But today we are astonished that the extraordinary rite of the Mass is celebrated, because it has become so rare.
No way. Not for Pope Benedict XVI. Virtually from Day One, his agenda began to unfold and it was a powerful, courageous, no pussy-footing and little negotiating away of his obligations. Off to America soon after assuming the Chair of St. Peter and, while I was critical of what I considered his failure to lay into the bishops for lack of leadership against our deadly moral decline, his visit was a success for his agenda. He was not just the new Pope — he was clearly the leader of the world-wide Catholic Church, and he would lead. And he has.
Most notably was his courageous success with the failed effort of his predecessor to grant to every priest the right and privilege of celebration of the "Old Mass." In one fell swoop, the issue was settled with his dramatic issuance in 2007 of his Apostolic Letter, Summorum Pontificum, granting to every priest the right to celebrate the historic Latin Mass without the necessity of approval by his bishop. Instantly, while not achieving expressions of delight, the overt opposition has been largely diminished and the increasing response by the priests and the people is proving the correctness of the action by His Holiness.
Also important is the impetus being generated by His Holiness to carry forward his oft-referred to "reform of the reform." The "New Mass" is being brought back into greater conformity and the "Protestant-satisfying" features are eliminated. Sacred music and the more generous restoration of appropriate use of Latin, will create a more beautiful Novus Ordo Mass pleasing to those devoted to that service.
In an era of crisis for the Universal Catholic Church, Benedict XVI has already proved himself and there is no reason to believe that he will not continue to lead with wisdom and courage. He is a gift of God in a time of great peril. Thanks be to God!
And that brings us to the subject of this reflection: the "Magnificent Gift" being brought to the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception by the exceptional effort of the Paulus Institute under the leadership of its president, Paul King, and his Board of Directors.
On April 24 this year (a date perhaps divinely inspired because it is Benedict's anniversary date as Supreme Pontiff), His Eminence Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, President of the Ecclesia Dei Commission under Pope John Paul II and until recently under Pope Benedict, will be the celebrant of this Pontifical High Mass at the National Shrine, a superb selection because His Eminence devoted himself for years to the shared desire of the Popes for the return of the Traditional Mass to its proper role in the salvation of souls and the glory of God. [See below for a report on why Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos will not celebrate this Mass, but will be replaced by His Excellency Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma.]
To describe further the magnificence and sacredness of this Mass and all its triumphant beauty and holiness, as it is offered to Almighty God, would only fail in comparison to what those who attend will experience. Wherever you are, if you can possibly attend, you will always be grateful for this invitation. Your faith will be inspired and strengthened and His Eminence will be pleased to meet and greet you. And, if you want to let us know you are coming, we will put you on a list that we will see he receives, probably for greeting after the Mass at the reception.
Now, to a very important acknowledgement:
This entire effort, over a period of several years, was the inspiration of the President of the Paulus Institute, Paul King, its president. Paul and his Board worked tirelessly to return this magnificent Pontifical Mass to the National Shrine after a lapse of almost half a century and they have done it with a splendor that will, I am certain, make His Holiness delighted and proud because he will, as will his Ambassador in the United States, the Apostolic Nuncio, be aware of this great celebration of faith. Paul is to be especially commended for the care which has been taken to obtain the cooperation of Church leaders, especially His Excellency, Archbishop Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, whose warmth and assistance is most gratefully received.
The Paulus Institute is also grateful for the warm and eager cooperation of the many organizations, the various Papal and other Catholic Orders of Knighthood, the bishops and clergy, the Latin Mass parishes in Washington and Baltimore and, as well, those Catholics who, thankfully, will be attending the "Old Mass" for the first time in years, or ever. It will be an exciting and spiritually invigorating experience.
And, thus, we express our gratitude to Paul and his colleagues and welcome the opportunity to learn more about the Paulus Institute as we share the great religious experience of the Pontifical High Mass. For our readers unable to attend, we shall report to you in the near future.
The Paulus Institute today is pleased to announce His Excellency Bishop Edward Slattery of Tulsa, Oklahoma, has agreed to celebrate the first traditional Latin Solemn High Pontifical Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in nearly 50 years. The Mass will take place this Saturday, April 24, at 1 p.m.
The Paulus Institute was formed for the propagation of sacred liturgy. The traditional Latin Mass planned for April 24th honoring Pope Benedict on his five-year inauguration anniversary is a historic liturgical event and all Catholics are invited to attend; no tickets are needed.
"We are pleased and honored to have His Excellency, Edward Slattery, come to Washington to celebrate what will be a historic event and a major step toward the restoration of sacred tradition," said Institute President Paul King. "The richness of our Catholic tradition will be visible to all the world on Pope Benedict's fifth anniversary."
In consultation with originally scheduled celebrant, Dario Cardinal Castrillon Hoyos, the Institute yesterday agreed to seek another prelate in order to maintain the solemnity, reverence and beauty of the Mass.
The Latin Mass will feature several choirs singing sacred choral music and Gregorian chant, and will be aided by numerous priests from the region. It will be aired live on EWTN beginning at 12:30 p.m.
