A response to the NCReporter’s toxic attack on the Latin Mass

My particular and concrete experiences in a Latin Mass community, including as a paid part-time teacher in one such high school, were surprising—and completely positive.

(Image: Josh Applegate | Unsplash.com)

Zita Ballinger Fletcher’s recent National Catholic Reporter essay, titled “The Latin Mass becomes a cult of toxic tradition” is such an adolescent and amateurish a rant, abounding in so many grotesques about an unnamed “Latin Mass community”, that my first reaction was to laugh aloud. Surely, I thought, this is some kind of risible tax wheeze by the Society of St. Pius X or the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter to drum up donations before the end of the fiscal year. Surely they must, like my local Catholic and NPR radio stations, be in the midst of their fall fundraising drives? Even if they aren’t, such an hysterical hit job can only redound to their benefit, financial and otherwise.

I will not bore readers by offering a systematic refutation of grossly hyperbolic adjectives and generalizations including “Latin Mass cultists”, “fundamentalists”, “anti-modern practices”, “cultism”, “radical and narrow-minded”, and “vortex of toxic, traditional radicalism”. Instead, let me respond by sharing a bit about some of my particular and concrete experiences in a Latin Mass community, including as a paid part-time teacher in one such high school.

Prior to following the orientale lumen and becoming Eastern Catholic, I spent three years of my life at St. Clement Parish in Ottawa, Canada. There I met some of the most interesting, sometimes eccentric, but always gracious and hospitable people. Neither they nor the clergy of that parish bear the slightest resemblance to the composite cartoons Fletcher conjures up in her piece. (I do not wish to create the impression that the parish was perfect. The pastor warned me to watch out for what he called the “lunatic fringe,” though he said—and my experience confirmed—that it was a very small minority of the parish.)

I confess that prior to going I had steeled myself, based on nothing more than lazy stereotypes of precisely the sort Fletcher flogs, to find the parish a hotbed of reactionary octogenarian cranks—all six of them, I assumed. Imagine my surprise, then, when in the high summer of 1996 I walked up the enormous hill to the parish only to hear, from a good half block away, the shrieks of forty or fifty children of all ages, who filled the front and side lawns of the parish and spilled onto the sidewalk and street. This was not at all what I expected. It was but the first of many surprises.

My second surprise consisted in simply opening the front door. Instead of seeing a handful of aged and bitter hangers-on from mid-century ranting about Vatican II while clacking their rosary beads loudly, I found a nearly full church of fascinating people of two languages (this being Ottawa, the parish did everything in French and English), of various cultures, and every social class, from diplomats and high government officials to homemakers, carpenters, and other professions, and with a clear distribution across the life spectrum, from very young children to adults in their early twenties (as I then was), and peoples of every decade thereafter. I was immediately befriended after my first Mass there, and invited to breakfast with a group of people who became fast friends.

Within short order, one of the teachers who wanted to retire from the parish school put my name forward as his replacement—without telling me! This was one of the clearest examples of Divine Providence in my life for it introduced me to the idea of teaching, which until then I had never considered. I quickly came to love it, and received encouragement to continue down this path, which I have done for more than twenty years now.

That venerable parish claimed for itself the singular distinction of being the only place in all of Canada always to have celebrated Mass in Latin before, during, and after Vatican II. This was usually done by cobbling together sympathetic priests on an ad hoc basis before the parish was given over to the care of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, the relatively new order in the Church dedicated entirely to preserving and celebrating all the sacraments according to the 1962 liturgical books. My three years in that parish were so utterly unlike anything Fletcher has described that I seriously have to doubt whether her descriptions come from and correspond to any actually existing community. Strikingly, she provides no identifying details, which, given her relentless acrimony, we cannot ascribe to any charitable desire to protect the innocent.

In any event, my experience at St. Clement offers refutations of such claims as “the Latin Mass fosters clericalist structures in the church.” Having recently written a book that deals in more detail with radical reforms to clericalist structures than any other book on offer, I should be sympathetic to her claim, but in fact it lacks support in both the concrete particulars of St. Clement and the more abstract and general terms laid down in the previous pope’s Summorum Pontificum, to which I shall return presently.

