A disappointed Fr. Z reflects on Calgary and Communion

Deep breath…

Form time to time we hear about things done, or not done, by priests or bishops which provoke reactions along a spectrum of head scratching to downright anger.

The situation in Calgary right now strikes me as closer to one end of the spectrum than the other.

Briefly, even though there are clear documents from the Holy See about the right of the faithful to receive Communion directly on the tongue, the local bishop has forbidden Communion in that manner because of fear of the spread of H1N1.  The local parish staffed by the FSSP, rather than complying with the letter of the bishop’s probably improper restriction tried to instruct the faithful about a way of receiving which would have effectively eliminated any claimed risk of contagion.  That move was not acceptable to the bishop and Masses in the older form have been suspended in the diocese of Calgary.  Lots of people are now really mad and really sad.  Rome will get involved.  Unless charity prevails with commonsense in a meeting of minds, this dust up will harm everyone involved.

I suspect that Bishop Henry did this not because he hates the old Mass or traditionalists or Communion on the tongue, but rather because of the H1N1 thing.  Whether or not that was an adequate reason is beside the point… now.  Now people are hardening in their positions and their hearts.

Indeed lots of people of the traditional stripe far and wide are pretty mad at Bishop Henry.   Having learned that he receives and even responds to e-mail, they are writing to him.   Some of them are expressing themselves in terms that are neither charitable nor even in the least smart.

For example, one person sent me this copy of an e-mail he fired off at Bishop Henry:

I’m not going to get into a long rant about how you’re a liberal bishop, how evil you are, how you’re treating true Catholics worse than Protestants, etc. But I will say this:
One day, and I hope for your sake it’s far from today, you will stand before Our Lord. And you will have to answer for your actions, especially regarding your treatment and hostility towards the true Mass.
Are you ready to answer those questions with your eternal soul on the line, Your Excellency?

I want my readers to know that I abhor this sort of e-mail.  I reproduce it here as a perfect example of several things.

1) How not to write to anyone.
2) How not to write to a bishop.
3) How not to write to someone whose mind you would like to change.

There are so many things wrong with that e-mail it is hard to know where to start.

So let me continue with an little morality play I personally experienced.

Once upon a time I had an experience similar to what I think is happening here while I was working for the Pont. Comm. Ecclesia Dei in Rome.

We were having a terrible exchange with an American bishop. Volley of letters letters went back and forth across the Atlantic. People wanted the old Mass, and he refused absolutely. They petitioned. He rejected. They sent us the copies of the petitions. He would deny there was any interest. He would say he never got petitions.  We would mail back copies of his acknowledgment of the petitions.  He wrote stern letters telling us to mind our own business. We wrote back saying that this was our business. It became uglier and uglier.

One day a letter came from him that was so nasty it simply couldn’t be borne.

I wrote a draft of a response entirely proportioned to the tone and content of that bishop’s letter. My draft was intended to end the debate.

When the Cardinal came that afternoon, this was the great Augustine Card. Mayer, first President of Ecclesia Dei, he called me in to go over the various drafts that had to be finalized and then sent.  At last we came to my draft to that bishop.

Card. Mayer, nearly 80 at the time, had been a monk, an expert at the Council, an abbot, professor, curial Secretary, Prefect.  He is perhaps the holiest man I know.  He has a practically perfect grasp of English. He would normally make subtle changes in the language of all the letters he would sign. There was no question but that he could: he was the Cardinal and all the letters I wrote became his letters.  He was ready to hear a reason for or against a change, but he was usually right with each "suggestion".

So there was no surprise at all when my tough-minded letter came to the fore that he said,

"Here you write X. Do you suppose instead we could say Y?"

We went on to the next word in that manner… and the next… and the next, until – both of us chuckling a bit – there was nothing at all left of what I had written. The page was filled with corrections and cobwebs of lines and marks.

At last, I said "Clearly Your Eminence wants something else. It’s my job to make your job easier. Give me some direction."

He paused and looked at the large Murillo painting of the Blessed Mother on the wall of the office for a while and then said:

"At a certain point we must stop arguing and try to open their hearts."

With that I went back to my desk, pondered this for a while, and then rapidly wrote a short letter to that American bishop.

I took it in to the Cardinal, who make a minor change here and there, and off it went.

A few weeks later we received news from people in that bishop’s diocese that, not only had the bishop permitted the older form of Mass, he came to celebrate it himself for them.

"But Father! But Father!", you are no doubt saying.  "What did you write?  What saved the day?"

After the usual clink of incense at the beginning, common to all curial letters, I merely wrote that we regretted greatly the way our correspondence had gone. We hoped that it might improve. But given the earnest desire of the people in his diocese, …

"Would Your Excellency please not open your heart to these people and help them?"

That seems to have been the real problem, after all.

At a certain point you have to realize that arguing isn’t going to achieve the result you desire.

At last you must strive to open hearts.

That said, I urge anyone who reads this blog to do a few things.

