Thursday, October 06, 2016

In favour of liturgy shaming

I'm reposting this from February 2016 since it has been linked to by a new post defending William Bornhoft's article, which stimulated this as a response.

View from the choir loft: LMS Mass at Milton Manor, a historic Catholic house where Mass was said in secret.
I was struck reading this, from my old friend William Bornhoft (linked to by the normally sensible Deacon Greg Kandra), about people who posted negative comments on a parish's Facebook photo album of grotesquely innapropriate and mostly illict liturgical frolickings.

Parish problems should be dealt with on the parish level, when possible. If that fails, they should be dealt with on the diocesan level, and so on.

Excuse me, but have you tried it?

Bornhoft is a young man, and doesn't know any better. Indeed, his naivety on this subject might even be said to do him credit, insofar as it is not a matter of wilful refusal to face the facts. The reality is, however, the course of action he recommends will very rarely have any tangible positive effect, but unless handled very carefully can easily do harm.

As Chairman of the Latin Mass Society I know a thing or two about appealing to the proper authorities, and I have heard the stories of people who have been in this game since the 1970s. Whether it is liturgical abuses, heretical school textbooks, or refusals to allow the Traditional Mass, the pattern is the same. Yes, we have had our successes, but success requires a combination of factors which rarely occur.

1. An exceptionally clear-minded and brave parish priest, bishop, or Roman curial official, who must be prepared to suffer the consequences, including removal from office, of enforcing the law once too often. Naturally, such men pick their battles, so there are further conditions.
2. It must be a really extreme and clear-cut violation of norms.
3. You must be able to provide totally irrefutable evidence that the violation took place.

I have written to Rome on a number of occasions, having gone through all the proper channels, with full documentation, and expert canonical advice. It hasn't been a complete waste of time, but getting an acknowledgement is not to be taken for granted. And I am writing on behalf of a lay association in good standing with the Church, with 2,000 members.

I think it is worth doing this because it leaves a paper-trail and goes into files. When history comes to be written, no one will be able to say that the laity acquiesced in what is going on. Historians with access to the files will be able to see that we constantly tested the system, and were constantly, with rare exceptions, rebuffed.

But we pay a price for this activity. Mr Bornhoft will be mortified to learn that this kind of thing is regarded, and denounced, by many of the people who hear our complaints or see our letters as aggressive, uncharitable, and contrary to a proper Catholic attitude. The accusations he makes of those posting comments on Facebook are exactly those made of those who are doing what he thinks they should be doing. It has happened to me, it has happened to peoople with far more native tact and personal skills than I can lay claim to. When push comes to shove, these accusations against whistleblowers and 'delators' (those who 'delate', denounce, to Rome) can be made public. There can be public scandal, division, and bitterness; the whistleblower can find himself persona non grata in the parish and diocese; he can lose friends, be excluded from activities and ministries, and be ostracised.

This of course is exactly what happened to those complaining about clerical sex abuse. For while the Church has gone a long way to institute procedures and change attitudes about sex abuse, few people have noticed the parallel. In abusive liturgy, the laity, seminarians above all, but often ordained clerics as well, are treated unjustly by those with power over them. They are humiliated and made to suffer. They are forced to act against their conscience. They are persecuted in subtle ways if they do not aquiesce, or at least stay silent. And many, sadly, are driven from their vocations, from the practice of the Faith, and even from the Church, by this injustice. And there is nothing they can do: the 'proper procedures' and 'proper authorities' do not want to know.

Now we have a new situation, with social media. It is possible to use ridicule, larded with references to Canon law and other authoritative documents, to raise the issue of liturgical abuse, not personally, in a parish where one can be punished for it, but with a degree of anonymity, about parishes the other side of the world. Parishes which, in the example Bornhoft raises, glory in their abuse, boast about the injustice which they visit on the wounded body of the Church, and plaster their Facebook pages with photographs to leave us in no doubt about what they have been up to. Should good Catholics stop themselves responding to this kind of thing? Out of charity?

Well here's a thing. I too have qualms about the kinds of things which can be said by social-media lynch-mobs. I too have concerns about the deformation of soul which can result from endlessly using vituperation to attack easy targets like liturgical dancing. As Bornhoft says, people can be too quick to attribute base motives for what they see, and don't always understand the niceties of liturgical law. I myself gave up banging on about liturgical abuses - I had got to the 'letter to the parish priest' stage of irritation - when I started making the Traditional Mass my habitual form of worship. Thereafter, forays into the Novus Ordo simply confirmed me in my decision: it wasn't very prayerful to see abuses, but it no longer drove me to despair. I think it would be better for the souls of those unhappy folk who don't like liturgical abuses to make the switch, if it is physically possible for them, to regular attendance at the Traditional Mass. We sometimes disagree about specific liturgical practices, but it is vanishingly rare to see anything which is actually sacrilegious. Come over, calm down, and say some prayers.

