Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: March 2012

March 2012

A Portrait of False Bravado

The journalist Christopher Hitchens died this December, just weeks after being awarded the Atheist Alliance of America’s “Richard Dawkins Award.” I have read enough Hitchens — including painfully perusing god Is Not Great: How Religion Spoils Everything — to know that while I could admire the eloquence and vigor of his style, I needn’t admire what his brother Peter also noticed: His tendency to deny what was obvious to others (especially the facts of history) when it suited his purpose.

Hitchens regarded Thomas Jefferson as a walking contradiction. So it does seem odd that he was sworn in as a citizen of the U.S. on the steps of the Jefferson Memorial. As a propagandist for the New Atheism and author of a brief Jefferson biography, did Hitchens forget that his hero, in a letter to John Adams, had issued a hefty broadside against atheism?

The rather large cult of Hitch­ens worshipers is not difficult to explain if one allows that angry men, especially those with a literary flair for sarcasm and ridicule, can easily arouse angry fellowship in others. If atheism is to be given the status of a religion, it might be said that one of its beloved prophets is dead and widely mourned. We are expected to speak only good of the deceased, so it is difficult to write the next paragraph.

In their generous obituaries, most of Hitchens’s friends ascribe to him the virtue of courage. I think not. Real courage does not consist of encountering and risking being overcome by one’s enemies. Any quarterback on a football field can summon that kind of courage. Real and risky courage, such as Mother Teresa had and Hitchens deplored, is to confront and risk being overcome, even devastated, by the power of God.

The atheist friends who gathered to eulogize the lifeless Hitchens cannot escape meditating on the material disintegration of those millions of finally mindless and meaningless molecules that made him up. At the end of his long and horrible suffering from esophageal cancer, Hitchens’s devotees trust that the marvelous and shining spirit of their witty superhero has been rewarded with entrée into the great Zip, Zero, Zilch.

I rather like to think that Hitch­ens deluded his atheist friends by engaging in a secret but heartfelt deathbed conversion. After all, his last essay repudiates at least some of Nie­tzsche. There could be no happier irony than that at the end, in some dark and quiet corner of his soul, Christopher (which means “Christ bearer”) was finally chivalrous enough to encounter, praise, and thank the God who created him; that same God from whom he once fled with all his earthly might.

Carl Sundell

General Editor, Catholic Schools Textbook Project

Lubbock, Texas

He Deserves Better

In “The ‘Super Catholic’ Syndrome” (New Oxford Note, Dec.), it is reported that “in 2009 a Vatican official was appointed to take control of and re-found Miles Jesu and was invested with full authority to do so…. An unfortunately slow, murky process ensued….” The Vatican appointee deserves better than that. He is Fr. Barry Fischer, C.PP.S. (Missionary of the Precious Blood).

A graduate of St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, Fr. Fischer entered the C.PP.S. Chilean Vicariate to prepare for the priesthood at the Catholic University in Santiago. Ordained in 1973 — the year of Pino­chet’s bloody golpe de estado — he began pastoral work in that sprawling city. Later, while on sabbatical in Rome in 1986, he resided at the C.PP.S. headquarters. Eventually, he would be elected vice moderator of the society, after which he would serve two six-year terms as moderator general. In that office he often visited missionaries in over twenty countries on five continents.

When not on the road attending to matters related to the restructuring of Miles Jesu, Fr. Fischer serves as director of the International Center of Precious Blood Spirituality in Salz­burg, Austria. This past October he wrote that he was determined to present his definitive new draft of Miles Jesu’s constitution to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life in January 2012.

Robert L. Conway, C.PP.S.


Carthagena, Ohio

Debating "Catholic Science"

It was with great interest that I read Murray S. Daw’s article “The Great Catholic Science Textbook Debate” (Dec.). His project is similar to what my colleagues and I at the Catholic Schools Textbook Project have been engaged in since 2000, though in the area of history.

