Saturday, May 31, 2014

Troubled Seas Ahead For The Barque of Peter, Resumed

I saw and recognized the shade of him
Who by his cowardice made the great refusal.

Boniface VIII
With these words Dante consigned Pope Celestine V to hell.  And for what reason?  Celestine’s 1294 resignation of the papacy cleared the way for the election of Boniface VIII—a pope whose insufferable pride would throw the Church into the double tragedy of the Avignon Papacy and the Great (Western) Schism.   Dante’s grievance with the Pope was more personal, however.  Boniface had turned against the White Guelfs—the political faction, the “peace faction,” in Florentine politics of which Dante was a leader; in addition, Boniface had Dante exiled from his beloved Florence—an exile which would cause him to spend the remainder of his life away from the place on earth he loved most dearly.  More and more of the Krazy Katholics are turning against Pope Francis in just the same way and for a variety of reasons but looking at the blog rolls it does seem in great part boil down to the fact that his vision for the Church threatens the political, social, and economic status quo to which so many neo-traditionalists are aligned. 
Now I am a historian and I must admit that I am skeptical of the idea that most people root their political and economic policies in their religious faith but rather I believe that they embrace a religious perspective that validates their political/economic/sociological prejudices.  In Dante’s Florence, the White Guelfs represented the interests of the Middle Classes who had no interested in going to war while the Black Guelfs represented the major guilds who saw the expansion of Florentine territory as being to their economic advantage.  You know, like Dick Cheney saw war in Iraq as a chance for Halliburton.   (You remember Haliburton, the company that gave him a 36 million dollar severance package when he retired in 2000 from his position as Chairman and CEO in order to run for vice president. ) In the English Reformation the merchant classes and the newly ennobled families who had financially benefitted from the confiscation of monastic properties saw Protestantism as more to their economic benefit than Catholicism while the old nobility and the rural people preferred the old religion because it represented the status quo with which they were familiar and which validated social hierarchy. By the 18th century that would shift and the Church of England would be called “The Tory Party at Prayer” because the working classes had pretty much gone over to Methodism or the other non-Conformist “sects.”  In Constantinople the “Blues” who supported the Chalcedonian formula came from the upper classes; the “Greens” who tended to be monophysites were those on the margins of power.  Today what really pisses off people about Francis is that he includes women in roles that had been exclusively male (though certainly not the priesthood), he does not make an issue of sexual-orientation, and he says that we shouldn’t be “obsessed” with issues such as abortion and birth control but focus on issues of Social Justice.   If you belong to certain segments of society—or wish that you did—you may not like his ideas about systemic redistribution of wealth.  His philosophy all fits together in ways that would seem to undermine the entrenched social hierarchy. 
We have seen how the Catholic Right is growing more and more alienated from Pope Francis and while I don’t expect there to be formal schism on any significant level—that is any more than already exists with the various independent Tridentine chapels and with the semi-schism of the Society of Saint Pius X—I do think that the ten percent on the right will write off Francis just as the 10 percent on the extreme left stayed Catholic but pretty much picked and chose as they liked from among the policies and teachings of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.  The key difference is that while those on the left often turned a deaf ear to the liturgical and disciplinary norms of the previous popes, they often used their social teaching to advance the liberal agenda in the Church.  The wing-nuts on the right, on the other hand, seem to find nothing at all in Francis’ pontificate that they are willing to accept and his social teaching—the idea of being a poor Church on behalf of the Poor—seems to raise their ire even more than his washing the feet of women on Holy Thursday or discouraging policies towards restoring the pre-conciliar rites. 
Speaking of the pre-conciliar rites, I think that Popes John Paul and Benedict unwittingly laid the ground work for this two-Church situation by the motibus propriis (plural of motu proprio), Ecclesia Dei (1988) and Summorum Pontificium (2007).  While, as I said in a previous posting, I believe that the 1570 Rite (including its 1962 revision) is flawed, its theological short-comings are not my primary concern.  I think the 1970 Rite is also flawed and needs some revision.)  I am a historian, not a theologian, and my concern is not for theological defects, but rather the consequences of giving the earlier rite the oxygen to keep it alive beyond its time and—even worse—to mutate into an alternative Catholicism.  I think that the two previous popes seriously misunderstood the agenda of those who were fighting to bring back, even in limited form, the pre-conciliar rites.  The issue was not, and is not, the liturgy: it is the Council and the Council’s vision of Church. 
In the first place, despite the protests to the contrary by a host of voices—including some very highly placed prelates such as Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos—the 1570 Rite was suppressed in the promulgation of the Novus Ordo in 1970.  A priest needed an indult to celebrate the pre-conciliar rites.  That means that it could not be celebrated without an explicit indult from the Congregation for Divine Worship.  These indults were given but only on the most limited basis and during the reign of Paul VI probably only a few dozen were granted.  The ex-Jesuit, Malachy Martin, always claimed that he had one, though Martin’s clerical status after leaving the Jesuits is a matter of dispute.  A group of prominent English celebrities petitioned Paul VI for some continuance of the old Rite in England.  Supposedly when Pope Paul saw Agatha Christie’s name on the petition—he was an avid fan of her mysteries—he granted the English and Welch bishops the privilege of permitting the old Rite on a very limited basis as long as it was the 1962 Missal with the 1965 and 1967 revisions issued by the Congregation of Divine Worship.  This came to be known as the “Agatha Christie Indult.”  Ironically, though she did sign the petition, Ms Christie was Church of England and not Roman Catholic.  On the other hand, priests such as the late Father Gommar dePauw of the Ave Maria Chapel in Westbury NY, were severely punished for continuing to celebrate the pre-conciliar Mass without an indult. 