But I know not everyone is ready to do that. And as one priest said to me, about his own celebration of both Forms, you can't just let the Novus Ordo 'collapse like a soufflĂ©'. And I will not condemn those who take the only means available to express their entirely justified anger and to oppose liturgical abuses.

What is more, contrary to Mr Bornhoft, this method works. Yes, it has worked, not every time, but again and again. The priest with the hoverboard in the Phillipines: suspended. The Australian priest allowing 'help yourself' Communion, leading to Communion being given to a dog: excommunicated. Even in the weird and wonderful diocese of Linz in Austria, they aren't still having the Blessed Sacrament procession with a foccacia in a huge pair of tongs. It is almost inconceivable that a written complaint to a bishop would have resulted in action in cases such as these, had not the incident gone around the world's media. In the case Bornhoft mentions, the parish took the FB page down. The deacon whose preaching implied Pope Benedict was a show-off for wearing red shoes took his sermon off YouTube. Again, the Gay activists who used to gather in Our Lady of the Annunciation, Warwick Street, in London, learned eventually that they could not put their Bidding Prayers of thanksgiving for Civil Partnerships online, without generating the wrong kind of publicity. Small victories, you may think, but significant ones, because it means that they will never again gloat over their implied heresy or their liturgical abuses, and say to each other: well, no one cares about the rules any more, we can be as open as we like about what we do.

There is an enormous difference between doing these hideous things in secret, worrying that there might be someone in the congregation with a hidden camera in his lapel or a microphone in his pocket, and bragging about them online. Can Mr Bornhoft not see it? The latter is vastly more scandalous, vastly more dangerous to souls, vastly more undermining of the Faith, to a potentially vastly larger audience. Feeling able to do these things openly gives them far more confidence, it emboldens them in going further and doing more. If only the social media had been around in the 1970s, when parishes in the USA were encouraging people to bring honey cookies they had made to be used in Mass - despite their being invalid matter. This scandal, public in the sense that the recipies were in parish newsletters, went on for years and years before pressure from Rome finally suppressed the sacrilege, which actually involved not only depriving the Faithful of Holy Communion but idolatry: the worship of biscuits. Social media would have blown it open in a matter of weeks, and the ridicule and outrage would have made it unsustainable, at least in months.

Conservative prelates and indeed Curial officials hate this kind of pressure. But if they had been doing their jobs, it wouldn't happen. As it is, it is the Savoranola, the St Catherine of Siena, the Erasmus, the Robert Grossteste, of our times. It should be done with care, with charity, dispassionately, with reference to authoritative documents, but it would be completely wrong to say that it should not be done at all. And it can be done with humour, and it can be done, with persistant offenders, with the kinds of measured mockery used by so many saints and great men in the Church, and by the Prophets and by Our Lord himself, when faced with a situation in which appeal to the 'proper authorities' gets you nowhere.

So no, Deacon Kandra, it is not a Lenten good work to allow Our Blessed Lord to be trampled underfoot, sometimes literally, and turn a blind eye to it. It is not something to be recommended to those outraged by abuses, as a good action, that they should see their fellow Catholics spiritually abused over and over again, and give it tacit consent. And unless you are doing it just to prove a point, and know how to write a letter, and have a good canon lawyer, a liturgical expert, and a Latinist, to help you, and (above all) can't be harmed by the reaction of those who could see your letter, then you'd better think twice about using the 'proper procedures'. You will be doing far more good, dear reader, sharing the latest scandal with your Facebook friends. It might even make a difference.

But don't forget to feed your own soul with the liturgy and the sacraments. Don't only go to Mass to make a list of abuses. Don't only go online to vent your fury. Come to the Traditional Mass. Calm down. And say some prayers.

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  1. If it's online and public, it's fair game, I'm afraid.

  2. This does work the other way, in a way. I know a few places which do pre-1955 for the Mass & Office. There is pictorial evidence. There is public commentary. But the parish priests are doing something traditional which after much thought and catechesis they want to do and for which they take responsibility.

    Of course it is not out and out heretical or prone to leave a heretical or irreverent impression. That is the difference.

    1. Indeed. It is not sacrilegious. What the Church did for umpteen centuries cannot be sacrilegious.

    2. We can't do pre-1955. We have the OF and the EF. Those are the options.

  3. Anonymous8:17 pm

    Liturgy may not be the first and most powerful matter in the Church, but it is far ahead of the second - MONEY!
    Seems to me that the best way to achieve anything good where abuse abounds is to keep one's hand or envelope in one's pocket at collection time and encourage others to do the same.
    Some of your readers might be pleasantlt surprised to learn how some priests and bishops will act very quickly against abuses when the cash is being withheld.
    I kid you not!

  4. "I think it is worth doing this because it leaves a paper-trail and goes into files. When history comes to be written, no one will be able to say that the laity acquiesced in what is going on. Historians with access to the files will be able to see that we constantly tested the system, and were constantly, with rare exceptions, rebuffed."

