Retired and near-retired bishops speak out on the missal process

Robert Mickens of The Tablet has written an excellent 3-part series  (available only to subscribers) on the missal translation saga – “Unlocking the door of the vernacular” (June 18), “How Rome moved the goal posts” (June 25), and “A war of words” (July 2).

On the distasteful political machinations behind the new missal text, retired or near-retired bishops obviously feel freer to speak than bishops expecting to remain some time in office. Two such bishops have written in to The Tablet: Archbishop Carroll, former archbishop of Canberra, Australia, and Bishop Cullinane, bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand, who has been given a coadjutor and will step down in November. These bishops give us inside info on the 2001 Vatican instruction Liturgiam authenticam (on which, see Peter Jeffery) and the process for translating liturgical texts.

Pray Tell applauds the bishops for their honesty. Their letters are below. – awr


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In the third part of Robert Mickens’ account of how the new translation of the Missal came to be adopted (“A war of words,” July 2), he mentions the 2002 meeting of the presidents of episcopal conferences of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) with Cardinal Arinze in which “they acquiesced in the Congregation for Divine Worship’s claim that the Holy See alone had the right to create mixed commissions” and “Not a single bishop raised his voice in protest.” While it’s water under the bridge now, it may be of historical interest that it wasn’t as simple as that, at least in my memory.

The meeting comprised, besides the conference presidents, a considerable number of the Congregation with their president together with some of the Vox Clara members and some ICEL members, including Fr. Harbert. A preliminary agenda had been sent to participants beforehand and it contained an item that would allow for discussion of Liturgiam Authenticam and its statutes. Arriving at the meeting, Archbishop (later Cardinal) Napier of South Africa, Bishop Cullinane of New Zealand and myself from Australia noticed that the agenda item had been deleted from the revised meeting agenda, presumably because in the meantime the Holy Father had signed off on the statutes. We expressed our disquiet to Cardinal Arinze and he restored it to the meeting agenda.

When this agenda item came around, we three presidents voiced our concerns and in particular about the Holy See’s right to approve the statutes contrary to Sacrosanctum Concilium. After we spoke, Cardinal Arinze called a canon lawyer presumably from the Congregation to respond to our concerns.

We did not believe that he had in fact refuted our arguments but there was no further discussion. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor thanked us for airing the matter and the meeting moved on. It was apparent that the fact that the Holy Father had approved the statutes, including the offending one, had closed the question, one might say definitively.

The Most Rev. Francis P. Carroll
Emeritus Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Australia
The Tablet, July 16




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Your Rome correspondent, Robert Mickens, is incorrect in saying (“A war of words,” July 2) that “not a single bishop raised his voice in protest” at the Congregation for Divine Worship’s (CDW) claims regarding mixed commissions. Those claims were the subject of a submission to the Pontifical Council for the Authentic Interpretation of Legislative Texts by the New Zealand Catholic Bishops’ Conference. In its reply, on December 18, 2002, the Pontifical Council declined to adjudicate the questions put to it, on the grounds that the instruction Liturgiam Authenticam was not a legislative text. This means, of course, that it lacks binding force if it conflicts with existing church law. And the question of its compatibility with current law, and legitimate custom, was precisely the point of our submission.

The Pontifical Council hoped that the issues could be resolved through “mutual collaboration … in a spirit of true ecclesial communion.” They probably didn’t know that for over two years the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) bishops had unsuccessfully tried to meet with the Congregation to discuss these issues.

Furthermore, in October 2003, the presidents of the English-speaking conferences met in Rome at the invitation of the cardinal prefect for the purposes of facilitating “understanding and cooperation between the CDW and the bishops’ conferences.”

The first item on the agenda sent out before the meeting was “the respective roles and areas of competence of the Congregation and the bishops’ conferences.” But when we arrived at the meeting, this item – the very reason for our going to the meeting – had disappeared from the agenda. At the urging of Cardinal W. Napier (South Africa), Archbishop F. Carroll (Australia) and myself (New Zealand), it was restored to the agenda. But what was the point? A decree dated September 15, 2003 and published days before the meeting establishing ICEL as a mixed commission entirely preempted any meaningful discussion on whether it is the CDW that establishes mixed commissions or the bishops’ conferences.

