Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Problem of the Cult of the Personality in the Church

I wrote the following letter shortly after arriving at St. Joseph Church in July of 2004. Bishop Boland had asked all priests to implement the new General Instruction of the Roman Missal and some other things requested by Rome by October 4, 2004. I had replaced Msgr. John Cuddy, an excellent pastor, but one who was a bit slow in adapting the Ordinary Form of the Liturgy to new norms. There was nothing radical in his approach by any means, but certain things had to be changed. Msgr. Cuddy has been here since 1974 and remains in retirement, so the change of pastors after 30 years was quite a jolt to this parish, a jolt I really underestimated when I first came. On top of that my personality and spirituality are different than his (wow, what a revelation). So I had to do some damage control by writing this bulletin letter in late October of 2004.

One of the problems that I encountered here because of the fine work that Msgr. Cuddy had done in the area of bringing new Catholics into the Church was the fact that many of these new Catholics, who now had been Catholic for over 25 years, still had a bit of a Protestant Congregationalist approach to local Church life. So I had to address this in the letter too.

With this said, I would have to say then and now that St. Joseph Church is one of the best parishes in the diocese, if not in the state of Georgia. We grasp our Catholic identity and continue to work at developing this identity through fine tuning. This is a great parish to pastor and I'm glad to be in Macon!

October 28, 2004

Dear Parishioners,

Some of our parishioners have questioned the reason for the recent “fine-tuning” of our liturgical practices here at St. Joseph Church. Since I arrived, I have stated that for the most part we were in compliance with recent Vatican and diocesan requirements for the celebration of the Mass. However, we did need to do some “tweaking” to be in full compliance. There are two recent documents from the Vatican that require us to implement these changes: “The Revised General Instruction of the Roman Missal” issued in 2002 and “The Instruction on the Eucharist” issued just this past May. Bishop J. Kevin Boland issued a letter this past August 23rd along with our diocesan synopsis of these changes requesting that all parishes implement the changes by this past October 4th, the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi.

I am enclosing Bishop Boland’s diocesan synopsis of the Vatican’s changes in the Mass along with the letter he sent to all priests and deacons of the diocese.

Some have questioned the manner in which I implemented these changes and suggested to me that I could have been more sensitive to the feelings of those who find change difficult. For me, most of the liturgical changes that we have made have been minor and are truly a fine-tuning of what is already in place here. In other words, in my mind, these changes are inconsequential and no big deal. If we can’t implement small things that we are requested to do, how will we do with the bigger issues of adult obedience in the Church? At the same time, I am beginning to realize that your change in pastors and this pastor’s personality is a monumental transition for some. Time will be the only cure for the feelings of anxiety this dramatic change as brought about. At any rate, I apologize to any I have offended in the manner in which I institute change and ask your forgiveness. I suspect, though, this will be only the first in a litany of apologies I will need to make in my tenure as your pastor which I hope will last until I’m 75 years old, that’s 25 years from now!  Only God and our bishop know for sure though!

With my apology in place I would be remiss nonetheless if I did not emphasize that as Catholics, we are not congregationalists who decide for ourselves what we will or will not follow when it comes to the laws and norms of the Church. We owe respect and obedience in the areas of faith and morals to our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II and to our local bishop. We are part of a diocesan family of churches under the leadership Bishop J. Kevin Boland, whom I represent as your pastor. Bishop Boland as one of the successors of the apostles joins us to the universal mission and discipline of the Church headed by the Vicar of Christ, the successor of Saint Peter and the Bishop of Rome, Pope John Paul II. As well, as Pastor I may make executive decisions concerning certain issues of discipline that are at my sole discretion, although I usually consult with my staff or our various councils before doing so. Guidelines for weddings, funerals and other parochial issues are examples of this.

I ask your patience with me and with the changes that are underway in our parish. For some it is a test of faith and for others it is a time of great excitement and renewal. I pray that our dialogue and relationship will be mature, cordial, open and above all, Christ-like. Together we comprise the “Body of Christ” here in Macon striving to be faithful disciples in mission. Pray that we will be faithful to our high calling as Catholics. May God bless you.

Your pastor,

Father Allan J. McDonald


Anonymous said...

So sorry you had to go through that. Whew!

It would be understandable if you were questioning at that time whether you had made the right decision to leave a parish that you had cultivated and loved in order to go a parish whose building was in the midst of a reconstruction and other aspects were in need of a sort of reconstruction, albeit more minor in scope apparently, or even more grand in scope depending upon which 'other parts' one refers to.

Kudos to you for maintaining your backbone and consistency in towing the line with following Church directives, then and now.
The letter you wrote at that time seems that it must have been so perfect for the moment! It addressed so many aspects of what must have been going on. Again I'll praise your skill at wordsmithing. It's just amazing.

