John Allen interviews Card. George – must read

My friend John Allen, the fair-minded nearly ubiquitous columnist and nearly only redeeming factor for the dissenting National Catholic Reporter had an excellent interview with Card. George of Chicago.

His Eminence has a new book, entitled The Difference God Makes.   At the time if this writing you can pre-order it at a discount.

The whole interview is too long to fisk here, but a few excerpts are in order.

Prelude:  Some years ago I attended in Chicago a meeting of the Catholic Press Association, a left-leaning organization.  Card. George gave a splendid address on the vocation of a Catholic journalist.

His Eminence offered that the role of a Catholic journalist, among other things, was not to report so much on popes and bishops, but rather to report on the life of grace.  He added that in order to recognize the life of grace in others the journalists had to be themselves in the state of grace.

They laughed.

Second Prelude:  You know that I have been pounding away at need to revitalize our Catholic identity.

Let’s see some bits from John Allen’s interview with Card. George.

Allen’s first comments:

In essence, George argues that liberals too often function as “chaplains of the status quo,” taking their cues from the prevailing secular mindset, while conservatives often end up in a sectarian dead-end, clinging to a narrow and triumphalistic version of Catholic identity sealed off from the surrounding culture.

Instead, George argues for what he calls “simply Catholicism,” meaning a clear sense of Catholic identity that’s nevertheless open to the world. As examples, he points to Mother Teresa, the origins of the Catholic Worker movement, and the Community of Sant’Egidio – all, he says, share a “simply Catholic” concern for prayer and serving the poor.

Going on…

ALLEN: On that subject, you write that for modern American culture, everything is tolerated but nothing is forgiven, while for Christianity it’s exactly the reverse – many things aren’t tolerated, but everything can be forgiven. Would you see the explosion of legalism as the index of a culture that doesn’t know how to forgive?  [I heard Card. George give a talk in Rome during which he said that American’s are simultaneously hedonistic and puritanical.]

Card. George: That’s right. Punishment has to be legal, and it has to be permanent.

ALLEN: You wade back into a debate you set off in 1998, when you defined liberal Catholicism as an “exhausted project.” Among other things, you write that while liberals and conservatives often see themselves as opposites, both share an implied ecclesiology that comes from St. Robert Bellarmine, defining the church as a visible society. Can you explain that?

For both of them, bishops take on an importance that’s disproportionate. Liberals and conservatives both define themselves vis-à-vis authority.

ALLEN: Broadly speaking, liberals want you to have less of it, and conservatives want you to use it more.

Liberals are critical of [authority], although they’ll use it when they’re in power. Conservatives would tend to be less critical, but equally dependent upon it.

Consequently, when you get into the church, you get the conservatives unhappy because bishops aren’t using power the way they’re supposed to, the way they want them to. You get liberals who are unhappy because [the bishops] have any power at all. Both of them are defining themselves vis-à-vis the bishops rather than vis-à-vis Christ, who uses the bishops to govern the church. It’s not a Christ-centered church, as it’s supposed to be, it’s a bishop-centered church.

ALLEN: Do the bishops bear part of the responsibility for that?

Sure, yes! That’s what we’re trying to work through now in the conference, I think. What is the bishop’s role, particularly in governance? Of course, to some extent the bishops are central to Catholic communion, in the sense that Ignatius of Antioch says – that nothing is done apart from the bishop. But, they don’t control the whole thing. They don’t in the Code of Canon Law, they don’t in Ignatius of Antioch.

ALLEN: Is there an example of what a relational model of leadership would look like?

You asked if bishops are responsible for the kind of disdain, or contempt, in which bishops are sometimes held by both left and right, for different reasons. The Second Vatican Council said we have to present the church to the world, and the truth of the gospel, and it said that you don’t have to worry about people who don’t believe. [The idea was that] this is so beautiful that they will come along and accept it, but that’s not true. You have people who weren’t catechized – not because they weren’t told the truth, but because they weren’t told ‘this is not the truth, and here’s why.’ That’s why I write about putting apologetics back into catechesis[Excellent.  People be able to gives reasons for the hope that is in us!]

There’s something comparable that’s happened on the governmental level. The council was the time for mercy, not justice, the time for persuasion and not coercion. When they redid the Code of Canon Law, it was assumed that if you just show the good, it will be so beautiful that everybody will follow. They didn’t worry very much about what happens with people who don’t, who are still caught in original sin. You not only have to say ‘this is good,’ you also have to say, ‘this is bad, and if you do it here are the consequences.’ Well, the consequences are minimal in the new Code. That’s why it’s a difficult document to use to govern, which became clear in the sex abuse crisis. We had to change the Code. Now they’re looking at that, looking precisely at the penal sections of the Code, to see if they’re adequate instruments of government. We have to do the same thing: We have to say that here’s the good and here’s the bad, and Catholics don’t do the bad. When they do, of course, they’re forgiven, but nonetheless they’re told it’s bad.


ALLEN: In general terms, you sketch three options for living as a Catholic in contemporary American culture: liberal Catholicism, conservative Catholicism, and “simply Catholicism.”

