Bishop of Fort Worth draws the line [UPDATED]

Bishop of Fort Worth draws the line [UPDATED]

The Traditionalist blogosphere is abuzz, again, with the story of the latest “injustice” done to Catholics who are devoted to Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  A letter from the bishop of Fort Worth, TX, dated February 24, 2014, to Mr. Michael King, president of Fisher More College, was leaked to the Rorate Caeli blog; the letter from Bishop Michael Olson states: 

1. You do not have permission to have the public celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at the Chapel of Fisher More College.  This includes Sundays and weekdays.  The weekly celebration of the Extraordinary Form is available to the faithful every Sunday at St. Mary of the Assumption Catholic Church in Fort Worth. 

2. You may only have the celebration of the Mass in the Ordinary Form by priests who explicitly have faculties for such celebration as granted by me as the Bishop of Fort Worth….

I make these norms out of my pastoral solicitude and care for the students of Fisher-More College as well as for your own soul.  I urge you to comply with them. 

The reasons for the bishop’s disciplinary action are not spelled out in the letter, because it was written immediately after a meeting between Bishop Olson and Mr. King, during which it can be assumed King’s actions as president of a Catholic college located in the Diocese of Fort Worth were discussed.  A modicum of background information shows that the Ordinary’s letter was fair and prudent. 

First: Bishop Olson is no enemy of the Traditional Latin Mass; the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter staffs St. Mary of the Assumption parish in his diocese.  Less than a half-hour away, in the neighboring Diocese of Dallas, the FSSP also staffs Mater Dei Parish, which has one or two Traditional Latin Masses every day of the week.  Therefore no lay people unaffiliated with the college are being deprived by the bishop’s ruling.  (For basis of comparison: I live in the densely populated Archdiocese of Philadelphia, which has four parishes where Sunday Mass is celebrated in the Extraordinary Form, and I drive 40-45 minutes to the nearest one.) 

Second: while some see Bishop Olson’s action as an attack on Summorum Pontificum, a review of the actual provisions of the motu proprio is in order. It does not give an unlimited right for any priest to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite anywhere and at any time: the universal permission is for private Masses, not public Masses (although the lay faithful may attend the private Mass of a priest if they so desire and he allows it).  By the very nature of an educational institution, Mass in a college chapel is a public ceremony, and therefore other considerations come into play as well.  Specifically, Article 5 §1 of Summorum Pontificum says, “In parishes where there is a stable group of faithful who adhere to the earlier liturgical tradition,” and by implication, in chapels, “the pastor [or chaplain] should…ensure that the welfare of these faithful harmonizes with the ordinary pastoral care of the parish, under the guidance of the bishop in accordance with canon 392, avoiding discord and favoring the unity of the whole Church.” In simpler language: the local Ordinary is obliged by canon law to defend Church unity and to ensure that abuses do not creep into the celebration of the sacraments (canon 392).  The celebration of Mass in the Extraordinary Form must not be turned into an ideological “statement” that would cause disunity. 

But that is precisely what Mr. King had been doing at Fisher More College.  Employees there report that Michael King has invited to the campus preachers and speakers who have questioned the validity of Mass celebrated in the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite.  The author of A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics writes that King himself has taken “an increasingly severe stand regarding the [Second Vatican] Council…. The level of excoriation for the Church and Her leaders has reached [the point where] even many good, traditional Catholics are scandalized by the rhetoric.”  An acquaintance of this author, whose husband has worked for Fisher More College for two years, says that the college president is “a borderline sedevacantist” (i.e. suggests that the post-conciliar popes have not been valid), has alienated the families of many former students, has fired faculty members on the spot for disagreeing with his views, and has then threatened them with lawsuits if they go public with their complaints. 

In the Accompanying Letter that explains the 2007 motu proprio, Benedict XVI wrote:  “Needless to say, in order to experience full communion, the priests of the communities adhering to the former usage [i.e. Mass in the Extraordinary Form] cannot, as a matter of principle, exclude celebrating according to the new [liturgical] books…. Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity.”  Clearly, the intolerance and ideological intransigence in this unhappy situation in Fort Worth are not to be found at the bishop’s chancery. 

