Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

The Truth of Love Cannot be Silenced-- but your bishop may try

By Leila Marie Lawler ( articles ) | Jun 06, 2006

Everyone knows that kneeling at Mass isn’t a simple issue. Pro-kneelers bring a huge burden of bitterness and pain and sorrow to a liturgy that they find emptied of all meaning other than what they can infuse it with--on their knees, and with teeth firmly gritted.

Anti-kneelers sense that if they can keep traditional Catholics on their feet, they will have won the battle against the interior spiritual life and for the communitarian view of Church that they espouse, if you can take espouse in an unfecund, neutered sort of way.

If that seems harshly unbalanced as a summary of positions, so be it. Maybe two decades ago Phil and I had dinner at the home of a pastor, now a veteran of the “flatlander,” or horizontal, or modern party of political agitation in the Archdiocese of Boston. There a liturgist (invited to help persuade the retrograde Lawlers that things were A-OK at the parish) commented to us that he is “deeply suspicious” – deeply suspicious -- of people who pray alone.

Yes, there are wheels within wheels, and everyone knows it. The traditionalists (a term that by now means not necessarily aficionados of the Tridentine Mass, but possibly those who merely clings to some shred of the past – a snippet of chant, a moment of adoration) say they just want to kneel, but what they mean is that they want a whole world of things restored to them: things both liturgical and doctrinal.

They also know they aren’t anywhere near about to get any of it, but they feel that they have to draw the line because… well, Lord, to whom shall they go?

The liberals (a term that doesn’t begin to cover the zeal for destruction that these people harbor) take spiteful glee in having built it into their theology that missing a Mass here or there couldn’t matter less, and also that God isn’t exactly there, present, the way you think He is.

They know their enemies, the conservative Catholics, wouldn’t dare simply to stay away from a Mass the rubrics of which they don’t like. Thus the conservatives are their captives, literally, at least for the time of Mass, forced to endure whatever indignities, insults, and atrocities the others feel like committing.

No doubt it's true that the wretched kneelers of St. Mary’s by the Sea Parish in Orange, California are longtime “thought criminals” in the eyes of their progressive neighbors. But their plight could be ours, whoever we may be and in whatever diocese we may find ourselves, which is why I revisit the episode here.

Their pastor of souls Father Tran, apparently hitting on the idea that he could speak to these intransigents in their own language, seeking to commit upon them the rhetorical equivalent of jujitsu, used their own petard to try to hoist them out:

…by intentionally setting their own norms [kneeling, i.e.], disregarding the permission from the local Bishop or despising the authority of the local Bishop, and the National Conference of one’s country. That is clearly rebellion, grave disobedience and mortal sin, separating oneself from the Church.

Now clearly this priest doesn’t really know what “mortal sin” is – which is not to say that I doubt he would apply it to his parishioners if he did, but just that even he would see that kneeling doesn’t make the cut for the murder-rape-thieving-from-widows Div.1 team. Neither does his bishop.

Father Joe Fenton, spokesman for the Diocese of Orange, said the diocese supports Tran's view that disobeying the anti-kneeling edict is a mortal sin. "That's Father Tran's interpretation, and he's the pastor," he said. "We stand behind Father Tran."

To interject: Just the other day Pope Benedict urged: Diocesan bishops must care for their people with "a ministry of watchful love that calls for total dedication, complete commitment of energy and, if necessary, the sacrifice of life."

Show of hands: So far, does Bishop Tod Brown seem like this kind of bishop? Maybe you can’t tell yet.

OK, how about this: A couple of days after the article appeared in the LA Times making Father Tran seem like a particularly dim-witted practitioner of his art (can you imagine a chef saying “I will poison anyone who comes into my restaurant without my permission”?), the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange website posted a “ retraction” of the mortal sin gag.

The headline says, “KNEELING OR STANDING ARE NOT ‘MORTAL SINS’: Father Martin Tran’s Retraction.” But if you read the statement, he says no such thing and retracts nothing.

Here is what he says, in its apparent entirety, according to the story on the web site: “Father Tran regrets any concern or hurt caused by the misuse of the term “mortal sin” in this context.”

That’s more of a lame squirm; a squirm that doesn’t even make sense. The next line provides the kicker: “The Diocese concurs with Father Tran’s retraction.”

The diocese is very accommodating, I must say. The pastor says that behavior X is a mortal sin, and the diocese supports him; he says (or implies) that X is not a mortal sin, and the diocese supports that stand, too. Father Tran, it seems, can say whatever the hell he wants, and the diocese, that smilingly distracted entity, will agree.

“The bishop, Pope Benedict remarked, "represents the image of Christ, who nourishes us with his Flesh and Blood." As head of the diocese the bishop has a duty to "dispense the food of truth" to his people.”

Bishop Brown, standing behind his green curtain, or rather his spokesmen, frantically pulling levers, grabs the one that changes the topic:

The bulletin article by Father Tran was never about “kneeling” or “standing” during Mass, it was about respect for the liturgical practices of the Church as approved by the Pope.

Or, back to the moral jujitsu: “they” understand obedience; let’s give them a dose of that stuff. The smackdown is dealt.

"The truth of love cannot be silenced," the Holy Father said, and each bishop should "proclaim it without fear or reticence."

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