Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Orange County - Fate of the Tridentine Latin Mass

OC Bishop Doesn't Want Tridentine Mass Anymore

The Catholic Church's great divide

Senior editorial writer and columnist,
The Orange County Register

Even readers without a trace of interest in Roman Catholic liturgical and theological debates might want to follow an ongoing controversy in the Diocese of Orange surrounding the future of the Tridentine Mass. The issues at the center of this debate are issues that shed light on the ongoing sex-abuse scandal, the roots of which still confuse some observers today.

To traditional Roman Catholics, there are few things more pious than this mass, which is an old-style Latin Mass known for its deep meaning and great beauty. This is the real deal, complete with vestments, incense and Gregorian Chant. It's more pious than the modern mass and the polar opposite of - this really happened in Orange County - a mass given by a dancing priest wearing a black leotard.

Now that a veteran priest at a traditional Huntington Beach parish has retired, the diocese is stamping out the Tridentine Mass at that location, forcing devotees to drive to the overcrowded Mission San Juan Capistrano, where it is still officially sanctioned.

Basically, the forces of liberalism that are crushing traditional Roman Catholic piety are the same forces that unleashed the sex-abuse scandal within the church. As long as the leadership rejects traditional ideals of holiness and piety, nothing will be done to assure that holy men, and not those with lax sexual attitudes, dominate the priesthood.

Locally, Fr. Daniel Johnson, the kindly, traditionalist priest who led St. Mary's by the Sea for 25 years, has retired. His retirement, and the retirement of the Tridentine Mass with him, is heartbreaking news to St. Mary's parishioners.

It's a mean-spirited act for the bishop to deny the parishioners the mass they love so much. The diocese says permission for the mass was granted for the priest only, and it retires with him. But the diocese could, if it wanted to, pass the permission on to someone else.

This is standard fare, however, in the bitter war that is waged behind the scenes within the church. In reality, there are two churches co-existing uncomfortably together. There's the traditional Catholic Church, with its unwavering support for church traditions and theology.

That's the world of Fr. Johnson and St. Mary's by the Sea.

Then there's the "progressive" church, with its emphasis on "social justice," and its desire to make church teachings fit with modern sensibilities. I call it the Kumbaya Church.

That's the world of the diocese leadership.

Since Vatican II, the church council that adopted reforms, the left has been ascendant. Social and theological liberals have used the "spirit" of Vatican II to advance their agenda, and have succeeded, despite the traditional emphasis in far-away Rome.

As Catholic author Michael Rose argued in his blockbuster book, "Goodbye Good Men," the liberals gained control of many seminaries and kept tradition-minded men out of the priesthood. That's the root of the sexual-abuse scandal: The success of the left in driving out "good men" and replacing them with priests with different standards.

The proof is in the pudding. The more liberal the diocese, the fewer the men interested in priestly vocations. Only in the most traditional dioceses are there large number of people pursuing the priesthood. At St. Mary's by the Sea, Fr. Johnson took over a congregation of 400 people 25 years ago, and it is now 1,500 families strong.

Is the growth because the church has the traditional liturgy and doesn't soft-sell its principles?

"Of course," Fr. Johnson told me.

Yet, as Fr. Johnson said, "the diocese reaches out to everyone but we are barelytolerated [by the diocese]."

"The old mass, in particular, emphasizes the real presentation at Calvary," he said. "The pope said we have to get back to the idea of sacrifice rather than a fraternal banquet."

One never hears diocese officials talk that way. They use the language of political
correctness and ecumenism. I recall the photograph I was sent by one local Catholic of Bishop Tod Brown yanking (he says gently pulling) a middle-aged woman up by her arm, as the woman tried to receive communion from him while she was kneeling. The bishop has a firm policy against kneeling before communion.

Last summer, the bishop insisted that two priests credibly accused of downloading child pornography on their computer were not in violation of the diocese's zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse. That's why the person who sent me the photograph penciled in a caption: "Bishop Brown: light-handed on child porn - but heavy-handed on kneeling for communion!!"

That's a strange disconnect: apparent laxity toward misbehavior, yet intolerance toward attempts at holiness. It's typical. When Mel Gibson's "The Passion" was released, traditional Catholics were ecstatic. But the Diocese of Orange spokesman called the movie tedious and offered this snide review in the newspaper: "If you are of the bent that feels that graphic suffering makes you feel the terrible sinner that you are and Jesus is saving you, then this is going to be a very big plus in your favor when you see the movie."

Now the diocese is taking away the Tridentine Mass at St. Mary's. In a letter to a parishioner, the diocese said the parishioners should accept the decision with an obedient heart. But given the Vatican has said dioceses should be generous in allowing such masses, a reasonable question is raised about who is not being obedient.

"Bishop Tod Brown has sent out a survey asking O.C. Catholics for suggestions ... to help him accomplish Thesis No. 4 of his 'Covenant With the Faithful,' the pledge to 'work collaboratively with all members of the diocese,'" said St. Mary's parishioner Teri Carpentier.

"If Bishop Brown sincerely cares about his people, why will he not listen to the hundreds of parishioners at St. Mary's by the Sea and hundreds of other faithful Catholics who signed a petition to retain the Tridentine Mass at St. Mary's. ... What is the harm that is done in retaining it?"

Such is the divide within the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, the church leadership lacks the courage and wisdom to bridge it.

CONTACT US: sgreenhut@ or (714) 796-7823


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