1) Pray and fast for Bp. Henry.  He is a bishop and he needs it even when there isn’t a conflict.  I will do this today.

2) If you have written a nasty note to Bp. Henry, write again and say you are sorry, even while you tell him you will offer some mortification and prayer.

3) If you feel compelled to write a first note to him, you might instead consider just butting out. 

4) If anyone in the bishop’s office in Calgary is reading this, please consider that there are surely good alternatives available to resolve this.  Why make something so important to these traditionally minded folks the point of force?  Is there not some other solution?  Consider the pain this is causing.  Is this really worth it?  It is pretty easy to be the peace-maker here.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "But Father! But Father!", "How To..." - Practical Notes, SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Geoffrey says:

    Wow! How can any Catholic address a bishop in such a way?! It is letter’s like that that make people mistrustful or down-right hateful of the old Mass, the people who like it, and even Latin itself.

  2. Cristero says:

    Wow. What a fantastic reply, Father Z. I will take it upon myself to offer some prayers and fasting for Bishop Henry and the Faithful attached to the Ancient Mass in Calgary. Uds. tienen mis oraciones y ayuno.

  3. Rob Cartusciello says:

    Thank you, Father, for the Advent reflection on Charity (big ‘C’ intended).

    In a more folksy vein, “one catches more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

    I will endeavor to use “open your heart to these people and help them” more often in my own work.

    As for how to debate in the public forum, I recomend advice from “Thank You For Smoking”: A debate isn’t about changing the mind of one’s opponent, but rather audience’s.

  4. MargaretMN says:

    I see this happen all the time in politics, even among good people with good intentions. At a certain point you can be too convinced of your own righteousness. When you find yourself just upping the ante like that, it is nearly always a better idea to take a step back, decide to hang on to that note and wait a day to see if you still want to send it or any one of a number of things to reconsider your path of escalation and confrontation and where it likely to lead.

  5. and your Excellency,

    if youre tuned in, Sorry about calling you a french fry!


  6. Random Friar says:

    Gmail now has an optional “email goggles” that you can activate. What it does is make you do a trio of some very doable, but slightly time-consuming, math problems. Think of it as a “delayed fuse.”

    I find myself confessing to more sins of firing without thinking, than failing to act.

    Time heals many wounds in the long term, and can prevent many in the short term.

  7. Prof. Basto says:

    Ok, the letter quoted above is nasty, and the case you reported to us, Father, about your experience in your PCED days, is indeed an example of when moderation won practical results.

    But I have to say that I respectfully disagree with the implication that all (and even the Holy See, according to your PCED example) should step back when in confrontation with a Bishop. [There are ways to express yourself to a bishop. THAT was not one of them. That cannot be defended.]

    The way I see it, this is not a problem about Communion in the Hand, or about Spiritual Communion, or about the right that every Catholic faithful has to receive Communion on the tongue if he so chooses, a right that, according to the Holy See, cannot be restrained by any Bishop. But those are NOT the issue, and neither is H1N1 the main issue.

    The big problem here is that the Bishop publicly told a third party (which is far worse than uncivil secret correspondence between the PCED and a Bishop reported in your story) that he was well aware of the Congregation for Divine Worship’s directive, but that frankly, it was not the Holy See’s call, it was his.

    That is the big problem. [That is little more than the “He started it!” Defense. Inadequate.]

    A problem of obedience and of ecclesiastical discipline. Of chain of command. The sense of hierarchy is something that the Church appears to have lost in the last 40 years, not as a result of any Council directive, but as a result of the climate of rupture, as a result of a systemic failiure of discipline and of Canon Law, of an atmosphere in which the Holy See is more and more impotent, and in which every priests, bishops and cardinals, seems to be able to do as they please. And that sense of obedience, that always formed part of Catholic traditions and Catholic institutions, is something that needs to be regained.

    So I disagree with the implication that the Holy See should back down as Card. Mayer did in your example. [I did NOT say that. And the Holy See did NOT back down as in my example. You misread it. Our dicastery got exactly what we wanted to happen to happen by using a method that would actually work. That should be obvious.] Something needs to be done to adress the big picture of disobedience and of PUBLIC CONTEMPT (as displayed by the Bishop in this present case) against the authority of a Roman Congregation. [It isn’t going to be addressed or resolved in nasty e-mails to bishops in other dioceses.]

    That is something that has not been done in the last decades, but I think that the Pope should dismiss, and not simply ask for the resignation, of this Prelate. This will send a shockwave across the world and will make Prelates see that there are consequences if you disobey Peter or the Dicasteries to which he delegates his authority. [Fine. That is the Pope’s call. If he thinks that is a good solution, fine. But neither the bishop’s nor the Pope’s hand will be forced by nastiness.]

    Because frankly, nowadays, it seems that after Episcopal Consacration a Prelate has a free pass to do as he pleases, without punishment, even if he is openly disobedient vis-à-vis the Holy See. [That is an issue to be dealt with down the line. In the meantime, the folks in Calgary have this thing to deal with.]