Yes, and the thing I meant to say was that I don’t have in mind ‘liberal Catholicism’ politically. That’s a misunderstanding. Everything today is understood in terms of politics, but that isn’t what [Cardinal John Henry] Newman was talking about. It’s ‘liberalism’ in the sense of what the pope means by ‘relativism.’

ALLEN: Your notion of “simple Catholicism” is different from a meeting in the middle between liberals and conservatives?

It’s completely different. It doesn’t worry about that. In a certain sense, the church was that, at least the church in which I grew up in Chicago, before the council. It was very sure of its own identity, it formed us in that, and then it prepared us to go out and transform the world[YES!  This is precisely what I am pounding on.  We need to revitalize our identity as Catholics.  If we don’t have a clear identity, then we have nothing to contribute as Catholics in the public square.  So, the issue of identity has an ad intra and and ad extra dimension.  And surely our WORSHIP is the first key that must be turned in this lock, which catechesis is the next key.  And they these keys must be turned at the same time!]

ALLEN: Yet you’re not nostalgic for the pre-conciliar church?

Well, no! Not at all. I think the liturgical renewal, for example, is a wonderful thing. I think also the sense of governance in the church, how pastors govern united to their people through councils at all levels … all of those things are absolutely necessary. I think the theology of ordained priesthood was clarified in the council. It isn’t just vis-à-vis power to celebrate the Mass and to transubstantiate. Rather, you have that power over the sacramental body because you have the authority to govern the mystical body. So, you put the two together in ways they weren’t together before. [Very good.]  Pastoring was practical, and power was given for sacraments. Now they’re held together in the headship of Christ, in our relationship to the church. There are all kinds of theological insights, such as the ecclesiology of communion … my whole book is about that, at least the way I read the ecclesiology of the council. There were some tremendously good breakthroughs in theology itself, not just in practice.

If I’m nostalgic for something that happened before, it’s not because it was marked by what people call the ‘pre-conciliar church.’ It’s because in some ways the Chicago church I grew up in anticipated the council.

The sociological reality [after the council] was good in some ways, despite the almost internal dissolution that conservatives decry, and rightly so. That was not anticipated from the council, and maybe that’s where we can say that the pastoral implementation of the council was inadequate. It wasn’t meant to dissolve the church. [But isn’t that what has nearly happened in some respects?]


ALLEN: Another hypothesis is that the left/right polarization is the product of a particular generation’s experience (meaning the post-Vatican II generation), and that there’s a new generation coming on the scene which doesn’t carry that baggage. [There is a lot in this interview that sounds familiar…]
I think that’s true. [And then the other shoe drops…] The problem is, what do they carry? I’m not sure they carry ‘simply Catholicism.’ They carry the culture strongly. A lot of them carry it in a way that leaves them unsatisfied, but we often haven’t been very successful in reaching that generation. Sometimes when they do get it, and they grasp for the symbols of identity, for the prior generation that looks conservative[Yes.  I think this is what the dynamic of continuity accomplishes.  And it does look "conservative".  In effect, however, it is simply Catholic. And the Cardinal speaks in terms of "simply Catholic".]

ALLEN: Conservatives will often point to that hunger for identity among younger Catholics and say, ‘Look, we’re winning!

But I don’t think that’s the right way to see it. When [younger Catholics] use those symbols, they don’t bring the history in the same way, they just use the symbols as markers. They don’t know how those symbols were occasionally used to suppress in the past. You have to ask them, ‘What does it mean to you?’ Usually you’ll get something that’s quite personal, something that falls outside of the liberal/conservative framework.  [A good point, useful for self-examination.]

ALLEN: You said that you’d like to write more about the conservative Catholic position. What would you like to say?

What I’d say is that there are people who use the symbols [of the faith] to be so restrictive that we become a sect. If the liberals disappear into the world and become chaplains of the status quo, taking their agenda from the world, the conservatives risk isolating themselves. The council says you can’t do that. [Where?]  The church says you can’t do that, Christ says you can’t do that. They become trapped in a kind of sectarian mindset that isn’t Catholic.  [I think we know this is true… but it would be good to see some texts with this as well.  Perhaps they are in his book.]


ALLEN: You write that the greatest post-Vatican II failure was the failure to form laity engaged with the world but on faith’s terms. How do we do that today?

I think that’s behind the bishops’ concern about the [wait for it…] universities, about education, about the reform of catechesis, all these formative influences. We don’t have the sodalities anymore. Today there are the lay movements, but they’re pretty restricted in their influence in the United States. They’re more influential outside the United States, especially in Europe. There, it isn’t the parishes that carry the identity anymore, it’s the movements. With us, it still is the parishes. We do parishes well[Card. Ratzinger spoke of this in his book long interview with Seewald.  He said that the movements and the parish would be the structures which stay strong in the future.]

ALLEN: Is part of the problem, with the lay role in the world, that so much of the energy of our best and brightest laity over the last fifty years has been consumed by internal Catholic battles?

