Sunday, December 6, 2009

Empty Pews, Empty Churches: Why? New York Times Letter, My Response

Letters from today's New York Times
Do Catholics Want a Return to the Latin Mass?

Published: December 5, 2009

To the Editor:

Re “Latin Mass Appeal,” by Kenneth J. Wolfe (Op-Ed, Nov. 29):

The liturgical reforms in the Roman Catholic Church that Mr. Wolfe blames for “chaos and banality,” including the replacement of Latin with the vernacular and turning the priest to face the people, ignores the reality in the pews. So many are empty.

Major causes for the decline in attendance include Pope Paul VI’s 1968 ban on contraceptives, the sexual abuse scandal, the clerical celibacy rule and the depletion of priestly ranks and the continuing ban on women as priests. A return to the Latin Mass will remedy none of these.

Francis W. Rodgers
Hilton Head, S.C., Nov. 29, 2009

My response:

When I was in the seminary (which I loved in the 1970's) one of the things that theologians there were trying to do was to develop a "theology of dissent" which flowed naturally from the heavy weight dissenters of Humanae Vitae. These theologians saw themselves as the religious counterpart to politics' "loyal opposition." I firmly believe that the public dissent of bishops, priests, religious and laity that occurred after Humanae Vitae which focused not just on artificial birth control but on all aspects of Christianity's traditional teachings concerning the nature of sex (much of which is based on natural law and not only scripture) is what added gasoline to the fire of sexual abuse in the Church, whether of minors or adults. The "new moral theology" books we used seem to make a way for all types of sexual expressions both heterosexual and homosexual all of which could be justified by conscience and thus without guilt or shame. It was a very narcissistic "moral theology" which most sane people would have called the old immorality.

The changes in the Mass just so happened at a time of tremendous upheaval in the social fabric of our world's culture and confirmed for many dissenting Catholics that every censure of the past against anything could be removed and experienced without guilt. Universal truth went out the window with all the fresh air!

In other words, in the Catholic Church there was a loss of faith and a loss of credible authority that led to the loss of the practice of the faith symbolized by the number of people who departed the practice of attending Mass which has reached a zenith today. Part of this loss of faith was not only public dissent by public clergy and religious in the Church who led the way, but the loss of a beautiful and reverent Mass in beautiful and reverent churches, loss of a clear, concise, unambiguous catechism, moral relativity, the throwing out of traditional devotions such as Benediction, the rosary, novenas and ridiculing people whose faith had been built upon these, including weekly confession, kneeling for communion, and having large families. As well obedience to the Magisterium was mocked in those who held the Magisterium in high esteem. If you loved the pre-Vatican II Church, much of Church leadership after Vatican II was telling you that you were stupid for doing so.You were rigid, ignorant and incapable of getting with the signs of the time and the fresh air in the Church. This above all else undermined the faith of laity prior to and after 1968's Humanae Vitae. Some of the strongest Catholics prior to Vatican II became some of the worst offenders in terms of departing from the practice of the faith because what their faith had been built upon, especially the Latin Mass and strong Catholic discipline was pulled out from underneath them. Those who remained (only about 25 percent now) were wishy-washy enough to embrace the silliness of the season.

I do agree that the sex abuse scandal has been like an atomic bomb in the Church much of it having to do with bishops who recycled serial offenders. I do think that many of these bishops had a misplaced compassion for the offenders, believed they could be cured and recycled and were freaking out over the loss of clergy to marriage especially in the late 1960's and 70's prior to Pope John Paul II. The decline in vocations certainly contributed to the mentality of recycling serial predators. Those who left the priesthood and religious life for marriage (which is a normal desire) were huge in number and certainly the breaking of their life-long public commitments to obedience and chastity scandalized many of the faithful thus causing them to break their marital vows. When the shepherd falls, the sheep are not too far behind. Who would have thought in 1959 that Catholic parents in 2009 would have no problem with their children living with someone outside of marriage and Catholic family members would patronize second, third and more weddings outside of the Church? Who would have thought Catholics would describe themselves as pro-choice and Catholic? A loss of Catholic identity is what has led to the loss of Catholics in the pews and in our churches!

I still insist that the pathological aspect of the priestly sex abuse scandal in terms of pedophilia is minuscule amongst the percentage of clergy we have. By this I mean a true pedophile who is a predator toward small children. The sex of the child does not really matter to a pedophile, it is the smoothness, smallness, vulnerability and innocence that is appealing to these perverts. Usually these predator pedophiles have heterosexual desires in their adult relationships since it is the "femininity" of the small child that is erotic to them. The greatest problem we've had in the priesthood is not pedophilia but priests who took advantage of teenage boys many of whom looked "adult" in appearance. There is a big difference here in terms of sexual desire. It is morally reprehensible. It is immature. It is an abuse of power. And it has a deep seated psychological aspect to it also. However, this is not true pedophilia. I suspect bishops at the time prior to the charter may have viewed these simply as moral failings that could be conquered through confession and counseling. I suspect too in many bishops' minds that the victims were culpable too.After all, how many of us blame teenage girls who have sex with adult men? And keep in mind, not only did most bishops at the time demand secrecy to avoid scandal, so too did the victims and their parents. Everyone wanted to keep this type of behavior out of the news, out of law enforcement and out of the courts. There has be a major change society wide in this regard and perhaps there has been an "over correction" to a secrecy that contributed to inadequate solutions.

