South African Bishop stands against Benedict XVI’s restoration of the Church

The National Catholic Fishwrap reproduced on its site a talk given by South African Bishop Kevin Dowling (about whom WDTPRS has written before).  I think they were especially interested to support Bp. Dowling’s talk, because he attacks what he called "restorationism". 

He doesn’t like the path Pope Benedict, especially, has set us on.  (He doesn’t really distinguish very well between John Paul’s and Benedict’s pontificate, by the way, and we are not surprised.)

As for the context, Bishop Dowling gave the talk to a sympathetic group and thought he was off the record.  This talk, therefore, reflects his real thinking, and the thinking of a still large group in the Church.

There is so much in this talk that is just plain wrong it is too hard here to interject all points we would require. Let’s take just two points from His Excellency’s talk and drill at them for a bit.

Here is a central point of His Excellency’s talk, to save you some time:

“The Southern Cross [South Africa’s weekly Catholic newspaper] about 3 or 4 weeks ago published a picture of Bishop Slattery with his "cappa magna". For me, such a display of what amounts to triumphalism in a church torn apart by the sexual abuse scandal, is most unfortunate.”

We must respond: Episcopal miters are medieval in origin, too, Excellency. So are the bishops’ rings, crosiers and coats-of-arms.

You use all three.

Do you feel “triumphalistic” when you think of the sexual abuse scandal during Mass?

Perhaps while you’re at it, you’d like to tell Eastern Rite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox hierarchs to simplify their vesture as well? They use crowns!

And don’t forget the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the women Anglican bishops!!

A second point… and I think this is what is going to permit His Excellency to experience at first hand an examination by the CDF of his … notions:  Bp. Dowling doesn’t seem to think that the Church exercises its teaching Magisterium unless through an Ecumenical Council.  Perpend:

Lest we do not highlight sufficiently this important fact. Vatican II was an ecumenical council, i.e., a solemn exercise of the magisterium of the church, i.e. the college of bishops gathered together with the bishop of Rome and exercising a teaching function for the whole church. In other words, its vision, its principles and the direction it gave are to be followed and implemented by all, from the pope to the peasant farmer in the fields of Honduras.

Since Vatican II there has been no such similar exercise of teaching authority by the magisterium. Instead, a series of decrees, pronouncements and decisions which have been given various "labels" stating, for example, that they must be firmly held to with "internal assent" by the Catholic faithful, but in reality are simply the theological or pastoral interpretations or opinions of those who have power at the centre of the church. They have not been solemnly defined as belonging to the "deposit of the faith" to be believed and followed, therefore, by all Catholics, as with other solemnly proclaimed dogmas. For example, the issues of celibacy for the priesthood and the ordination of women, withdrawn even from the realm of discussion. Therefore, such pronouncements are open to scrutiny — to discern whether they are in accord, for example, with the fundamental theological vision of Vatican II, or whether there is indeed a case to be made for a different interpretation or opinion.

Let’s see.  There are some doctrinal questions to be asked about His Excellency’s positions.

Just for an example I recall Ordinatio sacerdotalis, by which John Paul II definitely clarified that the Church has no authority to ordain women.  It was later clarified by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that the teaching of Ordinatio sacerdotalis is part of the deposit of faith.

Then also does His Excellency really believe that the teaching of a Council overrules or places constraints on the teaching authority of the Pope?   So it would seem.

Should the Bishop need to pick up some extra miters and rings, along with his inevitable frequent flier miles, the shop Euroclero is directly across the street from the Palazzo Sant’Uffizio.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Our Catholic Identity, SESSIUNCULA, The Drill, Throwing a Nutty and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Soccer balls are spheres, ancient symbols of Gaia and the cosmos, yet humans dare _play_ with them despite all the bad things they’ve done on Earth and in the cosmos. There’s war in the world, and yet nations have the gall to pretend that they can play games together in peace. They even pretend to have goals.

