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Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/contact:larchstar@aol.com

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Location: 3103 Arlington Avenue,, Bronx, NY 10463, United States

March 4, 2008

WHAT SIGNAL DOES THE POPE BRING TO NEW YORK?

Benedict XVI will address the United Nations in New York on April 19. On the next day, he will celebrate Mass at the Yankee Stadium. Security will be tight. Tickets have been made available through the parishes and admission will be carefully controlled. All is not easy. Ticket holders must arrive very early and use transportation provided by the archdiocese. What appeal the pope will have remains to be seen. Parishes in the poorer sections of the city report a rush for tickets. In more affluent sections, the attraction is noticeably diminished. There is also some static in the airwaves. The pope's advance people have indicated that no lay eucharistic ministers will be in service. What is more startling is that ordained deacons have not been invited to participate. Only priests will distribute Holy Communion. Appeals have gone out to enlist 500 priests for this purpose. This may prove unrealistic, given that the Mass is on a Sunday. Priests, already in short supply, as the Vatican would be expected to know, will be needed in their own parishes for Sunday Masses. More than a little discomfort has been reported among deacons because they have not been invited to participate in one of the ways for which they have been trained and ordained.

This exclusion of deacons and lay ministers from distribution of the Eucharest at this papal Mass contributes to an uneasy feeling in some quarters that Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, have not been straight forward in being publicly enthusiastic about Vatican II, while quietly trying to slip the gears into reverse. Other restrictions have been placed on lay ministers of the Eucharest. They are not to be used, when priests are available. They no longer may remove and replace the ciborium in the tabernacle. Benedict XVI has given a new lease on life to the Tridentine Latin Mass. In January of this year, Archbishop Malcolm Ranjith, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, has written that receiving Holy Communion in the hand must be revisited and revised in favor of receiving on the tongue.

Do not these and other signs of Rome's tendency towards an intensifying clericalism add to the polarity of views within the Church? With Rome ready to enter into dialogue with various branches of Protestantism and the Jewish community, would it not be helpful, if not mandatory, for the hierarchy to enter into dialogue with those Catholics who are put off by the lack of transparency in hierarchical management and the practical exclusion of the laity from roles already accorded them by canon law in the way of parish and diocesan pastoral and financial councils, so frequently existing as images without content? Exchanging ideas officially with those outside the Church is accepted by the hierarchy; but to exchange ideas officially with those within the Church as eg the Voice of the Faithful, Call for Action, We are Church, etc is not only not accepted, but positively rejected. "You can have no meetings on Church property!" Are these Catholic persons regarded by hierarchy as excluded from dialogue? Since they are already Catholics, should they simply sit quietly and listen attentivelyto their bishops, meanwhile burying any questions that might enter their inquisitive minds? Does such a hierarchical attitude strengthen or diminish the feeling of fellowship and community? Does it encourage or dissuade membership in the Church?

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life recently reported that more than 25% of adult Americans have left the faith of their childhood to join another religion or no religion. Its survey purports to show that 3% of all Protestants and 8% of Catholics have made the change. About one third of respondents raised Catholic said they no longer identified as such. This is said to mean that 10% of all Americans are former Catholics; that the percentage of Catholics in the US population has held steady for decades at about 25 % but that this masks a precipitous decline in native born Catholics; that the proportion is bolstered by the large influx of Catholic immigrants, mostly from Latin America; and that the RC Church has lost more adherents than any other group.

These startling figures constitute a challenge to sociology departments of Catholic universities to explore reasons for these changes and a challenge to the hierarchy to be more open to these experience-based studies rather than reliance on absolute concepts of clericalism, which assure the maintainence of power and control in the hands of those now possessing them. It is not just a nostalgia for the past that is behind this dynamic, exemplified by what JP II has done and B16 is doing to maintain the closed cocoon of clericalism. It appears to many simply as efforts to maintain power and control. Why, many ask, must a celebration of a Mass and connecting to Jesus through the sacraments always involve an obeisance to Rome in the most minute details, like keeping thumb and forefinger closed together after handling the Blessed Sacrament? Why must Rome insist, as it did in the 1998 Synod for Asia, on having translations of liturgical books into Japanese be carried out in Rome, rather than in Japan under the Japanese bishops as they strongly requested? Why is celibacy for priesthood insisted upon by Rome, when it, realistically viewed, excludes most heterosexual young modern men, other than for the control it gives over the priest. To control one's sexual life, controls his private life, his public life, his residence, his income, his retirement ,and, should an allegation of abuse of a minor be lodged, he faces one person in the role of arresting officer, prosecutor, judge, appellent bench, and parole officer - his bishop!