So it is not really true that we “acquiesced” in the actions of the Congregation. Rather, recognizing the impossibility of genuine dialogue on this matter, we made our point and then got on with the rest of the agenda. This piece of history needs to be on record because it is still incumbent on bishops’ conferences to reclaim the rights and responsibilities entrusted to them by law, and wrongly usurped.

The Rt Rev. P.J. Cullinane
Bishop of Palmerston North, New Zealand
The Tablet, July 30


18 responses to “Retired and near-retired bishops speak out on the missal process”

  1. Sean Whelan Avatar
    Sean Whelan

    What a bunch of cowards. Ordained with the promise of guiding their flocks… and yet how terribly they failed. (This goes well beyond the Missal debacle, but I think it goes without saying.) I guess better late than never, but oh how things could be different if they did more than just sit there with mouths shut. How obedient we layfolk must be to these princes of the Church, yet the reverse is somehow different. “Who will speak if you don’t?” This group of bishops have really failed the Church on one issue after another. God help us.

  2. Todd Flowerday Avatar

    Cowards? I’m reticent to put that kind of a label on, but maybe non-courageous fits. It’s not as if these guys were lobbying for the vaunted position of archpriest in some Roman basilica.

    I doubt this matter was that high on the agenda of these particular bishops. Important issues can and should be pressed. In the real world, people can and do press their superiors on vital matters. Sometimes they lose their jobs for it.

    As for this, chalk it up for another chapter in Profiles in Discouragement.

    1. Sean Whelan Avatar
      Sean Whelan

      I stand by what I said.

  3. J. Thomas Avatar
    J. Thomas

    it is still incumbent on bishops’ conferences to reclaim the rights and responsibilities entrusted to them by law, and wrongly usurped.

    It probably would have been better never to give up the right to begin with rather than remaining silent after the first attempt at intervention. In war its always better to hold ground than retreat and try to retake it!

    To pretend that the Sacramentary is done and none of this matters doesn’t work – I suppose there are decades worth of other rites on the docket for new ICEL translations.

    At least the German’s exercised there authority to just say no. Maybe the English speaking conferences should take note.

  4. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Would ask that someone add to this the role of Cardinal George and the USCCB. If memory serves, George, newly named to Chicago, goes to Rome and participates and returns to the US and basically tells (threatens) USCCB committees, etc. that this is now the law; they must get on board; and we need to move forward; etc.

    The saying: “with episcopal ordination, they remove their backbones” seems to be accurate. Sorry, but this behavior is echoed in the abuse crisis; some financial crises; the lack of creative response to lack of priests; inability to creatively deal with parish/church closures, etc.

    1. Jeremy Stevens Avatar
      Jeremy Stevens

      Cardinal George reminds me of a supervisor I had when I was a kid loading and unloading trucks at a factory warehouse dock. He was a total tyrant at work, yelling and screaming, insulting and cursing at us peasants but you should have seen him at home in the neighborhood humbly carrying out the garbage or mowing the lawn while his battle axe wife hollered instructions to him from the back porch. My Dad used to say he was the classic case of the big boss at work and browbeaten mouse at home.

      Cardinal George was all huff and puff and blow ICEL’s house down in DC. Back in Chicago he can’t even get one of his priests, “Father” Pfleger, to 1) take a new assignment 2) stop lay and Protestant preaching at his parish 3) restore the Mass instead of his “Word and Table” services (see Saint Sabina’s website) 4) sharing pulpits with Jeremiah Wright and Minister Farakan – and remember his internationally televised shenanigans when he supported Obama and mocked Hillary Clinton?

      Big time boss at ICEL. Powerless mouse at home. Leadership? What a joke.

