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Discussions about the role of religion in our lives and politics.

"And they do all this secure in the knowledge that their opponents are genuinely worried about killing innocent people."

You can be an advocate for Western civilization, and you can be a madman who guns people down for their political beliefs,

but you cannot be both. It's impossible.

Thoughts on Biblical Stewardship

With all the talk over Rick Santorum's comments attacking President Obama's theology, I am planning a longer post on these issues, including my lamentation over Franklin Graham's comments on these issues. In the meantime, I wanted to link to this from the Catholic blog Vox Nova, via Andrew Sullivan. The argument goes into Santorum's embrace of solo scriptura, and his "inner evangelical,"* but I just wanted to make a point about environmentalism and Biblical stewardship, and I think the comment I posted pretty much covers my thoughts:

First of all, I’m writing this as an Evangelical Protestant, who believes the Bible is God’s revealed Word. I am also, for all intents and purposes, a political liberal–no doubt some will see a conflict there, but let’s leave that aside. I also want to leave aside for now the climate change debate–I believe it’s real, and Santorum doesn’t, but that’s not my issue here. I just want to point out that the idea of Biblical stewardship of creation is entirely in line with Scripture, and Santorum’s theology is wrong, but it’s not because he’s more conservative evangelical than Catholic–there is a certain strain of thought among certain evangelicals and cultural conservatives that Santorum is operating out of, but the problem here as I see it is not that Santorum is appealing to Biblical authority, rather that his views on this issue are in fact, not based on the Bible.

The idea of Biblical stewardship is not to pillage or plunder God’s resources as we see fit, but to be stewards–to tend the Earth, to care for it, and to use it for God’s glory. When God gave Adam dominion over the Earth, he called Adam to tend it and care for it–the idea is not to elevate the Earth above man, but Santorum seems to elevate man above everything, including God. God told Adam to “dress the Garden, and to keep it ” (Gen. 2:15). The idea of using the Earth for whatever, without regard for limitations actually ignores human concerns and leads to waste, pollution, and plunder, as a poor steward is wont to do.

I’ll say it again–the problem isn’t Santorum’s embrace of the Biblical teaching, but rather his rejection of it, in this case.

Oh, and I should be clear--I'm not attacking Santorum's faith--I'm simply challenging his definition of stewardship, and countering his attack on Obama's faith, based on my reading of Scripture. If anyone has a different view, I'm more than willing to hear it.

*FWIW, I think there is something to the argument that Santorum seems more at home among conservative Evangelicals than a lot of Catholics--but that doesn't really concern me.

AND: Franklin Graham has apologized.

"HHS says employers can appeal a decision on whether they qualify for an exemption..."

"...But Hannah Smith, senior counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said, 'The mandate vests too much unbridled discretion in the hands of government bureaucrats.' "

Yeah. As always, I give the Obama administration the benefit of the doubt with regards to intent, but I've increasingly come to feel that the Administration stepped wrong with this provision, and has created quite the mess, on moral, policy and political grounds. I'll say again--it's not just bad politics, it's morally troubling.

ADDED: I've been thinking this over a great deal, and I really should clarify a few things. I do not feel that the Obama administration has some deep desire to crush religious liberty, or dismantle Catholic hospitals and charities. I understand that it is a tough call in dealing with providing access to contraception-keep in mind that this measure does not force people to buy contraceptives. I agree with others that this probably was a genuine policy judgment, and the Administration misjudged the politics. The thing is, I still find the prospect of forcing religious organizations to pay for things that violate their consciences morally problematic, and I hope the year grace period will be used to straighten this out, as I don't see how this stands as is.

Russia's return to faith

A late addendum to this post: Russia's President says that the revival of Christianity in post-Soviet Russia is a miracle. Well, miraculous, to be sure!

"The irrevocability of everything"

That's the evocative phrase used by a fellow I was talking to recently, and it's a good lens through which to view the locution "such-and-such threatens to take us back." It is wheeled out in political contexts by those who say that conservative reforms would "take us back a century," for example, or "repeal the new deal," etc., and in the ecclesial context by those who say that various proposals (especially those that fall under the heading "the reform of the reform") would "take us back to before Vatican II."

