. . .Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
MATTHEW 16:6 NASB
One day, I was visiting with the neighbors of a relative. They were Catholic, and I told them that I had been attending daily mass at the parish just down the street from their house. "We don't attend that parish," the wife informed me. "It is too conservative. We attend the one across town." I was a bit perplexed because the parish down the street had a modern aesthetic, celebrated the mass in the ordinary form, and was involved in various social justice ministries. What made that parish conservative was that the priest, nuns, and parishioners there were pro-life and actually attended mass on the regular. A true conservative traditionalist Catholic would have been put off by the church for not doing a Latin Mass and not having an old school Catholic design. This was my first corporeal encounter with the modern day Sadducees and Pharisees.
It is helpful to understand these enemies of Jesus. I will begin with the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the first modernists in the world. They denied the resurrection of the dead and the afterlife and were the ones responsible for maintaining the temple. Basically, they disbelieved in God, held the keys to the property, enjoyed a cush lifestyle, and reduced the Jewish religion to a mere philosophy. They were the forerunners of today's Anglicans and Episcopalians.
The antagonists to the Sadducees were the hyper legalistic and scrupulous Pharisees. This Jewish sect did believe in the resurrection of the dead and the supernatural. But they also obsessed over the most trivial of matters much as Hasidic Jews obsess over whether tearing a piece of toilet paper violates the injunction against working on the Sabbath. We can laugh at this until we consider the modern day Pharisees in the Catholic Church who obsess over such trivialities as communion in the hand.
It is easy to point out the Sadducees outside of the Catholic Church. They make up most mainline Protestant denominations, and you can tell them easily by their outspoken support in favor of abortion and gay marriage. It is the Sadducees inside of the Catholic Church that are harder to spot. A good identifier would be the letters "SJ" after their name, but the fact is that there are many Jesuits who are orthodox and faithful to the Magisterium. The reason the Sadducees are hard to spot in Catholicism is because they camouflage themselves out of self-preservation. So, they wink and nod with their gay friendly masses and calls for "tolerance." They pursue the same strategy that their Protestant counterparts did in their denominations as they quietly debased the faith in appeasement to the culture.
The followers of the Sadducees are a perplexing bunch. They can't stand what the Catholic Church teaches, yet they never leave for their true church which is the Episcopalian/Anglican/Lutheran/Old Catholic Church. I might disagree with the people that belong to those various denominations, but I appreciate the fact that they openly espouse their beliefs and live up to them. It is the closet Sadducees within the Catholic Church that make no sense as they try to turn Catholicism into a religion that already exists outside of Catholicism. Many of these are priests and bishops who could leave for higher paying gigs and release from their vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Yet, they stubbornly stay. Why? That is easy. They belong to the Devil, and they do his work which is destroying the Catholic Church. They do more damage inside than outside which is why they stay.
The Pharisees and their followers are the exact opposite of the Sadducees. If the Sadducees refuse to leave, the Pharisees are quick to hit the exits. These would be your sedevacantist types who deny there has been a legitmate pope since before Vatican II. To a lesser degree, you have the Society of St. Pius X who remain in communion in name only but essentially operate in schism and revolt. The reason these people are quick to leave is because they also belong to the Devil drawing away the faithful and encouraging them to abandon the One True Faith to embrace an alternative version. They despise the modernist Sadducees, but they are actually working with them to destroy the Roman Catholic Church. Their aim is to stir up scrupulosity which can be as damaging as the indifferentism of modernism.
Pope Benedict XVI identified these Sadducees and Pharisees as the adherents to the "hermeneutic of rupture." Both parties could agree that Vatican II was a break with the past. For the Sadducees, that past was horrible. For the Pharisees, that past was glorious. For the faithful, they adhere to what Pope Benedict XVI called the "hermeneutic of continuity." Vatican II was not a break with the past but an outgrowth of it. The best part of that council was the universal call to holiness which the Pharisees could not understand. Prior to Vatican II, a certain clericalism had taken over, and the idea had taken hold that holiness was the province of the priests and religious while the laity should count themselves lucky to land on Purgatory's doorstep. Groups like Opus Dei were challenging this thinking, and the universal call to holiness was reclaimed in that council. For the Pharisees, this was terrible as they watched the Mass change under Pope Paul VI to be more inclusive by embracing the vernacular. For the Sadducees, the laity could be important allies in their mission to debase the Church's teaching. The result is that large numbers of Catholics apostasized into the Catholics in Name Only we see today leaving a remnant of believers who take the faith seriously.
The other thing in common with these wolves is they always wear the sheep's clothing. For the Sadducees, this sheep's clothing is the social justice doctrine, so they are always dressing up their pro-gay and pro-abortion efforts as being "merciful" and "compassionate." They do this because truth is harsh. On the Pharisee side, their sheep's clothing comes in being orthodox in belief and practice such that they are more Catholic than the pope himself. The irony is that they can't get along with each other and have a tendency for antisemitism and Holocaust denial. If you want to know the authentic followers of Jesus, look at their fruits.
I don't know why God allows these wolves to tempt the flock except that it produces some good. To witness both at work is to shake your faith and make you want to let Catholicism go. But this has been the story of Catholicism since Pentecost. The Church has been plagued by Arians who were the Sadducees of their day and the iconoclasts who were the Pharisees of their day. The reality is that Satan is a chess player who adeptly plays both sides of the board. The way to win is to always remain faithful to the pope and the Magisterium because this was the promise of Jesus to us. The gates of Hell would not prevail against the rock of Peter. My hero in this regard is St. Athanasius who literally defied the entire world by clinging to the truths we find in the Nicene Creed. This faith will prevail until the end of time. We just have to remain in it no matter what.