  5. Charles Culbreth Avatar

    Please note, no sarcasm or baiting is intended with this question, and I ask from a particularly “American” POV.
    When a bishop does display “backbone,” so to speak, such as evidenced by Vigneron, Soto, Chaput, Burke, Cordileone, or OTOH Serratelli, is that “a good which or a bad which”?
    And as I ask this in sincerity, can the discussion of “cappa magna’s” and the like be avoided, please?

    1. Gerard Flynn Avatar
      Gerard Flynn

      The cabal which you mention deserves no credit for their display of backbone, as you term it. It’s called pandering to those who have the power to promote them.

      When they take the Romans on, then you’ll have an argument.

      1. Jeffrey Herbert Avatar

        So only opposition to authority constitutes backbone? I thought that courage was the defense of what is right in the face of overwhelming opposition? Are you implying that the authority of the church is always wrong and thus needs to be opposed to be courageous? There may be some instances, but ALWAYS and about ALL things?

    2. Todd Flowerday Avatar

      Charles, put simply: when a bishop (or any other believer) takes a public stand on principles that results in personal damage. It’s a little deeper than being unpopular.

      A bishop in, say, Nazi Germany, present-day China, or even in WWII Rome would have backbone by standing up to oppression. The price needs to be a little steeper than a disapproving editorial or blog.

      With these bishops on the translation issue, is there a value in subsidiarity, in the leadership of prelates who actually pastor sees? As opposed to the alleged expertise of bishops and clergy who populate Roman desks. Geoffrey Robinson evinced backbone. None of the bishops on your list–all of whom are fine and holy men I’m sure–are in any danger of experiencing loss by personal choice.

      I’ve lost at least two jobs in my life by tapping my backbone about a boss acting unfairly, unjustly, and immorally, and my being unwilling to cooperate with it. I have a wife and daughter who rely on my providing for them. But even more, they rely on me to give a baptismal witness, and not just when it strokes my ego or bank account. Even Bill Morris didn’t lose his pension by suggesting it’s time to talk about women and married men.

      It’s not about an American POV, my friend. It’s about living a Gospel life.

      1. Charles Culbreth Avatar

        Todd, the American POV thing was meant to simply clarify my perspective upon the pastorates of those specific, living bishops.
        Vigneron- only bishop I’ve ever known besides Serratelli to initiate meaningful dialogue about the “how and why” of our liturgy among his peers in conference plenum. Has answered in faithfulness assignments to extremely dysfunctional chanceries. Of course, that’s only the facade I know.
        Cordileone- replaced Vigneron; invigorated and remedied many problems in San Diego. Stood, literally, between Berkeley police officers and disruptive protesters who interrupted a Mass in progress, and calmed the opponents so that the Mass (for an Eritrean Rite group) could procede.
        Soto- has stood and led peaceful witness with Christians of many traditions within peaceful, lawful means outside of “abortuaries.” Has taken a serious, painful examination of the fiscal affairs within the Sacramento diocese, and made the tough calls, including those affecting his own comfort.
        Serratelli- lauded for taking a very public positition regarding both the intent and purpose, as well as the ecclesiological factors that have been well argued about MR3; and did so from a very “boots on the ground” platform.
        I’m going to stop here, as I’m trying to ameliorate “judgmentalism,” not promote it.

      2. Todd Flowerday Avatar

        Charles, thanks for responding. I wasn’t quite sure where the “American” part fit, that’s all.

        A lot of what you describe from your bishops is just guys doing their job. And there’s nothing wrong with that. You and I have such moments regularly with dysfunctional parishioners, colleagues, and even the occasional pastor. We manage. And that is largely, except for the protest episode, what you have described here.

        I think the backbone we’re looking for is standing up to one’s superiors for the greater good. A few bishops talk a good talk about going to jail for standing up for what is right. But are they willing to channel, say, Ibsen’s Dr Stockmann?