St. Clement was a parish kept afloat by devoted lay people for much of its early history often in the teeth of official hostility and general disdain. Women in particular were overwhelmingly involved in all aspects, including especially the hugely difficult, and poorly remunerated, work of setting up and running the parish school where I taught history. (The principal who hired me was a splendid woman from England of prodigious talent who did at least three full-time jobs in the school and parish with great flair and good cheer. My admiration for her was boundless.)

The people had learned from hard and bitter experience that many priests, and almost all bishops, could not be relied upon for anything so they did it themselves. There was no clericalism here. In fact, their approach always reminded me of a line from Fiddler on the Roof, adapted slightly: “God bless and keep the bishop…far away from us!”

The above is sufficient evidence for me not to believe Fletcher’s claim that “the Latin tradition oppresses women. Women are expected — indeed, in some cases commanded — to wear skirts instead of trousers, cover themselves with long clothing and wear veils over their heads.” The woman I dated at the time steadfastly refused, along with her equally elegant sister, to cover their heads. Their mother (one of the most uproariously hilarious women I have ever met, whom I still deeply revere) did insist on covering her hair, and wanted her daughters to do so, but knew better than to force the issue with them for she had brought them up to be fiercely independent and to brook no nonsense from any churchman. Plenty of other women in the parish had the freedom to do what they wanted on these and other issues.

It is, in fact, freedom that is the hallmark and central point of the 2007 document of the previous pope treating the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite. In Summorum Pontificum, Benedict XVI performed so radical a reversal that I still think many even ostensibly intelligent people have not grasped it. He rebuffed the totally unfounded, hideously unjust centralization of the modern papacy whose most egregious power-grab came after Vatican II when it foisted upon the Church the theologically, historically, and ecumenically offensive notion that the pope has the prerogative of replacing an entire liturgical tradition in the Church—something no pope in 2000 years had ever attempted.

Benedict XVI sought to give back to local communities like St. Clement Parish the right to decide which of the two forms they wish to celebrate. In doing this, the pope struck a blow in ecclesiological and liturgical terms for what, in Catholic social teaching, we call “subsidiarity.” Benedict XVI, who for forty years as a theologian wrote against the unhealthy centralization of the modern papacy and its cult of personality around the pope, paradoxically used that office to rightly push back against centralization and curial micromanagement. He was in many important respects the pope of freedom and of diversity: he wanted both forms of the Roman Rite to flourish, and two years later in Anglicanorum coetibus, manifested again the same desire by allowing the unique gifts of Anglican liturgy and spirituality to flourish in Ordinariate parishes.

It is safe to say that if the pope thought the parishes he was liberating would turn into the nightmares conjured up by Fletcher’s fevered fantasies, he would never have gone down this path. But he did, and, as I have argued , it should still be counted unto him as righteousness.


If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


About Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille 75 Articles
Dr. Adam A. J. DeVille is associate professor and chairman of the Department of Theology-Philosophy, University of Saint Francis (Fort Wayne, IN) and author of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy (University of Notre Dame, 2011).

36 Comments

  1. I’d read that NCR article through a link in the UK Catholic Herald site.
    I thought it was so over the top as to be satire but I guess it was meant seriously. What a shame.

  2. I avoid reading the Firshwrap, Poison Pill, or any fake Catholic news outlets, but it’s ironic when the Catholic Left (who are these days far more left and far less Catholic) are so hellbent on shutting down the TLM when young people are flocking to Catholic Churches offering it and Traditional Catholic Religious orders like the FSSP and ICRSS are seeing a boom in vocations. They are so spiteful they will not allow others to succeed where they themselves have failed (with the wrecking of the Liturgy, watering down of Doctrine, etc that forms the basis for the “Spirit of Vatican II).

  3. Personally, I think Zita Ballinger Fletcher‘s article is made up or grotesquely exaggerated. Over the years, I’ve attended the traditional Latin Mass in various locations and countries (FSSP, ICKSP, SSPX, Oratorians, various monastic communities etc.) and I have NEVER encountered what Zita Ballinger Fletcher described in her ridiculous article. Sure, I have met the odd eccentric/weirdo, but I’ve also met my fair share of those in the Novus Ordo parishes I used to attend (usually the sjw’s in the parish were the worst).