The trope is exhausted, and I'm tired of it too. There is no going back; even if we erected the same juridical framework we had a century ago, to the letter, we would not be transported back to that world, because the world has moved on. And that's where the irrevocability of everything comes into play: The same bell, when installed in a a new bell tower, will have a different ring. Do people really believe that our progress towards women's equality, for example, has to do solely with legal machinery such as Title VII, rather than broad-scale changes in our culture? Only by making such an assumption could they insist that it would all be undone by repeal. (Such laws of course promoted the change, but it's one-way: Their enactment promoted change but their repeal won't undo it.) If anyone actually believes that, they're wrong, for the same reason that the so-called "tenthers" will be disappointed to discover that even reversion to EC Knight and National League of Cities will not reverse the federalized mindset of modern politics; the legal framework can be changed, but society has changed and those changes can't be called back by mere statutes.

So time move relentlessly forward. But that doesn't mean that mistakes aren't made along the way, mistakes that we can try to correct as we move forward—sometimes by recovering things we dropped along the way, sometimes by taking out and dusting off ornaments that were put in the trunk along the way. Of course, the folks who really wanted that stuff in the trunk aren't happy, but that doesn't mean we're "going back" by taking them out.

One problem with the progressive paradigm is that it can seem agnostic to destination. If we're moving forward, that's progress, right? Well, at risk of getting into teleological problems, we should care about where we're going, because we are going to get there. So we should think about where the road leads (thus which road we want to be on) and measure progress in terms of distance thence. And if we one day realize that we have taken a wrong turn and driven several miles on a road toward somewhere other than our destination—toward Hell or Hull or Halifax—progress doesn't mean forging ahead, it means turning about smartly and getting back to the right road.

Post facto
MP: Straight talk on altar girls (Oct. 19, 2011)

The Church in Ireland

George Weigel calls for wholesale reform of the Church in Ireland; generally, I'm skeptical of such large-scale measures, but in this case, I agree that the situation is too far gone for anything but radical and immediate intervention to work.

The Kansas City fumble

The Anchoress has a primer on what appears to be a mishandled case of a priest found to have an unseemly interest in children, although it doesn't seem to have gotten so far as direct physical abuse. You can get the full story via that link and the stories to which Elizabeth links, but the salient facts for my purposes are these: In May 2010, the principal of a Catholic school sent a memo to her diocese outlining concerns about the pastor, Fr. Ratigan. It's not clear whether the ordinary, Bp. Finn, ever saw the original report, but he did see a summary, the contents and author of which are unclear. Nor is it clear what exactly Finn did about it; the characterization offered is that he "sat on" the report, but who knows what that means? At any rate, it wasn't until more evidence washed up unbidden on the chancery's door in December that the cops were called and Ratigan was (in effect; there's more to it than this) removed.

Much of the timeline is opaque, so it's important to exercise some restraint in judging Finn's response. Nevertheless, it's hard to avoid at least a tentative judgment on the facts presented. It's beside the point that Ratigan was ultimately found to be doing something wrong; the fundamental problem is the lethargic (indeed, seemingly comatose) response.After all that has happened, how can any chancery in the country have failed to designate an office(r) to investigate claims of impropriety by priests toward children? I find it hard to believe that as many as one bishop in the United States could still be asleep at the switch on anything even close to abuse by 2010. The episcopate cannot be unaware of how much damage has been done by the abuse scandal (both eo ipso and as a result of its weaponization by enemies of the Church), so one might think that even an allegation of impropriety would rocket to the top of a bishop's docket and stay there long enough to get a sense of what is actually happening.

I understand that everything takes time. I understand that bishops have much to do and little time in which to do it. I also understand that sometimes there is smoke without fire: Allegations turn out to be false, suspicions turn out to be groundless. What I don't understand is the lack of any sense of urgency. I don't expect bishops to personally undertake the investigation any more than I expect Presidents to personally lead Seal Team Six into battle or join the cast of CSI:Feds; Cadfael was the sleuth, not Prior Robert, who had better things to do. But I do expect them to have well-oiled processes in their chanceries for expeditiously investigating claims and determining whether they are false, groundless, and so on. Rambling, ramshackle, and ad hoc processes run by remote control from the chancery won't suffice any more. I don't expect the system to be perfect; I don't expect it to be airtight, with no cases falling through the cracks; but I do expect there to be a system. There should be an office in every diocese designated to investigate and manage complaints of abuse, and the officer in charge should meet with the bishop regularly to give an overview. I think that it's perfectly feasible that every complaint should have had at least a tentative evaluation within a month—interviews with the involved parties and a recommendation for further investigation or not.1

And who knows—perhaps it happened just like that in Kansas City. Bp. Finn was handed at least a summary indicating that there could be a problem; I would like to know what happened next, beyond the bland abstraction that he "sat on it." (That sounds a lot like media-speak for "if we ask questions the answers might destroy our narrative.") But we can ground a tentative judgment on two key data that we do know: We know that the diocese was notified in May 2010, and we know that it had taken no action by December 2010. Whatever happened between those dates was, clearly, insufficient. If the chancery had done nothing by December, the situation was not being actively handled with the level of concern, attention, and dispatch that one would have expected ten years of this scandal to have beaten into the bishops.