  8. RichR says:

    Thanks for the post, Fr. Z. Stand-offs like this rarely work out.

    I’d also add that people need to be diligent about avoiding making these types of struggles central in their spirituality. IOW, don’t take joy out of these conflicts. You can suffer irreparable damage when you start to get something out of battling for traditional liturgy. It is a regrettable thing to have to do – if you are called to do it. Be respectful of authority, pray a lot, and trust that God will provide….even if it’s not in your lifetime.

    Ubi caritas est amor, Deus ibi est.

  9. Rule #1 When Writing a Letter About a Sensitive Topic:

    After you’ve written a draft, sleep on it.

  10. Shmikey says:

    When this topic was raised earlier, there was a post about the possibility that the bishop may not be the one who is corresponding here, that it may be another person who handles these things in the diocese. I have had this experience in a prior diocese that I lived in and found that if you have an opportunity to personally speak to the bishop and raise your concerns, then he can put a face and personality to the conversation. Emails are horrible for the mere fact that they are a faceless means of communication and tone is not easily conveyed. The bishop may be receiving a filtered version of the messages, and tone may be added that wasn’t originally intended. There are so many possibilities here that to lay any blame is really uncharitable. I think that decisions are not always made by the bishop, and are commonly left to the chancery, because bishops feel that priests in their dioceses know how to handle local church politics better since bishops tend to be non-native, that is only an opinion, but one that I have observed from my involvement in different dioceses.

  11. MichaelJ says:

    Father Z,

    I am really trying to give the good Bishop the benefit of the doubt, but have so far been unable to do so. Please help me out and outline a plausible explanation for his actions. [As I mentioned, above, it is probable that he was responding to what he was told was the H1N1 threat and things escalated.]

    From what I have read from (theoretically, at least) experts on contagious disease, the number one vector for the transmission of a virus is the hands. It seems intuitive then that Commion on the hand would increase the risk rather than decrease it. The fewer hands involved, the fewer risks of transmission. [Bishops are not experts on infectious diseases or how they are spread. They listen to others. I would expect epidemiologists to listen to bishops about how to get to heaven.]

    I can easily imagine that Bishop Henry is not a medical expert and may be getting poor advice so his directive suspending Communion on the tongue is understandable even if it may be in error.

    His suspension of Spiritual Communion is another matter though. I cannot think of an explanation other than the Bishop “hates” Communion on the tongue. Is there another reasonable explanation? [I don’t know. But at this point, the debate has to be shifted away from that and back to finding a good solution.]

  12. TomG says:

    What grieves me so much about this is that Bp Henry is a good man and has been a good bishop. We must pray and fast that he can be reasoned with. I for one am optimistic. In light of the apparent increased likelihood of contracting H1N1 in Albert, though, might not His Excellency consider instituting spiritual-only communion for the remainder of the peak season?

  13. Joshua08 says:

    Thank you for posting this Father. It is understandable why people feel affronted, but certainly reactions have been overboard…someone on the earlier post said he should be excommunicated even!

    I disagree with the bishop for numerous reasons, both practical (the swine flu is being exaggerated) and ecclesiastical. But we should assume the best motive on the part of the Bishop, and avoid scandal by widening a rift. The “I am being persecuted” motif needs to drop. And it does not fall to everyone in the world to leap into the fray when one bishop makes a bad decision. I think that writing the bishop or Rome ought to be done only when that person is confident that his letter will actually help accomplish some good, and in general those affected by the decision are the ones in the best position, by showing charity in their petitions to the bishop, to bend his heart. If Rome rebukes him, privately or publicly, that is Rome’s decision. IIRC the letter from the CDW did say they were taking steps to correct the parties involved in the other case. Surely that is best done in a way that does not make Catholics appear ridiculous to others

    If someone feels the need to vent, there are always pillows to be punched, or private conversations (provided they avoid detraction) where one can vent their anger before thinking of writing the Bishop

  14. cor ad cor loquitur says:

    Thank you for this post, Father. I found it true, moving and beautiful. Thank you!

  15. ALL: I just got a note from the person who wrote that e-mail I posted in the top entry:

    Father, I just read your post on my email, and I just emailed Bishop Henry an apology. I am trying to find true remorse for this through my anger so I can confess it properly. Please pray for me.

    This is what I call a stand-up person.  WDTPRS kudos. 

  16. Felicitas says:

    I want to preface this by saying I did NOT write an email or letter to Bp. Henry and have no plans to do so. With that out of the way, I have to say that my reaction to this kerfuffle has surprised me. I am a convert, and not for very long. I attend an FSSP parish, and in the short time of my involvement, I have come to love the priests and the community deeply. Hearing what has happened to the Calgary FSSP has stunned and hurt me, and has had the unfortunate result of lessening my trust in all bishops, and I’ve become afraid that my quite-liberal archbishop will do something similar, even though to my knowledge he has never shown any indication of hostility towards traditional Catholics or COTT. For the first time, I’m getting a true, personal sense of what long-time traditional Catholics have gone through, and why the SSPX exists. I don’t mean to sound whiny here, and I know I need to buck up and do what I need to do to get past this. Perhaps refraining from reading Catholic forums and blogs until this is resolved would be a good idea.

