USCC Watch: Credimus? Oremus!

During the protracted liturgical debate at the bishops’ meeting last November, one prominent prelate said the matter of “inclusive” or “exclusive” language was a no-win situation; but then said he had doctrinal problems with the revised liturgical texts put up for approval by the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy (BCL).

His dismal assessment of the situation facing the bishops as they consider the massive revisions of the liturgy proposed by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) and the BCL may be correct; it is doubtless shared by many other bishops. Still, that he believes he is forced to view the matter of the language of Catholic worship in terms of winners and losers — moreover, that he seems to hope it is possible to separate the words we use from the meanings they convey, which reduces the language of worship to a matter merely of style — says a great deal about the damaging confusion that has already occurred.

It was clear from their interventions at the November National Council of Catholic Bishops (NCCB) meeting that a growing number of bishops have a gnawing sense that they cannot entirely trust their own bureaucracy. Many bishops, for example, were dismayed by the nine-year struggle over the women’s pastoral, One in Christ Jesus, which ended murkily (or rather, has not ended) with the document being dismembered and distributed piecemeal to various NCCB/USCC committees for implementation. Even though it has only the status of a report of a committee, this failed pastoral is now being used to accomplish exactly the mischief its creators intended.

For instance, last October, the Bishops’ Committee on Priestly Formation sent a letter to the rectors of all seminaries in the United States, directing them to integrate into formation programs the recommendation “to provide teaching and formation fully consistent with scripture and the Church’s tradition on the equality and dignity of women in the training of all persons involved in lay or ordained ministries.” In his letter, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein, chairman of the Priestly Formation committee, asked that the entire document, One in Christ Jesus, be reviewed and “highlighted,” and he also asked that in addition Pope John Paul II’s Exhortation on women, Mulieris dignitatem, be used.

One large midwestern diocese required seminarians to attend a day-long workshop, “One in Christ Jesus: a Day of Listening and Reflection,” put on by the diocesan Committee on Women in the Church. It included “perspectives” from a victim of domestic abuse, minority women, a Catholic Worker, a feminist, and a “single parent.” “Perspectives” of religious women or mothers faithful to Catholic teachings as taught by John Paul II were excluded. The session reportedly ended with a prayer to Lilith, the mythical demonic “first wife” of Adam and new darling of the feminist-spirituality mavens. The “feminist perspective” was presented to the seminarians by Diana Oleskevitch, a signer of the New York Times ad, “Call for Reform in the Catholic Church,” of Ash Wednesday 1990. Copies of One in Christ Jesus were provided to the seminarians, but not copies of Mulieris dignitatem.

Many otherwise orthodox bishops, evidently intimidated by the experts who supposedly serve them, have been unable to control their own machinery run amok. Some bishops seem to recognize that their plight is not unlike the unfortunate Sorcerer’s Apprentice, who was powerless to stop a deluge he had unintentionally brought upon himself simply by trying to get a little help for a formidable task. Others are working tirelessly, courageously, often thanklessly, to bail their dioceses out of a perilous swamp they did not themselves create. These men deserve our gratitude, and need our support.

In such a state of turbulence, we should probably not be surprised to discover unpredictably shifting currents, unlikely alliances — and some very hazardous undertows.

Critics of ICEL’s proposed revisions, and other feminist-inspired liturgical “reforms,” are accused of name-calling by Father Dennis Sheehan, chairman of Boston’s Archdiocesan Office for Worship. Writing in The Pilot (February 4), he pronounces them guilty of being “harsh, accusing and self-righteous.” They have been targeted by both Archbishop Rembert Weakland and Our Sunday Visitor. They have been scolded by Bishop Emil Wcela (auxiliary, Rockville Centre), chairman of the bishops’ committees for Review of Scripture Texts and Pastoral Practices, in the January 26 Long Island Catholic. They have been called “modern Judaizers” and “prissy clericalists” seeking to “undo and dismantle the Second Vatican Council” in Father Robert Gregorio’s column in the Camden, New Jersey Catholic Star Herald. And the February U.S. Catholic offers its pages to Sister Kathleen Hughes, RSCJ, of ICEL and the Catholic Theological Union (Chicago) and Father Roland E. Murphy, O. Carm., of Washington Theological Union, to promote ICEL’s viewpoint (“Watch Your Language: Why We Should Mind Our Hes and Shes”).

Father Sheehan’s column in The Pilot also announced that a new organization, “We Believe,” will bring the “discussion of liturgical language from the fringes to the center.” The National Catholic Reporter (NCR) announced the formation of “We Believe” in a story by Dawn Gibeau, “Renewed Liturgy, ICEL Gain Support from Liturgists Group” (February 11). “We Believe” intends to publish a statement supporting ICEL, according to John Wright, a founder of the group, who is also marketing director of Liturgy Training Publications, part of the Chicago Archdiocese’s Office of Divine Worship. But although the group’s statement will focus on the liturgy, the organizers “feel this isn’t just a liturgy question, it’s an ecclesiology question, how the Church is viewed,” Wright said. Other founding board members include Father Ed Foley of Catholic Theological Union and Michael Cymbala, editor of GIA Publications, both of Chicago.

One of the Liturgy Training Publications which has recently been distributed very widely in diocesan liturgy offices — and into many parishes — is a Workbook for Lectors and Gospel Readers. According to the Workbook, “Translations of the Bible still lag behind our sensitivity to language that implies the exclusion of women or a prejudice against certain peoples. Progress is being made in this regard. And we must further it.” Therefore, because “the English language is biased toward the masculine form,” because “both testaments of the Bible were composed in cultures that were strongly patriarchal,” and because most English translations are so “culture-bound” they distort the original language, lectors are advised to substitute readings from the “inclusive” New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) in place of the current approved lectionary based on the not-yet-inclusivized New American Bible. Substitute readings from the NRSV are warned that although they may be “dressed down” by some people for using inclusive language, they must consider the concerns of those who “feel disenfranchised by language that excludes them.” Lectors are advised, concerning missalettes, that “there should be no need or desire on the part of the assembly to use a printed text of the readings.”

The NCR story also mentions an organization of “young, conservative priests in Arlington, Virginia” it calls “Catholics for the Restoration in Education of Doctrinal Orthodoxy.” It refers, of course, to Credo, a society of approximately 2,000 priests from all across the U.S., which is dedicated to the faithful translation of the liturgy. The name in the NCR story is probably concocted to avoid using the group’s real name, which is simply “Credo.” (The names are not without significance: “We Believe” is the current ICEL translation of the first word of the Nicene Creed: Credo, literally, “I believe.”)

The statement of “We Believe” has been signed by Cardinal Bernardin, and his auxiliary, Bishop John R. Gorman, the story claims, and signers are being asked to send it to the NCCB Committees on Liturgy and Doctrine, and to ICEL’s representative, Cincinnati Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk. It is ominously evident that “We Believe” has been created by a powerful liturgical establishment, and bishops from one U.S. archdiocese (Chicago), in order to lobby — the liturgical establishment and bishops. Since powerful liturgy organizations like the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions and the National Association of Parish Musicians already exist, and since they have successfully controlled liturgical “renewal” in the Church in America, a new organization committed to supporting the same goals would seem superfluous, even overkill.

Meanwhile, almost nowhere in the Catholic press’s abundant coverage of the controversy over liturgical language does anyone allude to the discomfort many bishops have with militantly “inclusivist” revisions, whose doctrinal implications seriously affect the very nature of the Church, her sacraments, and her priesthood. Their apprehension is surely justified. What is most endangered by the current torrent of texts and liturgical revisions is precisely what we, as Catholics, believe.

Credimus? Oremus!


  • 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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