May 15, 2000


Online Edition –

Vol. VI, No. 3: May 2000

In the News . . .

Liturgist angered by "Vatican vendetta" | Back to mystery? | Postmodern spin on church turnaround | Revival at Boston College | Covington committee offers compromise | Pell: no apology for Church teachings | Theological illiteracy in seminaries

Liturgist angered by "Vatican vendetta"

An angry article by influential Chicago liturgist, Gabe Huck, "The Vatican vendetta against ICEL" appeared in the February issue of ChurchWatch, the Call to Action newsletter.

Huck complains of a "fierce new crackdown on ICEL" by Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, whom he compares to fellow Chilean General Augusto Pinochet. Huck claims that recent moves to restrict ICEL to the terms and responsibilities of its founding stem from motives of "power and the centralizing agenda".

Huck has been for many years head of Liturgy Training Publications, was editor of the ICEL Psalter, and wrote an Introduction to Cardinal Mahony’s liturgy pastoral, "Gather Faithfully Together", which LTP published and produced instructional videos to implement.

In outraged tones, Huck complains that ICEL’s use of "moderate" inclusive language is the root of the problem. He also swipes at Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who ordered the imprimatur removed from the ICEL Psalter.

Says Huck,

The moment must have seemed right to Cardinal Medina. Even those English-speaking bishops who might be upset know that there is no recourse to the pope these days. There is no [Cardinal Joseph] Bernardin and no [Cardinal Basil] Hume. Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, for years the U.S. bishops’ representative on the ICEL board and a strong supporter of ICEL’s work, has been replaced by Cardinal Francis George who brings no expertise. George has managed to irritate the 10 other bishops (one each from England, Scotland, Ireland, Australia, etc.) who sit on the board by implying that he’s there to see Rome’s will done and what could anyone else possibly have to say?

Huck thinks that ICEL "probably will snub Medina’s demand for reforms by Easter".

According to Huck, "Adoremus (the archconservative liturgy lobby) is exulting. Most bishops wish the whole affair would just go away. The Left hardly has time for such nonsense, and there are few forums to address the Catholic community about these power plays. But the slow renewal of Catholic liturgy, the deeds of eucharist and initiation, anointing and reconciling, these are surely continuing in many places where an ICEL reborn will some day be welcomed back".

The article was posted on CTA’s web site:


Back to mystery?

Sidney Callahan is well known to "progressive" Catholics as a regular writer for Commonweal and wife of long-time liberal activist Daniel Callahan.

But in an article that appeared in the March 24 Commonweal, Mrs. Callahan laments the sterile atmosphere, lacking mystery and sacramentality, of many churches today.

"In a real cathedral or church," she says, "my spirit expands if there are dim corners where worshippers can pray privately before illuminated icons and banks of vigil lights…. Without this transcendent eschatological dimension of worship, fully embodied in art, music, beauty, ritual, and sacred space, Cromwell wins…. Habitual exposure to the stripped-down aesthetic of a school cafeteria or supermarket presents peculiar difficulties for the spirit."


Postmodern spin on church turnaround

A March 6th story in the Boston Globe chronicled a remarkable turnaround by Boston Jesuits over renovations at a historic downtown church.

Fourteen years ago, parishioners who wanted to preserve the Church of the Immaculate Conception, a South End Renaissance Revival landmark, fought what the Globe called a "bitter legal battle" with the Jesuits.

Church officials, said the Globe, "ripped out and destroyed the pews, broke the pulpit and stashed it in a closet, hid the communion rail behind wainscoting", and removed paintings of Jesus, Saint Andrew, and Saint John thought to have been painted by Constantino Brumidi, the painter of the frescoed frieze in the rotunda of the U.S. Capitol building.

Even after they had reached a 1986 compromise with restorationists that allowed them to proceed with renovations, the Jesuits pursued the case to the state Supreme Court. In 1991, Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled that historic preservation laws could not be used to shield Immaculate Conception from the changes, as the preservationist group had tried to do.