Yes, absolutely. The pope in his 2005 address to the Roman Curia, about the reform, was somewhat wistful about how we’ve wasted fifty years, forty years, so let’s get on with it. [!] I would tend to think that’s true. We’ve wasted a lot of time. Instead of hearing what the council was really saying … and of course these were unusual conciliar documents, as everybody has said, because usually conciliar documents are simply declarative. Here they put the exhortation directly into the documents for the first time. That’s pastoral, it was a pastoral council. Of course, you can take those pastoral elements in different directions, but I certainly think we went in the wrong direction when from the beginning we interpreted the council in liberal and conservative terms[What I like here is the willingness to say so clearly that a great deal went wrong after the Council.  Years ago I asked a US bishop what we had to do to get things back on track.  He said, "We have to stop with the happy gas."]

We forgot that it was supposed to be church/world, that those were the terms that were supposed to be used, not liberal and conservative inside the church. That was terribly destructive. People got caught up in that. Of course, their intentions were good, but they got caught up in it … religious orders got caught up in it, [Card. George was a religious.] thinking they were being faithful to the council, but they weren’t. They were being faithful to a particular interpretation of the council.  [Okay.  But the fact is that these divisions exist and they are real.  They have to be dealt with as divisions in a realistic way.]

ALLEN: Left, right or center, the primary optic for reading the council has been ad intra, meaning its implications for the internal life of the church[I really like this ad intra and ad extra tool, which I also use all the time.  I think it is very useful when looking at our questions and concrete problems.]

That’s right. You asked a moment ago where are things working, and the answer is, look at those organizations and groups that don’t worry about the internal dynamics, but who worry about the mission.


There is a lot more to this interview.  

Allen is very good at this sort of thing. He is very bright, has a broad perspective, knows the questions to ask, and let’s the people talk.

I definitely want to read Card. George’s new book.

I have put it on my wish list and have created a link for you to use HERE to buy it for yourselves.

Perhaps we could get some discussion going about the book and even use Z-Chat for such a purpose.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. TNCath says:

    Yes, I would love to discuss this book on Z-Chat. I read the interview very quickly today but didn’t get much chance to digest it. However, there were a few concerns I had about the cardinal’s comments, especially his concern about the laity’s having unrealistic expectations of bishops.

  2. Seraphic Spouse says:

    I enjoyed this very much. Cardinal George must be a theologically-minded bishop, as opposed to a merely “administrative” bishop. Bishops, as teachers, were supposed to be theologians, but of course they are now overwhelmed with administrative duties and, if I am not mistaken, are often chosen for their management skills instead of their theological brilliance.

    In such a situation, bishops need good and helpful advisors. Now that the laity are entering theology school and seminaries in record numbers, it would be a good idea for bishops of every diocese to surround themselves with lay experts–not just on orthodox Catholic theology, but on communications, media, and the zeitgeist of the diocese. And they should, of course, look very carefully at the bona fides of anyone applying, including a review of their published work and the recommendations of their pastors and employers.

    I particularly enjoyed what Cardinal George wrote about an overemphasis on the authority of bishops, as here in Canada we are mired in a controversy over a charitable group called “Development and Peace.” A bishop seemed to attempt to silence concerns about this group by citing the authority of bishops and clerics to the expense of what Canadian Catholics could see for themselves: evidence that Canadian Catholic monies are going towards pro-abortion rights groups in Latin America via D&P or its “partners”.

    The days of bishops successfully silencing the concerns of lay Catholics and newspapers wit the weight of clerical authority have been over since the child sexual abuse scandals. And I feel that the bishop who attempted to silence criticism of D&P must have been given very bad advice.

  3. Jason Keener says:

    Hmm…I wonder what specific aspects of the “liturgical renewal” Cardinal George finds wonderful. Hasn’t the project of renewal been almost a total loss? In which American parishes out of the thousands can one find evidence of this liturgical renewal? Which parishes in the United States are using ad orientem worship, Latin, and Gregorian Chant in the Ordinary Form as envisioned by the Council? Is it a liturgical renewal that we now have tons of people wandering into the sanctuary to distribute Communion? Is abandoning Latin and Communion on the tongue while kneeling part of this renewal? What about the banal and sometimes hideous Catholic church buildings that litter the suburban landscape? Do Catholics really understand the Mass any more now than they did in 1940?

    Hmm…The word “renewal” rarely comes to mind when I think about the state of the Latin Church’s Liturgy. The words “confusion,” “rupture,” and “devastation” seem more realistic.

  4. Agnes says:

    Card. George said in regards to simple Catholicism, “It’s completely different. It doesn’t worry about that (liberal/conservative). In a certain sense, the church was that, at least the church in which I grew up in Chicago, before the council. It was very sure of its own identity…” Then Z added,”…And surely our WORSHIP is the first key that must be turned in this lock, which catechesis is the next key. And they these keys must be turned at the same time!]”