  17. Melania says:

    As a therapist, I recommend that before writing any communication, it’s wise to consider what you want to achieve then ask yourself if your letter or email is likely to promote that outcome.

    If you want to create an enemy for life, then by all means, insult, demean and gleefully contemplate your opponent’s eternal damnation.

    On the other hand, if you want to keep the door open to future reconciliation and cooperation, then always write clearly and honestly, but without rancor. Leave the insults aside and try to express some understanding of what your opponent’s concerns are and that you respect them.

    By the way, the bishop in our area cleared his policy on receiving communion during the H1N1 season with the health officers of all three counties covered by his diocese. I’m wondering if the Calgary bishop did the same and that this fact may have something to do with his intransigence on this issue.

  18. mitch_wa says:

    From my understanding the FSSP Parish’s pastor told the bishop that their parish could not comply, but this seems to me not to have been the best approach. Instead shouldn’t they have told the bishop they disagree with him, however they will inform the parish that they can recieve on the hand however no one will be turned away from recieving on the tounge. That they want to work this out with the bishop, want to be obediant to him, but also want to be obediant to the CDW’s rulings on this issue and so they hope in cooperation with him to seek clarification from Rome. In summary, come part way and try to work with the bishop while still standing up for your rights. It seems like two lines in the sand were drawn and now the two sides are shouting at each other across a wide no-man’s land. The actions on the part of the FSSP seems consistant with a line of thinking that the Fraternity seems holds (but doesn’t advertise) that bothers me (and just to be sure no one misreads me, I love the FSSP, they’re great).

  19. chcrix says:

    I have not written Bishop Henry, nor frankly would the idea have occurred to me since I am not in his diocese.

    In addition to the email filtering comments I would imagine that another possibility behind the Bishop’s attitude could be legal advice. He may have been told that if somebody turns up with H1N1 and communion on the tongue has been allowed by the diocese that there is a possibility of a law suit. Certainly it would be true in the U.S. And don’t say a real catholic wouldn’t do it – people view law suits as the equivalent of winning the lottery.

    Father Z: I love this story. You have used it before and to great effect.

    Oftentimes it is necessary to find out what is driving the “other side” so that one can defuse the objections. Sometimes a gentle response brings your interlocutor back to his normal self. Sometimes he has a real concern that can be addressed easily IF it is identified.

  20. pforrester says:

    I remember several years ago praying for Bishop Henry in Canada because he was under attack for defending the Church’s teaching against one of the liberal plagues, homosexual something or other or perhaps something related to abortion. I am not convinced that he is a liberal bishop.

  21. mrsmontoya says:

    Thank you Father for sharing your own experience. I will continue to offer prayers for Bishop Henry, as I offer prayers for all those in authority both secular and religious.

  22. Melania says:

    I want also to say what an excellent story that was, Fr. Z. And, I will pray for Bishop Henry and all the persons involved in this incident.

  23. r7blue1pink says:

    Will pray for you writer!

    I think we all have a tendency to act upon our emotions, any one of us could have done it or have done it in the past in whatever situation.. Its very easy to vent on paper and say harsh words in an act of desperation and dissapointment!

    This surely will resolve quickly…

  24. ejcmartin says:

    Father, when the notice came out in our Archdiocese about no Communion on the tongue the word spread around like wildfire. They were some very very angry people who were prepared to tell the Archbishop a thing or two. Having read your blog post in June about this issue I told my wife we need to come up with a solution and be charitable. Fortunately my wife was probably the first to get the Archbishop on the phone. She proposed that a solution may be that those who wish to receive Communion on the tongue go to the back of the line as long as it was okay with the priest involved. Thankfully he was amenable the idea. As a result we have been able to continue to go to Mass daily and receive on the tongue.
    I can only imagine what might have happened if one of the angry voices I had heard got a hold of the Archbishop first. We can only guess at what might have transpired in Calgary, but based upon Bihsop Henry’s response there may have been alot of angry discussion leading to that point.

  25. greg the beachcomber says:

    Building on what Melania said a few posts back, it’s easy to get lost in your writing when you’re angry. If you set it aside and take a break, when you come back it tends to sound much more like venting than communicating. But if you don’t take that break and fire it off, it’s easy to get attached to what you said and feel you need to defend it.

    I once had a client fax me a copy of a letter he intended to send to another vendor for my input. I asked if he intended to work with that person again, because if he did, that letter would make it nearly impossible. He was stunned, and rethought his letter.

    I was less stunned, a couple of years later, when I got one of those letters myself.

