Who should determine the parameters and/or identity for a religious denomination?
Most people would answer that the historically established leadership of a religion and/or denomination has this exclusive and traditional right and role.
But some disgruntled former members and/or splinter groups seem to think otherwise.
Movie star Mel Gibson belongs to just such a group composed largely of former Roman Catholics. The actor was raised from childhood within such a religious environment.
Gibson and his fellow religionists consider themselves “traditional Catholics.”
But ironically such so-called “Catholics” have abandoned perhaps the most established tradition of Roman Catholicism, which is the teaching of one church under the direction and ecclesiastical authority of the Pope.
“We just want to be good Catholics,” says one “priest” from a schismatic group quoted by Knight Ridder Newspapers.
However, a “priest” like this has no standing in the Roman Catholic Church and is very often an excommunicate.
But some media reports persist in calling such groups “traditionalist Catholics,” whatever that means.
There is an old axiom, “If you want to be a member of the club you must abide by its rules.” But somehow this doesn’t seem to apply to “traditional Catholics.”
Instead they apparently want to have it both ways. That is, to have the status of being in the club generally, but make up their own rules.
Isn’t that non-traditional?
Catholic authorities seem to regard such splinter groups largely as a nuisance and there are only about 20,000 members in the US. An insignificant number, given the size of Roman Catholicism worldwide.
The present Pope excommunicated a renegade French priest, Cardinal Marcel Lefebvre, once a key figure in the so-called “traditionalist” movement.
Lefebvre has since died, but his faithful followers soldier on. The largest single group is the Society of St. Pius X; perhaps named after the last Pope they really liked.
The Roman Catholic Church has endured an assortment of schismatic “kooks,” “crazies” and “cult leaders,” who claim to speak for Mary, God and/or the Holy Spirit.
This burgeoning list of former Catholics includes Caritas of Birmingham, William Kamm known as the “Little Pebble,” the Army of Mary, His Community/Christ Covenant Ministries, Four Winds Commune, Friends of the Eucharist and the Magnificat Meal Movement.
The most destructive and tragic group of former Catholics was the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments, responsible for the mass murder/suicide of hundreds in Uganda.
Not unlike the problems posed by pseudo-Catholics the Mormon Church also has its share of troublesome splinter groups.
Polygamist groups that are often called “fundamentalist Mormons” practice their faith largely in Arizona, Utah and parts of Canada. They are an embarrassment to the Mormon Church, which abandoned the practice of polygamy more than a century ago.
Yet some media reports confuse the public with the label “fundamentalist Mormons” to describe these disparate sects, frequently run by absolute leaders much like “cults.”
Recently, an author apparently striving for better book sales said, “Mormon authorities treat the fundamentalists as they would a crazy uncle — they try to keep the ‘polygs’ hidden in the attic.”
His book titled Under the Banner of Heaven, places grizzly murders within the context of so-called “Mormon Fundamentalism” reported Associated Press.
An official church spokesman made it clear that such groups have nothing whatsoever to do with the Mormon Church and that those Mormons. And when Mormons do become involved with them they are excommunicated, much like former Catholics in schismatic groups.
Recently since the 1960s Jews have also endured apostates setting up their own so-called “Jewish” groups.
Interestingly, these groups, which are composed of converts to fundamentalist Christianity such as “Jews for Jesus” and so-called “Messianic Jews,” are closely aligned and supported by Protestant denominations within the “born-again” movement.
These “Jews” like the polygamists and former Catholics have no standing in the organized Jewish community.
Israel’s “Law of Return” does not recognize them as Jews and recently a Canadian court rejected one such group’s attempt to use historical Jewish symbols for self-promotion reported Canadian Jewish News.
But some media reports continue to confuse readers with a mixed bag of historically incoherent labels and/or oxymorons, such as “traditionalist Catholics,” “fundamentalist Mormons” and “Jews for Jesus,” that are self-referentially incoherent.
Even if such a group has a celebrity sponsor like Mel Gibson, it’s unlikely to be a meaningful substitute for the Pope’s blessings.
And there is a historic right of denominational leaders to determine the parameters of their own faith’s identity, which should be recognized by responsible and objective journalists, rather than misleading the public.