    Most Latin Mass parishes are made up of good and holy people. Many are poor or working class (ironically, the very people leftists claim to care so much about). They have a strong faith that is often mocked and denigrated by our ecclesial elites. They also make great personal sacrifices (time and treasure) to support their TLM centre. If they seem a bit reserved at first, it’s because they’ve had to put up with decades of abuse (like Zita Ballinger Fletcher’s article) for only wanting to worship the way their ancestors did. Zita Ballinger Fletcher should stop bearing false witness against her neighbours.

    PS: What many don’t understand is that most Latin Mass goers just want to be left alone. They’ve endured and thrived despite a half century of mockery and outright discrimination. In the meantime, the Novus Ordo branch of the Church has been closing institutions and have been infested with sexual abuse cases and corruption. I think Zita Ballinger Fletcher has much bigger things in the Church to worry about than a few Catholics minding their business by worshipping at the TLM and wearing chapel veils. If only Novus Ordo Officialdom (which includes the crowd at NCR) were as enraged and scandalized about child rape and corruption as it seems to be over Latin, chapel veils and communion rails we would be in a much better place.

    • I used to attend a weekly TLM in my former diocese and sang in the Latin Schola.
      I hate to use the word “diverse ” because it’s become a cliche, but it really does describe those who made up the TLM congregation. We had many young families, professionals, students from the nearby art school, and the president of the local NAACP chapter.

    • It’s probably better to have kept your postscript to yourself, Andrew.
      “The Novus Ordo branch of the church” is singularly responsible for the sex abuse and church closings? Huh? Are you one of those people that blame all of life on the 1960s? This is a view sometimes found not only with the very old, but the very young too. It’s easy for us to think that are own small group has all the answers. But a little openness to history reminds us that church closings -and molestation- predate the Swingin’ Sixties quite a bit, when churches were filled with dutiful Latin Mass celebrants.

      NCR’s editorials often make me shake my head, but they also almost print daily stories about sex abuse in the Church, so it’s pretty unfair to say ‘they care more about communion rails.’ I think you leave yourself open to potential myopia when you start unquestioningly trotting buzzwords/phrases like “ironically the leftists this” and “the REAL elitists!!!” This is a sign of letting American gutter politics dominate your mind. Be wary of that; because it’s all a sham.

      I actually wonder if the readers cheering on Benedict’s ‘paternal solicitude’ (to use a funny euphemism CWR used in a JP2 article a few weeks ago*) for allowing for greater subsidiarity in the Mass would likewise cheer on the current Pontiff’s openness to more cultural cross-pollination in Amazonian rites. Something tells me openness is a one-way street. Perhaps.

      *funny because CWR articles often twist themselves into knots describing the same actions JP2/Benedict/Francis take as right/right/wrong

      • You’re making a false analogy. Paternal solicitude in recognizing that a centuries-old way of saying Mass is still a legitimate way of doing so in no way equates to “more cultural cross-pollination in Amazonian rites” which is more along the lines of “pollution by idolatry” rather than any kind of pollination, and is most emphatically not a part of Church tradition.

  4. The NR Reporter is the engine of slavery to Pachamama.

    And I heartily agree that B16 was a Pope and Cardinal of wholesome ecclesiology and liberation in Christ.

    Bravo…and long live the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and the ancient Roman Canon, the oldest Eucharistic prayer in use in Christianity.

    • Actually, the oldest Eucharistic canon belongs to the East, in its ancient Divine Liturgy of James the Just. It is believed to date back to about 60 AD.

      • Though the Liturgy of St. James is ancient and glorious and faithful and true, it is attested by scholars in both the more orthodox (e.g. Father Adrian Fortesque of England, the scholar of Eastern rites, ancient Eastern languages and liturgy, in his classic work on the Roman Mass, written some 100 years ago) in among scholars of less orthodox ranks, indeed, a very well known contemporary Jesuit (his name escapes me but I will find and post it) who holds an episcopal rank in one of the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches, that the oldest extant Eucharistic Prayer is the Roman Canon, even older than the venerable Rite if St. James.

