Monsignor Harry J. Byrne, JCD * * * Comment/

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

October 26, 2009


In this present month of October, Vatican officials established special relationships with two religious entities, presently marching with no papal flags out front: the Society of St. Pius X - the Lefebrists - which, totally rejecting the prose and poetry of Vatican Council II, departed the papal fold; and the Traditional Anglican Communion, whose members, alienated by their Mother Church's ordination of women and openly gay individuals, have long requested entry into the traditional, safely patriarchal harbor of the Roman Church.

Married Anglican priests have been entering the Roman Church since 1980 as individuals and have been able to be ordained Catholic priests while remaining married, courtesy of a special dispensation from the traditional celibacy requirement. Now whole groups, parishes, and dioceses may enter, while retaining Anglican liturgical and cultural accoutrements.

Much could be said about these two landmark initiatives. I wish to offer these three considerations:

1. Today's first official meeting of Vatican and Lefebrist officials followed the recent removal of the excommunications of four Lefebrists, one of whom has denied the existence of the Holocaust. The Apostolic Constitution, shaping the new relationship, lists a number of topics for negotiation. One of these is "Vatican Council II", the collegial work of the world's bishops under John XXIII and Paul VI. My goodness! Has this initiative of the tradition-emphasizing Benedict XVI been undertaken unilaterally by B16 and his curia or has there been consultation with diocesan bishops, within whose territories the contemplated new "St. Pius X prelatures", with their own seminaries and bishops, will be located? What aspects of Vatican II would B16 consider negotiable with the Lefebrists? What aspects of Vatican II are vulnerable? Hmmm!

2. To situate incoming traditional Anglican parishes and dioceses within the Roman Church structure, a system of "ordinariates" is being contemplated. These, like the new Lefebrist structures, will be located within our traditional dioceses under their bishops? Here, too, the question could be asked, do our territorial bishops have, or have they had, any collegial, consultative role in the on-going process? Or is it a pope and curia-based unilateral operation?

Where do I go on Sunday? My beloved parish church with its embrace of all, like the first Pentecost Sunday, with its New York-like mix of Arabs, Cretes, Medes and Elamites and dark Sudanese with rings in their ears - remember that writer who said about our Church, "Here comes everybody? Or do I go a few blocks away to the Lefebre Mass in the Latin of celebrants in fiddleback vestments? Or to the nearby Anglican Traditional Church, where the priest hopefully may have the Wasp lockjaw accent and an ermine- trimmed chasuble? Both of these last two choices, absent altar girls, carry the assurance that women shall never cross the moat and breech the sanctuary gate. What happens to the notion of a community of faith? Benedict, have these two initiatives been thought through? And by whom? A good blueprint for ecumenism can be found in Vatican II without making the Church a twisted pretzel! That design was worked out by the world's bishops!

3. Finally, new dialogue to build bridges is refreshing and welcome. But must it be only with those outside the Church who, looking backwards, seek the traditional and women-diminishing atmosphere of our Roman Church? Great numbers of Catholics, who participate in Mass and the sacraments, who contribute to their parishes and wider institutional causes, have long sought and are seeking dialogue with our hierarchy. These faithful are looking forward to positive development, not like those looking backward to what has been tried, and frankly, is not doing very well. They are in organizations, such as the Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, We Are Church, and others. But most bishops and pastors, looking over their shoulders towards Rome, have turned them away. New ideas and initiatives that could come from our own faithful might well help change some of the things that are moving people away from our Church. It would be a great idea for Rome and individual bishops to call for a convocations of these faithful people. Members of our communities of religious women could get together with the Vatican big hats for a chat, a discussion, a joint study. Sorry, sisters! No way! We chat with dissatisfied Anglicans and angry Lefebrists. Not with you, faithful Catholics. You are on our turf. Under our control! No conversation, no discussion. We shall have an investigation! The ball game was over before the first pitch!