Crossposted at MP

  1. 1. The Federal Speedy Trial Act, 18 U.S.C. §§ 3161 et seq., supplies an instructive comparison. Broadly, the act requires that a trial begin within seventy days of an indictment, which must in turn be filed within thirty days of the arrest. See, e.g., Zedner v. United States, 547 U.S. 489 (2006). It seems reasonable to treat section 3161's understanding of "speedy" as a benchmark for "expeditious." Given today's technology, thirty days is long enough to make a tentative assessment; three months and some change is long enough to reach a conclusion. Any reasonable process should have suspended or cleared Ratigan by the end of August. And think about the consequences of delay! An innocent priest has a cloud hanging over him, and a guilty one is left in a position to do more harm.

We need a new Cecelian movement

Compare and contrast:

Versus, for example, this dreck. (I refuse to embed it.) In the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century, the Cecelian movement "strove to acquaint Church musicians with the laws of the Church on sacred music," and to "present[] acceptable Church music to the organists and choirmasters, in order that they would perform music in accordance with Church legislation," emphasizing sacrality of style in opposition to the invasion of popular secular styles into the liturgy.* Their example seems timely. Of course, the job of the original Cecelians was relatively easy: There was a stockpile of readily-available material that needed nothing more than a dusting off. But that treasury, great as it remains, fits poorly into the novus ordo framework. If there is to be a new Cecelian movement—I submit that there should be, and that the new translation provides a perfect opportunity—it has three broad challenges:

  • It must not only identify existing music, but ways in which that music can be fitted into the ordinary form (e.g. substituting the Gradual for the responsorial psalm, cf. GIRM 61, and choral music for the offertory and communion hymns, see GIRM 48, 74, and 87).
  • It must create new music for the novus ordo texts cast in traditional forms while also satisfy the desire for communal singing (cf. SC 118).
  • And it must assist in building the infrastructure and incentives for performance (e.g. getting music into the hands of choirs, and helping to ensure choirs are there to sing it).

These are by no means easy tasks, but they can be done; the Cecelians had much success in driving out the worst excesses of vulgar music, although one might question how much of the self-generated material had lasting impact.

(Via the Chant Cafe.)

* Edward Schaeffer, Catholic Music Through the Ages 111-12 (2008) (quoting Robert Hayburn, Papal Legislation on Sacred Music 115, 122, 126 (1979)).

Christus resurrexit!

Resurrexit sicut dixit! Cantemus Domino: gloriose enim magnificatus est!

"The only reason for getting that worked up about the casual, nonspecific way Obama talked about the Resurrection,"

"would be if you if you felt profound reverence toward it. But if you felt profound reverence about it, you wouldn't use it for cheap political leverage against the President."

No, of course you wouldn't. Could it be that Limbaugh doesn't feel profound reverence for the Ressurection, and only pretends to in order to bash the President? Or that his profound respect for the Resurrection is superseded by his desire to manipulate the Gospel to take cheap shots at the President?

Could it be? I'll leave it at that, as to go further would be piling on....

About Michael Voris and the "victory through desertion" strategy

Michael Voris, an orthodox but astringent Catholic commentator, has sparked controversy; Patrick Archbold has a good summary of the story so far here, and his post provides a good jumping off point for what's been on my mind. Actually it's been on my mind for a while, because Voris is merely the latest person to encourage Catholics to abandon parishes at the first whisper of liturgical abuse or bad praxis, a strategy I find remarkably unhelpful. "What is so wrong about that?" asks Patrick.

Well, here's what's wrong with it. For sake of argument, while acknowledging that these terms are imprecise, this post will denominate as “conservatives” those who are orthodox in their doctrinal views and liturgical tastes, and as “liberals” those who like silly 70s nonsense—liturgical dance, guitars, David Haas, etc. Conservatives find liberal approaches to liturgy grating, and that’s understandable. But every time a conservative throws in the towel and leaves a liberal parish, s/he makes it even harder for the remaining conservatives to fix the problems.

