Why is there so much division in the Church?

Division in the world is part of everyday life. We expect it and though it’s difficult to witness, we usually aren’t surprised by it. But it might be shocking to see deep, harmful divisions within the Catholic Church. Why does division exist in the Church and how can we respond when we see it?

The beautiful diversity in the Church

Many Catholics don’t have the opportunity to experience the true universality of the Church. But there’s beauty in the diversity of ways that Catholics worship God and pray the Mass throughout the world. The music, devotions, and artwork that draw our heart and mind to God might be different from a Catholic across the world or even down the street.

“There are so many different spiritualities; there are so many different approaches to living the Faith. We’ve got 24 approved rites in the Catholic Church so there’s so many different ways of celebrating the Eucharist in different historical traditions, different languages, different rites. And you know, all of that is part of the wonder of the Church that we have so much and different people are going to be able to pray better in different ways,” said Msgr. Stuart Swetland, host of Go Ask Your FatherTM on Relevant Radio®.

When differences cause division

This is all good and fine, says Msgr. Swetland, until it starts to lead toward division. This manifests in different ways, including: “Where people become more Catholic than the Church, as I like to refer to it. When they say my way is the only way. … And I’m in this rite and I don’t recognize the other 23 rites or I like to pray this way with this spirituality and everybody should pray this way with this spirituality.”

This gets away from what it means to be a Catholic. “That is not being authentically Catholic and universal, to recognize the great diversity that there is in our history and in our ongoing reality as a Catholic Church,” explained Msgr. Swetland.

As a rule of thumb, Msgr. Swetland says that if the Church has approved something universally, we should respect and celebrate it. If the Church hasn’t approved it, we should tread carefully. Part of being Catholic is submitting to the teaching and discipline of the Church.

What to do in the face of division 

We should always strive for peace and unity in the Catholic Church and among Christians. If you encounter a person who seeks to divide, remember this: “Satan would love to divide us on these things and what we have to do is say it’s both/and. Yes, the traditions are beautiful but the Church has allowed these things as well, so it’s both/and rather than either/or.”

Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Listen to the full segment:

Tune in to Go Ask Your FatherTM weekdays at noon-1pm CT only on Relevant Radio®.

Lindsey is a wife, mother, and contributing author at Relevant Radio. She holds a degree in Journalism and Advertising from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Lindsey enjoys writing, baking, and liturgical living with her young family.