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos must feel trapped in a "Twilight Zone" episode, in which, in a flash, the whole course of his life has turned out differently. Now 80, not long ago Castrillón was a consummate Roman powerbroker, a man admired for the nerves of steel that once allowed him to stand up to drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez at one point hailed his fellow Colombian as "this rustic man, with the profile of an eagle."
Cardinal Darío Castrillón Hoyos
Today, even if he weren't almost 81, Castrillón would have about as much chance of becoming pope as Sinead O'Connor. As the then-president of a Vatican commission that deals with traditionalist Catholics, he took the blame for the Holocaust-denying bishop fiasco in January 2009. Now Castrillón has achieved global infamy in light of a September 2001 letter he dispatched to a French bishop congratulating him for refusing to report an abuser priest to the police.
Though the letter was actually published on the Internet in 2001, it languished in relative obscurity until a French Catholic publication brought it back to life a couple of weeks ago. Given the current media climate, it immediately became a cause célèbre. Outrage has made Castrillón such a lightning rod that he was forced to back out of a Mass tomorrow at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., over what organizers described as concerns for "tranquility and good order."
By way of background, Castrillón's letter was addressed to Bishop Pierre Pican of Bayeux-Lisieux, France, sentenced by a French court to three months in prison in 2001, though that term was suspended, for failing to denounce Fr. René Bissey, convicted in October 2000 for sexual abuse of eleven minor boys between 1989 and 1996.
"I rejoice to have a colleague in the episcopate that, in the eyes of history and all the other bishops of the world, preferred prison rather than denouncing one of his sons and priests," Castrillón wrote.
A stampede for distance
Over the last two weeks, the rush among church leaders to distance themselves from Castrillón has turned into a mini-stampede.
First up was the Vatican itself. In a rare case of "rapid response," the official Vatican spokesperson, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, had a statement out to reporters almost immediately after stories broke in France.
The letter, Lombardi's statement said, offers "another confirmation of how timely was the unification of the treatment of cases of sexual abuse of minors on the part of members of the clergy under the competence of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith."
In effect, that was a polite way of saying that Castrillón was part of the problem against which then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, had to struggle in streamlining Vatican procedures for dealing with sex abuse cases.
After Castrillón's appearance in Washington became a bone of controversy, Archbishop Donald Wuerl likewise put space between himself and the Colombian cardinal. Through a spokesperson, Wuerl let it be known that he would not attend Saturday's Mass due to a scheduling conflict. There was no statement of support for Castrillón, no complaint about unfair media coverage.
Wuerl's spokesperson also said that as a cardinal, Castrillón enjoys "universal faculties" -- an indirect way of saying that he didn't need, or ask, Wuerl's permission to show up.
Yesterday, Sr. Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the U.S. bishops' conference, posted a blog item bluntly saying that Castrillón's 2001 letter illustrates a "disconnect" between the American bishops and one Vatican congregation [presumably, she meant the Congregation for Clergy], as well as possibly inside the Vatican itself. Walsh went on to argue that there is no "wiggle room" in the American sex abuse norms when it comes to cooperation with civil authorities, and that counts for a lot more than a "buck-up letter" from Castrillón to a French bishop.
Needless to say, public talk of a "disconnect" between the American bishops and Rome, or inside the Vatican, is not the usual fare from an official spokesperson for the U.S. bishops.
Bottom line: At least as far as the Vatican and the American bishops are concerned, Castrillón is on his own.
A broader climate
On April 16, Castrillón spoke at a conference on the legacy of John Paul II at a Catholic university in Murcia, Spain, in which he asserted that he had shown his 2001 letter to the late pope who authorized him to send it. Far from being a previously secret "smoking gun," Castrillón said that he had posted the letter at the time on the Web site of the Congregation for Clergy.
According to media accounts, Castrillón draw warm applause from the audience, which included a couple of senior Vatican cardinals.
Given how far and fast many Catholic leaders are running away from Castrillón, it's tempting to conclude that he's a sort of rogue cardinal speaking only for himself. In truth, there's an element in his letter that does reflect a broader climate of opinion at senior levels in the church, even if there's also widespread embarrassment over how Castrillón expressed it.
In a nutshell, there is still considerable ambivalence about the idea of bishops turning their own priests over to the police.
For one thing, Castrillón asserted in Spain that he was congratulating Pican for defending the seal of the confessional. That's a bit murky, given that Pican has given somewhat conflicting accounts of how he learned of Bissey's crimes, especially how direct the connection was to the sacrament. (Under French law, confessional secrets are protected under a category of "professional secrets," though the law makes an exception for crimes committed against children.)
If the issue is truly whether bishops should be willing to go to jail rather than betray the seal of the confessional, then Castrillón would hardly be alone in suggesting that the answer is "yes."
Yet the 2001 letter seems to make a broader argument, which is that putting bishops in the position of reporting priests disrupts the family bond a bishop is supposed to have with his clergy. Traditional Catholic theology teaches that a bishop is both a "brother" to his priests, meaning a fellow member of the clergy, and a "father."
The objection to "mandatory reporting" requirements is therefore that just as a son should be able to share something in confidence with his father, a priest shouldn't have to worry that if he bears his soul to his bishop, the bishop's next phone call will be to the cops.