Do those advocating leaving liberal parishes not understand how parishes get that way in the first place? If all the conservatives leave Parish X, who do you suppose will be handling that parish’s RCIA program, its liturgy committee, its musical choices, etc.? "Shall we use chant or soporific hymnody"—how do you suppose that vote will go if the conservatives flee the parish? It’s all well and good to say “well, the pastor should be making the decisions”; I agree, but in the real world, laypeople are involved in many parishes' decisionmaking process, and when conservative laypeople leave, they abandon those posts to liberal laypeople.

To come at it from another angle, ask yourself this: How can you expect many parishes in a given area to develop a stable group of the faithful wanting the EF Mass (as Summorum Pontificum puts it) if all the folks in that area who want the EF voluntarily concentrate into a single parish? I fail to see how any of that helps the cause.

Well, depending on what the cause is, that is, which brings us to another problem with the "abandon ship" strategy: It's fundamentally egocentric (unless there are children involved, which I concede makes for a different situation). It assumes that the problem is that you will be exposed to well-meaning yet borderline heretical nonsense rather than that well-meaning yet borderline heretical nonsense is being preached. Or to take my last example from above, is your goal the instauration of Catholic liturgy, including the routine and reverent celebration of the EF in every parish—or is it just that you want to hear it?

All that is accomplished is, in the short term, to make it harder for those who remain to resist daffy ideas, and thus, in the long run, to cede another parish to the "liberal agenda" (so to speak). You want to know why a parish moves its tabernacle out of sight and out of mind? It's because the people who might have said "stop" abandoned ship before the discussion was had. The end result of the "abandon ship" strategy is a few very conservative parishes in a sea of very liberal parishes. And on which shore (if that doesn't torturously mix the metaphor) do you suppose new converts will wash up? Doesn’t it occur to the "abandon ship" folks that these converts will imbibe poison dressed up as fine wine? Doesn't it concern them? If you think “liberal Catholicism” is fundamentally defective, as Voris does (and for the record, I tend to agree with him to an extent), how does it help our brethren if conservatives retreat to our keeps of a few conservative parishes, abandoning new converts to be hoovered up by the liberal parishes? We are to be our brethren's keepers. We are to be concerned about what happens when an innocent would-be convert shows up on the door of a parish whose RCIA program borders on the heretical because all the orthodox catechists fled the parish rather than suffer through one more awful David Haas Mass.

Voris’ remedy—"abandon ship"—is a recipe for polarization and, ultimately, schism. What's more, it's is actually damaging to the agenda that he supports, which is a broader return to orthodoxy.

"Once you start asking questions like this, it is hard to..."avoid the conclusion that the French law is anti-Muslim."

The French have banned the veil.


Some midweek music

The apostles and political office

Via Smitty, Bryan Fischer has an interesting article arguing that "[p]eople who say the followers of Christ shouldn’t be involved in politics aren’t paying attention … to Jesus himself," who "groomed his apostles for political office." He relies primarily on Luke 22:29-30, in which Christ tells the twelve at the last supper: "now I confer a kingdom on you, just as my Father conferred one on me: you will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel."

Fischer's comments are interesting because they go wrong in a way illustrative of a difficulty in the Protestant reading of scripture (or, more broadly, of the deposit of faith). Christ indeed groomed his apostles for office and to sit on thrones—but it was ecclesiastical office, not political, for which they were fitted. To them was handed over the government—indeed, at first, responsibility for entire existence—of the Church following the ascension; as John MacArthur acknowledges in Twelve Ordinary Men, "the future of the Church and the long-term success of the Gospel depended entirely on the faithfulness of that handful of disciples."* The twelve and their successors thus became the episcopate—and to this day, they do sit on thrones. That's what a bishop's "see" means (from lat. sedes, seat or throne); that's why a bishop's church is called a "Cathedral," a synecdoche for "cathedral church" where cathedral is an adjective (caTHAY–dral, of or relating to a cathedra, i.e. a chair or throne) designating that this church is the location of the bishop's throne. The passage from Luke 22 is one of the many scriptural portholes through which we glimpse Christ's founding and ordering of his Church, and Catholics should have no trouble connecting Luke 22 to, for example, Matthew 16:18-19 and John 20:23.

