roman catholicism

Pope Francis Has Conservatives Talking Schism. But a Split Is Easier Said Than Done

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. Photo courtesy of Josh Haner/New York Times/RNS.

Many conservative Catholics have long viewed Pope Francis with suspicion thanks to his effort to shift the church’s focus away from a culture war agenda and toward a more welcoming approach and a greater emphasis on serving the poor.

But last month’s controversial Vatican summit on the modern family, with the push by Francis and his allies to translate that inclusive view into concrete policies on gays and divorced and remarried Catholics, for example, seems to have marked a tipping point, with some on the right raising the specter of a schism — a formal split that is viewed as the “nuclear option” for dissenters.

New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a Catholic and a conservative, crystallized the peril in an Oct. 25 column warning the pope not to “break the church” to promote his goals, saying that if Francis continues to alienate conservative Catholics it could lead to “a real schism.”

Douthat had raised the possibility of “an outright schism” earlier this year, as well, and his warnings have been echoed by a number of other church leaders and commentators. The anxiety on the right has also drawn increasing media speculation about the possibility of conservatives splintering off.

So is a schism, with its echoes of medieval debates and heretics burning at the stake, a realistic possibility? And can an independent Catholic church be successful in the modern world?

Pope to Canonize John Paul II and John XXIII in April

Pope John Paul II participates in a procession in August, 2000. RNS file photo courtesy Universal Press Syndicate.

Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be formally declared saints on April 27, 2014, the Vatican said Monday. Pope Francis made the announcement during a meeting with cardinals gathered in Rome.

John Paul, who was pope from 1978 to 2005, and John, who reigned from 1958 to 1963, are considered two of the most influential religious leaders in the world in the last century, and they represent two poles in Roman Catholicism — John XXIII is a hero to liberals, while John Paul II is widely hailed by conservatives.

Letters to the Editor: Friday, April 27, 2012

Typewriter image via tadija /

In response to Jim Wallis' post, "Having the Sisters' Back" :

Thank you so much for bringing this issue to the attention of your readers. I am a Catholic woman and mother of three. My husband is a Methodist and we have raised our children in the two traditions we hold dear. I have become a recent friend to a sister who is very concerned with what is happening. We have recently begun to work on social justice issues in our parish. We are small, but I believe, with the help of the Spirit, we will one day be mighty....