U.S.C.C. Watch: More Troubled Water

When Cardinal William Keeler, at the close of the NCCB November meeting, assured television viewers that despite the controversies they witnessed, a new consensus was emerging within the bishop’s conference, his words were more hopeful than factual.

Although the depth and seriousness of the conflict was nowhere more evident than in the bishops’ discussions of liturgical matters, as has been the case for the past several years, this cleavage appeared in virtually all the discussions at this meeting. Debate on the liturgy was comparatively limited this year but raised issues not easily papered over. A significant minority (39) voted to reject Segment 4 of the proposed revision of the Sacramentary, although 182 bishops voted to accept.

The latest in the continuing series of retreads of the “women’s pastoral”are two statements produced by the Women, Family, and Laity Committees (these three committees have combined secretariats headed by Dolores Leckey). The first “Walk in the Light: A Pastoral Response to Child Sexual Abuse” was released by the NCCB Administrative Committee only weeks before the meeting. The second, “Called and Gifted for the Third Millennium,” encourages “small church communities” (inspired by Latin-American “base communities” promoted by Msgr. Philip Murnion’s National Pastoral Life Center) and more ecclesial roles for laity. Current chairman of the Laity Committee is Bishop Tod Brown, from Boise.

The interests of the Bishops Committee on Liturgy (BCL) and the Women-Family-Youth-Laity Committees are not unrelated—a fact pointedly made by BCL Chairman Bishop Donald Trautman (Erie) in his introductory remarks before the debate and vote on the revised Sacramentary.

Bishop Trautman proclaimed that “this conference is committed to inclusive language,” citing as evidence “One in Christ Jesus,” the controversial women’s pastoral, and listed several other documents issued by the Administrative Committee that cannibalized OCJ in various ways.

Although he mistakenly said OCJ was “accepted by this body in 1992” (it was actually voted down by the bishops and was issued only as a report of the Women’s Committee to the NCCB Executive Committee), Bishop Trautman correctly pinpointed the common denominator in all the statements he listed: a call for sensitivity to “women’s concerns” and use of “inclusive” language.

Most of the hundreds of amendments the bishops proposed on the Sacramentary (529 rejected, 38 accepted), however, did not focus on “inclusive” language. One reason for this may be that in 1990, before the massive ICEL revisions of the Sacramentary were introduced, the NCCB had accepted with only a handful of dissenting votes the “Criteria for the Evaluation of Inclusive Language Translations of Scriptural Texts Proposed for Liturgical Use” (CEILT). At the time, although modifications on so-called “vertical inclusive language” were made, most bishops probably regarded the CEILT as an effort at damage control—not as a blueprint that would control every document they would consider or a means of “correcting” Scripture and liturgical texts.

Is it possible that more than two- thirds of the bishops are still unaware of the agenda behind militant “inclusivism” within conference committees and its strong link with feminist- inspired church reforms proposed by left-wing fundamentalists such as Call to Action?

This group, which drew 4,000 to its conference in Chicago a week before the NCCB meeting, announced a “major campaign” to open the priesthood to women and married men. The CTA president, Linda Pieczynski, announced, “Now we’re starting to claim our own priesthood. We are not asking for permission anymore…. We will no longer accept silence and denial.”

“Eucharistic famine” is resulting from the priest shortage, Pieczynski claimed. She said that the CTA’s campaign was inspired by the June statement of Archbishop Rembert Weakland (Milwaukee), Bishop Raymond Lucker (New Ulm), Bishop Thomas Gumbleton (Detroit), and a few other bishops. Their letter calling for open discussion of ordination of women and related issues was a response to Ordinatio sacerdotalis.

Bishops Gumbleton and Lucker were speakers at the CTA conference. Both are vocal supporters of the ICEL/BCL revisions.

Strikingly similar arguments about the priest shortage were made by Msgr. Frederick McManus in his address to the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions (FDLC) in October. He also describes “inculturation” as “adapting the liturgy to the culture and tradition of peoples.” McManus is a founding member of ICEL, consulter to the BCL, professor emeritus of canon law at Catholic University of America, former president of the Canon Law Society of America (CLSA), and remains editor of its influential canon law journal, The Jurist. In October the CLSA issued a statement proclaiming that there is no canonical impediment to ordaining women as deaconesses.

During the NCCB conference, I also attended a press conference sponsored by New Ways Ministries, announcing its “Bridge-Building Award” recipient, Bishop Gumbleton.