Dr. Daw reminds us that the confusion in the Catholic Church over the past 45 years stems not just from liturgical problems and poor catechesis but from a failure on the part of Catholics to engage the philosophical presuppositions of modernity. Catholics have succumbed to the presupposition of classical liberalism that religion is merely an affair of the individual and his relation to God, or what the individual perceives to be God. Religion is considered merely subjective and is thus seen as having no real relation to the objective order of the state, culture, and what we have come to call “science.”

More precisely, we Catholics have lost sight of what our religion really is — that it is catholic, universal. Of course, at the core of the faith are truths that we do not come to by reason but by the self-revelation of God; but this revelation is not only not contrary to what we come to know by reason, it is a guide to reason’s independent inquiry into the nature of the cosmos. The Catholic faith does not just tell a set of truths that helps us understand God and how we attain union with Him; rather, it speaks to the whole life of man and the world in which he lives. Though we distinguish between the supernatural and the natural, we do not divide them in a mutually exclusive opposition. The God who revealed Himself in Christ is the same God who created the universe.

As Dr. Daw (quoting the philosopher and scientist Vincent Smith) points out, there may be no Catholic biology; but that is not to say that the Catholic ethos has nothing to say to biology. This is because the Catholic tradition includes a philosophical worldview that addresses the natural as well as the supernatural. Theology has not employed this worldview merely as an epistemological convenience, but because certain ways of considering the world accord with a right understanding of a universe that has been created by God and finds its fulfillment in Him. Catholic tradition does not deliver biological truths as such, nor does it preclude the task of engaging in the methods of scientific or, even, philosophical enquiry; still, as truth, the faith and its ethos sheds light on all truths.

Catholic tradition has never treated philosophy as an adjunct of theology but, rather, as a discipline with its own integrity and distinct principles of enquiry. At the same time, the tradition has not seen philosophy as utterly autonomous, either in relation to theology or to other disciplines. What is true of philosophy is equally true of the empirical sciences. These are not devoid of philosophical presuppositions, for they address (if only in a limited way) reality, which we perforce understand philosophically. Hence the need for what Dr. Daw calls for: science textbooks that treat science as philosophical.

Of course, since it arises from man thinking about his experience of the world, philosophy cannot ignore the conclusions of the empirical sciences. Thus, instead of segregating science from philosophy, Catholic education must encourage a dialogue between them — and, I would assert, with theology and even the arts and history thrown into the mix. The task of Catholic education is to cultivate integral men and women, not narrow specialists.

Christopher Zehnder

Dominican Sisters of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist

Tehachapi, California

In his excellent article “The Great Catholic Science Textbook Debate,” Murray S. Daw recommends a textbook, Physics for Realists by Anthony Rizzi. Where can this textbook be purchased?

Mark Maciolowski

St. Augustine Academy

Chapel Hill, North Carolina

Ed. Note: Physics for Realists may be purchased directly from the publisher, Institute for Advanced Physics. Write to: P.O. Box 15030, Baton Rouge, LA 70895, or visit www.iapweb.org/store.

Sr. Mary Elizabeth, O.P.


Ann Arbor, Michigan

As a high-school science teacher and religious sister, I was heartened to read Murray S. Daw’s discussion of a fundamental issue in Catholic science education. In a world booming with technological advances and ever on the verge of new scientific discoveries, it is essential to provide youth with a firm grounding in truth.

All science builds on underlying principles, whether or not these are elucidated. The real question is, “Are these principles consonant with the truth — that is, with reality?” Catholics have no reason to fear authentic science; the truth of the way things are and the Truth cannot be at odds. It is essential, however, that science be done in accordance with reality, the world in which we live, created by our loving God, and not merely by abstracting to the realm of stark mathematics.

