Monday, December 12, 2011

The Glass Ceiling Over the Traditional Latin Mass

So…you’d like your parish to offer the extraordinary form of the Mass. How do you get that to happen?

On the WDTPRS blog, Fr. Z has had a couple of entries lately on this basic question. His standard answer is this (and it is a good one!):

First, keep in mind that since Summorum Pontificum went into effect in September 2007 pastors of parishes, not diocesan bishops, implement celebrations of the Extraordinary Form in their parishes. The diocesan bishop no longer makes these decisions. Were a pastor of a parish to start a regular TLM, and were the diocesan bishop to demand that the priest stop, that priest’s case would probably receive a very favorable hearing at the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” in Rome.

In other words, we look to the authoritative teachings and documents of the Church to determine the rights and responsibilities of both the laity and the clergy. In this case, there is a document - a motu proprio - called Summorum Pontificum, along with an instruction on that document called Universae Ecclesiae, which give a priest the right to say the EF Mass without obtaining the permission of the diocesan bishop. We also have the Pontifical Commission “Ecclesia Dei” in Rome, which has the authority to act on matters brought to its attention regarding problems and issues that the faithful may face in obtaining the EF Mass.

This is good, and is certainly understood by most of those who support access to the EF Mass. However, it is misconstrued and abused by those who do not support access to the EF Mass, including, sadly, a number of US bishops.

It’s one thing for a priest to assert his right to provide the EF Mass for those faithful who desire it. It’s another thing for him to actually be able to accomplish the feat. If his bishop tells him to cease and desist from offering the Mass, a priest’s most prudent choice is to obey that unfair and unlawful order. Why? Because, any priest doing something the bishop doesn’t like, even if he is within his rights to do it, faces reprisals, to put it bluntly. There are plenty of examples out there. Email me for a few if you don’t know of any yourself.

Even if a priest decides to report the bishop’s denial of the EF Mass to the PCED, the wheels turn slowly, I can tell you from experience. It doesn’t appear to me that much is going on by way of fraternal correction in these matters. But then, one never knows what is going on behind the scenes. We can always hope.

There’s another aspect to the stubborn (and unlawful) refusal of some bishops to allow parishes to provide the EF Mass. It is summed up nicely by a reader of Fr. Z’s blog, which was quoted there and appears here with Fr. Z’s emphases and comments:

We are struggling with our diocese over the definition of that term, as they ["they"? Diocesan officials?] want to say a stable group is thirty Catholics [NO!] who will pledge themselves to attend the EF. Naturally, we had numbers approaching thirty when our TLM was pushed out of the parishes three years ago. Now we total about fifteen or so, and even though the same people have attended the TLM more or less faithfully (we even found ourselves in a chapel of a secular retirement home for about two years) for four years, the diocese still tells us we are not a stable group. By the way, we had a priest in the area willing to offer this Mass for us. But the bishop banished him to the hinterlands. Now he travels about 300 miles once a month to offer this Mass for our group. Just what IS a “stable group”?

A couple of tactics are evident here: first, the diocesan officials tell the group they don’t have enough people to warrant an EF Mass. Second, in order to say that “it’s just not possible” to provide the Mass for lack of a priest who is capable of saying it, the bishop moves the only available priest as far away as possible from the group that wants the EF Mass. Of course, the bishop will always be able to give a “good reason” why that particular priest had to be moved to Timbuktu.

This has happened in the Diocese of Baker as well. The provision of a monthly EF Mass sponsored by the Society of St. Gregory the Great in Bend, Oregon, was effectively terminated through a series of actions that all came with the excuse that “there’s just no other choice”; after removing all the options, the bishop then was able to declare, “It’s just not possible” to provide the EF Mass. And yet it had been possible for three years prior to the transfer of Bishop Robert F. Vasa and the arrival of Apostolic Administrator Bishop William S. Skylstad.

Here’s the sequence of events:

·         On March 22, 2011, the Apostolic Administrator restricted - without cause - the exercise of the sacerdotal faculties of the priest who had been regularly offering this monthly EF Mass in Bend since 2008 – refusing to allow him to celebrate the EF Mass in Bend. This case has been under review in Rome for more than 7 months now, tied up in the bureaucracy of Congregations debating whose responsibility it is to deal with it.

·         On September 17, 2011, the Apostolic Administrator transferred from Bend to a remote corner of the Diocese (and we’re talking a BIG diocese, here) the only other local priest willing and able to assume the responsibilities of offering these Masses for the Society. There just was “no other choice” as he was the only priest they could send to a parish in need.

·         The Society repeatedly requested that the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Church in Bend (Father Francis X. Ekwugha) provide a priest to offer the EF Mass. Of course, he was not able to do so as his associate pastor was the one transferred to the hinterlands.

·         When the Society failed to obtain satisfaction from Fr. Francis, it subsequently sought assistance from Bishop Skylstad, following the guidelines laid out in Summorum Pontificum. Bishop Skylstad demurred, claiming it was “not possible” for him to provide a priest to say the monthly EF Mass.

·         On November 29, 2011, Bishop Skylstad dismissed without cause the pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Bend (a pastor who had been sympathetic to the goal of the Society to provide the EF Mass), and appointed a new pastor who has been outspoken in his dislike of Latin, even for use in the ordinary form of the Mass.

Note that this can and does happen in any diocese. The bishop need only throw up his hands and say, “Sorry! No can do!” There are similar stories elsewhere.

So here you have two examples – one of which is quite well-documented – of dioceses in which the EF is being effectively squelched. This is a violation of the rights of the faithful, and it is an egregious and scandalous example of the disobedience of bishops to the authority of the Holy Father and the Church. And yet, it is often the “traditionalists”, those people who want to “force Latin onto others”, the ones who want to “turn back the clock”, who are accused of infidelity to the Church.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Related posts on this blog:

1 comment:

  1. And as long as Rome allows Bishops to be disobedient without any consequences nothing will change. The long term effect will be two "catholic" churches in the USA (and the rest of the world for that matter). The "American" catholic church will be composed of disobedient Bishops and Priests and uninformed laity. The much smaller Catholic Church will be composed of those who truely believe in the authentic teachings of the Church and conform to the will of the Holy Father.


Please be courteous and concise.