  26. Chris says:

    For the avoidance of doubt, and as a member of the Calgary Latin Mass community, I would just like to assure your readers (particularly Geoffrey) that the FSSP in Calgary does not approve of emails such as the one referred to here and quickly released a request discouraging parishioners from writing them. Instead the strong focus has been on a prayerful response to our situation and I believe Father’s request has been honoured by all.

  27. crazylikeknoxes says:

    It is posts like these that make me regret not following this blog on a regular basis. Your posting makes one realize how much common sense there is in charity, and how much charity in common sense.

  28. mfg says:

    The Bishop has absolute power in his diocese. The Ecclesia Dei commission or the CDW or whatever set of alphbet entities you want to mention can only hope to persuade the Bishop to “come on now, be a good guy and allow the FSSP to follow their charisms”. That’s it. That’s collegiality people, part of the ‘spirit of VATII–wrong, but a fact of life–FOR NOW.

  29. Unvanquished says:

    Father’s advice is outstanding, as is that of Melania. From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, insulting someone (even if we somehow believe they “deserve” it) is the course of action LEAST likely to guarantee success. Alas, it is an all too human response (as I can attest to in my nearly two decades of customer service-related work), but we are held to a higher standard than that. Perhaps much good will come from the original writer’s repentence, not only in the heart of the bishop concerned, but also for all of us who may be tempted toward similar actions in the future.

  30. joebkathy says:

    T’is the season of Advent. Come,Baby Jesus,come!
    I’m just a dummy in the pews on Sundays but I have read the Catechism. It says we are to trust and obey the Princes of Holy Mother Church and that anger and pride is bad for everyone (Bishops included).
    As little Tim would say – “God bless us everyone and pass me a surgical mask and a small bottle of hand sanitizer, please? Thanks, I’m going to Mass.”

  31. Don in BC says:

    Just to echo pforrester’s comment – although I cannot speak to the current issue in the Diocese of Calgary around temporary suspension of reception of communion on the tongue due to H1N1 fears, I can speak to his general behaviour regarding upholding Catholic doctrine and teachings. Bishop Henry is one of the strongest bishops in Canada when it comes to defending and promoting the Catholic faith and the teachings of the Magisterium. Hopefully charity on all sides in this issue will prevail.

  32. Jaybirdnbham says:

    Expanding on the good idea of “sleeping on” or “praying on” a letter or email before sending it, a very nice variant is to set the letter (or printed out email draft) under a small statue of Our Lady overnight, or longer, before deciding to send it.
    I learned this practice from a good friend who worked as a lay missionary with Mother Teresa of Calcutta years ago, and she learned it from Mother Teresa. This practice brings our minds and hearts back to thinking “what would our Blessed Mother say to this person about this problem?”

  33. tired student says:

    chcrix’s observations are sad but probably quite true. Bp. Henry is stuck between the provincial health board and the lawyers. Priests in my TLM would often administer Communion outside of Mass to individuals, sometimes well after the the end of Mass. I suspect Bp. Henry denied the request for “spiritual communion” because he can’t absolutely control when people may communicate (which can be at any time so long as a priest is available). So he had to shut the doors or risk fines and possible litigation.

    The possibility that a bishop would close a church out of fear of civil authorities and lawsuits is quite sad. Father Z’s conciliatory and wise tone is the way forward. I will pray for the Bishop. I am certain he is not against the EF or traditional Catholics, but at the end of the day needs to protect his diocese.

  34. rinkevichjm says:

    I suggest the FSSP appeal his decision to Rome and tell him they are doing so and will be celebrating Mass as usual until they hear from Rome. I suspect the Bishop would realize that by the time Rome rules his “emergency” will be over. It might just want to make him make a trip over to the parish to discuss it more reasonably.

  35. Gail F says:

    Thank you for this post, which is so true and applies to so many situtations.

  36. timjp77 says:

    Can’t the FSSP parish continue to have Mass without the communion of the faithful?

  37. jt83 says:

    Father stated: “After the usual clink of incense at the beginning, common to all curial letters…”

    Father, I am unfamiliar with curial customs. Do you mean to say that all letters from the curia are incensed before being sent out?? That is so cool!

  38. jt83: That’s just figurative language. Curial letters tend to be a little flowery.

  39. Henry Edwards says:

    timjp77: Can’t the FSSP parish continue to have Mass without the communion of the faithful?

    As I understand it, this is precisely what the bishop forbade. Since this would otherwise seem to be a traditionally acceptable solution, I can’t help wondering whether there’s something more in this situation than might immediately meet the eye of hasty letter writers.

  40. becket1 says:

    Quote: “What grieves me so much about this is that Bp Henry is a good man and has been a good bishop. We must pray and fast that he can be reasoned with. I for one am optimistic. In light of the apparent increased likelihood of contracting H1N1 in Albert, though, might not His Excellency consider instituting spiritual-only communion for the remainder of the peak season?”

