The "Rite" Stuff? (The Catholic Right, Thirty-two in a Series).
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 08:45:24 AM EST
The New York Times  recently reported, Pope Benedict XVI has eased restrictions for the saying of the Tridentine or "Latin" Mass. No need for permission from the hierarchy anymore:

...the pope said that the change could both heal rifts with traditionalist groups that favor the Latin Mass as well as reconnect the church with a 1,500-year-old form of worship that faded since the Second Vatican Council, which ended in 1965.

But what may seem to seem to an accommodation to traditionalist Catholics can be more accurately interpreted as a reactionary, and not-so-esoteric political statement on neo-orthodoxy. The retreat inward has begun.

In a July 12th guest editorial in the New York Daily News, a local Manhattan priest, The Rev. Brian Jordan commented on Pope Benedict's priorities:

For 24 years I have been a member of an endangered species - the Catholic priesthood - and never celebrated the Mass in Latin because there was never a local pastoral need to do so ....

There continues to be no national pastoral need to celebrate the Mass in Latin other than to satisfy a small - albeit very influential - number of disgruntled Catholics.

Touch 'em all Reverend Jordan; you hit the ball out of the park.

One such disgruntled group is The Priestly Society of Saint Pius X,  (also known by the acronym, SSPX) known not only for their fondness of the Latin rite, but also for  the French Far Right, specifically, the neofascist National Front Party.

And what a jolly bunch be these SSPX folks! Founded in 1970 by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, they are not only anti-Enlightenment but they are openly contemptuous of the necessary (and unfinished) changes of Vatican II.

The group broke with Rome in 1988 after Lefebvre ordained four new bishops in defiance of Rome's orders. The Vatican responded to by excommunicating Archbishop Lefebvre and the bishops he ordained.

Several of the SSPX clergy have made anti-Semitic pronouncements, such as Bishop Richard Williamson, who threw in a little anti-Liberalism to boot.

"Supernaturally seen, such a scenario, capable of many adaptations, represents one more in many steps of the Jewish people towards their appointment with God at the end of the world, when, maybe converted by the heroism and endurance of the Catholics undergoing persecution by their Anti-Christ, they will at last convert (Romans XI) and discover their own true Messiah, Jesus Christ, who has never ceased to love them as his own people. However, until they re-discover their true Messianic vocation, they may be expected to continue fanatically agitating, in accordance with their false messianic vocation of Jewish world-dominion, to prepare the Anti-Christ's throne in Jerusalem. So we may fear their continuing to play their major part in the agitation of the East and in the corruption of the West. Here the wise Catholic will remember that, again, the ex-Christian nations have only their own Liberalism to blame for allowing free circulation within Christendom to the enemies of Christ."

Its no wonder that many are troubled by the prayer for the conversion of the Jews, which has stood as the epitome of the anti-Semitic strain in Catholicism that Vatican II, and reform minded prelates have sought to address since. That is one prayer that Benedict should have insisted be removed.   Was that deliberately left unaddressed to further placate the SSPX fringe and their ilk?

But what do these decisions say about how those now in charge of the Vatican view other faiths, even other Christian denominations? Taken together with other recent pronouncements, it speaks volumes, and very little of it good.

Along with this move to "heal rifts with traditionalist groups," earlier this week, the other shoe dropped. The independent newsweekly, National Catholic Reporter reported on an announcement from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:

"In a brief document, the Vatican's doctrinal congregation reaffirmed that the Catholic church is the one, true church, even if elements of truth can be found in separated churches and communities.

Touching an ecumenical sore point, the document said some of the separated Christian communities, such as Protestant communities, should not properly be called "churches" according to Catholic doctrine because of major differences over the ordained priesthood and the Eucharist."

As a Catholic I am saddened that such strident voices are taking over my Church. Seemingly gone are the days of Vatican II when the issues concerning Catholic-Jewish relations turned on the adoption of  Nostrae Aetate which Cardinal Roger Mahoney properly explained, "undertook a rethinking of Judaism and the Jewish people in Catholic theology and liturgy, repudiating historic Christian teachings of contempt towards Jews and positively asserting the common spiritual heritage the Christians and Jews share."

Also seemingly gone from this Vatican's mindset is a truer sense of interdenominational healing evidenced in 1966 when Pope Paul VI gave to the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey the ring he had worn as worn as cardinal archbishop of Milan. The two religious leaders joined together to sign a "Common Declaration," that declared "all those Christians who belong to these two communions may be animated by these same sentiments of respect, esteem and fraternal love."

As the current Roman hierarchy makes peace with the enemies of Vatican II while making war on other faiths -- as well as many of their own congregants, I can only imagine that this Pope will increasingly seek the counsel of renegades such as SSPX on a whole host of issues (the Vatican has been discussing reconciliation with SSPX since February 2006). Perhaps we will march backwards with an eventual repudiation of Dignitatis Humanae the declaration that proclaimed that everyone has a right to religious liberty, a right that is grounded in the essential dignity of each individual.

As the Benedictine nun, Sister Joan Chittister in her July 10, 2007 NCR column observed disconcertingly:

Now, this week, we got the word that the pope himself, contrary to the advice and concerns of the world's bishops, has restored the Tridentine Latin Rite. It is being done, the pope explains, to make reconciliation easier with conservative groups.

But it does not, at the same time, make reconciliation easier with women, who are now pointedly left out of the Eucharistic celebration entirely, certainly in its God-language, even in its pronouns. Nor does it seem to care about reconciliation with Jews who find themselves in the Tridentine Good Friday rite again as "blind" and objects of conversion. It's difficult not to wonder if reconciliation is really what it's all about.

