The Catholic Church’s biggest crisis since the Reformation

As during the Protestant Reformation, the theological divide has extended beyond the clergy to the laity and the common faithful in the pew. The debates are not over obscure doctrinal questions for specialists, but issues such as sexuality, which are part of lay people’s everyday lives.

The same is true of the political divides within the church, both in the sixteenth century and today. The Protestant Reformation was the beginning of a process of political nationalization, where the faithful became subjects not only of the church, but also of nations. The rise of the nation state marked the decline of the Roman Catholic political doctrine that held the church’s (specifically the pope’s) legitimacy supreme over that of imperial rulers.

In a similar way, the Catholic crisis today is about deeper political rifts within the church over the correct teaching on social-political issues. Where conservative-traditionalist Catholics tend to oppose to any legislation decriminalizing abortion, progressives usually favor decriminalization coupled with measures that offer women alternatives designed to limit the number of abortions as much as possible. Conservatives tend to oppose universal access to health care and favor the unrestricted right to bear arms for civilians, while progressives favor the former and push for gun control. The two camps also have opposing views on the death penalty and on Francis’ recent change to the Catechism declaring capital punishment “inadmissible.” In general, conservatives favor shrinking government, while progressives see government services and public authorities as essential to promote the common good in civil society. These political rifts between the two Catholic camps have never been deeper in modern times, especially in the Western world.