The Consequences of Disunity
Catholics from every perspective will agree that the Church is largely divided today. I do not think that anyone imagines that there was ever a time in the last 2000 years that there was 100% agreement on every issue in the Catholic faith. Yet, we are not just short of 100%, but very short of it. Some of the most fundamental issues in the Catholic faith are disagreed upon (and they should not be). St Paul encouraged the Corinthians (a very divided parish) in the first century to be "of one mind" and said that it is not optional.
This is not about how to overcome this disagreement (I think it is fairly easy -- everyone needs to stop doing theology like a protestant -- but that is a subject for another day). This is about the consequences of such a widespread lack of unity in the faith. I will list four: 1) it makes it hard for Catholics to be certain what is right when there are so many with different opinions; 2) it makes it harder for our faith to grow; 3) it encourages the laity to "shop around" and look for the priest (or even Bishop) who teaches what they already believe; 4) it creates an "us-them" perspective in the Church (sometimes even in the same parish).
Let me open up each of these a bit more.
1) How does the average Catholic (who does not know what the Church has always taught) discern the difference between Fr. Droopydrawers who says that the Eucharist is a "communal feast" and Fr. McGillicutty who says that the Eucharist is a sacrifice? Without spending time reading a trustworthy theology manual (something all should be willing to do, but few are), the average Catholic will probably choose to believe the Priest that he likes best. In other words, the decision is made for one of the worst reasons possible.
2) When there are different opinions on a crucial subject (e.g. communion on the hand or on the tongue) we have to recognize that we are not relativists. It truly does matter which is correct and it is not determined by what "people want" but by what is the most holy action. When people are confused, however, it leads to lesser and lesser confidence in the Magisterium and then lesser and lesser confidence in the clergy. Lack of confidence is equal to lack of hope, and that always results in a breakdown of the faith and commitment of the baptized.
3) When there are options for which kind of shoes to buy, or what part of the country to live in, that is a good thing. Some things are not supposed to be "one size fits all". There are some things, however, that have truly evil consequences if there are options. The free and unhindered option to marry anyone regardless of the person's sex always leads to evil. This is so because whenever we are given options we will almost always choose the one that pleases us the most (which is a sinful ground for one's choices). Thus, when there are options for liturgical practice (I do not mean different rites or uses of rites, but personal "styles" of liturgy) then most of the faithful will choose the one that they "like" (which is always a selfish choice). When there are so many "options" available, people end up believing that Catholicism is like a cafeteria: "come and pick what you want, because you can have it your way". The result of this is that most will go to the parish that already does what the they are "comfortable" with and their faith is never challenged to grow. This means their faith will then stagnate.
4) If there is a parish that is more traditional and another that is more modernist (especially if they are near to one another), it will frequently create the sense of an "us-them" attitude. I have heard and seen this often (from both sides). It becomes, "we don't do it that way" (which can actually be a good thing if it is humble and not used as a weapon but that rarely happens) and that leads to each side thinking that the other is second class. A few small differences can be for the betterment of the Church as a whole. We do not, unfortunately, have just a few small differences; we have boundaries broken, dogmas denied, and the truth treated as archaic. We need one clear statement of truth and morality and one consistent requirement for how the Mass is celebrated (in all its Rites and Usages).
The Church should never allow a state of disunity that we have degenerated into. The attacks on the historic truths of Catholicism is increasing each day (from all fronts) within our own ranks. We cannot be hateful about it, but we also cannot ignore it. We must be working to overcome it. Our souls and the souls of our brothers and sisters are suffering needlessly for it.