I wonder if some were unChrist-like in their comments to you at that time. If so, then perhaps they hadn't really been listening to what Msgr. Cuddy had been saying.
Admitedly, I am wondering that based on the messages of his current homilies and speculating that they were of similar style in the past.

Sounds like perhaps the change wasn't wanted, but was nonetheless sorely needed. Not because of any deficit on Msgr. Cuddy's part perse, but because the people needed a 'come to Jesus' wake up call and reminder of what it means to be a Catholic.

As for me, I am grateful that God got all that worked out and the stage set just perfectly before my arrival at St. Joseph.

Thoughts on Macon and Augusta: Surely someone will be 'offended'.
Macon has an Old South, old money culture, which is most notable downtownor with those who have associations downtown. There are families who have been here for several generations and for whom acceptance of outsiders is quite difficult. Some of these families attend St. Joseph. There is not much dynamic in and out flow of population through Macon, and there is a bit of 'time stands still' atmosphere in Macon. This certainly has a good side, as it contributes to the antebellum charm and it helps preserve the rich history of Macon and draws in tourists.
However, Augusta, while certainly having an Old South and and old money element, also has a segment of the population that is constantly moving in and out becuse of Fort Gordon and the Medical College. Therefore, in my simplistic an unexpert observations of both cities, it has seemed to me for some time that Macon can be less accustomed to change than Augusta. I have often thought of Augusta as half like Warner Robins (the modern aspect and the flow of population in and out) and half like Macon (the Old South, old money, antebellum history).

That may be a partial explanation of why the people reacted in a perhaps unChrist-like manner, but certainly not a justification.

Makes me wonder a couple of things...

Has something happened recently to reopen this issue?
Are there people out there that still haven't apologized to you for hurtful things they had said?
(If so, I wonder if they know that it's never too late to say "I'm sorry."; or as the cliche goes "Better late than never."

Anonymous said...

Upon further reflection, I think the reason for the blog may be to show an example of what harmful things the cult of personality can do.

Frankly, I've always been bothered by how the protestant churches seem to become the church of the particular pastor, which only deligitimizes them.

That's one reason the Catholic Church stands above them all.

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

My response to Anonymous above, from Fr. McDonald: Your comments got me thinking in terms of the similarities between Augusta and Macon. Both are extremely similar and would be almost identical if Warner Robins was as close in proximity to Macon as Evans is to Augusta. If the Warner Robins community was actually a part of Macon rather than 20 miles away, the landscape here would be quite different and more similar to Augusta. The other difference in Augusta besides being a much larger town is the larger Catholic population. It rivals Savannah if you include North Augusta and Aiken, SC. No parish in Augusta's metro area has ever had a pastor for more than 20 years. In my own parish growing up, in the 16 years I was there before going in the seminary, we had three pastors and a host of associate pastors. Not so with Macon. We have a much smaller Catholic community, although exceptionally strong and Macon has had a pastor who is still with them since 1974! What boggles my mind is that in 1974 I was working for Davison's Department store in downtown Augusta, in my Junior year of college and the priesthood was the last thing on my mind! I've always felt as though I was like Drew Carey in replacing Bob Barker on the Price is Right, not to trivialize St. Joseph's transition to me. But Msgr. Cuddy is extremely predictable, much like Bob Barker whereas Drew Carey has a whole different style of the Price is Right. I personally liked better Bob's style of interacting with contestants, but I'm getting comfortable with Drew and still like the price is right! What really distressed me when I left Most Holy Trinity in Augusta is that Fr. Brett Brannen who replaced me experienced some of the same things I experienced here initially. I did not realize that there was a bit of the cult of the personality surrounding me in Augusta and every little change that Fr. Brannen made was met with hostility by some at MHT because they thought his changes insulted me, which they did not. Fr. Brannen is not me and I'm not Msgr. Cuddy. I think both Fr. Brannen and I are quite comfortable with who we are and neither of us tried to imitate the pastor we replaced; we are secure in our own right, just like Drew Carey who does his own way of hosting the Price is Right is. Certainly parishes are different than a game show, but in some ways the sociology and psychology of contestants is similar to what happens in a parish concerning familiarity with their pastor and the comfort a pastor brings if he is well liked and has been there for over 30 years. Keep in mind Bob Barker hosted the P is R for over 33 years. I think many who watched that show faithfully grieved over his departure as many here grieved and continue to grieve over Msgr. Cuddy's retirement. It is just a normal part of who we are.--Fr. McDonald

Templar said...

Well, it certainly helps me understand why you seem reluctant to make changes which you seemingly have made up your mind about.

Change is always hard, even when the conditions are perfect. Do what you know is right Father. There will always be complaints, but if you do what is right you can trust in the Holy Spirit to support the decisions.