I wondered if heresy is a less grave sin than schism since in schism you are separated from the Church and the channels of grace. I heard a friend explain why the Church was more severe towards Lefevre than Küng, but isn’t it true that in heresy you also cut yourself off from the Church so every heresy contains schism?
Wouldn’t it depend on the schism?
If a group of bishops and priests were to set up their own pro-birth control, pro-choice, women-ordaining “Catholic” church they would deserve far different treatment than our Orthodox brethren who have retained a valid apostolic succession, the Sacraments – most of the “channels of grace”.
The Lefebvrists, from what I understand about them fall somewhere in between.
The heretic believes something that is incompatible with what the Church teaches. However often he doesn’t himself consider it to be so. In that case usually, but not always, he is outside the Church against his will.
The schismatic believes that it is wrong to be a member of the Church. Usually, but not always, this is because he feels he or his friends should be in charge.
It is not uncommon to be both a heretic and a schismatic. Even if a schismatics real motive is pure personal ambition he will usually convince himself and others that more noble issues are at stake. A heretic will often say “since the Church will not accept my great idea, I no longer want to be part of it”.
But the two are not always together, and the sincere heretic to whom excommunication is a terrible rejection of his ideas is in a much more favourable position than the schismatic to whom it is a mere political inconvenience.
The possibility must be envisaged of those who may have “cut themselves off from the structure of the Body by their own unhappy act or been severed therefrom, for very grave crimes, by the legitimate authority,” says Pope Pius XII in his encyclical the “Mystical Body of Christ.” In other words, the Church, as being a perfectly constituted society, has the right for grave reasons of excluding from membership. She may pass sentences of, or lay down conditions which involve, excommunication. This carries with it the deprivation of rights and privileges enjoed by those in communion with the faithful. But such a juridical penalty does not wholly nullify membership of the Church, still less does it necessarily imply the final condemation before God of the excommunicated person. Certain sins - viz., apostasy, heresy and schism - of their nature cut off the guilty from the living Body of Christ. Apostasy is a form of spiritual suicide, being the complete and voluntary abandonment of the Christian faith which one once professed. Heresy, objectively considered, is a doctrinal proposition which contradicts an article of faith; from the subjective point of view it may be defined as an error concerning the Catholic faith, freely and obstinately persisted in by a professing Christian. Schism consists in a refusal of subjection to the Vicar of Christ, the Pope, in whose office the source of the Church’s visible unity is embodied, or a withdrawal from communion with the faithful subject to him. It can hardly be denied that those who take up any of these positions - most evidently is this the case with the deliberate apostate - sever themselves by their own act from membership of the Church. Generally speaking, anyone who persists in schism for a period of time eventually drifts into heresy.