By the mid-1980s, according to the Globe, the area served by the church seemed dying, and the church’s population plummeted. In the nineties, however, a population upsurge in the area led the new director of the Jesuit Urban Center, which has responsibility for the church, to seek proposals from architectural and renovation firms for restoring the Church of the Immaculate Conception.

The Globe’s story seems curiously "postmodern", with an incongruously shifting viewpoint.

The first half of the story uses language that suggests that the church was seriously vandalized. But in the second half, the story says that the rise in population has been "fueled in part by revitalization of the South End, and in part by the church’s welcoming of gays and lesbians".

It concludes: "Among those who use the church, there is little nostalgia for the pews. Parishioners prefer sitting in chairs, and they are more adaptable for the disabled and concertgoers."


Revival at Boston College

Students at Jesuit-run Boston College have started a weekly Catholic newspaper, according to the Boston Globe (April 1).

The paper, incorporated as Crossroads of Boston College Inc., is the students’ response to Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican document mandating a strong Catholic identity at Catholic colleges.

Brian McAdam, editor-in-chief, said the Catholic revival helped inspire the paper’s founding. "People were on fire with faith, and we wanted to invite more people into that excitement," he said.

The Globe story noted signs of a broad revival of Catholic practice on campus. Students have initiated 24-hour Eucharistic Adoration, a Mass said by a popular theologian "is standing-room only", and the first Latin High Mass in decades was sung on campus in April.


Covington committee offers compromise

The Kentucky Post reported (April 14) that an archdiocesan committee that has been deliberating for a year over renovations to Covington’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption delivered its final recommendations. The committee tried to strike a balance between changes sought by Bishop Robert Muench and the preservation of the ornate wooden baldachino and other treasures, whose threatened removal especially upset defenders of the cathedral’s architectural patrimony.

The Cathedral, a replica of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, is a big tourist draw.

The report’s recommendations include enlarging the sanctuary, removing the communion rail and improving access for the disabled. The green marble altar would be moved about 21 feet out toward the center of the church. (A table is now being used instead of the altar.) The baldachino, which earlier drawings had left out, could be left as a reredos, said Father John Cahill, the cathedral rector.

The report also recommended non-controversial repairs of the windows, artwork, and heating system, and the installation of air conditioning, electrical, lighting, security and sound systems. The total price tag for the renovation has been estimated at $4.7 million dollars.

It is now up to Bishop Muench to make a final decision on the report’s recommendations, which he has said he will do within six weeks.


Pell: no apology for Church teachings

On March 20, Melbourne Archbishop George Pell stated that recent apologies by the Catholic Church did not include apologies to homosexuals and lesbians for Church teachings.

"We apologized for not living up to Christian ideals," he said. "We did not, and will never, apologize for essential Christian teachings and Catholic teachings."

The Melbourne, Australia newsmagazine The Age reports that Archbishop Pell has refused Communion to homosexual activists wearing rainbow sashes on at least seven occasions at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral.

Archbishop Pell explained that "the Catholic Church does not refuse communion to people of homosexual orientation. The Church refuses Communion to those who publicly dissent from the Church’s teaching on sexual activity".


Theological illiteracy in seminaries

The Chronicle of Higher Education, a trade publication for professors and education administrators, recently featured an essay on the growing Biblical and theological illiteracy to be found among seminary students in all denominations.

The essay, "Teaching theology students who don’t know Aristotle from Aquinas", appeared in the April 7 edition. It reports,

Professors say they are increasingly met with blank stares as they toss off once-familiar theological terms or names of 19th-century philosophers. They bemoan their students’ inability to write a simple essay. Lengthy research papers are not often assigned until the second or third year.

But some seminary faculty members do not find this a problem. The essay cites several who believe that "a minister’s effectiveness rests primarily on his or her organization and personal skills" rather than on learning.



The Editors