This follows on from the Bloody Question post.
"Right. Fair enough. Let's consider your question about what I shall have to do when the next pope but two admits women to Holy Orders. Let's call him Pope Philogynes I.
"Let me first set the scene a trifle more generously for you ... and fill in just one or two tiny gaps in your very interesting scenario. At the moment, it has been authoritatively settled by the Magisterium of the Church that women cannot receive Holy Order. This has been asserted infallibly. When John Paul II issued Ordinatio sacerdotalis it was made clear that this, while not an ex cathedra pronouncement, was infallible by virtue of being an expression of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church ... which is infallible. Now ... yes yes, OK ... I take your point that Philogynes could simply declare that OS was not part of the Ordinary Magisterium; and then proceed to relativise it, explaining that, while it was thoroughly right and good when it was issued, a new context now offered a broader background against which to reassess its binding force. Yup. Nice one.
"But remember what happened after Vatican II, which was self-described as not being a doctrinal Council. Non-dogmatic ecumenical councils are so structurally insignificant in the Church's history that the transactions of some of them have sunk without trace. Yet the liturgical consequences of this (sub specie aeternitatis) extremely minor ecumenical council, Vatican II, caused a schism. This occurred even though those remodeling the Church's worship went far beyond the actual conciliar mandate. And its teaching on Religious Freedom reinforced this schism, even though the conciliar teaching on this point, prima facie in contradiction to that of the earlier Magisterium, was not imposed de fide - because Vatican II was not in the business of de fide anathemas.
"A persistent schism - albeit comparatively small - which could, and did, arise from such - comparatively - slight causes makes clear what a complete melt-down would incontrovertibly ensue if Philogynes attempted to change a ruling which had once had the I-word, the dread incantation of Infallibility, pronounced over it. The schisms which even happen in the friendly fudge-it-if-you-can fields of Anglicanism, where the I-word can't be invoked, would be but a summer shower in an August drought compared with what would happen in the RC Church.
"Remember also the theological debates about the status of a pope who formally falls into heresy. There can be no doubt that this question would come to the forefront if Philogynes cancelled an enactment which some of his predecessors had declared - however questionably - to have infallible force. We can be sure that dissident Cardinals would gather and elect a 'successor' ... John Paul III, perhaps. Remember also what happened when Urban VI's cardinals, cheesed off at having been bullied into electing him in the first place and even more unimpressed by his habit of torturing cardinals to death - matters which, in dogmatic and Magisterial terms, are pretty small beer - held a new conclave and made a new election*. We ended up with two ... and eventually three ... rival claimants to the Throne of Peter; and the Great Schism of the West.
"That schism had comparatively little effect upon the local individual Catholic because the question of which pope he was in communion with was largely decided above his head on grounds of national politics. In the modern context, every individual Catholic would have to decide which claimant was the real pope. What's that? A Council? Vatican III? OK, but remember that there have been 'ecumenical councils' which have subsequently been redefined as Robber Synods. Each 'pope' might hold his own Council, with anathemas galore flying around.
"In these circumstances, I would be in the same distressing position as every other individual Catholic.
"It would be a very nasty situation, but I suppose I would have no option but to make some decision. I suspect it might be for John Paul III and thus for Continuity.
"Frankly, I very much doubt the likelihood of such a scenario, which is why I wasn't very keen to answer your question in the first place. Even the most 'liberal' RC bishops would tend, I'm pretty sure, to discover in their DNA an instinct for keeping the Institution together, which would compel them to draw back from the brink. But it would certainly be a wonderful time for journalists, and I can understand why you are so anxiously hoping for it."
*E L Mascall once observed that it had never been authoritatively decided by a fully magisterial pronouncement which 'line' was the genuine one (although there was a broad de facto consensus that Urban, though murderous, was pope). Indeed, I would add that in 1492 Papa Borgia called himself Alexander VI, which implied that he included in his computation the Pisan 'Antipope' Alexander V, Papa Philargus. And Mascall added that holy people on each side of the schism were subsequently accepted as Saints of the Universal Church. In a sense, the Great Schism of the West has even now still not quite been laid to rest.