But Fischer, as an evangelical, rejects the approximately 1,978 year old Catholic understanding of the Church. An intellectual descendant of the reformation—and more particularly of the anabaptists, see David Currie, Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic 22 (1996)—he rejects ecclesiology almost entirely, and with it, out goes the ecclesiastical understanding of a number of scriptural passages. This fundamental error has an obvious effect for our purposes today: It frees up passages like Luke 22 to do other work. Indeed, one could almost go so far as to say Fischer must assign some other meaning to it, lest he toss it overboard as biblical jetsam. If the apostles are to hold some kind of office, and if one excludes ex ante the possibility of ecclesiastical office, what is left? Reading the passage to refer to public office becomes almost inevitable. The error is in the premise, not the reasoning.


* See Charles Coppens, A Systematic Study of the Catholic Religion §§ 42-46 (1903), available at this link; J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God 64 (1958) (the apostles—the eleven, soon supplemented by Matthias and Paul—"claimed an authoritative commission from Christ to act as His representatives in founding and building up the first churches. They presented themselves as Christ's ambassadors, and their message as God's word. They claimed to have received the Holy Ghost in a unique way, so that they might correctly understand the mystery of God's revelation in Christ and proclaim it in normative, authoritative statements.... Their authority had been given to them by Christ through His word of commission and His gift of the spirit. He had promised the twelve that the Spirit should come to teach them what in His own earthly ministry He had left unsaid, and He kept His promise; so that the apostolic teaching was in reality the complete and final version of His own").

Summorum Pontificum clarification arriving in April

John Allen—the silver lining to the National Catholic Dissenter's toxic and blackening cloud—reports that next month, the Vatican will promulgate the long-awaited instruction clarifying aspects of Summorum Pontificum, the 1997 motu proprio liberalizing use of the 1962 "Tridentine" missal. According to Allen, inter alia, "it will call for seminarians to be trained not just in Latin, but in the older rite itself, at least so they will know how to execute it faithfully and understand what’s being said."

This is refreshing, because news that the instruction is on the way—combined with rumors that it will retreat from SP-has produced great anxiety. It's particularly striking if seminarians are to be trained. One interpretation of SP that has been advanced suggests that the instruction is a giveaway to a dying generation clinging to the Tridentine Mass (the "extraordinary form of the Roman rite" in SP-speak), but that argument falters if seminarians are to be trained. That implies that the EF is here for the long haul. And I must admit, I don't find that surprising, because the "sop to the oldies" explanation always seemed in tension with Benedict's letter accompanying SP, which noted that "young persons too have discovered this liturgical form, felt its attraction and found in it a form of encounter with the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, particularly suited to them."

We shall wait to see what April brings.

Religious tolerance and state interests

About a year ago, I noted a troubling religious freedom story in Canada. Requests by Muslim women who wear niqabs to be photographed by a female employee had customarily been granted, but Quebec's "growing resistance to the accommodation of minority religious practices" brought that to a halt. (The niqab, remember, is the full-face veil; it is entirely different from the hair-covering hijab.) In contrast to the famous Florida case where a woman was denied permission to wear a niqab in her drivers' license photograph (Freeman v. Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles), I found Quebec's decision unreasonable. The province had imposed a burden on religious exercise without any kind of countervailing state interest. The women were not refusing to be photographed, and there was no indication that they would be unwilling to work with the province to ensure that they showed up at a time when a female photographer was available. Moreover, the women asking for accomodation were a drop in the bucket when compared to the total pool of applicants—ten of 118,000 in the preceding year—which eliminated any possibility for the state to claim hardship or undue burden on it from accommodation. Cf., in a concededly different context, 29 C.F.R. § 1605.2(c).

This story, however, presents a much harder case. The Supreme Court of Canada will hear an appeal from two men accused of sexually assaulting a female relative. When the case came to trial, the alleged victim insisted on wearing her niqab while testifying (which I assume that is her practice—that it's not a gimmick for the trial), and the defendants claim that this violated their right "to face their accuser in court." (That's the Globe & Mail's characterization of the right; I don't know if that's the actual language in Canada.)

