Why hasn’t there been a schism yet? I mean, it’s a pretty remarkable historical fact, isn’t it, that orthodox and openly modernist Catholicism have remained in communion with each other for a full half-century? The two sides share basically no beliefs. Our differences with the Nestorians, Monothelitists, Hussites, and Jansenists were insignificant by comparison, and all of those groups got the boot in about a generation. Nor are there any ties of affection holding the two sides of the Catholic civil war together–we hate each other’s guts. It wouldn’t be too hard for either side to pull the trigger and put an end to this unhappy union. (We Catholics don’t like the word “divorce”; let’s say I would like an “annulment” from the modernists.) From the orthodox side, this would be straightforward: the pope could excommunicate all the open heretics readminister the anti-modernist oath. The modernists don’t have a centralized command, but it wouldn’t be too hard for, say, the Catholic Theological Society, the Society of Jesus, Notre Dame, and the editors of Concilium to get together and declare an end to the Vatican’s undemocratic rule and the inauguration of a “reformed” Catholic Church under their leadership. Yet neither side does it. Why?
Let us enter into the minds of the combatants. What happens if there is a schism? The Roman Catholic Church splits in two, obviously, with X percent going to the modernists and Y=100-X percent going to the orthodox. Some reshuffling will follow, but as the two new ecclesial bodies solidify, each will very quickly lose access to the adherents of the other. Then the future demographic evolution of each body will have more to do with interactions (conversions and defections) with the surrounding culture, rather than with the rival group of Catholics. Thus, there are two considerations: 1) how to maximize/minimize X, 2) the ability for one’s group to survive post-schism.
As for the first issue, no one knows what X is, but I suspect it’s between 95 and 99.9. The modernists have completely won over the laity throughout most of the world. The actual value of X isn’t what matters strategically, though. What matters is the sign of dX/dt–whether the fraction that would go with the modernists is going up or down. If it’s going up, the pope should pull the trigger now, while the modernists should try to keep the status quo for a while longer; it it’s going down, the preferred strategies switch. Either way, somebody should precipitate a schism now. The reason they don’t is that both sides imagine that their side is getting stronger with time. Both sides think delay is in their interest, meaning that one side has misjudged the situation.
The modernists know that they’ve got a majority of the laity, and each generation that majority gets more and more solid. The popular culture is also going their way. Orthodox Catholicism is on the road toward social ostracism and perhaps even legal sanctions. Hence the modernists’ confidence. The hierarchy’s position they see as obviously untenable in the long term. How can the church condemn a modernity that 99.99% of the laity and >50% of the priests accept? All the modernists have to do is wait for the older “homophobic” “superstitious” generations to die out, and then they win automatically.
The Vatican sees things differently, pursuing a top-down strategy. The pope has no direct access to the laity, who for the time being are lost to him, but he can hope to radiate orthodoxy down. Since JPII, the papacy has focused on solidifying orthodoxy among the bishops. This has had some effect; the episcopacy is significantly less modernist now than in 1968. The bishops in turn have put their hope in a new generation of more orthodox priests who will finally win back some number of the laity. I suspect the fraction of orthodox priests is still fairly low, but at least the ones that do exist understand that they’re in a war with the modernists, something an orthodox priest in 1968 might not have realized clearly. The top-down strategy requires a lot of time, since it proceeds in stages, and at each stage it must wait for current occupants to retire. Therefore, the orthodox, under the leadership of the pope, also imagine it to be in their interest to defer a schism.
What kind of situation can each side expect post-schism? I think the strategies chosen by both sides ensure that it will be extremely bad for each. For the orthodox, schism means the formal size of the Church immediately dropping by two to three orders of magnitude. One could argue that this loss is more apparent than real because those 99 to 99.9% are already heretics, but the schism means they are practically gone forever. One expects that they will take a significant fraction of the churches and schools with them. To be honest, let’s hope they do, because we orthodox couldn’t support them without the revenue from heretical parishioners, and it would be embarrassing to maintain our property in a legal battle and then have to sell it anyway. A positive side for the orthodox is an end of the priest shortage. If 99% of the laity leave and 90% of the priests leave, the priest-to-laity ratio will go up by a factor of 10. The main negative is that the background culture will become even more hostile. We can expect the liberal media to direct their full fury at the rump orthodox group, as they now do against the SSPX (which, by the way, might end up being a significant fraction of the orthodox remnant). Our one hope is that we will be too small for them to bother over us much.
For the modernists, the post-schism outlook is superficially more positive, in that they get the lion’s share of baptized Catholics and get to be awash in positive media and government attention. However, the modernist Church can hardly be expected to survive more than two generations. Its position is too manifestly absurd; there’s no reason for anyone to belong to it. Without the hierarchy, there’s no convincing tie to the historical Catholic Church. The only thing this group has going for it is agreement with the zeitgeist, and nobody needs to join a Church to have that. The modernist Catholic Church would follow the Episcopalian death spiral, only faster. Unlike liberal Judaism, it won’t even be able to survive as an ethnocultural group, because Catholics have no distinct culture or ethnicity. So, as unpleasant as the current situation is, the post-schism future looks intolerable to both groups. So, like some unhappily married couples, we stay together for lack of better alternatives.