Another year has passed, and it cannot be said that the internal crisis of Christianity is any closer to solution: which inevitably raises the question of whether, short of supernatural intervention, it is capable of being solved at all.
The great turning point, signalised by the Second Vatican Council, was the decision actively to pursue ecumenical relationships in the hope of achieving organic unity among the various Christian persuasions. The reversal of previous practice in matters of ordinary good manners and diplomacy was both overdue and welcome. The issues of substance, however, remain as far from solution as ever they were.
The Anglican Church is either split (as in the U.S.) or close to a split (as in Britain). The internal issue within the Anglican Communion has come to a head on the issue of the ordination of women, but as Archdeacon George Austin of York stated (November AD2000), the doctrinal division goes beyond this question. Simultaneously, the attachment of the present Archbishop of Canterbury himself, and of somewhat more than half of that Church as a whole, to the principle of the ordination of women precludes the achievement of unity between Rome and Canterbury. Nor is there any real possibility that this situation will change.
Simultaneously, relationships between Catholic and Orthodox Christianity have entered a new 'deep freeze'. The angry reaction of the Moscow Patriarch, Alexii, to the appointment of several Catholic Bishops, including an Archbishop of Moscow, in Russian territory, stating that a visit to Russia by Pope John Paul would be unwelcome, obviously spells the end of efforts to achieve religious unity between Rome and Moscow for a very long time ahead.
The incidents which actually precipitated the dual impasse may themselves have been fortuitous. But the underlying realities were always there, and would finally have emerged. In each case, the fundamental factors making for continued separation rest on centuries of political, cultural and historical diversity, not to say antagonism, as well as on ecclesiological issues like the primacy and infallibility. To believe that there could be any 'give' by either side on these questions is to live in a world of illusion.
Hence, whatever energies still exist within the Catholic Church should be devoted exclusively to curing the internal schism, which has, if anything, assumed an even sharper focus because of the fact that within what is technically one Church, there are two distinct organisations subsisting around two distinct sets of beliefs. Nor can it be reasonably doubted that, to one of these groups, the Pope is not the representative of Christ on earth, but an enemy to be fought and overcome, by the use of the tactics of the Trojan Horse.
The issue which emerged once again with the publication of the draft of the new Universal Catechism will certainly be projected once again, and even more decisively, when the Pope publishes the long-awaited Encyclical on the fundamental principles of Catholic morality. (Particularly, but not exclusively in the U.S.).
The Pope is certain to be faced with the same orchestrated rebellion as Paul VI was with Humanae Vitae. The dissident theologians, especially in the U.S., will be provided with a copy, as they were with Humanae Vitae, before it is published, and they will have prepared their staged P.R. reaction as they did on the earlier occasion.
There can be no doubt that this Encyclical will re-assert the position of Papal Infallibility as clearly defined by the two Vatican Councils, the cutting edge of which will be its renewed insistence on the relationship between infallibility and the Church's teachings on matters of sexual morality.
Nobody has more cogently outlined what is at stake than Dr Hans Küng in his book, Infallible?, published twenty years ago in 1971 (p.54):
"A truth of faith or morals is infallible by the mere fact of being promulgated as binding by the episcopate in universal agreement; it does not have to await promulgation as infallible truth. And who would deny that such a consensus on the birth control issue existed for centuries, and that from the beginning of this century the condemnation of it has been upheld by numerous episcopal conferences and individual bishops whenever controversy about it became acute outside the Catholic Church or isolated Catholic theologians diffidently tried to raise questions about it?"
Küng at least had the courage to state the consequences after the publication of Humanae Vitae:
"There are only two alternatives. One either accepts it as infallible and unalterable doctrine, as the commission minority and the Pope did, and holds firm to it in spite of all difficulties and criticisms, if necessary to the point of 'sacrificium intellectus'; or one questions the whole theory of infallibility."
Recognising the consequences of challenging not merely the infallibility of the Pope but of the Church itself on this question, Küng logically threw out the whole doctrine of infallibility, stating that the Church itself, let alone the Pope, was not infallible.
The consequences of the dismantling of traditional Christian teaching on matters of sexual morality - the universal plague of AIDS and other sexually-transmitted diseases - ought to have indicated that the simple biological facts tell as strongly in favour of the traditional Christian moral cod as the theological arguments. But apparently not.
The authority of the Church in matters of faith and morals does not, of course, rest on the teaching on contraception. It has merely come to a head on this issue. What is really at stake was articulated most clearly by Paul Johnson at the time of the publication of the Report of the Papal Commission on Reproduction, at a time when, as editor of New Statesman and Nation, he had not returned to the Catholic Church into which he was born:
"The report adopts the common-sense line that, granted parents have a responsible attitude towards marriage, the way they plan their families should be left to them. To my mind, however, it goes very much further and says that it's not the Church's business to lay down detailed guides for living the Christian life, but merely to state general moral principles and leave the rest to the individual's conscience. This was precisely the central issue of the Reformation. The Roman Catholic has finally turned Protestant."
That the de facto schismatic "Church within a Church" repudiates the infallibility of the Pope - while apparently insisting on that of every Tom, Dick or Harry who writes on the subject - is, of course, clear.
If, however, its proponents are right, then the claims of the Catholic Church have been false from the beginning of its history, and we have all been misled. In these circumstances those who, to date, have remained faithful to Rome are hardly likely to repudiate Rome's authority and to substitute the authority of the dissidents. It is one thing to repudiate one's Faith. It is quite another thing to repudiate one's reason.