    Absolutely so. Catechists must work hand-in-hand with their pastors and integrate apologetics in with their lessons as an extension of the preaching of the Word. This is one of the best entries I’ve read lately, Z. I look forward to reading the book!

  5. Timbot2000 says:

    You got that right Jason. My studies on the praxeology of Western liturgy and the concomitant epistemology of its theology has led me to doubt the existence of God and the reality of the Church. Problem is, life without God is life without hope, and not worth living (atheistic hedonism or autonomous atheistic altruism are not adequate intellectually).

  6. Henry Edwards says:

    Jason: I wonder what specific aspects of the “liturgical renewal” Cardinal George finds wonderful.

    I saw recently part of a video of an ad orientem Latin OF Mass celebrated by Cardinal George in (I believe) the Loyola Univ. chapel in Chicago. It appeared that entire Mass (apart from sermon) was sung in Latin, including the canon. The ordinary (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Agnei Dei) was all Gregorian chanted (or polyphony), as well as the propers (introit, gradual, etc) from the Graduale Romanum.

    Most anyone would agree that this Mass was pretty wonderful, likely representing the intent of Vatican II. So perhaps the Cardinal’s perspective differs from what most of us see.

    Of course, such exemplary liturgy is not yet common in most parishes. However, it occurs to me that almost every TLM one sees nowadays is a glorious sung Mass with many or most of the congregation joining in the sung responses and ordinary. Perhaps this represents the liturgical renewal envisioned by the Council, and possibily it actually is a result of the Council. Although I personally never saw any of the 20-minute mumblers that liberals are so fond of claiming were the pre-Vatican II norm, it may be true that the glorious every-Sunday Mass of the typical TLM community today was a fairly exceptional occurrence in the old days. I recall solemn high Masses at Christmas and Easter, but practically never otherwise.

  7. Eric says:

    the church in which I grew up in Chicago, before the council. It was very sure of its own identity, it formed us in that, and then it prepared us to go out and transform the world.

    ALLEN: Yet you’re not nostalgic for the pre-conciliar church?

    Well, no! Not at all.

    Did I miss something?

  8. iudicame says:

    You know, I just read most of this interview and then the Rorate piece about the same cardinal’s clarification re proselytizing the jews. I’m am not trained in theology but I think I do recognize BS when I see/hear it. Lots of blah blah blah blah blah while Rome burns. As if decades of dancing around these problems with our nuanced positions will make one whit of difference. Every few centuries we need somebody to recognize the reality, man-up and do what needs to be done. What needs to be done cannot (in my humble opinion) be accomplished (nor was it meant to be) with bricks. Sandbags, bulldozers, and legions are more the order of the day.


  9. Andrew says:

    Near the end of the interview the Cardnial makes reference to Sant’Egidio, which I have never heard of before. He then describes their prayer:
    “Sant’Egidio from the beginning prayed together, in ways that the church recognizes as prayer. You’ve heard the way they pray … it’s unbelievable. It’s the way the poor in the mountains pray. It grinds on you, but it’s the prayer of the church. It really is remarkable.”

    Does anyone know more about this prayer or what the Cardinal is talking about?

  10. jlmorrell says:

    While I appreciate some of the statements His Eminence makes in the interview, I too must agree with some of our commenters above. More than anything, we need the Bishops to admit that there is a serious problem, that the Church has been devastated by what has happened over the past 4 decades. Only once the episcopate accepts this diagnosis will we be able to endeavor to find a cure. Until then any progress made toward a renewal of Catholic life/identity will be inconsistent at best.

    As to the comments regarding the liturgy, I have no idea what is wonderful about the liturgical renewal. The reformed liturgy of Paul VI is a complete disaster. Never in my life have I witnessed one ordinary form Mass that Henry Edwards refers to. Furthermore, it still seems to me (in my amateur opinion) that Cardinal Ottaviani was right that the Mass of Paul VI, even celebrated well, represents a striking departure from the Council of Trent.

  11. Dave N. says:

    Wonderful interview! The questions are spot-on!! But as for the answers…very disappointing I must say especially for someone in his position as President of the Conference of US Bishops. There’s so much that could be said here, but basically the first part of the interview seems like one of the most blatant attempts to dodge responsibility for one’s position that I have ever seen. Perhaps the Cardinal Archbishop’s responses were skewed by the interviewer–let’s pray this is the case.

    Brief illustration: “Conservatives say…you must be in control, and if you’re not in control there’s something wrong.”

    Well of course bishops can’t control everything, I don’t think anyone who is an honest conservative expects that (strawman). But on the other hand, sitting on your hands and letting the church run amok WHEN you do have the power to do something (sex scandals and coverups, CCHD funding, etc. etc. etc. etc.) but refuse to because of lack of will, falls under sins of omission. Sort of akin to telling your boss: “Well, sorry I can’t function in my job, but I can’t control everything and well, you hired me to begin with, so really it’s kind of YOUR fault.”