This passion for centralized control and its failure to recognize and accept the conscience, the prudence, the spontaneity, and the intelligence of the individual Catholic and of the local churches may well be a factor in the departure of so many Catholics from the faith in which they were born and raised. Professor Stephen Prothero of Boston U. observed regarding the Pew Report that "The trend is towards more personal religion and evangelists offer that. Those losing out are offering impersonal religion and those winning are offering a smaller scale". On a minor matter, I find it jarring, when praying the breviary, to find after a psalm or prayer, "And here is not recited the Gloria..." and also to do gymnastics with the book if you followed the directions for days in ordinary time, major feasts of Jesus, or of the Common of Several Martyrs, individual feast days of saints, and on and on. There are of course reasons for these circuitous routes, but authoritative directions from headquarters, perhaps necessary in a way, seem to involve a genuflection to Rome before one prays or offers Mass. How valuable is the law from Rome that a priest pray the breviary every day, when it produced the phenomenon years ago of priests on vacation clustering around the headlights of cars, reading the psalms in Latin to finish by midnight, by standard time or the hour according to the local longitude reading? This appears as more an exercise of obedience than of personal prayer. Prayer must be much more than that!

This blog posting was suggested by the scheduled visit to NY of Benedict XVI. Its point: to show how it may have disappointed deacons, male and female eucharistic ministers, and perhaps others, and how authority, seeking inexorably to centralize and to augment discipline and control, may defeat the spread of the Gospel of Jesus that is its mission.

(Corrected and amended 3/10/08: ("Paragraph about "Gracie mansion reception" was a rumored story without any substantial sources. Hence taken out.)

10 Comments:

Blogger William said...

Carry on, Harry. You are right to indict the ever more insistent clericalism and authoritarianism of the pope and the hierarchy for the loss of lay interest in the church. It is no longer a big tent, but neithe is it a besieged castle. Many younger people, even if still religious, tend to regard it as irrelevant.

March 7, 2008 at 11:48 AM  
Blogger Tony Podlecki said...

The question is, What can we as concerned lay Catholics, do about it? (This is a real question, not a rhetorical one.) Does anyone have any suggestions?

March 8, 2008 at 3:12 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

Some very good points - that raise many concerns for our church. Before we rush to canonize John Paul II, we should look at the severe damage to our infrastructure that happened under his rule.
But, just for the sake of clarity, lay ministers of Holy Communion (from when this became allowed after Vatican II) were never supposed to be put into service unless there was an insufficient number of clergy available to distribute Holy Communion. That is and has been the rule.
Now, whether or not the rule makes sense is another issue, but this is not something that Benedict just came up with.

March 10, 2008 at 8:26 AM  
Blogger seosauh said...

A friend of mine who was a peritus at Vatican II recently observed that the council gave the church back to the people. However, the fathers of the council did not follow through and set up the organizational mechanisms that would have allowed such ownership.

Thus its principal failure!

I remember a conversation with Cardinal Krol shortly after the council closed in which he said to me that it was over, there would be no possibility of development and all would return to "normal". This from a man who was one of the key players at the council.

Oremus pro invicem...indeed!!!

March 13, 2008 at 11:13 AM  
Blogger mgseamanjr said...

Another example of an anti-establishment know-it-all priest who has very little sympathy for the pope and plenty of arrogance to spare. First of all, unlike Monsignor Byrne, the priests in NY area, like most priests everywhere, will be thrilled to concelebrate a mass with the successor to St. Peter. My guess is that the invitation to 500 priests was a limit set by the pope (i.e. he can’t accommodate more on the stage in the stadium) and that more than 500 will want to come. This was the case recently when Pope Benedict said a mass in Naples, Italy. Hundreds of priests concelebrated with the pope on a Sunday. The archbishop of Naples asked parishioners and churches to alter their usual mass schedules so that as many priests as possible could participate. (Byrne: “This may prove unrealistic, given that the Mass is on a Sunday“). I suppose there must have been some complainers in Italy too but it was a great success. Fr. Byrne is fishing to try to find something negative and predict gloom (“what appeal the pope will have remains to be seen” and “Deacons and Bloomberg are already upset”).

