Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Classic: Fr. George Rutler on church closings and my commentary

As many of you have probably heard by now, Holy Innocence in Manhattan, New York, has been spared a painful closure.  The parish is the only place in that area where people had daily access to the Traditional Latin Mass, more formally known as the Extraordinary Form.  I think the uproar in the wake of an advisory might be useful to bishops.  They need to treat parishes like Holy Innocence as one of the necessary components of any diversity plan.  I don't know about that area of New York, but here in the Archdiocese of Detroit, there are some five SSPX chapels in Michigan with two that are under an hour from where I sit right now.  This says nothing of other churches in the area like the Polish National Church, the Old Catholic Church, and some fully schismatic traditionalist places, one of which is just 15 minutes from my home.  When a diocese creates a vacuum on the liturgically traditional end, some take refuge in those sources.  Some want it to be made a personal parish for the usus antiquior, which would be fine, but I think it is better for a parish like that to continue offering both forms of the Mass.  This makes it useful to the archdiocese in more than one way and can help with long term viability.  But that's just my opinion.

This morning I read an interview at Aleteia with Fr. George Rutler, who was the pastor of Holy Innocence for many years and continues to be the administrator of that parish and another.  For those who are familiar with Fr. Rutler, this is classic.  For those who are not familiar with him, be prepared for frankness.   Here is an excerpt (emphasis mine in bold).

Obviously, church/parish closings/mergers are not a new phenomenon, but in your view, what are some of the factors that lead to situations like this? 

[Fr. Rutler] Among the factors is a decline in Catholic life. One statistic I was given recently is the Catholic population of New York City is just about the same as it was 70 years ago. There’s not a decline in Catholic population; there’s a decline in Catholic life, and there are all kinds of reasons for that.  

I think there’s a great deal of dishonesty and denial on the part of some people who engaged in the fantasy that we were entering a new springtime of the faith. The aggiornamento of Vatican II was supposed to bring in tons more people; it did just the opposite. So long as people refuse to admit there were mistakes made a generation ago — in catechesis, liturgy, addressing the real problems of secularism — they’re never going to make any real reform. 
Having grown up in the 60's and 70's, I agree entirely.  From my youngest, most tender years, I interiorly lamented the way secularism encroached on the sacred. The devout life became a target of derision and today we see vice elevated as virtue, and virtue seen as, "vice;" the Blessed Virgin Mary was mocked (her purity clashed with the sexual revolution and a corrosive form of feminism); Eucharistic reverence was lost, presumably to not offend Protestants, etc., etc.,

We’ve also had a lot of white flight from the city out to the suburbs, and in the northern counties there is a need for new parishes. At the same time, down here, we do have…redundant parishes. Another reason for these closures is that the churches were organized very much for ethnic purposes rather than evangelical purposes. There was a cultural assumption that the Church was a home for immigrants, and that they would belong to parishes not just for the faith but also for, legitimately, social reasons, for community, schools and the like. So in Manhattan we have an old German parish, an Italian parish, [etc.], and they’re in close proximity with each other. And, and that’s no longer needed.
This is true too. We see parishes in Detroit that are mere blocks from one another and many were ethnic parishes.  But, I'll bet they were all filled back in the day.  Of course, it's not simply a loss of those ethnic peoples, now several generations in, fully entering the melting pot without attachment to personal parish based on ethnicity.  I see these in my area where there is an abundance of first generation immigrants.  So, this is just an unfortunate consequence of time and space.

The primary fact is that most Catholics aren’t practicing the faith. Mass attendance in New York is about 12%. You’ve had about a 50% drop since the Second Vatican Council. Nobody will address that. They’ll acknowledge the fact, but they will not address the fact that there were some serious mistakes made in the last generation.
It would make a good study on why New York City, which is so culturally vibrant — sort of tormented and perverse in many ways, but vibran t— has such spiritual lethargy.

The other factor, of course, is the priest shortage. It’s a curiosity that here we are in New York City, the heart of the universe — I say that as a New Yorker — we have such a low number of priestly vocations. In my last parish, where I was for 12 years, I had nine fellows go on to the seminary.  When asked "How is it done?" I tell them, and some don’t want to hear it. I think it’s significant now that more young men are going into religious orders rather than the diocesan priesthood. Of course they are distinct kinds of ministries but I think some of them go into religious orders who might have gone into the secular priesthood, because the local scene often seems banal. The religious orders often are more challenging.
Bingo.  I'll take it a step further with an observation I've made over the past few years. That is, more vocations are clearly coming from parishes where there is strong Eucharistic and Marian devotion, and where frequent Sacramental Confession is encouraged and valued. The bottom line is that when you see priests emphasizing the pursuit of personal holiness through time-tested means which belong to the patrimony of the Church, you have vocations.  Locally, I look at parishes like Ss Cyril & Methodius in Sterling Heights, Michigan with more seminarians, priests and religious than I can count. It has all of these elements.  Assumption Grotto, which has fewer parishioners than Ss Cyril & Methodius, has a high percentage of parishioners who have entered priestly and religious life - men and women.  In the Lansing diocese, Christ the King in Ann Arbor has numerous vocations. That has a large charismatic presence, but like with many such parishes, these days, you will find a great Eucharistic and Marian devotion, love of Sacramental Confession and pursuit of personal holiness.  There are other parishes where not a single vocation has been seen over decades.

A number of people have called the priest shortage contrived because through the past several decades, young men who showed pious tendencies had their vocations thwarted by people in powerful places who exploited Vatican II for an agenda that was not in harmony with God's.  There are still remnants of that, but nothing as bad as it was just a decade or two ago.  Some dioceses are still living the full nightmare and are stuck in the 70's.  I think this is also the case in Germany and Austria. We see the results there - a full blown exodus and secularization of baptized Catholics.

All around us we see people who, as children, went to Mass with families.  Now, even if they go to Mass, their children have become "post-Catholic" and even "post-Christian."

It's time for me to go vote and run some errands.  I encourage you to read the entire interview with Fr. Rutler at Aleteia.  There are some other, great, quotable quotes.


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