Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tracey Rowland replies: Part 2

Freakish? Perfectly normal people at the LMS Conference
In my last post I gave a long, edited quotation from Professor Rowland's conference paper, now published in a book of the proceedings. Having given an initial response to what seems to me to be the most fundamental problem, I want to address a couple of specific points.

Here's something she says:
In short, liturgical issues need to be disentangled from the interpretation of Vatican II issues.

What is peculiar about it is that she presents this as part of her sociological observations about the failings of traditional Catholics. Ok, she's worked out a complex interpretation of the Council in which these issues can be 'disentangled' (though I wish her luck doing that when the Council is actually talking about the liturgy). If she wants to run this line, that's her affair, and other writers will criticise it. What is downright weird is her suggesting that people who disagree with her are obviously and morally in the wrong. She does this even while conceding that, well yes, 'there is an overlap between the two'. Right, so the matter is one of a delicate set of distinctions which are strongly contested by 'some theologians': for which, read, an awful lot of people who aren't called 'Tracey Rowland'. But the ordinary traditional Catholics in the pew, who haven't heard of Tracy Rowland, are, she implies, to feel ashamed of themselves for not agreeing with her. They are letting the side down.

She has a vivid mental picture of how discussions of the Council during coffee after Mass go. On the one hand, she suggests, of the traditionalists:
Their world-view would be shattered if they suddenly realised that for twenty-seven years John Paul II and Joseph Ratzinger laboured to present Catholics with a wholly different understanding of the Council ...

On the other, she says of the non-trads:
they probably are people who can distinguish between the genuine Conciliar reforms and what Cardinal Ratzinger called the "rationalistic relativism, confusing claptrap and pastoral infantilism" which was marketed as the fruit of the Council in the 1960s and 70s.

In other words, the trads haven't even noticed that Pope Paul VI has died and that his successors had a somewhat different take on things, but the people who wander in from the street have read all of Cardinal Ratzinger's works and have higher degrees in theology.

I'm sorry, this is just loopy. I've talked to a lot of trads, and a lot of people who've wandered into celebrations of the Traditional Mass off the street, and I've seen many interactions between the two, and I can tell Prof Rowland that the Trads are infinitely better informed than the newcomers. Most Catholics know nothing - NOTHING - of substance about the Council or the liturgical reform. (37% of American Catholics, remember, don't know even that the Church teaches the Real Presence.) Most haven't caught up with the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. It's the trads who start making distinctions and citing Church documents in these discussions. Their position as an embattled minority has forced them to become well informed. Obviously, their failure to agree with Tracey Rowland on highly complex and controversial issues is unforgivable. But she should ask a few people in the average Novus Ordo parish what they think of the 'Trinitarian Christocentric interpretation of the Council', and see how far that gets her.

What she is doing is nothing more or less than negative stereotyping. It's not big and its not clever. It is rude, uncharitable, uninformed, and stupid.

The other area in which her desire to judge outruns the information she has about her victims is the matter of clothing. The nub of it is: are those who attend the Traditional Mass less well dressed than the average Novus Ordo congregation? Well, has she seen an average Novus Ordo congregation?

Let's take a little step back. First off, as Rowland appears dimly to apprehend, the world of clothing, particularly clothing for women, and particularly in the English-speaking world, is going through a profound crisis, like every other aspect of our culture. The result is that only a small minority of people are what you might call 'well dressed', in the sense of wearing clothes which are beautiful in themselves, practical, modest, flattering, well made, appropriate to the occasion, and not such as to strike the onlooker as outlandish. Most people wear clothes which are ugly and unflattering; the extreme, but ubiquitous, example, being jeans and t-shirts. Such clothes are supposed to convey the impression that the wearer is too cool to bother with formal attire. They are part of the same anti-formalist ideology which has afflicted the liturgy, the ideology which says that formality is inauthentic. Wake up, Tracey: these are not separate issues. Martin Mosebach has traced the connection between the liturgical issue and the general cultural issue.

In this context most people, when not required by work or a special occasion to dress more formally, look a mess, not by accident, but on purpose. People with a very acute sense of style and very good looks can still look fabulous, but the kind of judgments such people make about the details of their 'relaxed' clothing are a complete mystery to nearly everyone else.

Add to this general situation an almost total collapse of regard for female modesty, and you have a cultural catastrophe. You can witness that catastrophe by walking into a Novus Ordo Mass anywhere in the English-speaking world on a warm day. Australia, I understand, has many warm days.

More normal people at the Family Retreat
Those who resist the modernist ideology of clothing are, of course, attacked by its proponents. Men are described as 'fogeys', and women in the sort of charming terms Rowland dishes out. Notice how Rowland's first instinct is that anything old-fashioned is bad; she then accepts that there might be exceptions. In a footnote:

Ann Krohn, the Convenor of the Australian Catholic women's network called Anima, has suggested that a distinction can be drawn between a 'smart retro look' which can even be avant-garde, and the Amish puritan style...

If Prof Rowland needed Ann Krohn to point out that 'retro' can be fashionable, she has obviously been living under a stone for the last twenty years. But notice that, for her, it can be justified if it can in some way be 'avant-garde'. What if we don't want to be avant-garde? What if, like Martin Mosebach, we have a cultural analysis which rejects what he calls 'the senile avant-guardism of 1910'? The relentless rejection of the past and of formalism which has been reprised in art and fashion over and over again since before the First World War? Are we to be trapped in this sterile ideology forever?