The press conference featured talks by Bishop Gumbleton, who praised the honesty and integrity of homosexuals who come out; and his gay brother Dan, who said honesty compelled him to leave his wife of fifteen years (the couple has four daughters). The award plaque was a skillfully painted modern “icon” titled “Christ the Bridegroom,” depicting Jesus enthroned with St. John the Evangelist draped across his lap. The accompanying comment noted that Christ is shown as “teacher, friend and lover.”

Bishop Joseph Imesch (Joliet), former chairman of the committee on the women’s pastoral, gave the invocation at the award banquet; and Bishop Matthew Clark (Rochester), former chairman of the Committee on Women, gave the benediction, according to the program. Listed on the program among friends and supporters of New Ways Ministries were several other bishops and retired bishops, including Bishop John Snyder (St. Augustine), who just completed a term as chairman of the Women’s Committee.

While these “interlocking directorates” come as no surprise to those who have become familiar with theological dissent that has permeated virtually every Catholic institution, it may be that most bishops have somehow managed to avoid making connections between the dominant influence of dissent and such phenomena as the “vocation crisis,” dissolution of female religious orders, sexual aberrations among the clergy, the push for women’s ordination, expanding liturgical roles for women and reinstatement to the active priesthood of ex-priests, denuding churches of traditional Catholic symbols, demands for turning the Eucharistic sacrifice into a communal meal, the attempt to force the worship of the Catholic Church to conform to contemporary culture rather than the other way around.

At least one hopes most bishops do not understand this. Otherwise, that an overwhelming majority of bishops find no reason to question the liturgical experts is more than simply discouraging.

Pope John Paul II, in his address to the United Nations October 5, noted that the strong cultural identity of Poland made resistance to repression possible. “Every nation,” he said, “… enjoys the right to its own language and culture through which a people expresses and promotes … its fundamental spiritual ‘sovereignty.’ Every nation therefore has also the right to shape its life according to its own traditions … Every nation has the right to build its future by providing an appropriate education for the younger generations.”

“Freedom,” the Holy Father continued, “is the measure of man’s dignity and greatness. Living the freedom sought by individuals and peoples is a great challenge to man’s spiritual growth and to the moral vitality of nations…. Freedom is ordered to the truth, and is fulfilled in man’s quest for truth and in man’s living in the truth. Detached from the truth about the human person, freedom deteriorates into license in the lives of individuals, and … becomes the caprice of the most powerful and the arrogance of power.”

His words relate to the Church as well as nations. One question confronting Catholics now is whether there can ever be a truly Christian culture. The Holy Father believes so: “As a Christian, my hope and trust are centered on Jesus Christ…. Jesus Christ is for us God made man, and made a part of the history of humanity. Precisely for this reason, Christian hope for the world and its future extends to every human person…. We must not be afraid of the future. We must not be afraid of man…. With the help of God’s grace, we can build… a civilization worthy of the human person, a true culture of freedom.”

At the root, the conflict over the liturgy reflects a deep conflict within the culture at large—a dispute about the nature of man, the meaning of freedom, about what constitutes truth. Hardly any problem that afflicts our contemporary culture does not have its parallel within the Church.

The fundamental truth that inheres in the Church must be communicated by the Church—can only be communicated by the Church—principally through her central action, the Eucharistic liturgy. Bishops who recognize this have voiced concern about liturgical and linguistic changes aimed at “adapting the liturgy to the culture.” Although they were accused of “clogging the process” of the conference and of being led by outside agitators, they faced their task with intelligence and courage. Regrettably, they still have a lot of evangelizing to do among their peers.

The Holy Father’s address, it will be noted, was in standard English. “Man” is used as a generic (with appropriate pronouns) ten times in this talk alone. Hence it was mystifying that Cardinal William Keeler, in his final comments as president of the NCCB, referred to the pope’s use of language during the recent visit:

Also with respect to the liturgical items…. we can make mention of the Holy Father’s use of what we would call moderate inclusive language on the horizontal level in his speech…. And those who outside may be looking at our discussion of the issue ought I think to be sensitive of the fact that what we want to speak is the language that will keep our trust with the young people who responded so beautifully to the Holy Father in Denver—young people who in their schools, in their books, in their songs are using this kind of what we would call horizontal inclusive language….

Two days after the NCCB meeting, the Holy See confirmed that the teaching of the Church in the matter of restricting holy orders to men is infallible. Clearly the Vatican recognizes the need for clarity in communicating the truth.

  • Helen Hull Hitchcock

    Helen Hull Hitchcock is founding director of Women for Faith & Family and editor of its quarterly journal, Voices. She is also editor of the Adoremus Bulletin, a monthly publication of Adoremus - Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy, of which she is a co-founder. She is married to James Hitchcock, professor of history at St. Louis University. The Hitchcocks have four daughters and six grandchildren, and live in St. Louis.

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