Even readers without a trace of interest in Roman Catholic
liturgical and theological debates might want to follow an
ongoing controversy in the Diocese of Orange surrounding the
future of the Tridentine Mass. The issues at the center of
this debate are issues that shed light on the ongoing sex-abuse
scandal, the roots of which still confuse some observers today.
To traditional Roman Catholics, there are few things more
pious than this mass, which is an old-style Latin Mass known
for its deep meaning and great beauty. This is the real deal,
complete with vestments, incense and Gregorian Chant. It's
more pious than the modern mass and the polar opposite of
- this really happened in Orange County - a mass given by
a dancing priest wearing a black leotard.
Now that a veteran priest at a traditional Huntington Beach
parish has retired, the diocese is stamping out the Tridentine
Mass at that location, forcing devotees to drive to the overcrowded
Mission San Juan Capistrano, where it is still officially
Basically, the forces of liberalism that are crushing traditional
Roman Catholic piety are the same forces that unleashed the
sex-abuse scandal within the church. As long as the leadership
rejects traditional ideals of holiness and piety, nothing
will be done to assure that holy men, and not those with lax
sexual attitudes, dominate the priesthood.
Locally, Fr. Daniel Johnson, the kindly, traditionalist priest
who led St. Mary's by the Sea for 25 years, has retired. His
retirement, and the retirement of the Tridentine Mass with
him, is heartbreaking news to St. Mary's parishioners.
It's a mean-spirited act for the bishop to deny the parishioners
the mass they love so much. The diocese says permission for
the mass was granted for the priest only, and it retires with
him. But the diocese could, if it wanted to, pass the permission
on to someone else.
This is standard fare, however, in the bitter war that is
waged behind the scenes within the church. In reality, there
are two churches co-existing uncomfortably together. There's
the traditional Catholic Church, with its unwavering support
for church traditions and theology.
That's the world of Fr. Johnson and St. Mary's by the Sea.
Then there's the "progressive" church, with its emphasis
on "social justice," and its desire to make church teachings
fit with modern sensibilities. I call it the Kumbaya Church.
That's the world of the diocese leadership.
Since Vatican II, the church council that adopted reforms,
the left has been ascendant. Social and theological liberals
have used the "spirit" of Vatican II to advance their agenda,
and have succeeded, despite the traditional emphasis in far-away
As Catholic author Michael Rose argued in his blockbuster
book, "Goodbye Good Men," the liberals gained control of many
seminaries and kept tradition-minded men out of the priesthood.
That's the root of the sexual-abuse scandal: The success of
the left in driving out "good men" and replacing them with
priests with different standards.
The proof is in the pudding. The more liberal the diocese,
the fewer the men interested in priestly vocations. Only in
the most traditional dioceses are there large number of people
pursuing the priesthood. At St. Mary's by the Sea, Fr. Johnson
took over a congregation of 400 people 25 years ago, and it
is now 1,500 families strong.
Is the growth because the church has the traditional liturgy
and doesn't soft-sell its principles?
"Of course," Fr. Johnson told me.
Yet, as Fr. Johnson said, "the diocese reaches out to everyone
but we are barely tolerated [by the diocese]."
"The old mass, in particular, emphasizes the real presentation
at Calvary," he said. "The pope said we have to get back to
the idea of sacrifice rather than a fraternal banquet."
One never hears diocese officials talk that way. They use
the language of political correctness and ecumenism. I recall
the photograph I was sent by one local Catholic of Bishop
Tod Brown yanking (he says gently pulling) a middle-aged woman
up by her arm, as the woman tried to receive communion from
him while she was kneeling. The bishop has a firm policy against
kneeling before communion.
Last summer, the bishop insisted that two priests credibly
accused of downloading child pornography on their computer
were not in violation of the diocese's zero-tolerance policy
on sexual abuse. That's why the person who sent me the photograph
penciled in a caption: "Bishop Brown: light-handed on child
porn - but heavy-handed on kneeling for communion!!"
That's a strange disconnect: apparent laxity toward misbehavior,
yet intolerance toward attempts at holiness. It's typical.
When Mel Gibson's "The Passion" was released, traditional
Catholics were ecstatic. But the Diocese of Orange spokesman
called the movie tedious and offered this snide review in
the newspaper: "If you are of the bent that feels that graphic
suffering makes you feel the terrible sinner that you are
and Jesus is saving you, then this is going to be a very big
plus in your favor when you see the movie."
Now the diocese is taking away the Tridentine Mass at St.
Mary's. In a letter to a parishioner, the diocese said the
parishioners should accept the decision with an obedient heart.
But given the Vatican has said dioceses should be generous
in allowing such masses, a reasonable question is raised about
who is not being obedient.
"Bishop Tod Brown has sent out a survey asking O.C. Catholics
for suggestions ... to help him accomplish Thesis No. 4 of
his 'Covenant With the Faithful,' the pledge to 'work collaboratively
with all members of the diocese,'" said St. Mary's parishioner
Teri Carpentier. "If Bishop Brown sincerely cares about his
people, why will he not listen to the hundreds of parishioners
at St. Mary's by the Sea and hundreds of other faithful Catholics
who signed a petition to retain the Tridentine Mass at St.
Mary's. ... What is the harm that is done in retaining it?"
Such is the divide within the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately,
the church leadership lacks the courage and wisdom to bridge