Rowland says patronisingly:
the problem here seems to be that members of traditionalist movements often lack a hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis.

What sort of 'hermeneutical framework for cultural analysis' does Rowland have? It is prettty obvious that, as far as clothing and fashion is concerned, she doesn't have a clue. Is it relevant that, as I was so lambasted for pointing out in my original post, she was badly dressed when making these remarks? I'm afraid it is. It is not a matter of personal abuse, it is a matter of understanding. Does she understand the issues? No, she does not.

Why should she? She's a theologian. There is a long tradition of female academics who evince simple disdain for their personal appearance. I just don't expect them to lecture the rest of us about fashion.

To return to the central point, if we are not applying double standards, the question is whether those at the Traditional Mass are generally worse dressed than those at the Novus Ordo. What we find, what Rowland herself says, is that there is something noticeable about the former, they are bucking the trend a bit. Once we realise that the general trend is a disaster, we won't want to assume, as Rowland does, that anyone not following it slavishly is worst dressed than everyone else. The way they are bucking the trend is by making an effort in the direction of modesty. Could Rowland find it in herself to acknowledge that, in the current climate, this effort is both a good thing, and heroically difficult?

It doesn't follow that the ladies at the EF are invariably well styled. It is extremely difficult to find clothes which are both modest and good in every other way - and affordable. Can we cut them a little slack here? Just a little? Can we acknowledge that they are making a sacrifice for the sake of morality?

But finally, they can look pretty dreadful and still be superior, all things considered, to the people in the average OF congregation, who have given no thought either to modesty or to style. Who include people in jeans and t-shirts, quite possibly jeans cut short with nail scissors, accessorised with flip-flops. They don't exactly put up stiff competition in the fashion parade. Rowland finds them acceptable because they conform to the utterly debased standards of modern culture. Are these really the only relevant standards?

Two members of the Guild of St Clare
There is a grain of truth in Rowland's contention that Traditional Catholics have been influenced by conservative Protestants. (Not the Amish - that is just silly.) It's not hard to see why: the Catholic intellectual leadership, Rowland included, has completely failed to rise to the challenge presented by the crisis of modern fashions, and you have to take your inspiration from where you can find it. It is also true that Protestant theology has a distinct view of women and indeed of beauty which Catholics need to be wary of. I am going to publish some guest posts on this blog which address the question of a truly Catholic attitude to clothing.

For present purposes, it suffices to say that Rowland's response is completely unhelpful. It is unhelpful because it is crassly uninformed, as well as grossly uncharitable. It is one of those attempts, which are so wearying, of intellectuals who recognise some of the importance and truth of the liturgical tradition trying to distance themselves from the little people who actually do their best to live that tradition in the very difficult conditions of the modern world. She doesn't want to get involved and help them do it better: that would tarnish her. She just wants to look down on them from a great height and ridicule them.

I'll leave the last word to Fr Glen Tattersall, who ministers to Traditional Catholics in Melbourne: the real ones, not the ones who inhabit Tracey Rowland's fervid imagination.

1. Dr Rowland rarely attends Mass in the Extraordinary Form in Melbourne - I can recall having seen her once at Mass (a Low Mass on a weekday) in the last two years;

2. I do not recognise as present among the Catholic Faithful I am privileged to serve any of the problems she alleges in her interview.

To see and hear some English traditional Catholics, watch our 'vox pop' video interviews with some of them, such as this one about the Walsingham Pilgrimage.


  1. There are no issues from Vat II. As Benedict said, the Council defined no doctrine at all, and chose to remain as a pastoral gathering. Frankly, we could have done without it.

    The liberal/Relativists however, attributed, falsely, many implicitly heretical doctrinal aspects to it. Hence the “Spirit of Vat II”. Ordinary Catholics, and priests for that matter, are just beginning to wake up to this great deception.
    Liturgy was used in this attack, so liturgical issues need to be disentangled from the Council.

    As for dress, I attend both the Vetus Ordo and the Novus Ordo. At the former I see a wide range from formal to casual but never “scruff”. At the latter, a few young women, dress in a way that is frankly unacceptable.
    We can all appreciate a curve or two and a nice ankle without getting too excited, but their manner of dressing is unfair on younger males, not that there are all that many, in the context of the Mass and of course, on priests.

    It is high time priests spelt this out. But they won’t I suppose. They are still too frightened to exert priestly authority

    1. I think it puts priests in a difficult position: they don't usually know much about women's dress, and certainly don't want to give the impression that they are dwelling on it too much! The ones I've spoken to say they consider it a matter for the internal forum. But I guess a bit of gentle encouragement to dress well for Mass wouldn't go amiss - whether it would have any effect is another matter!

    2. Sometimes I wish that priests would address this issue, but other times I think that it is best that other women in the parish lead by example. Having said that, I have seen polite but firm notices in the lobby of a church which got the message across...

  2. Maybe Miss. Rowland wants to see the ladies dressed in short shorts and mini skirts with skinny tops :)

    On the standard with which one measures modesty, it is always by looking at cultural values handed down to us. Since we cannot look at the modern decadent culture for standards on modesty, we must look back at the old cultural values on dress.

    So will it look old? Sure it will but one is safe in being old and developing from that as a basis than adopting the modern.

  3. Anonymous12:39 pm

    Dr Rowland i thought was quite sensible until I read her comments,but she is the "academic of the year" here in Melbourne for non Traditional Catholics.