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Opinion: Convenient incoherence in Charleston

Why give a patently absurd reason for restricting the use of the old books, when none at all would be perfectly fine?

Pope Francis greets Bishop Robert E. Guglielmone of Charleston, S.C., during a meeting with U.S. bishops from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina at the Vatican Feb. 13, 2020. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

I have a friend who practices labor law in a state that has “at will” employment, meaning that some employers can terminate some employees at will – no reason given, no questions asked – without much or even any warning.

He tells me that employers don’t always ace the difference between “no reason” and “any reason” – very different animals, if you take a beat to think about it – and the result of their confusion is frequently significant trouble of the expensive kind.

Employers who might simply say, “Thanks, but I don’t need you tomorrow, or ever again,” instead say – for example – that they don’t like the look of the fellow they’re letting go, or something of the sort. That’s usually not a valid justification for dismissal. Especially when the employee has a pretty decent service record, things can go badly for the employer.

I mention this as a way into the attempt of the Diocese of Charleston to justify its ban on Christmas Mass at Midnight in the old rite.

[B]efore Vatican II,” a Charleston diocesan spokeswoman told the Catholic News Agency, “the Mass could not be celebrated after 12:00 p.m. on a Sunday and not before midnight the day before a major feast day.” So far, so good.

Thus,” the spokeswoman continued, “there is no permission in the rubrics to celebrate the traditional Latin Mass on Christmas Eve.”

Wait, what?

I called the diocesan comms director in Charleston; no answer. I sent her an email, asking whether CNA quoted her correctly. No response as of press time, but it is Thanksgiving this week. Seriously, it’s not that I think the guys at CNA got her wrong, it’s just so entirely improbable that anyone could offer that with a straight face.

Leave aside that Mass at Midnight is on exactly the right side of both those terms – not after noon on the day, nor before midnight – and consider that the practice, the custom, has been in place since the first half of the first millennium of Christianity.

It’s mind-bogglingly implausible as a plain reading, let alone as justification for a severe disciplinary stricture. Offered in good faith, it suggests serious problems with reading comprehension.

“After reviewing the rites thoroughly and consulting with the pastors of our diocese,” the Charleston spokesperson told CNA, “the bishop approved this policy effective the first Sunday of Advent.”

The bishop may well have reviewed the rites thoroughly, but he apparently hasn’t looked at old parish bulletins (or archived issues of his own diocesan newspaper?) very closely, or he would have found scores of midnight liturgies listed at Christmas when the rubrics he so thoroughly reviewed were the only game in town.

The bishop is Robert E. Guglielmone, by the way, and his implementation of Traditionis custodes includes prohibitions on the use of the old books for the Easter Triduum, in a manner consistent with the baffling decree of the Rome vicariate.

Now, parish life is important, and the life of a parish finds its deepest expression in liturgy, so it makes plenty of sense to have one – and only one – Triduum in every parish. It makes a lot less sense to have no Triduum in any parish established for the purpose of worship according to the old books. That, however, is what both the Rome decree and the Charleston decree envisions.

That said, the law is a servant, and – as Pope Francis is wont to remind us – an expression of an ideal. These days, there is plenty of room in the law for a Spanish or French or Vietnamese Triduum alongside an English in one and the same parish. Just so we’re abundantly clear on the point, I’m totally here for that.

Thing is, though, Pope Francis has given bishops more than enough cover to do pretty much whatever they’d like with the old books, so, why give a patently absurd reason for restricting the use of the old books, when none at all would be perfectly fine?

One tries not to think that the bad reasoning is part of the game plan – a feature, not a bug – but it gets daily more difficult for this Church-watcher to avoid thinking that – maybe, just maybe – the terrible reasons Churchmen give for the things they do are designed to set their raw power to do them in relief, rather than to hide or disguise it.

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About Christopher R. Altieri 179 Articles
Christopher R. Altieri is a journalist, editor and author of three books, including Reading the News Without Losing Your Faith (Catholic Truth Society, 2021). He is contributing editor to Catholic World Report.


  1. His Excellency Guglielmone is coincidentally still in power at his diocese, even though if he was merely a priest, and not a Bishop, he would be removed from public ministry, since he is being sued for sex abuse when he was a priest in the AD of Rockville Centre (Long Island NY), as readers can discover by searching his background. And, he is past his 75 year retirement mark, yet retained by The Pontiff Francis. Raw power, indeed…

  2. Three quick items:

    One, Bishop Guglielmone has turned in his required retirement papers and is awaiting a replacement along with about 20 other bishops. The fact that he is still in power after 6 or 9 months is not unusual.

    Two, based one the 2020 South Carolina’s Catholic Voter’s guide, he was/is a Biden supporter. It was clearly written to favor Biden over Trump.

    Three, based on the positive financials, his support for Biden, his support for illegal immigration, etc., I’m sure there is no rush to replace him. (With so many northerners moving south, our Catholic population is growing at a very high rate. There is even discussion to divide the state up into 2 dioceses from the current one.)

  3. I find it an extreme stretch to correlate labor law with use of or no use of the Latin rite. Like or dislike the Latin rite? You’re entitled to your opinion, but to link such to an “at will” state laws seems nonsensical to me.

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