    It seems like Cdl. George wishes that he were a theologian (and so apparently no one actually “runs” the church in Europe?–and don’t we all want to be like them?) instead of an administrator, and I guess that the church didn’t have to have bishops(?). To his credit I’m sure the job does get tiring after awhile and it’s very very messy, but frankly it’s what you agreed to do when you accepted your ordination. “Where the bishop is, there is the church.”–Since Cdl. George brought up Ignatius.–Jesus left you in charge as shepherd–an ancient image that includes functions of both teacher and ruler. I’m sorry you don’t like this state of affiars.

    And as a minor point, who exactly is advocating for the elimination of Canon Law? (Cdl. George sets this up as a “people are saying….”–another strawman.) Even Protestant churches (Lutherans included, contra George) have by-laws, constitutions and ways of conducting church business and making people accountable. Maybe someone knows what he’s talking about here?

    I apologize for my tone but his attitude (at least as portrayed here) makes me very angry.

  12. Jason Keener says:

    Henry Edwards,

    I think we can also point to EWTN and St. John Cantius Parish in Chicago as being good examples of places that have renewed the Liturgy in a sensible way, but other examples are indeed very, very far and few between. I’ve been all over the United States, and the liturgical situation seems as bleak in Milwaukee as it is in Phoenix and Miami. I find it disappointing that the Bishops of the United States do not readily acknowledge the sad state of affairs that is the Ordinary Form of the Mass as it is commonly celebrated today. How can we improve the situation if we cannot even recognize the problem?

    Again, I wonder where is this liturgical renewal? In addition to the things I listed above, there are other abuses and issues: a Missal of Paul VI that has been cobbled together in an inorganic fashion, altar girls, a liturgical caldenar that represents a break from the past, the tossing out of various items of vesture and practice that served to beautify the Liturgy, the breakdown of the ars celebrandi (art of proper celebration) of the priest during the Mass, and a tossing out of the Church’s rich musical patrimony of Gregorian Chant and Sacred Polyphony. It seems that this era of “liturgical renewal” has gotten nearly everything wrong from the creation of the Missal of Paul VI to its hasty implementation.

    Dave N.,

    I don’t think anyone is arguing for the elimination of Canon Law. It seems Cardinal George rightly believes the new Code of 1983 is a bit too optimistic and that it doesn’t provide enough guidance and options for dealing with bad behavior in the Church. The 1917 Code provided more guidance in those areas.

  13. Dave N. says:

    Jason, I absolutely agree with your assessment of his view that the Code isn’t tough enough, or maybe clear enough on what to do when there’s a problem–that’s earlier in the interview. (Although I’m not exactly sure what original sin has to do with this-or what his theology of original sin is–confusing there, at least to me.)

    But THEN later he states, “We are a Protestant culture, and even Catholics are influenced by that sense of what the church should be. ‘Why do you need a Code of Canon Law?’ I get that question very often.”

    My question is, who EXACTLY is saying this? Extreme liberals? I’d honestly like to know.

    Cdl. George sets up his argument by implying that Protestants don’t have something like the Code (Luther burned it, etc.; basically an anomic state of church affairs) but that’s a very unfair assessment; if anything one could argue that some Protestant bodies (some) have more effective ways of dealing with what happens when things go wrong than the Catholic church does. I’m speaking purely about administration here.

    Then he infers that because we live in a Protestant culture that American Catholics have assumed a similar attitude on church oversight (the “anything goes” model), which I also don’t think is the case. Yes, perhaps liberals and conservatives would disagree strongly on the appropriate course of action for the bishops, but I think in many real ways the camps would actually agree that something is seriously wrong with the way the bishops fulfill their responsibilities.

    I think Catholics actually want better oversight (Gk. episkopos), not less of it.

  14. Jason Keener says:

    Hi, Dave N. Sorry. I missed that paragraph when I first read it.

    Cardinal George is referring to the liberal Catholics who believe that Mother Church can be governed without a Code of Canon Law and instead just by warm and fuzzy people who are always on their best behavior. We know that it isn’t a good idea to abolish the Code because people laboring under the effects of original sin definitely need rules and consequences for bad behavior.

    The Protestants probably abolished the Code in their own religions because they saw the Code as some outdated and legalistic Roman approach to Christianity that prevents people from living a true and sunny version of the Christian Faith where no one ever sins or does wrong to another. Again, we all know that humanity is still in a state of pilgrimage towards perfection, and it would be unrealistic to think people could live without a set of rules like the Code of Canon Law to govern conduct.

  15. Dave N. says:

    Jason, thanks for the clarification.

    And thanks saying the EFFECTS of original sin–I thought maybe I’d missed the news that we are all Lutherans now. :) (Although NCR would have surely reported it with glee! Hahaha)

    Or maybe Allen just left out this important word in his transcription.

    Someone should know better though–people were martyred over stuff like this.