      • There are a good many stylistic indications that the anaphora of the Liturgy of St. James was composed, or at least redacted, by St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), a contemporary of St. Basil of Caesaraea (d. 379) and St. John Chrysostom (d. 407), who both probably shaped the anaphoras of the liturgies bearing their respective names.

        Cf.: “The Anaphoras of St. Basil and St. James: An Investigation into their common Origin,” by John R. K. Fenwick (Rome, 1992: Orientalia Christiana Analecta; ISBN: 88-7210-295-2).

  5. Ottawa was not the only place in Canada to retain the TLM before during and after Vatican II.
    In the diocese of Victoria on Vancouver island in British Columbia Bp. Remi de Roo, the youngest Bishop to attend VII, was in fact so liberal that he permitted Our Lady Queen of Peace parish to continue with the TLM.
    In the last 80s the Mass was lost for a while but has since been recovered and continues at that parish.

    • David your mention of Bishop Remi De Roo recalls a book I read prior to ordination called Michelle Remembers. The book is an account of a satanic church to which Michelle’s mother belonged and of which a psychiatrist recovered her memories of and the horrors that she allegedly witnessed as a child. Bishop De Roo Vicoria ordinary 1962-1999 had went to Rome to report the controversial incident. I learned of it on a visit to Victoria after completing studies at Ottawa U from a Canadian friend now residing in Victoria. He and another Canadian [I’m American] were ski buddies in Ottawa and I was surprised to hear from him that Victoria was a center for the occult and satanic worship. The City one of the more beautiful, pleasant settings I’ve seen. Morbid interest in the occult has widened in the US and it seems there’s a nexus with this morbid interest and a growing secularism within the Church, the vicious diatribe coming from Zita Ballinger Fletcher National Catholic Reporter and similar derogatory remarks by Fr A Spadaro SJ, Austen Ivereigh against those who prefer the Latin Mass and in general those who hold to Apostolic Tradition. You’re aware of course of the Pachamama Vatican controversy. It appears we can’t discount a connectedness.

      • De Roo was also a huge proponent of liberation theology and all that goes with it. He’s probably one of the most liberal bishops in the Church (and that’s saying a lot). He used to pop up at all the usual liberal Church conferences wearing a suit and tie.

        He also left his diocese bankrupt (12 million in the hole) through shady real estate deals and “investing” in horse breeding. Like many SJW’s he is very good at spending other people’s money. He was never held responsible for bankrupting his diocese.

    • The Toronto Oratory (google it) is a wonderful place to attend the TLM. It’s offered everyday, with high Mass on Sundays. They are also booming with vocations.

  6. Thank you, Dr. Deville. It is a well-written article. Indeed, Benedict XVI through his exercise of the Petrine Office presented a genuine model of how it ought to be exercised. It was truly Catholic and might his exercise of it become the model to be imitated. That would help immensely move the two Churches -East and West – toward full communion. It would also help restore the biblical and patristic practice that respects each local Church and each bishop. It would facilitate as well an authentic ecclesial communion of all the Churches, a communion fostered by personal dialogue, charity and humility rather than mere law and obedience. An ecclesial communion rooted in freedom and therfore love and humility is to model the communion of the Trinity. Is that not the objective of the Church, the People of God, and therefore, the vocation of every baptized person?

    Fr. Marc

  7. In the original article, Fletcher states how she asked the priest why men don’t have to be veiled, and “he couldn’t answer her.” Oh really? As the popular meme goes: “I’ll take ‘**** that never happened’ for $500, Alex”

  8. So… people actually read and respond to the Reporter? I assumed everything they publish is of the Patheos variety, unintentionally a parody of itself, but hardly requiring any response.

  9. Fletcher’s comments were rude, old, and tired, but I’m still waiting for someone with liturgical expertise and charity to respond and explain why the EF is celebrated the way it is. Not that Fletcher will read it, but so those of a fair mind will. Yes, Virginia, we ARE Catholic, and do things this way because…

    • It’s complicated. These sources can help people to understand the greatest theft in human history:

      The Heresy of Formlessness:
      The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy (Revised and Expanded Edition)
      , by Martin Mosebach.