Sister Joan further soberly noted:

From where I stand, it seems obvious that the Fathers of Vatican Council II knew the implications of the two different Eucharistic styles then and bishops around the world know it still. But their concerns have been ignored. They don't have much to do with it anymore. Now it's up to the laity to decide which church they really want -- and why. Which we choose may well determine the very nature of the church for years to come.

The people who propel divisive religion are often the very same who propel divisive politics. We know that many in the Religious Right --especially of my faith-- have IRD-neoconservative links. They often celebrate cultural wars, a generic neo-orthodoxy as well as archaic notions of manliness. For these odd fellows what separates us is more important than what is common to all of us.

Welcome to the age of strident polarization. Instead of seeking common ground with each other in order to live in peace, a new class of the neo-orthodox -- not just of Catholics, but of many faiths -- are bringing us to a very dangerous place. It is a place where there is no "common" good per se, but subjective factious "goods." Tribalism and "politics" constitutes the order of the day. And religious civil wars are a possibility as the neo-orthodox seek greater purity in their churches and in society.  It has happened before.

As both a Catholic and as an American, I don't want my country to head down the road to that place.  Sister Joan is dead-on when she says it's up to the laity to decide which church they really want, and as I believe, which country as well.

Kathy Hughes contributed to this story.

The Catholic Right: A Series, by Frank L. Cocozzelli :

Part One  Part Two  Part Three   Part Four  Part Five  Part Six   Intermezzo   Part Eight   Part Nine  Part Ten   Part Eleven   Part Twelve   Part Thirteen   Part Fourteen   Second Intermezzo   Part Sixteen   Part Seventeen   Part Eighteen   Part Eighteen   Part Nineteen   Part Twenty   Part Twenty-one   Part Twenty-two   Part Twenty-three   Part Twenty-four   Part Twenty-five   Part Twenty-six   Part Twenty-seven   Part Twenty-eight   Part Twenty-nine   Part Thirty   Part Thirty-one

What are we going to do about this unfortunate sea change? Remember, their goal is for mainstream Catholics like you and me to leave the Church.

Let's do the opposite by staying and fighting for the soul of the Church, parish by parish. If you want a resumption of Vatican II's aggiornomento then we're going to have to work for it.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 08:50:33 AM EST

Thanks Frank!

I don't agree with the most recent pronouncement on the status of non-Catholic churches. I would have thought we could let people decide for themselves what their churches are. It reminds me of the 19th century refusal of the Vatican, which still holds true today, to recognize the validity of Anglican/Episcopalian ordinations. The Vatican has never attempted to reject Orthodox ordinations as illicit.

It seems that in the Church and outside of it, we have many people who so fear change that they would rather look backward to a past they imagine was more glorious than it was. They might placate the Opus Dei types and the SSPX, but they will wind up alienating the majority of Catholics who take seriously the call of Vatican II to be the People of God. To adopt the words of my tax professor, they look more to form than to substance. It is rather like how Jesus described those concerned with externals of observance of the Law to the exclusion of the soul.

One thing that concerns me is the possibility that a future pope could undo the painstaking work that John Paul II did to reconcile of the Roman Catholic Church with the Jewish people. This was something that was long overdue, and in my view, it didn't go as far as it should have. One welcome change was that the Church declared it wouldn't attempt to convert Jews. I fear with the present mindset, and the influence that American Christian Rightists have in attempting to convert Jews, a future pope might try to revert to missionary activity and a return to the horrors of the past.

I have been aware of Williamson for a while. He is as the Brits would say, a total nutter. Under his tutelage, the SSPX became rather cult-like, and he inveighs frequently about the evils of the modern world, liberalism, and women wearing pants. The sedevacantists, those who reject the legitimacy of all popes after Pius XII, are even nuttier. Even some 'orthodox' Catholics aren't immune to this mindset. I recall in this context seeing a Catholic bookstore run by conservative Catholics in suburban Cincinnati that carried literature alleging Masonic conspiracies against the institutional church. Conspiracy theories tend to make me cranky with aggravation, and such views are ludicrous, in my view.

I don't mean to imply that there aren't ordinary people who think having a Latin Mass are nutty, but they are less inclined on the whole to think critically and ask questions. They still have the "pray, pay, and obey" mindset. For example, there also have been scandals involving a Vatican-approved Latin Mass fraternity, the Society of St. John. The former bishop of Scranton, PA, welcomed them into the diocese, but the society was kicked out once sex scandals broke out there. The website has some information about this.

I look forward to future installments.


by khughes1963 on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 02:51:57 PM EST

I feel the same way about conspiracy types.

But what is more urgent is to organize mainstream Catholics into action. That is the required next step.

What does that mean? Simply put, translating the urge many have to leave the Church into one of staying, digging in and standing up to the bullies.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 08:00:19 PM EST

that the people in the pews tend to be rather passive. Like most of us, the people in the pews don't think of it until the changes affect them.


by khughes1963 on Sat Jul 14, 2007 at 08:48:02 PM EST

Kathy, these changes definitely will affect them.

Slumber-time is over.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jul 15, 2007 at 01:51:29 PM EST

I happened to hear about some elderly Catholic ladies -- women who are active volunteers in their church, who feel that the pope "has gone too far."

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Jul 15, 2007 at 02:26:09 PM EST
My father and mother, both practicing Catholics, would not be enthusiastic about a return to the past. They don't want to turn back the clock, and a lot of lay Catholics feel the same. The problem is that you tend to hear more from the people who DO want to turn back the clock, and they are often fairly well funded (Tom Monaghan does come to mind here.) It seems that they also have the ear of the present Pope. The conservative Catholics also want to enforce a single-issue voting orthodoxy on Catholics, and a lot of us don't want that. I sent Frank a Dayton Daily News letter to the editor from a local letter writer endorsing precisely that.

by khughes1963 on Sun Jul 15, 2007 at 03:59:09 PM EST

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