In fact a priest who abuses his authority, takes advantage of parishioners, whether an adult looking teenager or an adult can be counseled and grow out of this orientation. Sometimes it is through residential long-term therapy. Many priests who may have had only one occurrence of "teenage" abuse where returned to ministry and never abused again. Sometimes there was a reconciliation with the victim and his/her family. After the charter even these priests were removed, for occurrences that might have happened when they were in their mid 20's and never happened again. They are removed sometimes in their 70's and 80's. I do think that in justice there needs to be a distinction between this type of moral and psychological failure and pathological serial offenders. As it concerns true pedophilia, psychiatry is now telling us that a cure short of castration is not possible. It is truly an incurable disorder.

In terms of the letter above, married clergy, woman priests and approval of all types of sexual arrangements has not been kind to the Episcopal Church. They are not seeing a resurgence. They are declining faster than any other branch of Christianity. They have a shortage of vocations too. It is the conservative branches both in the Catholic Church and within evangelical protestantism that see the greatest growth. Francis from Hilton Head just doesn't get it and in fact is part of the problem not the solution.

Even if we keep the vernacular Mass as is, if we can get back to basics and be obedient to Jesus Christ, to going to confession when we are not obedient and upholding what is divinely revealed in Scripture, Tradition and natural law, the Catholic Church will see an increase in Mass attendance and an increase in vocations will occur. Giving into the sexual revolution and developing a post-Christian approach to being Church is doomed to failure, especially a religion based upon dissent from the Word of God. The Catholic Church should not and cannot continue to acquiesce to the mentality of the world.


Robert Kumpel said...

Thank you for pointing out the obvious point that everyone misses: There ARE churches that ordain women, permit artificial contraception and other deviations from the Catholic norm and their numbers are declining faster than the Catholic Church's.

"Some of the strongest Catholics prior to Vatican II became some of the worst offenders in terms of departing from the practice of the faith because what their faith had been built upon, especially the Latin Mass and strong Catholic discipline was pulled out from underneath them. Those who remained (only about 25 percent now) were wishy-washy enough to embrace the silliness of the season."

Yes, that is true. I am often amazed at how many older Catholics who received a better formation in the faith than I ever did have fallen for every new thing that tickles their ears, or have left altogether.

I'll be blunt. I am no fan of the Novus Ordo, but I accept it. It represents the first time in the history of the Church that an abrupt change was imposed of such an extreme degree, and it was developed by a committee. It panders to Protestants by eliminating so many references to the sacrificial nature of the Mass. But it is valid and, when reverently offered, poses no problem. We also cannot ignore the free-fall of Mass attendance and vocations that followed its imposition, a decimation that, for some reason, is still called "a new springtime".

But my point is, like or dislike the Novus Ordo, it is a valid, licit liturgy of the Church and we do not have the right to abandon the Church. Every Catholic should know that no matter how good or evil a priest is, the Masses he offers are still valid. The Sacraments are still miraculous signs that give us God's grace. To use scandals to leave the Church is a cop-out. Instead, we should rejoice that the cancers are being exposed and removed. The silly season is slowly ending, thanks to Summorum Pontificum. I am convinced that when more parishes obey the Holy Father and offer both forms of the Mass, more people will see what they have missed and, slowly, they will vote with their feet which form they prefer. It will probably take years, but I suspect that eventually, the Novus Ordo will go the way of New Coke--so forgotten that it will eventually be phased out. But right now, many Catholics have no choice.

For the priests who say that there is no demand for a traditional Latin Mass, how can people ask for something when they don't know about it? Many Catholics don't read blogs like these and most parishes have never announced Summorum Pontificum's existence. 20 years ago, there was very little demand for capuccinos and lattes, but as the awareness grew, so did the demand.

I pray that we can soon get beyond the 40 year stasis of "you can have any flavor you like, as long as it's vanilla" (or on the Church's case, "modern").

-Brian said...

Good Letter Father. You pulled together a complex of ideas and it made sense. The conclusion was especially nice!

Templar said...

A very good post Father. How any one can claim that the faith of the Pre-Vatican II Church was the problem that has caused the current drop off in attendance, vocations, and devotions of the laity has clearly not bothered to investigate any of the "data" and is merely stating an entrenched notion as fact.

Collard Green 72 said...

Father McDonald:
Written like a true son of the Cuurch, Bravo! Many of us are shaken by the free-fall of attendance at Mass, what comforts me is that the Light still shines and continues to be embraced by many faith-filled Catholics.

Jody Peterman said...

Great response Father. Why do they want to go down the Episcopal path? Can't they see a protestant sect in ruins? On the other hand, perhaps they should just go to the Episcopal church.

Rood Screen said...

Very fine and insightful post. I wish we had the same enthusiasm for preserving and spreading the faith and for insuring morallity as we have for raising money. Would we need fundraising campaigns at all if we had good parish missions? Would the bishops need to be so involved in politics if their sheep were determined promoters of morality?