  16. Henry Edwards says:


    On need not have a symphony orchestra and professional Chicago choir to have a thoroughly reverent Mass. In my remote own little corner of the country, I attended this morning an OF Mass at a modern round church in a typical mainstream suburban parish, just about 15 miles from the beautiful old church where I attended the daily TLM a half-century ago. Celebrated by the Fr. Shelton mentioned in the Lepanto thread today:

    Strictly “Do the red, Say the black”; priest in Roman vestments; no distracting insertions like “Good morning, folks”; the Confiteor form of the penitential rite he always uses, with just enough silence before it for everyone to say an act of conrition; the Roman Canon he always uses, with no saints’ names omitted, nor are any of the half-dozen optional “Through Christ our Lord. Amens”; the canon spoken in a lower voice distinguishable from the elevated voice used for “public” parts of the Mass; bells at all the right places (including the epiclesis, triple rings at each elevation); incense on all weekday feasts and solemnities, Kyrie in Greek and Sanctus and Agnus Dei in Latin; no held hands in sight during the Our Father; altar boys in surplice and cassocks; paten held for Holy Communion, received on the tongue by an apparent majority of those present; the approximately 40 people there seemingly engaged prayerfully throughout; in general, everybody and everything with the reverence and dignity some associate only with the EF and EWTN.

    Although everyone here knows of my personal devotion to the EF — and indeed I think the older form is intrinsically more efficacious and pleasing to God than the newer form — it seems likely to me that this morning’s OF Mass represents (for most ordinary Catholics) liturgical renewal as compared with the silent daily low Mass that I attended in the old days. Very possibly, many of these folks would be less prayerfully engaged in an old-style silent low Mass.

    At any rate, this is what I can get to by driving 3 miles on a weekday. And when I drive the same 15 miles on Sunday as 50 years ago, I get to an EF Missa Canata more beautiful than what I ordinarily found back then. Someone who doesn’t know any better might even conclude that some sort of liturgical renewal has taken place.

    So what does all this prove? Perhaps not much, except that the whole situation — which in many places is changing pretty rapidly for the better — is more complex that chicken-little internet reports may suggest.

  17. As a businessman, I think as a businessman. Some dolts have cost my company, the Church, TWO BILLION DOLLARS in settlement fees and legal costs because of sexual predators in the priesthood. In order to pay those settlements, my company, the Church, has had to sell off dozens of school buildings and churches. Because of poor catechetics, my firm is losing millions of customers (parishioners) who no longer come to their “offices” even once a week! My confreres tell me of their grandchildren NOT BEING BAPTIZED,Grandchildren being born out of wedlock(“my daughter will marry Fred when they both have their doctorates”), and children or grandchildren simply co-habitating. And someone is sitting with some cretin discussing liberal Catholics, conservative Catholics and “simply” Catholics? Cdl George should resign!

  18. Dave N. says:

    Um, but apparently, he’s “the leading intellectual in the American Catholic hierarchy” ! :)

    See his book plug on

  19. lmgilbert says:

    “Stop with the happy gas”! That would be nice.

    This business about “catechetical reform” is just ridiculous, IMHO. We’ve got the Baltimore Catechism. It worked just fine. Pass it out. Mail it to everyone in the parish, tell them to go over it with their kids.

    We have such concern for adult issues, but all around us our kids are growing up UNCATECHIZED and there is no reason for it…except that the catechetical establishment frowns on the Baltimore Catechism.

    Alright, use the Penny Catechism, but do SOMETHING! And stop with the happy talk.

    Then for those families who can come up with the 5-12 thousand dollars per child tuition for Catholic schools, you can experiment with the latest Catechetical enthusiasm without doing too much harm.

    Bishops, Diocesan school superintendents, Pastors, and DREs are falling flat on their faces and have been for decades.

    When do their positions get audited? Five years out of school, what percentage of their Catholic high school graduates are shacked up, out of the Church? Publish the figures for each school and parish.
    Or would that be “divisive”? Then maybe we could use some divisiveness.

    Reward competence. In other words replace the degree laden but ineffective Diocesan Superintendent of Catholic Schools with a no nonsense retired homeschooling Mom or Dad whose kids are still practicing the faith at age thirty and who has a son for a priest. These men and women are made of steel and they know how to make things happen.

    It ain’t complicated. But stopping with the happy gas is a very necessary preamble to badly needed reform.

  20. Jason Keener says:


    I’m very glad that you have found a parish where the Ordinary Form is celebrated well. My main point is that for every parish like the one you worship at, we have hundreds and thousands of other parishes that don’t celebrate the Ordinary Form in much continuity with Tradition at all.

    Also, while Fr. Shelton may be doing the red and saying the black, there are still significant problems in these more conservative parishes attempting to celebrate the Ordinary Form reverently: The Pauline Missal itself still contains inorganic elements. The ad orientem posture is often still not present or understood. The musical patrimony of the Church in its most basic forms is often absent from the parish’s life. Latin, the universal language of the Latin Church’s Liturgy is mostly absent. Moreover, Catholics at these more conservative Ordinary Form Masses have to often overcome the dreadful architecture that surrounds them. I admire the positive steps some parishes have taken, but we are still quite a distance from reclaiming the sacred tension, solemnity, and gravity that was/is present in the Extraordinary Form.