    Shame on them for anticipating a future they hope for, or attempting to show some transcendent truth behind all this world’s sorrows!

    Why doesn’t this South African archbishop denounce FIFA and all its pomps and empty promises, not to mention its vuvuzelas? Shouldn’t he tell people to stop and feel ashamed of themselves, to shuffle their feet instead of dribbling with them?

  2. Dorcas says:

    I have no problem with nice vestments or other special garb, but I am confused about the extreme length of the cape pictured. Does the exaggerated length have some special meaning? It seems very impractical. It could almost be seen as a kind of self-parody, a satirical comment on worldliness, and ostentiousness, but I am sure that is not the real meaning…

    Also, didn’t Jesus caution against people swaning around in fancy robes to display their position and gain honor among men? How does that square with this kind of garment, especially since it is strictly for display and not for use in liturgy?

  3. The Egyptian says:

    I too believe the cappa magna pictured is a bit much, however compared to some of the potato sack and lookie me tie died affairs surly we can come to a middle ground, More beauty and reverence PLEASE

  4. William of the Old says:

    Dorcas and The Egyptian: you might find interesting an explanation and commentary that was posted on the NLM recently:

  5. dcs says:

    Also, didn’t Jesus caution against people swaning around in fancy robes to display their position and gain honor among men? How does that square with this kind of garment, especially since it is strictly for display and not for use in liturgy?

    We would do well to remember that Our Lord Himself wore a robe so fine that his executioners cast lots to see who would get it.

  6. Sadly, the Bishop was addressing a group of lay people. This does not bode well at all. Nor does the fact that he questioned other the Church teachings(interpretations). Sadly, tThere is trouble brewing here in South Africa…

  7. Dorcas says:

    Thanks, William…that really helps; looks like I actually wasn’t right off the mark; it *is* a comment on worldliness. And to dcs, I always understood that the casting of lots was because it was a garment that could not be divided because of the way it was made, not because it was especially fine (although maybe it was that, too.) I recommend the link above…

  8. Joshua08 says:

    Dorcas, the fact that it was seamless would make it worth a lot of money. That is some delicate labor. At least that is my understanding

  9. A garment woven in one seamless piece but wide enough to fit a big man is a virtuoso work of weaving, especially given the kind of weaving technology that the Virgin Mary (or whoever) was probably working with. You wouldn’t have made such a thing out of cruddy fiber. You wouldn’t have been able to buy such a thing for cheap, especially in an economy in Galilee and Judea where most workingmen only owned a long tunic (or two!) and a cloak.

  10. Dorcas says:

    perhaps, but regardless, it doesn’t constitute a great justification for a 6m+ scarlet cape of silk and fur! :)The explanation at the NLM link is much better.

  11. JosephMary says:

    The Jesuit editorial writer and many readers of the fishwrap AMERICA magazine love what Bp. Dowling had to say.

  12. Nathan says:

    I’m curious–why does the cappa magna seem to be such an issue? I was at the Shrine and also attended +(RIP)Cardinal Stickler celebrating a Pontifical TLM at St Patrick’s in NYC. The cappa magna was used during the first five minutes, before Holy Mass started, during the prelate’s entry into the church. I thought it was cool, a fine tradition befitting a successor to the Apostles, then Mass began (ok, it took a bit longer than five minutes to get to Mass at the Shrine).

    If I were a bishop brought up in the Bugnini school of liturgical minimalism, it certainly seems that there are a lot more elements of a Solemn Pontifical Mass that would be the focus of my criticism than the cappa magna, for instance the number of servers, the roles of the assistant priests and deacons, the elaborate processions between throne and altar, the use of candle and book bearers, etc. Nonetheless, it seems (especially from the discussion on the NLM link above) that the cappa magna alone is the main stumbling block between the proponents of the TLM and the Novus Ordo.

    Or is it, perhaps, that the use of the cappa magna is becoming a sound bite in a bigger discussion?