Although mathematics has a role in science, it is not the whole of science. As Dr. Daw states, the real world exists, is ordered, is intelligible, and includes causality; created beings have a nature and a telos. This is not only a Catholic approach but the necessary approach, as it has as its basis the truth of the way reality is. Any concern with secular texts or curriculum is not with the authentic science within them but with their detachment from reality due to the mistaken philosophical premises they might exhibit. How important that we have philosophy straight!

This realist approach, while not Catholic per se, needs to concern Catholics in a particular way because it is not the prevalent philosophy in our culture. Daw’s article has certainly increased my sense of the importance of such work and my desire to improve the way I communicate scientific truths to my high-school students. He has sounded the call to develop a curriculum for the whole span of school years that integrates essential philosophical principles with the breadth of authentic modern science. This would be a wonderful gift to the Church and the world.

Michael Van Hecke, Headmaster

All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church

Ventura, California

Murray S. Daw gives voice to the longing of so many teachers. Why do we keep banging our heads against the proverbial wall and still get nowhere with our students? Because today’s science-education intelligentsia expect us to rest in their mechanical myth. But nobody can rest in their model because it avoids the ultimate answer to reality, God. As St. Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless, Lord, until they rest in thee.”

Unfortunately, two generations and more have been educated with this wrong philosophy, which infects all our textbooks. It is stunning how divorced from reality modern science education has become, and our schools and teachers just march down the path because they have no sound alternative.

At our school we are using a pilot-program text written by Dr. Daw titled First Science. It is proving to be a great motivator for students to begin to think, philosophically, about science. They are asking deep questions, and seeing the deep connections between sound thought and careful science. More importantly, they are establishing a context in which they can grapple with biology, chemistry, and physics in a productive and intriguing manner in the subsequent years of their science education at our school.

Archbishop J. Michael Miller, former secretary of the Congregation for Catholic Education, wrote in his tract “The Holy See’s Teaching on Catholic Schools” that “Catholicism should…permeate the entire curriculum.” What Dr. Daw calls for is essential to the salvation of Catholic education and, if I may be so bold, the salvation of science. Science must get back to the honest, open search for truth, beginning with acknowledging the Truth. Kudos to the NOR for publishing this important call to arms.

Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Brewster, New York

Murray S. Daw points out that the rejection of the metaphysical meaning of substance makes it very hard to believe in “the incarnation, the crucifixion, the resurrection, and the ascension of Christ.” I am in full agreement, but let me add this: It makes it even harder to believe in transubstantiation. The definition of substance as material extension can be traced to Calvin’s Institutes, specifically to the section attacking transubstantiation (Bk. 4, ch. 17, sec. 29). Calvin was trying to make the Catholic belief in the substantial Real Presence of our Lord in the Eucharist a rational impossibility. Throughout the 17th century, Calvinists used this definition to ridicule this Catholic dogma, jeering that if Christ’s body were substantially present, the Eucharist would have to change to a man’s size.

Later in the 17th century, Des­cartes not only gave the very same definition of substance as Calvin, but he made it one of the clear, certain, and self-evident principles on which his new philosophy was based. A number of Catholic theologians raised objections to Descartes’s definition of substance as extension and linked it to Calvinism, and he answered them in very strong terms. One theologian wrote a whole book against Descartes in defense of the Catholic view of substance, the Jesuit Louis de Valois, whose Sentimens de M. Des Cartes was published in 1680. This book was important enough to be answered by Pierre Bayle, the precursor of much 18th-century philosophical atheism, in his Recueil de quelques pièces curieuses. Valois pointed out that the definition of substance as extension is derived from geometry, where body is defined as a quantity called “depth,” as distinguished from “line” and “surface.” Cartesians take the geometers’ definition of body and apply it to bodies in the real world, he explains. They ignore the difference between mathematics and reality.

