he regards as disloyal those who don’t share his opinions on all things papal and, for that reason, shuns them.

Of course Catholics’ opinions on popes and prelates may vary widely, and, to be sure, the canonical requirements for proving schism, vertical or horizontal, in actual cases are high. But Catholics critical of Pope Francis and/or his governance of the Church—Catholics, mind, in full communion with the Church per Canon 205—notwithstanding their demonstrable communion with the pope, are frequently disparaged these days, sometimes by ranking bishops, as being adversaries, accusers, and gossip-mongers.

To some extent, of course, such verbal insults should be written off as Life in This Valley of Tears and those subjected to them simply reminded that others have endured far harsher treatment for the Faith. But lately I wonder whether this demonizing of papal critics risks taking a canonical turn.

Long-time Vaticanista Marco Tosatti recently claimed (Eng. trans. here) that word has been passed down by papal representatives to bishops not to invite Raymond Cdl. Burke to their dioceses and that, should Burke appear at an event in their churches, they should not even appear with him.

If this report is true, then understand: bishops working in close collaboration with the pope are instructing other bishops to avoid and, if necessary, to refuse manifestations of Christian unity due to a bishop who is, beyond any question, in full communion with him and them. That report, if true, would suggest something well beyond mere verbal disparagement of a fellow bishop.

Again, journalist claims of such counter-catholic (in the sense of ‘unity’ and ‘oneness’) directives are a long way from constituting proof of horizontal schism in their authors, but that such measures could even be plausibly alleged is a sign of the times and deeply troubling.

Like Catholics admonished to avoid sin and even near occasions of sin so prelates should avoid schism and even actions suggestive of schismatic attitudes. If such disgraceful directives were quietly issued may they be quietly and quickly withdrawn; if they were even contemplated may be they be rejected lest they open the door to even deeper divisions than we already suffer.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Tony November 8, 2018 at 9:13 AM

Ray you really don't like Pope Francis do you. I wonder why that is. It can't be because the Holy Spirit is working through him to bring the Catholic Church into a new relationship with the world and the people of God. Perhaps it's because he is unsettling the cosy fraternity of Bishops and Cardinals in Rome and around the world. We can't have tradition and dogma changed for the sake of the Kingdom of God can we!

STEVE RAY HERE: It is not a question of whether I like Pope Francis or not, the question is “Is Pope Francis doing what a Pope is supposed to do?” I just published my new book “The Papacy, What the Pope Does and Why It Matters” and as I point out the Pope is to preserve the ancient Faith as handed down by Jesus and the Apostles, as contained in the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition. It is NOT the Pope’s job to be an innovator or change the Scripture or Tradition. Dogma by definition means something stable and true, not something to change. My critique of Pope Francis is made on that basis, not whether I like him or not.

And by the way, Popes are not beyond criticism as I prove in my new book.

Eric in Dallas TX November 8, 2018 at 8:23 PM

This is not testimony on the blanket truth of the assertion, but on the topic of Bishops to refuse manifestations of Christian unity, no local ordinary ever makes it to the (several) Cdl. Burke events in this town.

Sandi November 9, 2018 at 1:28 PM

Traditionalists- those who adhere to the teachings and truths, i.e., the Magisterium, are frowned upon by P.Francis. They are part of what he calls “the great accusers”. This is not your mama’s Catholic Church.

HG November 10, 2018 at 1:17 PM

The real meaning of the “great accuser” is the one who leads you to sin and, after committing that sin, accuses you of commiting that sin to the point of desperation and mistrust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. Let us not confuse the meaning of this, or else we fall into the temptation of the great manipulator of words who lied to our first parents from the beginning. Archbishop Vigano is no great accuser, although he is probably one of the great exposer of truth!

Steve November 28, 2018 at 11:53 AM


I am allowing this post to show how some people think. This man Steve obviously has no idea of my position which I have clearly stated in my new book, "The Papacy: What the Pope Does and Why it Matters." I of all people with two books defending the Papacy have the highest regard and love for the Papacy and respect for it. I That does not mean I have to agree with or like any particular Pope.

For the first year's of Francis' papacy I did everything I could to explain and defend him. But I don’t try anymore. No pope is above criticism as I explain in my new book.

I think Cardinal Burke is very respectful and a current hero of the Church. And don't kid yourself, the current Pope is NOT open to challenges or criticism.


Straw man set up and knocked down: Schism. Cardinal Burke is not guilty of "schism" but he is guilty of complete disrespect for the Holy Father. The manner in which he has done many things (public dissent) in very uncharitable, "showboat" ways is clearly "sinful" and promotes division as is the case here and on many conservative and traditional sites. 10 years ago I thought this type of activity was limited to the "left" and I have learned the "right" is now just as bad. Good faith, charitable criticism is certainly fair and advisable, indeed this pope welcomes it! But what has been going on as FAR beyond that. Cardinal Burke, Mr. Ray and many others need to be far more authentic in their examination of conscience. There is a minimalism to your standards in this regard and since it is the pope it should be MAXIMUM deference and charity to further unity and harmony.

Chris November 28, 2018 at 12:25 PM

Disagreement in a family such as with your mother, father, siblings, etc., does not mean you're going to leave the family. Just because I disagree with some of the nuances of the Holy Father's governance of the Church does not mean he should not be the Pope, or that I should leave the Catholic Church. That said, while my opinion means little on a global scale, the Holy Father's mere appearances and words bring great attention to the Church. What he says and does matters. In this age of relativism, where every word and gesture is interpreted incalculably, it is important that every Pope is not INTERPRETING the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but ensuring that the truth (no matter how difficult) is dogmatically presented so there is no room for interpretation. I consider myself a conservative, but I would advise against summarily accusing the Holy Father of schism or trying to change dogma. We don't know for certain what is going on in the Vatican, nor what Francis says, nor what he says while speaking to God, NOR what God says to him. We must only trust in the Lord and be faithful. Judgment is reserved for God alone.

Final judgment is left to God alone but discerning and critiquing when something is obviously wrong is not only our right, but our responsibility. You may want to read Galatians 2:11 how one early Christian critiqued a sitting Pope.

Chris November 28, 2018 at 1:03 PM

Hi Steve Ray: No, I agree with you 100 percent. When I said, "What he says and does matters. In this age of relativism, where every word and gesture is interpreted incalculably, it is important that every Pope is not INTERPRETING the Gospel of Jesus Christ, but ensuring that the truth (no matter how difficult) is dogmatically presented so there is no room for interpretation." That was my diplomatic way of saying that this Pope should not give in to secular beliefs that the Church should re-evaluate it's dogmatic position, and I'll just be specific here, on homosexuality and all that it implies. My warning that the faithful should not summarily make accusations and that God alone reserves the right to judgement, is also my diplomatic way of saying that some of the faithful take it too far in their words and actions. Decisions by the faithful to "oppose to his face" must be made by the accusers only when there is clear evidence of schism or blatantly incorrect dogmatic teaching. I enjoyed your article and I look forward to reading your new book on the Pope.

STEVE RAY HERE: Thanks Chris. Appreciate your correction and explanation. God bless.

John Glackin January 5, 2020 at 5:25 PM

Those “Catholics” on the left are not really Catholic. And we h a very every right to push back the left’s agenda and call them out on it. In fact many on the right and conservative have been too patient and giving a benefit of a doubt too much.

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