Let’s look at a few other things Fr. Byrne states:

The pope’s advance people have indicated that no lay eucharistic ministers will be in service.

How’s that again? the correct term is not “lay Eucharistic Ministers” but “Extraordinary Ministers” (i.e. you use them only when necessary—in extraordinary circumstances). They presumably would not be necessary at all if you have 500 priests concelebrating and distributing communion. This guy apparently has a degree in Canon Law (presumably that’s the JCD after his name) so he no doubt knows this but, like your pastor, he has his own agenda of advocating a greater role for lay people.

Further ruffled feelings have resulted from an invitation from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Benedict to a reception at Gracie Mansion, official residence of the mayor. Also invited were leading representative Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim clergy. When the pope’s advance men indicated to the mayor that Benedict would prefer to be the sole religious figure, the invitation was withdrawn.

Pope Benedict is already devoting time to meet with national Muslum and Jewish leaders (as well as Buddhist and Hindu leaders) in DC to advance the interreligious dialogue. It does not make sense to do this again on a regional scale. Let’s face it, there is only so much progress we can make in interreligious dialogue when you are holding talks with people who do not believe things as basic as Jesus Christ is God and man. These talks are reduced to establishing common ground (we believe in basic human rights, etc. but even this has proved difficult—witness the reaction to the Pope’s Regensburg address which touched on the topic that violence in the name of God is not justifiable).

This lack of ecumenical feeling and the exclusion of deacons and lay ministers from distribution of the Eucharest at this papal Mass contributes to an uneasy feeling in some quarters that Benedict and his predecessor, John Paul II, have not been straight forward in being publicly enthusiastic about Vatican II, while quietly trying to slip the gears into reverse.

(Aside: an astounding error in spelling--“Eucharest”?). Clearly, Fr. Byrne is very upset about the selection of the past two popes (i.e. they are too conservative to his liking). Dissident priests like Fr. Byrne are beginning to see the writing on the wall--they, and priests like them, are finding that their interpretation of Vatican II (i.e. that it opened up a period of experimentation with the liturgy) has actually opened up a can of worms and this is beginning to be dealt with in a serious way by the Magisterium. These priests and their views (and their poor, brainwashed parishioners) are being rejected, not just by the Church authorities but also by the serious Catholic laypeople who long for solid Catholic teaching, who want to be told the truth. This is the new evangelization of which John Paul spoke. I am (as was John Paul II and as is Benedict XVI) very enthusiastic about Vatican II and consider it a great gift of the Holy Spirit, but I detest Fr. Byrne’s liberal interpretation of it. They have seen it as an opportunity to advance their own agendas and twisted it into something that it was never intended to be. Now that the Pope is making some corrections, these folks are protesting to no end. Guess who is going to be on the losing end of this battle? Not just the priests but all their parishioners. Fr. Byrne is fighting against the tide and against the Church, the Body of Christ.

I’ll just say one thing about the reference to the Pew poll recently released. Fr. Byrne cites the statistic that 8% of Catholics have left the church, most for some Protestant congregation, and that this is due (in his eyes) to the conservative nature of the last two papacies. This may be true. However, it seems clear from other polls that Catholics (even those still in the Church) do not know their Catholic faith. We are extremely poorly catechized (our kids sit around in CCD and color books and sing songs—the real catechism happens at home). It is no wonder that most Catholics do not know that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus Christ. Most of the ex-Catholics I know have left the Church because they no longer could abide by the teachings (i.e. They are divorced and remarried and so went to a more accepting congregation). Another reason they leave for Protestant churches is because they feel more of an emotional attachment to them—great music and sermons. So church is all about feelings. Obviously they do not know that they are receiving Christ and sanctifying grace every Sunday in the Eucharist when they abandon it for better music or homilies. I’m reminded of a passage in the Gospels that states that people will leave the church because they will want to listen to those who tell them what they want to hear (e.g. divorce & remarriage is OK, abortion is not a sin, homosexuality is just a different lifestyle choice, etc.). This is why people become ex-Catholics: they do not know the faith and they look for a church that will not label their life choices as sinful, not because they share Fr. Byrne’s views of a less conservative papacy with greater lay involvement.

March 15, 2008 at 3:09 PM  
Blogger mgseamanjr said...