    3. Bill deHaas Avatar
      Bill deHaas

      Dave – this link hits some of the highlights of Jadot’s valuable contribution to the US church. There is a new book coming out soon that will be a biography and explore many of the “false” accusations, ideological claims, etc. against Jadot.
      It will also show how he was treated post US assignment based upon false conclusions, calumny, etc. (not unlike some of those impacted by Vox Clara)

      The claim about appointing bishops who created or mishandled sex abuse has largely been disproven. Even if you more than agree with the latest JJ Study, the peak of abuse and abusive priests in seminary training happened long before Jadot took his US job and starting making recommendations. Some of his appointments may have mishandled abuse – would suggest that JPII and his nuncios placed more bishops who failed at abuse situations than anyone else. It is also not a black and white picture – for example, say Jadot recommends Law – it is Law and JPII’s support that led to the aggregious behavior of Law (you can only lay this at Jadot’s door by some type of mental gymnastics). You also have to indicate the growing public and church awarness of abuse starting in the mid-80’s – what did bishops do then?

  6. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Good question – do the research.

    Keep in mind one difference – 2600+ bishops set in motion the principles that the active bishops and conferences then implemented. (am sure you can find some disagreements with the “how” in terms of implementation. But, you may also find that these bishops could bring their concerns to their own conferences, discuss, and get replies. These types of internal conference discussions did happen and did impact the “how”0

    The above bishops speak to a small cabal in the curia who have significantly changed the liturgical law and beyond that the role of conferences in determining and developing their own church practice.

    Thus, good question but you are conflating apples and oranges.

    1. MIke Burns Avatar
      MIke Burns

      I think Cardinal Arinze had to have some idea of these issues. At a liturgy meeting in Rome in 2004 Fr. Ignatio Calabuig, OSM gave him some indication:

      (The Tablet, 17 January 2004) Convinced that the vernacular Missals of the 1970s were too sharp an interruption in the organic development of liturgy, in the late 1990s Rome caused a sharp interruption of its own when it wrested control of translations, leading to an ugly stand-off. But now the new men at the head of ICEL, the mixed commission responsible for English translations, faithfully reflect the Vatican’s new priorities. Work on the new Missal is again under way; Catholics could be speaking the new words in as little as two years. But what will they sound like?

      The depth of feeling against Rome’s takeover was on view at a series of conferences before Christmas to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Sacrosanctum Concilium , the first – and key – document of the council. At one of them, held at the Benedictine College of Sant’Anselmo in Rome, Fr Ignacio Calabuig captured the mood of many liturgists. Departing from his text, the Catalan turned to Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Nigerian head of the Congregation for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), and in a trembling voice said (in Italian): “I feel I must tell the Prefect that the devastating impression the Congregation seems to be spreading, that people of great culture in their own lands are not capable of translating liturgical texts into their own mother tongue, is causing great discontent and concern in the Church.” The entire audience of 600 people clapped for so long that Cardinal Arinze felt compelled to join in. In his 39 years in Rome, wrote the veteran Jesuit liturgist Fr Robert Taft in a Christmas letter: “I never saw anything like this”.

  7. Gerard Flynn Avatar
    Gerard Flynn

    “It was apparent that the fact that the Holy Father had approved the statutes, including the offending one, had closed the question, one might say definitively.”

    On 15 September 2003, the then Holy Father had less than 19 months to live. One wonders what other desperate attempts there were to exercise power in the dying days of the pontificate.

  8. Fr. Jim Blue Avatar
    Fr. Jim Blue

    In part I would like to agree with awr in applauding the honesty of these two bishops but frankly these two have nothing to lose so it’s really not an act of much courage. As others have stated above, no acting bishop can speak the truth about the new Roman Missal unless he is willing for his current assignment to be terminal. The same can be said of presbyters: no pastor or associate can speak the truth about the Roman Missal without damage to his career. When Moroney came here to sell the Roman Missal to the priests one guy stood up and spoke to the numerous flaws of both the product and the process. I overheard the bishop say, “Where is he? Are there any young priests where he is? If so, we’ll have to get him out of there.”

  9. Bill deHaas Avatar

    Who knows, Dave, the dear pastor might just wait for an indult applying the same process as SP/ED and now VC. George will be gone in a year or less.

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