As more and more Catholic universities in France adopted Cartesian­ism (at Louvain by 1680, Valois asserted, 14 out of 16 professors were Car­tesians), a virtual deathblow was given to metaphysics and religion by those in the learned class, among whom deism and atheism had become rampant. Valois pointed out that scholars no longer regarded extension as a property of something that existed; for Cartesians, substance, extension, body, and matter were all equiv­a­lent terms. For more on this point, see my essay, “[Swift’s] A Tale of a Tub and the Great Debate over Substance,” in Swift as Priest and Satirist, ed. Todd C. Parker, University of Delaware Press, 2009.

Kenneth F. Klenk

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

I was most impressed by Murray S. Daw’s call for a fundamental philosophy to support the sciences. Vin­cent Smith, whom Daw cites, was certainly correct in seeing that there is always a philosophy behind science, and that philosophy can be confused and unrefined, or it can be the result of thorough analysis, as in the case of the natural philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas.

The divide that separates philosophy and science began to be dug during the time of Descartes and the advent of idealist philosophies that deny that we can know reality. The revolutionary advances in physics (relativity and quantum mechanics) in the first half of the 20th century deepened the divide. The intellectual world lacked a viable philosophy of nature with which to interpret them.

The gap can only be bridged by mature scientists who are both experienced physicists and trained philosophers of nature, who can speak for both perspectives and thus reintroduce the fundamentals of the philosophy of nature into the consciousness, first of general science and eventually the culture at large.

Jacques Maritain, in his books The Degrees of Knowledge and The Philosophy of Nature, called for an integration of the philosophy of nature and the sciences. He saw the two, taken together, as a single discipline. He used the metaphor of body and soul to describe the intimate relationship between them. At the time of his writing (1930s-1950s), the positivist era had come to an end, and the realist philosophies of Aristotle and Aquinas (a revival encouraged by Pope Leo XIII) were effecting a real change in contemporary modes of thinking. Maritain anticipated a renaissance of science informed by philosophy. But the cultural tsunami that swept through the Western world beginning in the 1960s decimated the Thomistic revival and postponed the renaissance envisioned by Maritain.

We can hope that the textbooks of Anthony Rizzi, recommended by Daw, are the first lights of this long-delayed renaissance.

M.T. Melvin

Thibodaux, Louisiana

There's No Success Like Failure

In his reply to Michael Suozzi (letters, Dec.), Arthur C. Sippo states that “Vatican II was generally a success.” The following statistics are from Kenneth Jones’s 2003 book, Index of Leading Catholic Indicators: The Church Since Vatican II:

·  Priests. The number of priests in the U.S. dropped from 58,000 in 1965 (the final year of the Councibpto 45,000 in 2002. By 2020 there will be about 31,000 priests, only 15,000 of whom will be under the age of 70.

·  Ordinations. In 1965 there were 1,575 ordinations to the priesthood; in 2002 there were 450, a decline of 350 percent.

·  Priestless parishes. In 1965 there were 549 parishes without a resident priest, one percent of the total. In 2002 there were 2,928 priestless parishes, 15 percent of the total. By 2020 a quarter of all parishes, 4,656, will have no priest.

·  Seminarians. Between 1965 and 2002 the number of seminarians dropped from 49,000 to 4,700 — a 90 percent decrease. There were 596 seminaries in 1965 and only 200 in 2002.

·  Sisters. In 1965 there were 180,000 sisters; in 2002 there were 75,000, with an average age of 68. By 2020 the number of sisters will drop to 40,000, and of these, only 21,000 will be age 70 or under.

·  Brothers. The number of professed brothers decreased from about 12,000 in 1965 to 5,700 in 2002. A further drop to 3,100 is projected for 2020.

·  Religious orders. In 1965 there were 5,277 Jesuit priests and 3,559 seminarians; in 2000 there were 3,172 Jesuit priests and 389 seminarians. In 1965 there were 2,534 OFM Fran­ciscan priests and 2,251 seminarians; in 2000 there were 1,492 OFM Fran­ciscan priests and 60 seminarians. In 1965 there were 1,148 Re­demp­­torist priests and 1,128 seminarians; in 2000 there were 349 Redemp­torist priests and 24 seminarians.

