On January 27th, the National Catholic Reporter posted an article, written by Peter Feuerherd, with this tantalizing headline: “In came Latin, incense and burned books, out went half the parishioners. Post-Vatican II North Carolina Catholics seek a spiritual home.” It comes highly recommended by none other than Jesuit Father James Martin.1 With the Martin endorsement, I naturally couldn’t resist.
First, some autobiographical background: I entered the seminary immediately after high school, enthusiastic and well-prepared both spiritually and academically, having had thirteen years of a superb Catholic education. That entrance was exactly three weeks after the promulgation of Humanae Vitae. The first night in the seminary, our entering class was asked to choose up sides between Pope Paul VI and “the theologians” (that is, the infamous dissenters). The college seminary experience, however, was not too bad, largely thanks to the fact that the seminary was situated on a large Catholic university campus, where most of the lay professors were still authentically Catholic.
I completed college in three years and embarked on my theological studies. And then, the roof caved in. Heresy was rampant in every class, save Church history and Scripture. Moral theology was outrageous. The liturgy was horrendous; we never knew what to expect from one day to the next (we even witnessed a woman “concelebrating” Mass during a class day of recollection). For our homiletics practicum, we were evaluated by radical laity brought in on Friday nights to critique our efforts; they were brutal and viciously anti-clerical. Nor can I forget to note that the whole place was a moral cesspool. For having the temerity to challenge the lunacy, I was “invited” to take a leave of absence three months before diaconal ordination, which “leave” involved being subjected to psychotherapy because I was “unsuited for ministry in the post-conciliar Church.” Even though the seminary was successful in getting me dropped by my home diocese, that did not satisfy their blood lust; they hounded me for nearly two years anywhere I sought to find a benevolent bishop.
The very good news in all this is that you cannot find a seminary like that today (I know this because I deal with seminaries and bishops on a near-daily basis). What changed?
Pope John Paul II came crashing onto the scene, and one of his top priorities was priestly formation, memorialized in Pastores Dabo Vobis. The second shoe to drop was his attention to episcopal appointments in the United States (under the nuncioships of Archbishops Pio Laghi and Agostino Cacciavillan), with names like O’Malley, Chaput, Donoghue, Law, Baum, Stafford, Bevilacqua, Slattery beginning to be heard from. The combination of those two determinations resulted in the emergence of a group of men dubbed “the JP2 Generation of Priests,” which title they wore as a badge of honor. Interestingly, although John Paul has been dead for nearly sixteen years, we still have “JP2 priests” emerging. In fact, one would be hard-put to point to a single priest under the age of fifty who is anything but theologically orthodox and liturgically reverent and observant. And therein lies the real rub for the malcontents interviewed by Feuerherd for his NCR screed.
What are the specific neuralgic issues for these “Vatican II Catholics”? Use of Latin (Vatican II strongly supported Latin in the liturgy; unfortunately, it wasn’t taken seriously). What else? Incense (the General Instruction of the Roman Missal encourages it); one wag says the local fire department had to come one time! (Yeah, right.) Also, Mass facing the people, Communion-in-the-hand, and altar girls. The current missal presumes that the priest is not facing the people, and the celebrant is free to face either direction at any time.
As for the last two items, Vatican II says not a word about either of those practices and engaging in either still requires a vote of the episcopal conference, with subsequent approval of the Holy See. Communion may not be administered in the hand if there is any danger of profanation (in the judgment of the priest) and may not be employed if the priest distributes Holy Communion by intinction. Even after episcopal conference approval and diocesan permission, whether or not to have female servers is the exclusive determination of the celebrant, not even of a pastor or bishop. Another pet peeve noted in the article is the elimination of extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion. Is it really possible to have a valid Mass without them?
With those issues put aside, we may be getting closer to the real issue as the priests condemned here are accused of “hyperorthodoxy.” What does that mean? Well, one example offered is that of a pastor with his seminarians who combed through the parish library and discarded books they considered inappropriate or heretical. To add some spice to the story, we read that “the books were later burned” – “she was told by a parish staff member.” So much for unsubstantiated rumor and gossip. More importantly, I thought that safeguarding the deposit of faith was part of the job description of a priest, at least according to St. Paul (1 Tim 6:20).
The preaching and teaching of right doctrine is indeed a burr in the saddle of fake Catholics, the proof of which is that we learn that many of them “have fled to local Protestant congregations.” Trying to keep such people within the fold is an exercise in futility, for they simply serve to stir up dissent and disunity, which is why Our Lord Himself did not chase after those who rejected His doctrine of the Holy Eucharist; in fact, He even urged others to follow them away (see Jn 6:66-67). Now it all makes sense because any normal Catholic would not be exceedingly exercised by Latin or incense – unless they represented something more than matters of taste or style.
Some of the disaffected haven’t fled to our “separated brethren.” Instead, they have hired two priests to come to their garage “amid some half dozen 1950s remodeled cars” for “an informal Mass,” which includes a gripe session about their real parish after the homily. I would love to be a fly on the wall for that liturgical extravaganza. I also bet the entire New York lotto prize that the congregants in this “catacomb” liturgy mirror the “half dozen 1950s remodeled cars” and are either bald or gray-headed. Not a youngster among them – just like the old guard at “Call to Action.”
Initially, we read that many have left those “traditionalist” parishes, suggesting the emptying of the pews. Halfway through, however, we learn that many others have come to replace the “unfaithful departed.” The author also expresses concern that many (I would say “most”) of the junior clergy are not “in sync” with Pope Francis and instead take John Paul “for inspiration.” And the problem is what? “It is a quiet, awkward and uneasy kind of schism.” The NCR should talk about schism!