At first blush, this looks more like Freeman. Set aside the confrontation issue for a minute. We traditionally assume that there is a strong interest in weighing the demeanor—including the facial expressions—of a witness, see Aaron Williams, The Veiled Truth: Can the Credibility of Testimony Given by a Niqab-Wearing Witness be Judged Without the Assistance of Facial Expressions?, 85 U. Detroit Mercy L. Rev. 273, 274 et seq. (2008), and the niqab obviously precludes that. There are, however, reasons to question that assumption, to think that such assesments may be unhelpful—indeed, positively misleading. Compare id., generally, with Mark Spottswood, Live Hearings and Paper Trials, 38 Fla. State U. L. Rev. (forthcoming 2011) (available at SSRN) (arguing that physical cues generally impair, not aid, credibility judgments). If Spottswood is right, the state interest in refusing witnesses leave to wear a niqab would seem to collapse.

And then there is the confrontation issue. I do not have an answer on this, and since there has been a lot of interesting discussion in the comments over the last few days, I'd like to invite comment. Because this is happening in Canada, the focus here isn't necessarily on the legal question as we would perceive it in the United States (U.S. Const., amdt. VI; Crawford v. Washington, 541 U.S. 36 (2004)), although that is obviously related. If the right to confrontation is guaranteed and would be violated by allowing a person to testify wearing a niqab (or any other headgear which obscures their appearance despite physical presence in the courtroom—say, a hockey mask or balaclava), the state interest in refusing witnesses leave to wear such headgear becomes, it would seem to me, all-but irresistible. But is that so? And is the right to confrontation violated? My guess is that the answer is that it does not violate the right to confrontation. While I said I'm not looking exclusively at American law, I should nevertheless note that cases like Ohio v. Roberts, Maryland v. Craig, Crawford, and Melendez-Diaz v. Massachusetts involve the absence of witnesses from the courtroom, not the obscuring of their identity; Coy v. Iowa, where a screen was placed between the defendant and his accusers, is closer but still different. I welcome comments.

Emptying the holy water fonts

We are coming up on lent, and some parishes in the United States have adopted a practice of emptying the holy water fonts at their entrances. They should not. I offer some thoughts on why.

Who's defending what?

Gene Kennedy, who seems more off his meds than on of late, objects that Bp. James Conley's encomium for the new translation "dismisses the liturgical reforms of Vatican II as occasions for 'a lot of silliness and confusion.'" Not really. What his excellency said was that "[t]he Second Vatican Council gave us a great gift with the Novus Ordo," but that we can nevertheless "also recognize that the way in which the reform of the Mass was carried out after [the Council] … has occasioned a lot of silliness and confusion." Strawmen tend to self-immolate when the real text is easily available online.

Still, you see the irony in all this, don't you? Kennedy faults Conley for dismissing Vatican II (although Conley did no such thing, and such criticisms are usually vaporous), yet Conley is just a foil; the real object of Kennedy's ire is the new translation itself, which he continues to fault for all manner of sins. The new translation, however, is merely a more accurate translation of the novus ordo—which is, from their perspective, "the Mass of Vatican II." So the critics are, in fact, objecting to the very liturgy of which they claim to be defenders!

Thus, for example, Kennedy mischaracterizes Conley as "dismiss[ing] the liturgical reforms of Vatican II as occasions for 'a lot of silliness and confusion,'" but only a few paragraphs later, he dismisses the text "et cum spiritu tuo" (which certainly predated the novus ordo yet remained intact in it) as, well, a lot of silliness and confusion. It "subdivid[es] human personality," he suggests, "by addressing 'spirit' as if it were, as one definition puts it, 'the activating principle, the will.'" Whether this is right or wrong is irrelevant; the point is that the text is the product of "the liturgical reforms of Vatican II." His preferred text isn't the council's text, or even the consilium's; it's the lame duck ICEL translation. The Consilium becomes an ersatz Council, the translation of its liturgy becomes an ersatz Consilium, the misapplication and abuse of the translation become an ersatz liturgy—and the whole thing is sent out to war under the flag of "the spirit of Vatican II," the better to dismiss any criticism as "attempts to revoke the council." The "big lie" theory is alive and well.

I could tell you all day long that those who pose as staunch defenders of the council have in fact beseiged and hijacked it, but nothing makes the point so vividly as seeing their doublespeak on such naked display. Kennedy would have you believe that he is defending the council against Conley et al, but in reality, Kennedy is defending the ICEL's liturgy against the assertion of (what they would have us believe is) the council's liturgy.

Post facto:
MP: The Scottish posture (Aug. 5, 2011)

The puzzling anachronism of the new translation's critics

Galvanized by an open letter from Anthony Ruff, America magazine sees dissent in the ranks over the new translation of the Roman Missal.

