Action Alert!

A bishop experiences a layman's pain

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 08, 2011

How often have you heard a faithful Catholic complain about liturgical abuses he encountered at Mass in an unfamiliar parish? More than you can count?

Okay, then, let me ask a different question. How often have you heard a faithful Catholic bishop complain about liturgical abuses he encountered at Mass in an unfamiliar parish? Never, I suspect. Until now.

Bishop Christopher Coyne, an auxiliary of the Indianapolis archdiocese, reveals that during a vacation trip he dropped in unannounced at a parish somewhere (he doesn’t reveal the location) for Mass, hoping also to get to confession. He didn’t have time to meet the local priest and arrange to concelebrate, so he experienced what ordinary lay Catholics there experience: a series of gross violations of liturgical norms.

Appalled by what he saw the priest doing, Bishop Coyne decided that he didn’t want to go to confession after all:

If he changed the words of the Institution Narrative, there's no telling what he might do with the words of Absolution.

What Bishop Coyne experienced, again, is what lay Catholics experience routinely—what the Catholics of this particular parish experience week after week. Bishops frequently hear complaints about liturgical abuses, but they rarely have the opportunity to see those abuses—to suffer through them—at first hand. As one prelate once remarked to me, when I mentioned the outrages at a parish within his jurisdiction: “When I’m there, they do everything right!”

For bishops—and for pastors, and for priests in general—it is usually easy to avoid liturgical abuse. A priest who wants to celebrate Mass with reverence can do so, and if his colleagues in the neighboring parish are violating all the liturgical norms, he might never know about it. But for lay Catholics it isn’t always so easy. For some faithful Catholics it is a hardship to travel past one parish church (where liturgical abuse is prevalent) to a distant church where the Mass is celebrated properly. For many more, vacation travel brings a new set of worries; we have no idea what to expect when we drop into the closest Catholic church on Sunday morning. Often we have few choices; often we suffer.

Thanks to Bishop Coyne for recognizing, and writing about, the problems that Catholics face when they travel. It’s good to know that even if bishops can usually escape the problems we lay Catholic routinely face, they know the problems are there.

[Hat tip to Father Z.]

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Aug. 17, 2011 10:16 AM ET USA

    I agree with the bishop but I wish he had not called the other priest a "guy". Happily, he took the opportunity God provided him to offer him some fraternal guidance. That priest needed that bishop at that time. God gives us these opportunities every day - if we try to be aware of them.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 14, 2011 8:40 AM ET USA

    One of the sad consequences of the frequent liturgical abuses and doctrinal problems that accompany them is that division and apathy follow. Catholics who are "hunkered down" in their "conservative" or "traditional" communities often lack empathy and adopt a "good riddance" attitude that is not proper. While understandable when considering one's salvation- "with fear and trembling..."- it seems proper that we work to engender true charity for so many who may not be culpable for their ignorance.

  • Posted by: - Aug. 10, 2011 8:58 PM ET USA

    If a bishop was truly interested in rooting out liturgical abuse, he could send a trusted layman to document abuse around his diocese. The bishop could then confront each pastor with the data on what goes on in his parish. This is a management issue: inspect what you expect. This abuse problem has been around for years; I conclude bishops just don't care about liturgical abuse unless a specific instance is so blatant they can't ignore it.

  • Posted by: padrepio7006 - Aug. 10, 2011 8:11 AM ET USA

    "When I'm there, they do everything right". In our parish, an altar cloth appears on the altar perhaps once or twice a year, when the archbishop comes for Confirmation or whatever. As soon as he goes, so does the cloth. Just one little thing, but boy, the other abuses!

  • Posted by: - Aug. 10, 2011 2:56 AM ET USA

    This reminds me of that undercover boss show. I would love to see more of this happen, but what I would like to see even more is some action taken against it. Too long have we suffered liturgical abuse. It's time for a change. Of course, the root cause of the problem is our seminaries. Reform the seminaries, you reform the parishes. Of course, holiness can only be learned from holiness. We have a ways to go...

  • Posted by: - Aug. 09, 2011 8:57 AM ET USA

    It is good to see one of our bishops showing concern for the proper administration of the sacraments. But...The comments of Bishop Coyne on the actual blog post (your link is broken, BTW) are a combination of his personal distress (fully understandable) and his concern to be charitable to the priest in question. Fraternal correction is all well and good, but the guy just committed a DELICT on everyone in that church in full view of an heir to the apostles! Simply put, more is required.

  • Posted by: Defender - Aug. 09, 2011 1:51 AM ET USA

    Actually I'm surprised that an "Inspector General" -type position doesn't exist within a diocese. Of course if you've ever complained about a liturgical (or other) abuse, you get the royal run around, so why not have a priest who "drops in" around a diocese every week and then they can report to the bishop, since our "word" isn't apparently good enough.

  • Posted by: bkmajer3729 - Aug. 08, 2011 10:54 PM ET USA

    More Bishops should take this as an example and do the same. Not so much to "sneak up" on their Priests but to confirm if the complaints from the lay faithful have any basis in reality. One or two complaints - well maybe someones over scrupulous. But with complaints mounting on top of complaints... What is it Bishop Sheen used to say..."if he says, and she says it, and he says it, you better wear it!" I hope this "discovery" is not simply viewed as an aberration.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Aug. 08, 2011 9:03 PM ET USA

    And it is interesting to note that he boycotted the confessional at the parish. He made the radical decision to decline a "sacrament of the dead"- one that is absolutely essential to the soul in the state of grave sin- based on the way the liturgy was performed. He did not give the priest the benefit of the doubt; he did not "humble himself" in order to learn if perhaps the priest was a fine confessor. He used his Catholic sense in caring for his immortal soul. Well done! God bless him!