The English petition—signed by such figures as Sir Kenneth Clark, Graham Greene, Yehudi Menuhin, Nancy Mitford, Malcolm Muggeridge, Joan Sutherland and Philip Toynbee—was based on two separate points.  One is the devotion of the English Catholics to the Liturgy known by the English Martyrs of the 16th and 17th centuries.  The other is the aesthetic appeal of the traditional liturgy.   Here in the United States the desire for the “old Mass” was based more on a discomfort with—and in some cases even a rejection of—the Second Vatican Council.  Moreover, while the appeal of the Tridentine Liturgy in Britain was, at least at the time of the Agatha Christie Indult, to people with a demonstrated social conscience, in the United States the pre-conciliar liturgy drew and continues to draw from the most conservative factions of politics and society.  Indeed Tridentine Rite congregations tend to be conventicles of the most rabid social reactionaries because while the trap may be baited with the smells and bells of the old rite, it’s raison d’etre is the preservation of a world that has vanished these last fifty years.  This is why I think that John Paul’s motu proprio Ecclesia Dei and Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificium are nothing less than two more of the Church’s varied attempts at suicide.  I believe that the two Popes failed to understand the agenda behind those pushing for the revival of the old rites.  In much of Europe, and most notably in Rome itself, there is and has been little interest in the pre-conciliar rites. Of course, in Rome there is little interest in the Mass in any rite at all and this is nothing new.   For John Paul the permission given in Ecclesia Dei was primarily out of concern “for those attached to the Latin liturgical tradition.”  John Paul never gave any indication that he himself had this attachment and indeed his liturgical style could often be at the other end of the spectrum from the Tridentine Rite.  I remember the Indian dancers at the Beatification Mass for Mother Theresa in Saint Peter’s Square.   Benedict, on the other hand, did have a personal attachment to the old rites though once Pope he never publicly celebrated them as he knew it would send a wrong signal and that they were divisive of the unity of the Church.  Pope Benedict is a man of great precision and a deep love for intellectual structure.  He saw that the Latin language and the rigid rubrics of the 1570 rite gave this precision and structure.  The people whom he knew and with whom he attended various conferences at Fontgombault were, like himself, brainiacs whose intellectual and aesthetic sense prepared them to enjoy the rites, especially when carried out with full splendor.  I don’t think he ever understood the lack of sophistication—intellectual or aesthetic—behind most of those in North America who follow the old rites.  The social encyclicals of Popes John Paul and Benedict clearly show that while they, or at least Benedict, may have had some sympathy with the older forms of liturgy, they were men of the Church in today’s world.  But you can bet that Ut unum sint, Solicitudo Rei Socialis, Laborem Exercens, or Caritas in Veritate aren’t part of the adult ed program in most places that celebrate the Latin Mass.  And it is even more sure that the catechesis given to the children in these congregations does not differ from the catechesis I received in 1957 despite the fact that much in the Church has changed in the intervening years. 
There are in the United States approximately 460 sites that celebrate the Tridentine Mass according to the norms set down in Ecclesia Dei and Summorum Pontificium.  (This does not count the various independent—schismatic—chapels or the SSPX sites.)  Of these about 330 have a weekly Sunday Mass.  There are some 40 that might be said to be traditional rite parishes—having at least two Sunday Masses and at least 4 Masses through the week that are celebrated according to the 1962 Missal.  The catechesis is generally the Baltimore Catechism which predates (and thus avoids teaching) the doctrines of the Second Vatican Council.  While some of these sites have the traditional charitable organizations such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, there are few—if any—with active programs on the Church’s social magisterium.  Many of the families who attend the pre-conciliar liturgies home-school their children to avoid public (and Catholic) school education.  Urban TLM sites such as Saint Mary Mother of God in Washington DC, Holy Innocents in Manhattan, Saint Agnes in Minneapolis, Saint John Cantius in Chicago, Saint Francis de Sales in Saint Louis, draw significantly from the gay community,  but the number of African Americans, Hispanics, or Asian-Americans is significantly low in most congregations.  This is because ultimately the Tridentine Mass option is not about the Liturgy but the attempts to revive the Church “of a better day” and find refuge there from the vicissitudes of life in the real world.  Pope Francis is making it harder and harder to escape into that parallel universe of the 1950’s as he confronts us with the realities of witnessing to the Gospel in an increasingly secular and secularist society.  With Pope Benedict it was possible to shut our eyes and ears to the world outside and just watch the glorious panoply of a monarchial Church unfold in this imaginary world into which the Church was increasingly being fashioned.  Not so easy with Francis.   Perhaps some neo-trad latter-day Dante will put Benedict into hell for resigning the papacy and giving us Francis.  As for me, I am profoundly grateful the Pope Benedict saw things turning toxic and resigned so that a somewhat younger man with more strength could steer the barque on a sounder course. 

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