Let us start with Fr. Ruff's letter. While I assume substantive objections to the new translation lurk in the background, the letter confines itself to procedural concerns, and I shall do the same. Ruff sees

[t]he forthcoming missal [a]s but a part of a larger pattern of top-down impositions by a central authority that does not consider itself accountable to the larger church. When I think of how secretive the translation process was, how little consultation was done with priests or laity, how the Holy See allowed a small group to hijack the translation at the final stage, how unsatisfactory the final text is, how this text was imposed on national conferences of bishops in violation of their legitimate episcopal authority, how much deception and mischief have marked this process—and then when I think of Our Lord’s teachings on service and love and unity…I weep.

And how right he is. Let us review how we arrived here—here, that is, in the summer of 1969.

In 1963, the second Vatican Council approved the constitution Sacrosanctum concilium, setting forth the framework for revising the liturgical texts, and the following year, Pope Paul VI assigned the task of implementing it to an ad hoc working group, the Consilium.1 So far as translation was concerned, the Consilium decided that regional bishops' conferences would draft a text subject to review by the Holy See to ensure substantive accuracy and compliance with translation norms, a "solution [that] would not involve the authority of the Holy See until the final stage of approval. At that point, if doubts or difficulties concerning the translation arose, the Holy See would serve as an arbiter for a solution to the problem."2 Meanwhile, so far as substance was concerned, the Consilium labored to produce a new ordo.3 After three years of work, a Synod of Bishops was convened to consider the proposed "revision," and as Alfredo Cardinal Ottaviani would remind Paul in his Intervention, that Synod rejected the proposed text. But Paul ignored the 1967 synod; and he ignored Ottaviani (and those who shared his concerns); and he ignored the nagging gap between Sacrosanctum concilium and the Consilium's novus ordo; and on April 3, 1969, in Missale Romanum, he directed that the liturgical revolution would begin scarcely six months thence, the first Sunday of advent 1969, November 30.

It is therefore easy to understand why Fr. Ruff might weep at Paul VI's "top-down impositions by a central authority" and indulgence of the Consilium's hijacking of the council, the lack of consultation, the lackings of the final text, the stunningly short timeline so peremptorily imposed by Missale Romanum, and so on.

It is harder to understand how this criticism can be leveled not at the promulgation of the novus ordo, as we have been pretending, but of the new translation, which we will be using from this fall onward. Doing so goes a step beyond Orwellian; positively surreal, it is, to coin a phrase, Picassan.4

While Fr. Ruff's comments aptly describe the imposition of the Ruff-approved novus ordo, however, his points stand (even if he fails to apply it consistently) if they also apply to the new translation. Do they? To answer that question, we must briefly review how we arrived here, at the start of 2011. Pay close attention to the symmetries and asymmetries between this timeline and the Consilium/novus ordo timeline outlined above.

In March 2001, Pope John Paul II approved the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam, setting forth the norms for translating liturgical texts, and the following month, he established an ad hoc working group, the Vox Clara ("clear voice") committee, to assist in and oversee the translation, reviewing the translations proposed by regional bishops' conferences.5 In 2002, the third edition of the authoritative latin text of the novus ordo became available for the translators to begin work. For nearly a decade, the translation percolated slowly, with proposed texts bouncing back and forth between ICEL, the bishops' conferences, and the Vatican. As Fr. Peter Stravinskas observed a year ago, "[t]he level of input was such that many complained that the project would never be completed because of the painstakingly sensitive consultative process. Yet with guidance from Vox Clara and experts in Rome, the new text was completed and was approved by the U.S. bishops in 2009." At last, after eight years of work, the Holy See approved the final text in March 2010, and that summer, the USCCB's then-President Francis Cardinal George announced that the new translation would go into effect at the start of advent 2011—the following year, that is.

One thing is clear: It is difficult to sustain process-based criticisms against the new translation. Whatever else this process has been, it is far less sweeping in scope, far more consultative in operation, and far more reasonable in implementation than the process which gave us the novus ordo. As the Catholic Herald's William Oddie puts it, "there has already been a huge battle over this (which the good guys won), a battle which began when Pope John Paul [II] … made it clear that Mass translations in future should be faithful to the Latin text (not theologically and devotionally emasculated like the English translation currently in use)…."6

Let us now return to America, which I spanked just yesterday for being less than entirely forthright in terms of the truth. Hiding behind some good old-fashioned lamppost journalism, they say through Prof. Richard Gaillardetz—whose book Teaching with Authority is essential reading, by the way—that the Mass, which "should be a source of unity[,] is about to become instead a source of significant disunity, and it did not have to happen that way."