Recent Headline:

Huge demand for Benedict XVI mass in Washington: bishop

Quote from the story:

"We have had a huge response from every sector, far more than we anticipated," Archbishop Donald Wuerl told reporters.

That's "every sector" not just the "unenlightened" poor people, Fr.Byrne. No doubt this is disappointing news to Fr. Byrne

March 15, 2008 at 5:05 PM  
Blogger mgseamanjr said...

I’d like to tackle the next paragraph of Fr. Byrne’s problematic article. It is a troubling paragraph in several respects. Underneath it is a tone that is (not surprisingly) very disrespectful and distrusting of Church authority.

Fr. Byrne wrote:

“Do not these and other signs of Rome’s tendency towards an intensifying clericalism add to the polarity of views within the Church? With Rome ready to enter into dialogue with various branches of Protestantism and the Jewish community, would it not be helpful, if not mandatory, for the hierarchy to enter into dialogue with those Catholics who are put off by the lack of transparency in hierarchical management and the practical exclusion of the laity from roles already accorded them by canon law in the way of parish and diocesan pastoral and financial councils, so frequently existing as images without content? Exchanging ideas officially with those outside the Church is accepted by the hierarchy; but to exchange ideas officially with those within the Church as eg the Voice of the Faithful, Call for Action, We are Church, etc is not only not accepted, but positively rejected. “You can have no meetings on Church property!” Are these Catholic persons regarded by hierarchy as excluded from dialogue? Since they are already Catholics, should they simply sit quietly and listen attentivelyto their bishops, meanwhile burying any questions that might enter their inquisitive minds? Does such a hierarchical attitude strengthen or diminish the feeling of fellowship and community? Does it encourage or dissuade membership in the Church?”

Here he seems to argue first that the Catholic church needs to be more transparent in matters of management (though he does not offer any specifics on what exactly this means or how to go about doing this). I suppose given his next points, he means that liberal groups like those he mentions (e.g. VOTF, CFA, WAC) should be given a greater say in Church matters but this is very problematic. These are groups that tend to get a lot of positive press coverage, which ought to serve as a warning signal but that’s another matter. Let’s look briefly at the first of these groups.

Voice of the Faithful

This is a group that pretends to be centrist and apolitical but in reality it is essentially a group of dissenters, plain and simple. It is using the tragedy of the sexual scandal to advance it’s own political and theological agenda. It’s slogan and mission statement (see votf.org) call for us to “Change the Church.” Sounds nice but what are they really after? This might mean change it in a way that is outside the church’s teaching. They say they want to “be attentive to the Spirit” but what about being attentive to the Magisterium or Tradition? The danger is certainly there for them to advance an agenda, perhaps with a big emphasis on one’s “personal interpretation” while claiming to be carrying out changes in the “spirit” of Vatican II. The Catholic magazine “Crisis” ran a study on VOTF in 2002 and exposed much of their radical agenda. Many of the people who are invited to their annual conventions subscribe to very radical ideas that are way outside the teaching of the Catholic Church, e.g. ex-priests, people who believe in contraception, abortion, women’s ordination, some who even reject the divinity of Jesus. One speaker, a member, Debra Haffner, delivered a paper iat a VOTF conference in which she advised “theological reflection” on “sexuality and medicine” and was quoted as imparting this wisdom: “No matter what gender orientation you have—bisexual, transgender—no matter what sex you are, no matter what age you are, no matter what sexual orientation you are, you have a right to sex.” Another member, Tom Groome, a professor at (“Catholic”) Boston College, gave an interview to the BBC in which he stated in what ways he would change the Catholic church, all of which were outside of dogma (which, as you know, can not be changed), including: "I would love to see an overhaul in how our bishops are chosen because right now they're chosen by a kind of subterfuge – a kind of backroom politics." So this is the agenda that is behind the VOTF movement. The group wants a more democratic church. In this way, they could then advance their agenda. This is not the voice of faithful Catholics.

