|View from the choir loft: LMS Mass at Milton Manor, a historic Catholic house where Mass was said in secret.|
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 soufflé'. 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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