That is a rhetorical trick that I have bemoaned in the past, and Prof. Ann Althouse provided the classic takedown in dissecting Justice John Paul Stevens' Bush v. Gore dissent. Casting himself on a moral high ground that looks very much like that claimed by America p.p. Gaillardetz, Stevens wrote that "[a]lthough we may never know with complete certainty the identity of the winner of this year’s Presidential election, the identity of the loser is perfectly clear. It is the Nation’s confidence in the judge as an impartial guardian of the rule of law." Get over yourself!, retorted Althouse:

[W]hat is this really saying? To decide the case my way would preserve the illusion that people have that courts do their work in a properly pure spirit? Yet the statement itself openly invites people to cast aside that illusion. … If Justice Stevens were really worried about the injuries to the nation caused by breeding mistrust for the courts, he would have expressed his anxieties only in closed chambers. Indeed, he could have joined the majority to help give people confidence that the Court was the neutral, prestigious agent of the rule of law that people would like it to be. The decision to print that paragraph, then, has at least as much significance as the words’ literal meaning.7

The gambit here is to criticize your opponent for creating turbulence when it's actually your opposing efforts that create the turbulence—or, if you have the moxie to try it, to pretend to be above the fray while bemoaning one side of an argument for creating a situation that either side could fix. Gail Collins' recent piece on Planned Parenthood in the New York Fishwrap is an example of the latter; the new translation's public critics exemplify the former. Frankly, the answer to critics of the New Translation who rush into print bemoaning the division caused by the new translation is the same as Althouse's answer to Stevens: If you were really worried about the new translation causing division, you wouldn't be sowing the seeds of that division through public dissent. The decision to tell anyone who will publish you that you're afraid of division has at least as much significance as your words’ literal meaning—and the former impeaches the latter.

I certainly agree with Prof. Gaillardetz that it's sad that "what should be a source of unity is about to become instead a source of significant disunity," but expressed as public criticism, his observation is the dam bemoaning the lake's oppositional attitude. I also agree with him that it doesn't have to be that way—and my answer is that the danger of the new translation being divisive would be far less if its critics would stop ginning up those divisions.

  1. 1. See Sacram Liturgiam (Paul VI, 1964); Inter Oecumenici I.2 (CECSL per Paul VI, 1964); John Baldovin, Reforming the Liturgy 2 (2008); see generally Piero Marini, A Challenging Reform ch.1 (2007).
  2. 2. Id., at 28; see Sacrosanctum Concilium, nos. 22 § 1 and 36 § 3.
  3. 3. "Produce," by happenstance, is synonymous in English with "fabricate." Cf. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger's preface to Msgr. Klaus Gamber’s The Reform of the Roman Liturgy.
  4. 4. As, indeed, are the claims of many opponents of the new translation. America quotes Canadian liturgist Bernadette Gasslein, who acidly (but astutely) observes that "Ritual behavior is always hard to change.One would have thought that a congregation that deals with ritual behavior would have understood that." Indeed, the Sacred Congregation for Rites did understand that; its conservatism on this point—and to paraphrase John Henry Cardinal Newman, to be deep in history is to cease being liberal—was precisely why Paul VI bypassed it and created the Consilium. Many of the new translation's critics seem oblivious to the irony that whatever force their criticisms may have against the new translation, they seem to apply a fortiori to the translation that they so desperately cling to. If Card. Ottaviani isn't smirking at all this, he's a better man than I.
  5. 5. The committee, it should be noted, included representatives from throughout the English-speaking world: George Cardinal Pell (Australia, chairman), Archbishops Alfred Hughes and Oscar Lipscomb, and Cardinals Justin Rigali and Francis George (USA), Oswald Cardinal Gracias (India), Cormac Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor (England), Archbishop Kelvin Felix (Saint Lucia), Archbishop Peter Kwasi Sarpong (Ghana), Bishop Philip Boyce (Ireland), and Bishop Rolando Tirona (Philippines).
  6. 6. William Oddie, The attacks on the new English Missal are the last expiring gasp of the ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ in The Catholic Herald, Feb. 14, 2011.
  7. 7. The Authoritative Lawsaying Power of the State Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court, 61 Md. L. Rev. 508, 565 (2002).

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