Some of that ambivalence came through in a recent interview with Monsignor Charles Scicluna, the Vatican's top prosecutor on sex abuse cases, in the newspaper of the Italian bishops. Scicluna said the Vatican's policy is that in countries where bishops are required by civil law to report abuse themselves, they should comply.
"That's a very grave matter," Scicluna nonetheless said, "because these bishops are being forced to take a step comparable to a parent who denounces his or her own child."
Where bishops are not required by law to make a report, Scicluna said, they should encourage the victims to make the report -- the idea being that the police need to know what happened, but the bishop should also protect a zone of confidentiality with his priests.
Beyond that concern, prelates such as Castrillón are also old enough to remember what happened in regimes hostile to the church -- whether police states of Latin America, or Communist governments in Eastern Europe -- where clergy were encouraged to inform on one another in order to weaken the church from within, and where refusal to do so was considered a mark of heroic virtue. (Bishops from former Soviet states and from Latin America have sometimes warned against an uncritical embrace of "mandatory reporter" requirements for exactly that reason -- it's a sort of Anglo-Saxon delusion, they say, to believe one can always trust the police and the courts.)
To be sure, even bishops inclined to share those concerns would hardly extol Castrillón's letter -- especially because there's no word of compassion in it for the victims of the French priest, and no condemnation of the broader phenomenon of sexual abuse within the church.
Still, the letter points to an important insight about where things stand in the church with regard to the crisis: By now, there's wide consensus that crimes by a priest should be reported to the police, but how and by whom remains contentious.
Ratzinger and Castrillón
Finally, a footnote about the impact of the Castrillón episode: Ironically, resurrecting that 2001 letter may have doomed Castrillón, but it could actually help Pope Benedict XVI.
Throughout the most recent round of media coverage, there's been a serious mismatch between Pope Benedict's actual record on sex abuse -- as the senior Vatican official who took the crisis most seriously since 2001, and who led the charge for reform -- and outsider images of the pope as part of the problem.
While there are many reasons for that, a core factor is that the Vatican had the last ten years to tell the story of "Ratzinger the Reformer" to the world, and they essentially dropped the ball. That failure left a PR vacuum in which a handful of cases from the pope's past, where his own role was actually marginal, have come to define his profile.
One has to ask, why didn't the Vatican tell Ratzinger's story?
At least part of the answer, I suspect, is because to make Ratzinger look good, they'd have to make others look bad -- including, of course, Castrillón, as well as other top Vatican officials. Lurking behind that concern is a deeper one, which is that to salvage the reputation of Benedict XVI it might be necessary to tarnish that of Pope John Paul II.
In this case, however, Castrillón has inadvertently licensed the Vatican and church officials around the world to use him as a foil, effectively waiving a cardinal's traditional immunity from criticism.
From here on out, when spokespersons insist that Pope Benedict fought inside the Vatican for reform, the world will have a much clearer picture of what his opposition looked like. At stake wasn't just the question of cooperation with the police. Castrillón was part of a block of Vatican officials who thought the sex abuse crisis was fueled by media hysteria, that "zero tolerance" was an over-reaction, and that removing priests from ministry without lengthy and cumbersome canonical trails is a betrayal of the church's legal tradition.
That's important to keeping the record straight, because the truth is that the real choice in Rome over the last ten years vis-à-vis the sex abuse crisis was never between Ratzinger and perfection -- it was between Ratzinger and Castrillón.
* * * * *
[John Allen is NCR senior correspondent. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Note: We are now beginning to take preliminary requests for our Fall 2010 pilgrimage, which will include a visit to Assisi, Norcia, Rome and the Vatican. If you would like information about this trip, please email us at: email@example.com.
Special note: Three years ago, we participated in a concert in Rome (on March 29, 2007) in which a Russian choir and orchestra, flying in from Moscow, performed a new version of The Passion According to St. Matthew composed a few months before by the young Russian Orthodox bishop (now Metropolitan and "foreign minister" of the Russian Orthodox Church, Hilarion Alfeyev).
(1) Christmas Oratorio (Russian Concert) on DVD
On December 17, 2007, a leading Russian orchestra performed an exceptional "world premiere" concert of Russian Christmas music at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC. Now you can order your copy of the concert on DVD, which includes English sub-titles.
The music is a completely new composition by a young Russian Orthodox Archbishop, Hilarion Alfeyev, 43. At the time, he was the Russian Orthodox bishop for all of central Europe, based in Vienna, Austria. He is now a Metropolitan and the head of the External Relations Department of the Russian Orthodox Church.
"The Motu Proprio: Why the Latin Mass? Why Now?"
To understand the motu proprio, one must know the history of the Mass. Dr. Moynihan gives a 2000-year history of the Mass in 60 minutes which is clear and easy to understand. Dr. Moynihan's explanation covers questions like:
— How does the motu proprio overcome some of the confusion since Vatican II?
— Is this the start of the Benedictine Reform?
— The mind of Pope Benedict: How can the Church restore the sense of the presence of God in the liturgy?