·  High schools. Between 1965 and 2002 the number of diocesan high schools fell from 1,566 to 786. The number of students dropped from nearly 700,000 to 386,000.

·  Grade schools. There were 10,503 parochial grade schools in 1965 and 6,623 in 2002. The number of students dropped from 4.5 million to 1.9 million.

·  Matrimony. In 1965 there were 352,000 Catholic marriages; in 2002 there were 256,000. In 1968 there were 338 annulments; in 2002 there were 50,000.

·  Mass attendance. A 1958 Gallup poll reported that 74 percent of Catholics attended Sunday Mass. A 1994 University of Notre Dame study found that the attendance rate was 26.6 percent. A more recent study by Fordham University concluded that 65 percent of Catholics went to Sunday Mass in 1965 compared to only 25 percent in 2000.

If Dr. Sippo considers Vatican II a success, what would he call a failure?

James Likoudis

Montour Falls, New York


Mr. Melvin provides us with very disturbing statistics but no proof of any causal link between Vatican II and these declines. He is committing the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy. That is, he assumes that since these changes occurred after Vatican II, they occurred because of Vatican II. On the contrary, studies of this period point to a very different relationship between the Council and these changes.

In the wake of World War II the economies of Europe and Asia were utterly devastated. The communists had been at the forefront of the battle against fascism in Europe and the Far East. Their powerful ideological, political, social, and military agenda seemed to offer more to people in practical terms than did the monarchial, democratic, or colonial systems. As a result, there was a strong move toward communism in these areas. From 1945 onward there was a war for hearts and minds between the traditional Western political and religious systems and communism. The battle was far more pronounced in Central Europe and Asia than we experienced in the U.S. The battle spread to South America in the 1950s, culminating in Castro’s socialist revolution in Cuba.

All of the secularizing trends that Mr. Melvin notes were well advanced in Europe and elsewhere in the world — but not in the U.S. The “worker priest” movement in France was one attempt at a response that did not succeed. In the missions, there was as much competition from the communists as there was from other religions.

The rise of economic prosperity in the U.S. was followed by widespread disaffection with traditional social and religious conventions, and by the multiple revolutionary movements of the 1960s and 1970s. This led to the erosion of American life and values. In essence, we started catching up with the secularizing trends that had beset the rest of the world.

Vatican II did not cause any of this. The Council was, in fact, convened as a response to these trends. The Catholic Church was still mired in Counter-Reformation controversies and practices that were anachronistic and increasingly irrelevant to the needs of modern people. Until Pope Pius XII’s famous Christmas radio address in 1942, the Church was still holding out for the restoration of European monarchies and the return of traditional social structures, and many in the Roman curia still thought in those terms into the 1950s. In his address, Pius XII subtly accepted that the future of the Church lay with the Western democracies and not with any return to centralized governments, whether ruled by kings or dictators.

Vatican II was the culmination of a total reassessment of the Church’s future in response to the changes that swept through the world after the two great wars. In fact, by our standards today, the Council documents seem somewhat “reactionary” in some places — e.g., the call for the retention of Latin in the liturgy.

The juggernaut of secularization could not be stopped. But the Church needed to develop strategies to deal with the new situation so that she could regroup in the third millennium. Continuing to do the same old things in the same old way was no longer viable. Maybe there were better strategies that could have been used. The reform of the liturgy, for example, was handled badly, and it has taken us 40 years to admit this and finally junk the gobbledygook the International Commission on English in the Liturgy gave us and restore the literal translations of the original Latin from the revised Roman missal. But the idea of a vernacular liturgy has been a success. It remains popular with Catholic people the world over (especially in countries where translation problems haven’t been as prevalent), and it has been a powerful tool for evangelization. While the Tridentine Latin Mass has finally been revived as an option, and has developed a significant following, it is still not the celebration of choice in the majority of parishes worldwide. The vernacular liturgy was an idea whose time was long overdue and, like it or not, there is no going back. Besides, diversity in the manner of celebrating Mass is more traditionally Catholic than the imposed uniformity made necessary by the Reformation.