Coming up for frequent drubbing in the article is Bishop Peter Jugis, the Ordinary of Charlotte, because he apparently tolerates or even encourages these young priests. May his tribe increase, I say. It is no small source of discomfort to these unhappy warriors that Bishop Jugis has opened a college seminary, which is full! Young people aren’t supposed to go for things traditional, don’t you know? I admit that it must be very unsettling for Sixties revolutionaries to wake up in their own lifetime to find themselves deemed dinosaurs.
The author even delights in dredging up one of Francis’ various messages directed at young priests and seminarians, calling them, in his inimitable charitable way, “little monsters.” And we wonder why these young men take inspiration from John Paul, rather than Francis? Oh, and lest we miss the punch line, it is underscored that these “youngins” belong to “the cult of John Paul.” Then to seal the deal, really “seconding” the judgment of Francis that young conservatives have some kind of mental disorder, Sister Katarina Schuth is resurrected, who “has spent decades analyzing seminarians and authored numerous articles and books on the subject.” One of their problems, according to Schuth, is that they lack “a lived experience of Vatican II.”
Well, I most assuredly have “a lived experience of Vatican II,” and I am solidly in their corner.
She goes on to psychoanalyze bishops and seminary professors, condemning them – in her estimation – with this line: “They want certainty. They want answers.” Of course, wouldn’t that make sense if you followed the Jesus who proclaimed Himself “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (Jn 14:6)?
Feuerherd summarizes the thinking of Schuth with what he assumes to be damning of these young men:
These conservative seminarians are set apart in many ways from their peers, with a strong focus on evangelizing their age group members into traditional Catholic ways. They latch on to [sic] traditional modes and symbols, such as the wearing of elaborate cassocks.
That’s right, be sure to get the cassock in there somewhere (for the Left, the cassock functions like a crucifix in front of a vampire). Undoubtedly with no small degree of angst, “[Schuth] said they will exert influence on the church as more are ordained.” And then, the coup de grace – the one unforgivable mortal sin for the “Catholic” Left – they “supported former President Donald Trump. Their vision of church social teaching is limited, said Schuth.” And finally, “’It’s all about abortion, nothing else matters,’ she said about their politics.” That’s right, that slaughter of millions of children around the world every year – so insignificant a matter that even Pope Francis asks in his latest interview book how anyone can “stay silent when over 30 to 40 million unborn lives are cast aside every year through abortion.”
As I have often opined, very often our “liturgical wars” are a mask for more basic doctrinal and moral deviations. And so, I would like to take a survey of the dissidents in this article, asking their thoughts on: abortion, artificial contraception, divorce and remarriage, same-sex activity, and priestesses. I strongly suspect the objections would be far greater than Latin and incense.2
And so, when all is said and done, the whole sad situation boils down to heterodoxy being dislodged and thus the lack of “a friendly, supportive environment” and “a happy atmosphere,” as well as “lost community.” My reading of the Gospels has never led me to conclude that Calvary was “a friendly, supportive environment” or “a happy atmosphere.” This is the language of people who look to religion for therapy, rather than salvation.
No, they need to reflect on the following. Shortly after St. John Henry Newman’s conversion, he penned what may be considered an autobiographical novel, Loss and Gain (1848), in which the protagonist – generally acknowledged to be his literary alter ego – rhapsodizes on his appreciation for Holy Mass:
. . . to me nothing is so consoling, so piercing, so thrilling, so overcoming, as the Mass, said as it is among us. I could attend Masses for ever and not be tired. It is not a mere form of words, —it is a great action, the greatest action that can be on earth. It is, not the invocation merely, but, if I dare use the word, the evocation of the Eternal. He becomes present on the altar in flesh and blood, before whom angels bow and devils tremble. This is that awful event which is the scope, and is the interpretation, of every part of the solemnity.
The fundamental, underlying difficulty (not only in North Carolina) is that all too many Catholics have been sold a faulty bill of goods over the long haul and have stopped believing what the Church teaches about the Mass. This is not necessarily their fault; in fact, an entire generation of bad priests misled their people (like the many bad seminary professors who made my life miserable and misled all too many seminarians in the 1970s). St. John Chrysostom is credited with observing: “The road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lamp posts that light the path.”
The faithful of Charlotte need not fear their young priests (many of whom I know, some of whom I have taught and count as friends) and their brave bishop, who deserve nothing but their support and affection.
1From Martin’s Twitter account: “Essential reading: These are not isolated incidents, but are rather part of a growing trend, which has caused parishioners to feel angry, isolated and abandoned. Essentially the rejection of much of Vatican II by recently ordained priests, it divides parishes and often leads to Catholics leaving the church. NCR focuses on a critical trend in the US church. … I cannot tell you how many people have told me of experiences like this: parish councils disbanded, women removed from positions of leadership, parishioners being told they’re ‘bad Catholics,’ after recently ordained priests decided to remake the parish in their image.”
2Am I suggesting that all the young priests operate with optimal judgment? Not at all. No one ever has or ever will. However, I think it is also fair to submit that when an angry, unhinged parishioner comes at you, one’s response may be less than optimal. Furthermore, I would be remiss were I not to mention that the present pontificate has moved many ecclesial “centrists” under the two previous pontificates of a “hermeneutic of continuity” to the far right (even into sede-vacantism). For decades, we defended (quite justifiably) the documents of Vatican II in accord with the Tradition, only to have them often re-interpreted over the past eight years in the mode of “rupture.”
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!