    He has said “NO” to a spiritual communion. You must go to the Novus Ordo Mass, whether you like it or not. My advice is to go to a Byzantine Catholic Church until the Extra-Ordinary Form is re-established.

  41. mfg says:

    In the future some priest will put himself literally on the cross and appeal to Rome in a case like this one. That has been prescribed by Summorum Pontificum. If the case goes to Archbishop Burke at the Judicial Signatura and Archbp Burke puts his head together with the Holy Father and they figure out some way to do away with ‘collegiality’ the outcome would be a groundbreaking, positive one for tradition. It would be a milestone. But the priest who appealed will live the life of a modern day saint. He will be moved from his middle class parish to prison ministry or an Indian reservation. His friends (brother priests) will not speak to him because by your friends you shall be known;, or, to paraphrase the German High Command in 1941″ “Ve have Zertain Vays of making you obey”. Like everyone on this blog I am in total sympathy with the FSSP (I am their parishioner after all) but I suspect that this issue has now gone far beyon the H1N1 iss (on which the medical community if divided–hands or tongue) and is now a case of (from the Bishop’s standpoint) open defiance. In 2009 Collegiality rules. [I believe you may have some less then clear ideas about how these matters are handled. And that whole notion of “collegiality” needs to be brushed up a little.]

  42. ipadre says:

    Fr. Z,

    I love your response! Real wisdom on your part, learned from a holy Cardinal.

    Thanks for all you do! I learn something new, or have something reinforced each day.

    God bless!

  43. robtbrown says:

    The Bishop has absolute power in his diocese. The Ecclesia Dei commission or the CDW or whatever set of alphbet entities you want to mention can only hope to persuade the Bishop to “come on now, be a good guy and allow the FSSP to follow their charisms”. That’s it. That’s collegiality people, part of the ‘spirit of VATII—wrong, but a fact of life—FOR NOW.
    Comment by mfg

    Disagree. Most bishops are pursuing policies that have been encouraged by the Vatican. Under Paul VI Rome all but renounced its legit authority over liturgy. There are bound to be problems now that BXVI is trying to reestablish it,.

    BTW, don’t make the liberal mistake of confusing collegiality with Conciliarism.

  44. robtbrown says:

    By the way, the bishop in our area cleared his policy on receiving communion during the H1N1 season with the health officers of all three counties covered by his diocese. I’m wondering if the Calgary bishop did the same and that this fact may have something to do with his intransigence on this issue.
    Comment by Melania

    If the bishop of Calgary did consult public health officials, then he should have mentioned it. Further, he should have made it clear that Communion on the tongue will be reestablished ASAP.

  45. When I started this entry, I did not intend that people should just bring the same old same old over here from the thread I closed.

    Please keep that in mind.

  46. mfg says:

    Sorry–In the first sentence I meant to say ‘figuratively’. Mea culpa.

  47. Mike says:

    Fr Z…excellent story, and excellent advice. In a way, it reminds me of my experience in an inter-faith seminar on anti-Semitism. A RCC priest, in front of 30 Catholic teachers, a rabbi, and several Jewish participant, cut on B16, really mocked him, compared him, unfavorable to JPII, implied he was at least latent anti-semite. I protested, politely. Sparing a little. Then was asked by the director of the seminar “to hold my q’s until the breaks”. In a sense, muzzled. The next day, at a major Catholic University in DC, Fr.X gave another lecture, this time he behaved himself. Afterwards (I was sitting next to the podium) we chatted for about five minutes, respectfully. I wanted to show him I was motivated by charity. The rest of the seminar is beside the point (though it was false ecumenism from start to end). We must, as Fr. Z says, be smart, be kind, and be bearers of truth in charity, as our Holy Father reminds us.

  48. MichaelJ says:

    When you wrote “Leave the insults aside and try to express some understanding of what your opponent’s concerns are and that you respect them”, who or what do you mean by “them”?

    Did you mean that we should respect the “opponents” or their concerns?

  49. mfg says:

    Robtbrown: I agree with your disagreement. But, good bishop with good pronouncements, or sometimes mistaken Bishop with not so good pronouncements, the bishop rules in his diocese, with or without the approval of Rome. Thanks for the headsup on ‘conciliarism’.

  50. Animadversor says:

    Oh goodness gracious, for crying out loud. I must say that sometimes I’m tempted to tear into someone like that poor correspondent of poor Bishop Henry, but if I catch myself in time, I stop and silently recite the Divine Praises. I don’t even ask God for anything, I just do that, and it always “works.”

  51. Melania says:


    I could have expressed myself a little more clearly, I guess. It’s what happens when I type a comment too quickly.

    Actually, “them” refers to concerns. However, I would suggest showing respect for both the person and his/her concerns.

    If a person feels they are not respected by you, they will generally block out anything you have to say.