    I am not so sure! It is said of the curia that it is "yesterday's technology to-morrow" but I have been told they do have the latest paper shredders. Which perhaps explains why Moses got the Ten Commandments on stone. Tough plastic covers and metal binders can be a deterrent to the use of shredders if stone is impractical.

    1. No-one is going to shred the Latin Mass Society's files.

    2. Also, make scans and put them into a Google account.

  5. I'm afraid I have a different tact. I agree there is a price to be paid for being faithful to the GIRM. I have managed to alienate many people in my local parish because of conservative mindset. The parish has a load of liberal progressive things (pretty minor compared to some)going on, many support politicians who support intrinsic evils like abortion etc.

    I went directly to the pastor with my complaints and Church documents supporting my position and asked him directly why he allowed these abuses to go on. For instance, he allowed a play to happen in the middle of mass. He had a local performer and a guy dressed up like Santa. They sang and went up on the alter where Santa put his bag of tricks. When mass was over I cornered the pastor and asked him if he wasn't disturbed by allowing the use of the alter for a secular play to be followed by the miracle of transubstantiation. He didn't get angry but he certainly avoided me from that day forward. The RCIA folks, Religious Education Director, Liturgy Director were all so liberal that just about anything goes.

    After mass I'd go to the Cafeteria for a cup of coffee and would usually get into debates when my fellow parishioners voiced positions in direct conflict with the teachings of the Church (and I could cite chapter and verse to prove my point. A funny thing happened....I caught leprosy because most people avoided me as if I had it.

    The GIRM is very clear. When parishes choose to ignore it and introduce all kinds of abuses.....I speak out very clearly and I couldn't give a hoot who likes it. If they don't want to follow the faith then I'd rather they hang out with other Cafeteria Catholics.

    Having said that I feel we have an obligation to shame and ridicule things like the Halloween Mass, costume masses, liturgical dance, music performances, plays during mass, the almost complete elimination of confession, empty homilies, no dress code etc......I could go on.

    I finally chose to join a TLM Parishes about 30 minutes from my decision I ever made.

    One more thing: One of the nine ways a person can be complicit in another persons sin is through 'silence'.

  6. Splendid article, Dr. Shaw. As you rightly point out (and as is true in many other respects), disproportionate attention is often paid in these matters to the feelings and sensibilities of liberals (liturgical, theological, and otherwise), and not to the actual spiritual needs of their victims, so that this kind of counter-shaming winds up being an exercise in shooting the victims.

  7. Your suggestion of the solution of just quitting the Novus Ordo (which simply cannot be fixed) is certainly the best one. I used to stir myself up in to regular tizzies at the NO Mass. I switched entirely several years ago, and now I really just don't bother my head about liturgy. NO abuses don't bother me on the grounds that you can't really abuse that which has effectively no rubrics, and is itself a form of liturgical abuse. What's the point of getting into a lather about it? It's just not my problem anymore. You often have to sacrifice quite a bit to get to it regularly (I gave up a whole country), but it's worth it.

  8. Withhold all contributions to Novus Ordo parishes and heterodox diocese. Give your money to the FSSP and their missions.

  9. You gotta start somewhere and the above decision gives me peace and joy.

  10. We must comment even though it appears to be ignored. Someone somewhere might be encouraged. In particular, those who write blogs in the Catholic press, and others, perhaps silent bishops, need to know what the thinking Church believes, as opposed to the thoughtless majority.

    But “thinking” , and in particular orthodox Catholics do have to pay a price. The mechanism of censorship is sophisticated these days and anyone who does not conform to the current heterodoxy will end up on a list. The resulting ”blocking” may cut in at any time, as I and so many others have found.

    Political Correctness still rules. For example, the number of abused by clergy in the Catholic Church is tiny compared with the number of clergy falsely accused of abuse. But saying so will get you “flagged”

    As for liturgy we must be open and honest. There are several rites in the Church of which the Pauline rite is one. But the Gregorian rite as codified by St Pius V is the Catholic Mass and we should never let a chance go by to remind others.

  11. Sadly FOLLOW THE MONEY explains so much that happens in the American Catholic Church. And you can follow over $2,000,000,000 that we know of for settling claims involving homosexual sex, both consenting and abusive. It is a mark of honor to make legitimate claims re liturgy abuse and then to be asked by the pastor to leave the parish. I have such a mark. To not speak is to speak. It is Christ's church, not the bishops, not the priests, not their lovers, not their victims. Guy McClung, San Antonio, Texas

  12. Ah, do you mean Deacon the Hopeless Neocatholic Water-carrier-for-the-Regime Kandra? Same guy?

  13. How about homily shaming? This morning at St Mary Magdalene's, East Hill, we were invited to consider the readings 'in the light of Islam' because Paul's exhortation in Ephesians 6 is, you know, like jihad, and the forgiving master in the parable of the unforgiving servant is just like Allah the merciful. Gimme a break.