Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Troubles of the Catholic World

Like most active Catholics, I'm happy to talk to anyone who asks about the Church, the liturgy, doctrines, teachings on morals, the culture of Catholicism, or any other aspect of the faith. Most of the time, people don't ask.

But there is one time when they do ask: when Catholicism is in the news because of some scandal. This is mostly when non-Catholics get interested. And probably like most Catholics, and in contrast to non-Catholics, I don't pay very close attention to the scandals (though perhaps I should). Hence, at the very time when people ask questions, I tend to be short on answers.

I do read the New York Times every day, so I did happen across that now-famous March 25, 2010, story that was designed to implicate then-Cardinal Ratzinger in covering up the sex-abuse case of Milwaukee's Fr. Lawrence Murphy. I found it hard to believe, and so checked the supporting documentation only to find that the entire spin was a media fabrication.

As Raymond J. de Souza in National Review has shown, what the documentation showed was yet another case of the failed leadership of Rembert Weakland as then-Archbishop of Milwaukee. The always-charming Weakland, one of the darlings of the reformist/destructionist wing of Catholic leadership, was writing to Rome to pass the buck – twenty years after he had known about the troubles with Murphy. Rome's response (no letters were written by Ratzinger) was in keeping with canon law and entirely defensible.

There are ever more details along these lines, and in each of the cases of abuse now roiling around the European press – each of them egregious, none of the pointing to Benedict, most of them clearing demonstrating the utter failure of the very clan that Benedict has been critiquing for many years: that generation of clerics and their advisors who sought to drive a wedge between the preconciliar and postconciliar Church. They did this in the area of liturgy, faith, and morals. The result was an amazing wreckage.

This is the real and undeniable lesson of this whole mess – and the press's attempt to somehow turn this against Catholicism in general and Pope Benedict in particular is really attempt in spin. But look: this is not going to work. Once the dust settles, it will be clear that this is part of a longer-run trend working itself out here. The legacy of an entire generation is in ruins. The Catholic Church is not collapsing. The Catholic Church is reasserting herself against attempts at subversion that date back decades.

For my part, this accounts for my relative lack of interest in all these issues that have rocked the world's press. To me, it seems like the continuing shockwaves from the great fall of what most people call by the misnomer "Catholic liberalism." Its past management of everything from seminaries to education to music is in disgrace. And the fallout will probably continue for another decade or more.

Lately I've been doing more traveling and lecturing on the topic of sacred music and, truly, this is one of the joys of my life. I wish I could do it more than I do. I come away with two strong impressions from each of my experiences: 1) there is so much progress being made today in the area of truly sacred music, with people of all ages devoting themselves to learning chant and polyphony in singing in their parishes to great effect, and 2) the meltdown of the past decades in terms of knowledge, training, and talent is far worse than I had previously known. As I've written elsewhere, I thought that I was moving into this sector to teach Gregorian music but instead I find myself spending most of my lecture time explaining the basic musical structure of the Roman Rite.

An area of grave scandal that has yet to play itself out fully in our times, but will certainly do so in the coming years, concerns the grim politicking and deceptions in the year preceding the promulgation of the Missal of the 1969/1970. I'm not among those who use the phrase "novus ordo" as a curse word, and I've seen the ordinary form many times presented in a manner that makes it nearly indistinguishable from the extraordinary form to the novice eye. Good people disagree on what is tolerable and even praiseworthy within its structure as versus that which is intolerable.

But some features clearly cry out for explanation and a fuller accounting of what happened: the suppression of seasons, the mangling of offertory prayers, the confusion over Mass propers, and the surreptitious introduction of practices that have no precedent in the Roman Rite, among other features that cannot and will not stand the test of time. If we want to get into the business of scandal watching, this is another area to watch. But when all the facts come out, and they will, here is what we will be left with: a handful of very slick and arrogant intellectuals took advantage of a confused time to pull the wool over the eyes of many and send the whole Catholic world into a gigantic upheaval.

Pope Benedict is leading us out of the wilderness that this epoch hurled us into and pointing us all to the promised land of tradition, truth, and beauty. Is it any wonder that he is coming under attack by those who would like to keep the fullness of Catholicism at bay? Did anyone really believe that such a calamitous time for the Church could come to an end without struggle?

In some ways, then, we are right to look at all the bad press as part of a longer solution to the ongoing crisis. The problems we are dealing with are in the past. That they are all coming to light is part of the necessary step for going forward. The period to regret dates back decades. The period to look forward to is in the coming decades. Pope Benedict was chosen to be the one to lead the way.

Many serious Catholics express tremendous fear about how fate should something happen to the Pope. This is legitimate but overwrought. There is more at work than merely the leadership of one man. What's at work here is the Holy Spirit through him and the reassertion of truth against error. This is not something that is left to the wiles of circumstance.

The last time someone said to me that the scandals suggest that the Catholic Church is unraveling, I made a flippant comment: "Sure, that's been said for 2000 years." Maybe that's a pretty good short response after all. I was reminded on Good Friday this year that the crowds believed that they were done with this Jesus person when they crucified him.

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