    I think about the only bright spot in liturgical renewal over the last 40 years has been Summorum Pontificum. Also, instead of creating a new Pauline Missal, I wish the Church would have just explained and promoted the beauties already contained in the 1962 Missal. Catholics could have been taught how to correctly participate in the Liturgy without all of the harmful changes and inventions that were foisted upon the Latin Church’s liturgical life in the name of renewal.

  21. Henry Edwards says:


    I agree with essentially everything you say, especially with this:

    Also, instead of creating a new Pauline Missal, I wish the Church would have just explained and promoted the beauties already contained in the 1962 Missal.

    Indeed, I am convinced that this is precisely what the Council Fathers intended — renewal of celebration and participation in the traditional Latin Mass, rather than (as Cardinal Ratzinger has called it) the fabrication of a new order of Mass.

    And I have said the same things as you off and on for 40 years. Only 4 years ago did my area finally succeed in getting a then-called indult Mass, biweekly at first and then (with SP) weekly. We still aspire to a daily TLM and full-service traditional parish.

    My additional point would be that it is (as I think Benedict intended) Summorum Pontificum that’s driving the current OF reform, as slowly and fitfully as it’s starting in some places.

    It’s SP that’s driving the acceptability of OF Masses like I described. (Perhaps in closer to 1 in 5 or 10 parishes, rather than the hundreds or thousands you suggest.) Just a few years ago there were probably no Masses like this near me. Now there are several, most of the celebrated by EF-ready priests, of which there were none then.

    It’s because of SP that 90% (from reports I hear) of current seminarians plan to celebrate both the EF and a fully reverent OF. Virtually all of them are in favor of ad orientem, communion on the tongue, etc. In all of this they are following Pope Benedict, who is teaching not only by example but (most of all) by Summorum Pontificum. Everything he and his spokesmen say about the EF says what so desperately needs to be said about the OF.

    I cannot estimate how many times I’ve wished the Church could simply go back and start over at the branch in the road where it took the wrong fork. Unfortunately, it has to start not there, but where it is now. Mainly because it has to deal with the priests and laity not as they were then, but as they have (mal)formed by forty years in the liturgical desert. Which, as one of my favorite priests said recently, has at least prepared us to appreciate more worthily now than we did back then the glorious treasure of traditional liturgy.

  22. chcrix says:

    I tend to agree that liturgical ‘renewal’ is a train wreck with very few exceptions. So it is very hard to see what Cdl. George can be enthusastic about.

    I think I may drop in to the other parish based on our local Benedictine abbey (I attend the one that is EF only) and see if they do a credible job of NO because I can truthfully say I have never seen a NO celebration that struck me as ‘fittin’. I liked Martin Mosebach’s comment in “Heresy of Formlessness” to the effect that a low mass celebrated in a garage was more inspiring than a high NO mass in a cathedral with all the bells and whistles. But maybe Father Abbot has that situation in hand and I will be pleasantly surprised with what I find in the regular parish.

    I also don’t think that America is a Protestant culture. It once was. But today – the whole country seems to be post-christian to me.

    Actually that could be considered encouraging – our situation has become more like the Roman empire in the 3rd century. There are a lot of Catholics, but the state is relatively against the religion. The challenge is to become like those third century christians and get others to want to emulate the christian community.

  23. Agnes says:

    lmgilbert, I agree. I use the BC hand in hand with Faith & Life, which is a very respectable series. Not all parents will systematically teach their children religion, though it may be lived out within the home, so we need to offer formal catechetical programs so they get the “nuts & bolts”. These programs absolutely have to be in line with the teaching Magisterium or, you’re right, they will fall flat on their faces as they have in too many parishes for too many decades. Personally I would love to see more home educators volunteer to teach CCD, but I don’t see that happening. And I think an audit of parishes by their local ordinary is a fine idea. Our program is top notch. Bring it on!

  24. Fr. John Mary says:

    Don’t get me wrong; I have great respect for Cardinal George, especially in how he has nurtured the Canons of Saint John Cantius, at Saint John Cantius Parish in Chicago, which he must take a lot of ‘flak’ for doing.

    I do find him a bit “ethereal” in the sense that he sometimes can seem to “overintellectualize” (if that, in fact, is a word). He is obviously, a brilliant man and theologian. But when it comes to the practical, well, I just find that his application is a bit “flat”.

    I do not mean to offend anyone, or the Cardinal, himself, who I find to be a wonderful bishop and priest.

    But I wonder if sometimes being too “academic” about the problems/issues in the Church does not create a sense of panic in the ordinary faithful.

    Just wondering.

  25. Fr. John Mary says:

    Henry Edwards: an eloquent commentary about the importance of “praying” the Mass, as opposed to just reciting it.

    Thank you.

  26. catholicmidwest says:

    I don’t get riled up very much about any of this anymore. From experience I can tell you there is very little point in trying to parse the words of a cardinal. Quite honestly, it’s like trying to figure out the soul of a politician–it’s a waste of time and precisely nothing is apt to come of anything he might or might not say on any given day. I’ve come to the conclusion that this hanging on tenterhooks waiting for things to be said or something to happen is meaningless. Nothing is going to happen unless God wills it and then it will be unavoidable, even for the ones who try to obstruct it. You’ll see: It will happen the way God wants it in the end, no matter what people do for all the half-witted motivations they can find.