The social and political structures that supported Catholicism over the past 400 years have either been wiped off the face of the earth or radically altered. We no longer have Catholic monarchies, confessional states, multigenerational extended families living in ethnic enclaves, or religiously dominated local customs unaffected by exposure to the wider world. We must therefore develop new strategies that sync with the current situation. We have fewer priests but we are ordaining more each year, and they are more orthodox than their predecessors from 30 years ago.

The Holy Spirit spoke at Vatican II, but far too many people heard not the Heilige Geist but the Zeitgeist. I have read the Council documents and it is obvious to me that much of what the Council taught has not been fully understood or implemented. Lumen Gentium is an unappreciated treasure that we need to teach to our people. And the magisterial teachings of the popes since the Council have been exceptional and clearly in support of the progress initiated by the Council.

It is true that some facets of the Council are now passé, such as its overly optimistic attitude toward ecumenism. But it is also true that the preconciliar world no longer exists. Trying to restore it is not an option. We need to move forward. The Magisterium and the documents of Vatican II have provided the guidelines. It is up to us to take them from theory into reality.

I have full confidence that the superintending presence of the Holy Spirit in the Catholic Church is guiding us, and I encourage my fellow Catholics not to despair or to use mere human reasoning to try to create “a better Church” than the one God founded and has promised to protect.

Patrick Henry Reardon, Pastor

Chicago, Illinois

On the "Byzantinization" of the Latin Church

William J. Tighe’s excellent review of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East-West Unity (Dec.) exposes some of the serious weaknesses of Ukrainian Catholic theologian Adam J. DeVille’s proposals for a “major restructuring of the papacy” that would be congenial to the Eastern Orthodox “notion of a ‘patriarchal constitution’ of the Church,” and would respect the principle cherished by Orthodox theologians that all authority in the Church must be exercised in a synodal or conciliar/collegial manner. DeVille believes that reunion with the Catholic Church would be facilitated by the adoption of some rather remarkable proposals he has set forth in his interesting volume — e.g., restoring and clarifying the pope’s role as “Patriarch of the West,” the election of all bishops, diminishing the pope’s direct authority over the Latin Church by dividing it into six continental patriarchates, and the creation of a super-synod of all Eastern and Western patriarchs under the presidency of the pope. All that, however, would involve not only the introduction of yet more paralyzing bureaucratic structures in the Church but, as Dr. Tighe rightly observes, some other possible troubling consequences: an imposed “byzantiniza­tion” of the Latin Church, episcopal elections resulting in the spread of modern democratic demagoguery, and the unleashing of “doctrinal and disciplinary chaos” in the present sorry climate of dissent and disobedience in the Western Church.

DeVille reveals his lack of sympathy for the notion that reconciliation with the Orthodox involves a “return to Roman obedience.” He belongs to the school of liberal theologians and canonists that has had little sympathy with the exercise of the “plenitude of power” that ecumenical councils Vatican I and II ascribed to the Petrine office. Their desire to “decentralize” power and curb its exercise in both the Latin and Eastern Churches has not been immune to the influence of the “Anti-Roman Complex” so evident among Orthodox theologians who cannot see beyond an exaggerated sense of “monarchical ‘papism.'” DeVille’s own effort to promote what he regards as necessary structural changes to alleviate Orthodox fears of “papal domination” leads to a sharp differentiation between the pope’s patriarchal and papal offices, and is furthered under the guise of “reconfiguring papal authority in an ecumenically sensitive and ecclesiologically sound way.” Yet De­Ville admits that the patriarchal and synodal model for the exercise of ecclesiastical authority evident in the Orthodox Churches has resulted in canonical chaos, endless jurisdictional conflicts, and the heresy of ethno-phyletism. In his rejection of a “maximalist and Ultramontane” interpretation of the exercise of Roman primacy, DeVille even expresses the desire, amid the present doctrinal crisis in the Church, to “reduce the need for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to be as interventionist as it has been in some recent cases in the Latin Church.” It ought not be ignored that the anti-papalism of medieval Conciliarism and Gallicanism has received a new lease on life in the ethos of contemporary “Americanism” — and this flawed ecclesiology has not been absent from some Eastern Catholics in the U.S. whose anger has been fueled by suffering certain injustices to their legitimate rights committed by Latin ordinaries and Vatican congregations.