  52. Ralph says:

    What I liked most about your post is that following the conference with Card. Mayer, your letter became one of humility, not aggression. I think humility in the face of anger is difficult for all of us, but espcially American men. We are raised to dive head first into conflict. (Think football metaphore) It can be a real test of will power to pay agression back with humility and charity. But your example shows the results that can be gained.

    I also applaud the origional writer. It’s one thing to fly off the handle. But it takes real strength and courage to admit a wrong and appologize. I salute you.

    Those of us who judge so harshly our Bishops and Priests will not want the same standard of perfection used by the Lord when our turn at Judgement arrives. I try (and often fail!) to remember that when I get annoyed at a choice of music at Mass or some decision made by my Bishop.

  53. patrick_f says:

    I have said it before, this is why I strive to be Catholic. Being Catholic includes “traditional” but in a way that doesnt dictate a separation with the rest of the flock.

    Its one thing to be angry, its another to question a person’s salvation. No one should ever do that, its not our choice.

    A good friend of mine told me “There are only two types of sinners, those who are saved, and those who arent”. Obviously this is more an evangelical thought process, but, its very true, we are all imperfect, we all make mistakes.

    Look to Peter for your example. The first pope, and also arguably a magnificent failure at times.

    I think God will take this failure, this imperfection, and bring glory out of it.

  54. amont says:

    Father Z,
    As always, I can only marvel at your ability to cut through to the heart of these painful difficulties.You are quite right; charity IS the key. However; as someone who has experienced first-hand the Canadian situation , I would venture to suggest there is an extremely powerful bias here against Summourm Pontificum and ANYTHING to do with what it represents.It is NEVER mentioned in our Dioces. The legacy of rebellion here ,following V2 ,is an established “Canadian Church” that pays lip-service to the existence of a “Universal” Church . Bishop Henry has perhaps given vent to the reality the peons in the pews have lived for decades.

  55. When Bishop Loverde had decided to keep the CCHD collection going last week, I had to criticize him on my blog, but what that guy did was just over the top (in a bad sense)!

    Which is the reason why you had to do this. But is it okay if I just add to it (I posted it on my own blog, if you want to see it)?

    Here are my three points before writing a criticism of the bishop (whether publicly or privately):

    *Pray a Hail Mary before you begin. This will help to clear your mind and focus on why you are doing it, as the therapist said. Or else, you might be hurtling not just angry words but worse, if you know what I mean.
    *Remember that he is a successor of the Apostles! That means he needs to be treated with the utmost respect! (And another reason to tone down the anger to a respectful level.)
    *Be coherent. If you are too angry to even write something logical, you better not write it. That’s also a probable sign that you need to calm down before you write that letter. Besides, the less coherence, the less that His Excellency will listen to you.

    And if you can’t follow any of these three rules yet, it’s probably best not to write it!

    I hope that helps. But maybe that’s just me.

  56. Rachel says:

    What a great post and wonderful story about Cardinal Mayer! Thanks, Fr. Z. :)

  57. Archicantor says:

    “And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.” (James 3:18) Chastening and edifying stuff, Father. Thank you.

  58. While this post may divert from the intention of Fr Z about proper ways to respond to these types of scenarios, I think that the time line of some events in my archdiocese(of which Calgary is in the province of)may shed some light on how some of these developments may occur.

    When the H1N1 scare first broke, similar conditions went out from ArchBp. Smith in Edmonton. Communion on the tongue was suspended, and the Sign of Peace although not eliminated was restricted to “head nods”. Even though the H1N1 did not die down, the ArchBp. eventually recalled the restrictions. Business as usual; this took place the same day that the WHO raised the pandemic level to actual pandemic level! This was September 24. I definitely attended a EO Mass at our FSSP parish and while I did not receive because of a mortal sin, the rest of the congregants did, no problem.

    Maybe Bp Henry is especially concerned with the welfare of his flock and this is a means of “extra protection” from lawsuits as someone suggested. Maybe his medical adviser isn’t up on Canon Law or Communion practices and doesn’t understand how it is received by the faithful.

    I am very curious to see how this all pans out. Fr Z, thank you for this most recent post.

  59. Wonderful Father Z! Mirrors of the charity Benedict XVI has towards the liberal-minded and the traditionalist in his brick-by brick approach of true liturgical renewal and reform of the reform!

    Thank you very much for this Father!

    One of the many reasons why I am a die-hard fan of WDTPRS.

    Now I will fast and pray for your intentions.

  60. RudyB says:

    Props, Father! =)

  61. gmarie says:

    Blessed are the peacemakers…

  62. C. says:

    Although I’m not in the Diocese of Calgary, I’ve prayed for His Excellency at every Mass this week, and I’ve offered up all of my Communions for him, all of them on the tongue, and I’ve also offered up for his intentions the pains and inconveniences required to attend Mass where Communion is given on the tongue.

  63. Ringmistress says:


    Thank you for posting this. It is a salutary reminder to do all things in charity, even when our dander is up. I will add this to my daily intentions.