It seems clear that Fr. Byrne subscribes to the views held by VOTF. He speaks of “clericalism” (which he uses in a pejorative sense). The VOTF document entitled "Discerning the Spirit: A Guide for Renewing and Restructuring the Catholic Church" lays out a lot of their agenda. The guide refers to our Church's "clerical culture" that is noted for its "power and secrecy...isolation from the laity...ignorance of the human body and sex, a mindset that degrades women and marriage, [and] a spiritually distorted, psychologically troubled view of celibacy." Read between the lines and the translation is: The Catholic Church is outdated by today’s standards. We need to bring it up to speed by appointing our own bishops who see things our ways, who will consecrate women priests, bless homosexual marriages, allow priests to marry. All of this can be solved if we could get rid of these old fashioned bishops who keep the status quo so they can maintain their power and suppress these poor disadvantaged groups.” The real scandal, according to VOTF, is “clericalism.”

If these groups are advancing views that are contrary to church teaching, it is incumbent upon the bishops to restrict their use of churches to spread their false teachings among the faithful. Fr. Byrne tries to make it sound as though the Church hierarchy has silenced lay people and is not interested in listening to their views. The fact is that their views are well known and they fall short of or go against Church teaching. If telling these folks that their views are incompatible with church doctrine or Tradition, then these confused folks should be told so, regardless of whether or not this “diminishes the feeling of fellowship and community” or “dissuades membership in the Church.“ The Church is not running a popularity contest nor is it required to accept everyone, no matter their views, into the Church. Rather, it needs to speak the truth.

Anyway, it goes without saying that Call to Action is even more problemmatic and open about their anti-Catholic views than VOTF but I’ll possibly discuss them and We are Church, just as bad, in a future post.

March 18, 2008 at 11:05 PM  
Blogger albert cooper said...

Ive had enough of liturgical abuses since Vactican Two,the mix and match attitude to the Holy Mass.What is wrong with clericalism anyhow.Why is it that the liberal/left always want things their way,and generally shout down any opposition to their views.

March 21, 2008 at 7:07 AM  
Blogger Loretta said...

Dear Msgr. Byrne, Your vigorous and authentic concerns are so welcome. If we are the flocks and Christ is Our Shepard, it seems there was a takeover by the Vatican enterprise when we were laboring in the fields and it's time to blow the whistle.

I bet my Uncle Stan (Msgr. Jablonski) is smiling down from heaven as you tell it like it is.)

March 23, 2008 at 9:05 PM  
Blogger proactive said...

The Catholic Church (Vatican) becomes more and more like the Temple guards, the false teachers, that Jesus Christ was crucified by and, in the end, triumphed over the High Priest and all his followers, including St. Paul. Jesus Christ calls us to constantly renew the church, to turn over the tables of the money changers in the temple. Msgr. you are doing this. You are following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. And the conservatives remind me of the temple guard, the supporters of the High Priest, who shouted "crucify him" So if Jesus walked among us today, I would have no doubt that the temple guards (Vatican) would try everything including excommunication to drive him from the Temple. I will not live to see it, but the Conservatives, Popes Paul, John Paul2, and Benedict will reap the same harvest the High Priests of the Temple. The Temple was totally destroyed not long after the crucifixion. Christianity flourished. You have to be totally blind not to see that we will soon have a church without priests and without nuns. What happened in the US will happen around the world over the next 100 years. The Vatican will be forced to change. It is only a matter of time. It took Christianity 300 years to take over not only the temple but the Roman Empire. That is the power and the glory of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. The Conservatives are winning short term but long term Jesus Christ will win. How do I know? A church cannot be exclusive and grow. The early church was excluded from the Temple and that is how Christianity grew. So I am glad VOTF is excluded. I know from that exclusion will come the power of the Spirit to grow and flourish. If not the VOTF than some other excluded group of Catholics will do it. Perhaps women will form the excluded group. Without women every parish falls! It is only a matter of time. And it is only a matter of time before we have a leader that is the alter Christus that will lead us to the promised land in the Catholic Church. A non exclusive church. A missionary church that is open to all. A church that can attract Muslims and Jews and Protestants and members of all religions. The first Pope was first and foremost a missioner. You cannot go wrong if you are on the front lines making converts. No person should be made Pope unless he has spent 10 years on the missions. That is what is wrong with the Vatican and the Popes. They are not missionaries like Jesus Christ and the apostles. They don't have a clue because they are wrapped up in ritual, incense and Latin. The Temple was wrapped up in the same stuff. Jesus did not come to us as a temple priest for good reason. He came from poverty and was crucified for good reason. So look to those crucified by the Vatican and you will find Jesus Christ and his followers.

April 10, 2008 at 10:56 AM  

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