I must take exception to De­Ville’s statement that the “Orthodox have maintained an admirable and compelling coherence in doctrine.” This does not take into account the doctrinal variations of modern Eastern Orthodoxy from the ancient Church of the first millennium, which included a full acknowledgment of the Roman See of Peter’s “universal jurisdiction.” In my opinion, strengthening the authority and jurisdiction of metropolitans in the Western Church and strengthening the jurisdiction of the existing Patriarchs in the Eastern Churches (and freeing the latter from synodal encumbrances) would go far in achieving a balanced and more collegial exercise of hierarchical authority in the Church without threatening the dogmas of primacy.

Some Orthodox prelates have expressed outrage at the removal of the title “Patriarch of the West” from the Pontifical Yearbook, and DeVille registers a similar disappointment. Yet he fails to note that its removal might have something to do with its abuse by the Orthodox who saw the title as implying the denial of a universal jurisdiction of the bishop of Rome over the entire Church.

Matthew Gaul

Cohoes, New York

William J. Tighe’s review of Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy is accurate and astute. The organizational apparatus of the papacy was designed to pastor the flock within the Roman Catholic Church. If structural reform is called for, there is no point in straining — or frustrating — the effort by trying to accommodate the Orthodox Church.

Thank you to William J. Tighe for his review of Adam DeVille’s Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy. It is always a pleasure to see press given to the Eastern Catholic Churches.

While I agree with DeVille that decentralizing the Latin Church would improve ecumenical relations with the Orthodox, I wish to make a point not mentioned, that it would also be tremendously valuable to Latins themselves.

Catholic worship contains a dynamic tension between the particular and the universal. Throughout Church history there has always been a healthy debate about what is to be demanded of all and what is allowed to have its own flowering. But in our age the pendulum has swung so far to the universal so as to almost preclude the particular. The tradition of “unity without uniformity” is lost, with many faithful either indifferent to unity or spurning authentic diversity.

The root issue is that, by my estimation, roughly 98 percent of Catholics belong to the Latin Church, and of them, perhaps 98 percent worship according to the Pauline missal. With some 96 percent of the faithful using the same missal, the Roman rite of the Latin Church has, in a sense, become the “global rite” of the “global Church.”

This is far from ideal, not just because other groups could benefit from their own expressions but because it is a drag on the Roman rite itself. How much Romanitas is lost because the “liturgiarchs” must accommodate veritably every Catholic culture on the planet? The current missal is stuffed full of options and exceptions that are, in my experience, rarely used for true devotional liturgy, but are exploited by liberals and lovers of novelty.

The glorious diversity of worship is thus weakened. Ritual is like a language: one alone cannot express the fullness of the faith. There are so many beautiful Eastern Catholic customs, such as Coptic priests serving barefoot in imitation of Moses, and the Maronite consecration spoken in Aramaic, the language of our Lord. Many of the Greek-rite churches celebrate the Protection of the Mother of God, commemorating the time our Lady saved Constantinople from siege, and the Life-Giving Spring, when she led Emperor Leo to a wonderworking well. How many lesser-known saints’ days languish due to overcrowding? How much Catholic cultural patrimony is lost — feasts joyfully remembering the recovery of relics, conversions of nations, and miraculous intercessions — forgotten forever?