      From the publisher’s description:
      First published in 2003, The Heresy of Formlessness is already a modern classic, unique for its melding of poetic shimmer and keen observation. Martin Mosebach offers up a compelling defense of the traditional Roman Rite and a searing critique of the postconciliar liturgical reform through which ancient rites were profaned by tone-deaf modernizers. For Mosebach, the only coherent solution to this crisis is a wholehearted return to the old Latin liturgy in its tightly-woven symbolic texture of prayer and chant, gesture and ceremonial—the rich heritage of its “mystic benedictions” (Trent). Long out of print, this revised and expanded edition will be the more welcome for its six new chapters and foreword by eminent moral philosopher Robert Spaemann.

      Nothing Superfluous, by Rev. James W. Jackson, FSSP.

      Why Restoring the Roman Rite to Its Fullness is Not “Traddy Antiquarianism”, by Peter Kwasniewski, Ph.D.

      • The problem with these two gentlemen is that they sometimes go towards the cranky nutcase version of traditionalism – something that everyone must watch out for, because the nutty traditionalists like to run down the Catholic church as much as any protestant. for example. Peter Kwasneiwski contends that John Paul II was one of the worst popes in history, one of the bad popes, etc. Such crazy talk often comes from the traditional side of things, so you have to be careful. Kwasniewski sells himself as a “theologian” but he really is not. He’s a guy who started out writing music for the Latin Mass, then decided he was a theologian and began declaring all sorts of popes to be heretics, etc. That is what people are going to have to learn. Although there is a lot of good stuff on the traditional side, there are a lot of nuts that attach themselves like barnacles

  10. Dear Fr. Morello,
    I was in Rome for some of the Paix Liturgique pilgrimage and Una Voce International General Assembly. The synod was just coming to an end.

    We had Pontifical High Masses at the Pantheon, Pellegrini and at St. Peter’s hopefully this made up for some of the other nonsense.

    God bless
    David

  11. There is skepticism lawsuits and outright denials of the entire episode. At the time I heard of it and read early accounts it seemed credible. Neither was I aware of Bishop De Roo’s issues. Much of what influenced me to give credence was the testimony of close friends Canadians who lived in Ottawa and Victoria.

  12. An open letter to Zita Ballinger Fletcher:

    (With respect to Ann Landers, the original source of the quote)

    “You have a point, but if you keep your hat on perhaps no one will notice.”

  13. Once a month I make it to the Latin Mass in Lewiston, Maine. I was on my feet at 5, took a shower and was on the way by 6. I drive like a turtle so it took 75 minutes to make the 53 mile trip, but it was worth it, as always. Rosary at 8, confession, and as always I stand right next to the acapella choir because they are THAT good.

    So I come home to find that someone has written a piece calling the Latin Mass “a cult of toxic tradition” in the NCR. I must confess I haven’t read the piece, nor do I intend to, but what a silly piece it must be.

  14. Just to address one of her objections – the Priest refusing to put the Host in her hands. That refusal was based on the entirely reasonable basis that the Body of Christ can ONLY be touched by consecrated hands, which of course leads to the question – that being so and given the shortage of Priests – how would Parish members be able to bring the Host to the homebound?

    I go to the TLM once a month and my favorite memory is from 5 or 6 years ago in the spring. I got there really early one Sunday and went into the Church. There were no lights on but the early spring sun was shining in and providing a little bit of light to the large, silent Basilica. I sat down and then I heard the organist, who had not heard me come in and was practicing. I imagine he thought that God was the only one who was listening but he (she?) was mistaken.

    The very mention of that morning brings tears to my eyes.

  15. Yesterday I said I would never read that piece but I figured that if I were to comment on it I would have to read it through, which I did.

    I’ve tried but I just can’t get past one word – silly.

  16. Dr Deville, it’s great hearing warm words about the TLM coming from an Eastern perspective such as yours. Eastern Catholics and liturgy-loving Latin traditionalists are natural allies!

1 Trackback / Pingback

  1. SATVRDAY LATE EDITION – Big Pulpit

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.


*