    I just do my best to try to keep myself out of trouble. That’s difficult enough.

    I’ve been Catholic now for almost 25 years, having converted in the spring of 1985. I’ll be honest with you: I’ve never seen such nonsense anywhere as that I’ve seen in the Catholic church. Catholics have everything religiously that anyone could ever want, and yet, they squander it with complete and profligate carelessness. And then have a giant p**ing match over the carnage. It’s just amazing.

  27. Fr. John Mary says:

    catholicmidwest: Well said. I, also. try to keep myself out of trouble. And yes, that is diffcult enought.

  28. Andy F. says:

    I disagree with the Cardinal’s view on the “new” generation. All I have to do is plug my sentiments for “symbols” into the reason our Orthodox brethren hold on to symbols. Any oppression there? Can someone please tell me what a statue of the Blessed Mother or a cassock suppresses? What does Gregorian Chant supress? How about a tabernacle in the middle of the sanctuary? Mantilas? Dalmatics (Tie One On! Right, Fr.Z?)? What, somebody PLEASE tell me, is a symbol of suppression in the Church? I also disagree with his view on conservatives and what they believe about a bishop. I believe one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, not one, holy, catholic, lay church. I have great respect for His Eminence and took many of his words to heart and appreciate his push for stronger apologetics when catechizing. Also, has anyone considered the fact that on judgement day the bishop will be held accountable for his entire diocese? I do believe I would want lay people wishing me to do more in my position and helping me along in prayer and support to help me get to heaven.

  29. Robert of Rome says:

    Thanks, everyone. So far this is the best discussion of one of Fr Z’s posts that I’ve seen in a long time. Keep it up.

  30. Sam Schmitt says:

    Seems like the good Cardinal can’t win with this crowd. Finally, a prelate who has actually *thought* about conservative / liberal deadlock in the U.S. I think it’s a brilliant observation that both conservatives and liberals define the church (i.e. the hierarchy) in terms of power – and then we have commenters who disagree but go right ahead and prove his point.

    Dave N, for example, dismisses one strawman only to prop up another: “Well of course bishops can’t control everything, I don’t think anyone who is an honest conservative expects that (strawman). But on the other hand, sitting on your hands and letting the church run amok WHEN you do have the power to do something” and the examples he gives are fair enough. However, I don’t know how many times I’ve heard howling and complaining that the bishops (and the Holy Father) aren’t excommunicating this person and silencing that person, when these would be (for the most part) only be quick fixes that do not address the underlying problems.

    Meanwhile it seems that catholicmidwest has decided to drop out entirely – except to let us know that he / she has dropped out. Cardinals have nothing to say, even if you waste your time and try to figure out what they are trying to say, etc. etc. (Maybe they should just keep quiet and stop boring us all?) I hope we can agree that they deserve our prayers – or at least our respect.

    For some reason people other than clerics and diocesan employees are off the hook for the mess we’re in. “Bishops, Diocesan school superintendents, Pastors, and DREs are falling flat on their faces and have been for decades.” I guess you forgot about parents? They are the primary educators of their own children.

    See, the bishops really don’t control everything.

  31. mpm says:

    I’m inclined to agree with Sam Schmitt, here.

    What I’d say is that there are people who use the symbols [of the faith] to be so restrictive that we become a sect. If the liberals disappear into the world and become chaplains of the status quo, taking their agenda from the world, the conservatives risk isolating themselves. The church says you can’t do that, Christ says you can’t do that. They become trapped in a kind of sectarian mindset that isn’t Catholic. (Cardinal George)


    Lumen gentium, The Decree on the Apostolate of the Laity, The Decree on the Church’s Mission.

    Mt 28, 19-20 “Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”

    I think that those who rely on the “biological solution” are relying on a concept that is not worthy of a “rational animal”, much less the Apostles. If the entire “Boomer” generation passes away tomorrow, how does that help you? What would you do with your new-found biological “opportunity”? Now it’s all your problem! Is your “biology” up to the challenge?

    IMO, only Catholics who are too caught up in the epiphenomenal are satisfied to consider themselves “liberal” or “conservative”, rather than “simply Catholic”. Neither is good enough. I think that is what the Cardinal is saying here. In other words, “simply Catholic” means “full disciple”, without qualifications.

  32. catholicmidwest says:

    Conservatives are only progressives in slow motion. They’re all full of malarkey, and they all (both camps) show that they know far less about religion than they think. Christianity is a TRADITIONAL religion in which history matters. Salvation happens in history. Read the Old Testament and then read the New which is prefigured in the Old, if you don’t believe me.

    Catholics need to know more scripture…….in fact, they need to know more of just about everything. Just showing up, looking like a deer in the headlights, doesn’t cut it regardless of what Woody Allen said.

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