Bishop Olson’s letter is a model of courtesy; he thanks Mr. King for being so kind as to visit him in his office and asks him to convey his thanks to the students at Fisher More College for their spiritual bouquet.  But it is also an authoritative act.  The bishop of the Diocese of Forth Worth applied the existing liturgical law, Summorum Pontificum.  The injustice was found, not in his ruling, but rather in Mr. King’s dangerously divisive administration of a Catholic college.

UPDATE (March 4, 2014 at 12:45 Eastern Standard Time):  

The following excerpts from remarks by Dr. Taylor Marshall, the former chancellor of Fisher More College (he resigned last June), about the situation at the school, are taken from a posting on his Facebook page dated March 4, 2014:

Regarding Fisher More College and what you’re reading [online]:

Now that the Bishop of Fort Worth has weighed in (and is now being maligned), after much prayer, I feel that I should break the silence….

For the record, I resigned as Chancellor of the College at the beginning of June of 2013…. I had no job prospects and no income. I did it for the sake of conscience. I felt it would be a danger to my soul to remain at Fisher More College.

I resigned when moral, theological, and financial discrepancies came to light regarding the presidency of Michael King. I was an ex officio member of the Board so I knew what others did not. From May to early June of 2013, five of the eight College Board Members also resigned for two reasons:

1) Mr. King refused to disassociate himself from the public statements of faculty member Dr. Dudley that claimed in his Year of Faith lecture that Catholic professors have the duty to teach young people that Vatican 2 is not a valid Council….

2) Mr. King, after selling the original FMC campus to Texas Christian University for millions of dollars, had imprudently entered into a real estate deal that financially crippled Fisher More College.

Much of the politicization around the “Latin Mass and FMC” is Mr. King’s careful attempt to distract attention away from his financial misdealing at FMC. The college is currently teetering on bankruptcy and this latest entanglement with the bishop will lead to a public statement: “Fisher More closed down because the new bishop of Fort Worth persecuted the Latin Mass!” when in reality the College is failing because Mr. King entered into a dubious real estate deal that washed out college’s endowment AND all the proceeds from the sale of the original campus….

FMC hosted a public repudiation of Vatican 2 and the Ordinary Form of the Mass in April of 2013 that was so offensive that my wife and I walked out of it before its conclusion…. it contributed to the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) discontinuing their support and presence at FMC. The current FMC website advertises that the FSSP provides a chaplain, but this is not true.

At the same time, Michael King estranged himself from the diocese of Fort Worth by not allowing the Ordinary Form (as stipulated by the previous ordinary Bishop Vann of Fort Worth). He also contracted an irregular/suspended priest without faculties, and hired “trad resistance” faculty while there was no bishop in Fort Worth to check these developments….

Clearly, a bishop’s intervention was inevitable. The current controversy really has nothing to do with the Latin Mass per se. The Latin Mass is at the center because Michael King is politicizing the Latin Mass in his favor, knowing that “bishops vs the Latin Mass” is red meat for some traditionalist blogs….

As one who loves and prays the Latin Mass, please don’t curse or blame Bishop Olson for this one. He is a new bishop who inherited a TOUGH pastoral problem. Pray for him. And if you love the Latin Mass, don’t be so quick to judge the bishops or cite canon law. Sometimes there are things behind the scenes that you don’t know.

[Note:] Regarding Summorum Pontificum in this situation: the chapel falls under the direct pastoral control of the bishop…. Those accusing Bishop Olson of breaking canon law or despising Summorum Pontificum should be more careful. Moreover, be assured that Bishop Olson supports the FSSP in his diocese and has nothing against the Extraordinary Form.

Read Dr. Marshall’s entire statement

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About Michael J. Miller 127 Articles
Michael J. Miller Michael J. Miller translated Priesthood and Diaconate by Gerhard Ludwig Müller for Ignatius Press and Eucharist and Divorce: A Change in Doctrine? for the Pontifical John Paul II Institute.