We appreciate our own worship more when we see what others do. When we discover, for example, that communion rails and iconostases are parallel developments, it aids our understanding of both of these aspects of worship. And we learn what is truly integral and universal, and which things are a matter of different theological and historical climates — such as infant communion, unmarried clergy, azymatic bread, and so on. These experiences widen our view of God and His Church, dispel chauvinism, and foster charity.

It is no accident that the smaller ritual churches are, almost to the last, more traditional than the larger. As such, I disagree with Dr. Tighe’s assertion that some decentralization would harm the Latin Church. On the contrary, many of the post-Vatican II modernist shenanigans were applied Church-wide precisely because of centralization. Compare this phenomenon to the Greek Catholic Churches: When one makes a liturgical change — as happened recently in the U.S. — the others still bear witness to the older tradition. Could the Gregorian missal have been so nearly obliterated in a decentralized Latin Church?

I don’t know if the answer is more patriarchates, ordinariates, or usages; or the reinvigoration of ancient rites; or other things entirely. And if the Latins are to decentralize, it probably shouldn’t be to the Eastern degree. But I earnestly pray that more Catholics are blessed with truly devotional, reverent, traditional, and beautiful liturgical diversity.


I am grateful for the support of Mr. Likoudis and Fr. Reardon. Mr. Likoudis’s speculation that the dropping of the title “Patriarch of the West” might have something to do with its “abuse” by the Orthodox as “implying the denial” of papal universal jurisdiction over the entire Church was echoed by a comment I received privately form a former Anglican bishop who became a Catholic some years ago: “I never fully understood the significance of dropping the title Patriarch of the West. As an Anglican, it was comfortable to know that I could pray for the Patriarch of the West, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and our bishop. Looking at it now, I can see how it allowed a crucial question to be begged.”

I must, however, demur from some of Mr. Gaul’s sentiments. He agrees with Prof. DeVille that “decentralizing the Latin Church would improve ecumenical relations with the Orthodox.” If by “improve” we mean a greater degree of “making nice,” then yes. But if we mean “making substantive progress toward reunion,” then I doubt it, because all the substantive obstacles — above all, the matter of “papal claims” — would remain unresolved.

Mr. Gaul claims that “decentralization” would foster liturgical diversity and a greater appreciation on the part of Latin Catholics for “beautiful Eastern Catholic customs” and practices; and he also appears to believe that, had the Latin Church not been so centralized, many of what he characterizes as “post-Vatican II modernist shenanigans” would not have prevailed so widely in the Latin Church. I don’t buy it. Some decentralization as regards the Eastern Catholic Churches, particularly in diaspora situations, might not come amiss, and is something I have long supported — but the inability or unwillingness (to give a specific example) of those Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine tradition in the U.S. to move toward institutional amalgamation, even when confronted with the prospect of demographic and financial collapse in the not-too-distant future, is a rather strong argument in favor of more forceful “Roman intervention.” Moreover, since the vast majority of Latin Catholics are ignorant of the very existence of Eastern Catholics, it does not seem to me, given the sheer disparity of size between the Latin Church and the Eastern Churches, that “decentralization” would have any effect whatsoever on the situation Mr. Gaul deplores.

Had the Latin Church been less centralized in the late 1960s and early 1970s, perhaps there would have been regions where the “shenanigans” would have been more strongly resisted and even avoided. But the bureaucratic centralization of local churches and episcopal conferences — taken together with the “Gadarene plunge” of so many Latin clergy, laity, and, yes, bishops into nonsense and madness — probably would have resulted in a headlong rush into “revisionism” that would have made Catholic dioceses that still remain “trapped in the 60s” (such as Albany and Rochester) appear by comparison as embracing a kind of “via media” moderation. The result would have been to make the task of recovering a true sensus Catholicus within the Church an even more daunting task than it already has been.

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