  64. I share these words from my eldest brother, a priest who is also my godfather. They were written to me after a not-so-friendly episode between me and a priest whose style of celebrating Mass brought out the worst in me:


    When we encounter people or situations that trouble us, it does require discernment as to how to proceed. As you indicated, it is good to try to work things out directly after prayer and reflection. I’m also reminded of a holy card I have with a John XXIII quote: “See everything, overlook a great deal, improve a little.” I take that not as a recipe for indifference or inaction, but as a moderating and realistic approach to the fallen nature of life around us, and our own imperfect abilities and response.

    As I look at some of the priests, religious, and lay people (usually of “another generation”) I sometimes share some of the frustrations and observations you have made. I think I would simply offer this: it is better to deal with what is observable, than with seeking to determine motivation in others. I remember reading spiritual guidance (I forget where) that we are often more prone to speculating about or presuming motivations in others, and reluctant to examine motivations in ourselves. I think that many of the “older” ones we come in contact with were taught differently, and went through difference experiences, that shaped their approach to liturgy or theology. It is possible for us to disagree, even on substantial matters, without it meaning that the other person has a personal agenda, or disrespect for God or the Church. They can be honestly of a different opinion, and even honestly be mistaken or in error.

    I guess I’d ask myself (as I sometimes do) what my goal is: to show I am right, or to lead another to conversion? It gets complicated, doesn’t it?


    I dare say my brother, whom God has given a way with words, knew exactly what Cardinal Mayer knew.

  65. archambt says:

    Would it be unfair to ask whether the rhetoric that is sometimes found in this blog, both by its author and various commentators, could lead to the types of unhelpful and disappointing emails that you critique here, Fr. Z? I mean, the fact that they carbon copy or forward you their occasional outlandish and rude emails suggests that they see you as being agreeable to their rhetoric. I commend your for bringing the inappropriateness their missives to their attention.

  66. catholicmidwest says:

    These things can be very hard on your spiritual life. Yes, by all means, back off when you need to.
    I’m also a convert and find these things very difficult. The best thing I can tell you is that when things like this happen, you should stand back and remember who matters most to you, and the reason you became Catholic in the first place. The Catholic faith is plagued with politics, but that’s not why I (or you) joined it. I joined it in order to have a relationship with God and know the truth, and this is true for many if not most converts. The rest of this is just practical difficulties, that’s all.

  67. irishgirl says:

    Wow-quite a story about you and Cardinal Meyer, Father Z! Must have been pretty cool to work beside him in Rome!

    And that was nice of the original email poster to calm down and say he was sorry for ‘dissing’ Bishop Henry, too.

    St. Francis de Sales had it on the money when he said, ‘You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’…wise advice, indeed!

  68. MichaelJ says:


    Thanks for clearing up my confusion, although I’ll have to disagree. Some concerns (and I am in no way suggesting that Bishop Henry’s fall into this category) are really not worthy of respect. Individuals, by virtue of the fact that they were created in God’s image always are, but their concerns are not.

    Perhaps I am getting hung up on semantics, but a drug addict, for example, is genuinely concerned with their ability to obtain narcotics. Is that concern worthy of respect?

  69. Fr_Sotelo says:

    A religious order or institute really has no right to offer Mass in a diocese, and no appeal to Rome if the Bishop suspends their Masses. They are invited by a Bishop (or his predecessor) and serve “ad beneplacitum” (according to the Bishop’s good will). The Bishop can make them leave at any moment, for refusing to give Communion in the hand or for no reason at all.

    It would have been good for the FSSP to clarify exactly what it was that the Bishop was asking (“your Excellency, do you mean by this directive that we are to give Communion in the hand and to cease imposing a strictly spiritual communion on the congregation?”). If the answer was in the affirmative, then I would have said, “thank you for clarifying this. We disagree with this guideline, but will work to implement it.”

    Then you go back and say, “the Bishop is insisting that people receive Communion in the hand, and we will follow this guideline.” As people approach the rail and stick out their tongue, you give them Communion on the tongue and if you are challenged later, you simply say, “we implemented your guideline, but have given Communion on the tongue to avoid conflicts at the rail. After Mass, we explain your guideline in case people have been ignorant.”

    The Bishop is not going to get in his car, drive to the church, and scream at people at the Communion rail. He doesn’t have the time and the most important thing is that the priests heard him out and did their best. He will say, “thank you Father, for trying, and just try your best to implement what I am asking.”

    It is foolish to directly challenge authority when it entails that the people will be punished with the possibility of denying them the Mass. There is always a way for a priest to “hear the Bishop”, let him save face, and then go back to the parish and do what is best for his people. Never back a male authority figure into a corner, or he will use the means at his disposal to defend himself and his public image.

    The best solution is for the FSSP to tell the Bishop that they will comply and then ask the people to pray for their Bishop and for the bonds of charity throughout the diocese. Then, if the Bishop allows the Masses to resume, do what you know is pastorally correct.

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