    In Christ,

  13. What I found uncanny from this article is the amount of people that SUPPORTED him, and the way in which they did support him.

    I wrote about this on my blog, because I thought these types of folks were slowly going away. I guess I was naive. I also think that I now know why I don’t read the NCR.

    I think from a philo-theo-logical level there is a reason this type of thinking goes hand and hand with the crazy ideas that were constructed in thin air from the V-II documents.

  14. Dorcas says:

    Nathan, I don’t get the impression that it is the main stumbling block. However, the other elements of liturgical elaboration are pretty obvious in terms of their meaning (partly because they are functional as well as symbolic) whereas the cappa magna is just so unusual in length, and mostly symbolic…but it’s symbolic message is unclear. I think people then question what the message might be, and the cappa magna comes to symbolize of the rest of the elaboration, because it is so strange.

  15. Theodorus says:

    Have we ever heard of any criticism from those heretical and liberal clergy against glass/clay chalice, ugly vestment and other liturgical abuses? And yet they would seize any opportunity to mock and criticize traditional way of worship and devotion. Unless Rome exercises its authority to discipline those wolves in shepherds’ clothing, it is utterly meaningless for us to vent. Quite frankly I am not even upset anymore after hearing and reading such news for so long. If the Pope doesn’t care, why should I.

  16. Brian2 says:

    Nathan I’ve been thinking the same thing regarding the cappa magna. Its just red cloth after all, hardly a bank buster. I bet one could get the cloth at a fabric store for cheaper than the computer I am typing on. I just found silk on-line for 10 bucks a yard. We could make a hundred yard cappa magna for around 1000 dollars. A more modest 75 foot one would cost a fraction of that.

  17. Nathan says:

    Thanks, Dorcas and Brian2. Dorcas, I think you have a good point, the cappa magna is unusual in its use. We could all use more understanding of its history and symbolism.

    As to the stumbling block, I’ve seen it mostly from those seeking to cast the Pontifical High Mass at the Shrine specifically, and the TLM generally, as “triumphal medievalism.” Bp Dowling, U.S. Catholic , and others all appear to focus on the cappa magna as the example, par excellence, of their critique. It seems, to me, to be a focus on something that isn’t really the main effort of the ars celebrandi or of the liturgical philosophy they seek to criticize.

  18. wmeyer says:

    Fr. Z, your link in the article for the CDF is actually pointing to your own site admin.

  19. Athelstan says:

    Hello Nathan,

    Nonetheless, it seems (especially from the discussion on the NLM link above) that the cappa magna alone is the main stumbling block between the proponents of the TLM and the Novus Ordo.

    If only that were the case.

  20. Hans says:

    Does getting rid of “triumphalism” mean we have to get rid of this, too?? I mean, he doesn’t have a cappa magna, but dressing in gold-trimmed purple silk, holding a crown, and being flanked by angels seems pretty “triumphal” to me.

  21. Henry Edwards says:

    I didn’t recall having heard of Bishop Kevin Dowling before, and hence did a little search to see what sorts of views he might have expressed on other subjects, partly to gauge how seriously to take his view on this one.

    I gather that he’s best known on the larger scene for his advocacy for the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV.

    In regard to the approval of the new English translation of the Roman Missal, he was “concerned that this latest decision from the Vatican may be interpreted as another example of what is perceived to be a systematic and well-managed dismantling of the vision, theology and ecclesiology of Vatican II.”

    Now we find that Bishop Dowling is concerned with a whole series of decrees, pronouncements and decisions from “those who have power at the centre of the church” – Is this a reference to what many of us who are less sophisticated might consider to represent the Magisterium? — but may not be “in accord with the fundamental theological vision of Vatican II”.

    I wouldn’t myself claim to know precisely where the cappa magna fits in the fundamental theological vision of Vatican II. However, I doubt that this is really His Excellency’s main problem with that admittedly (and most gratifyingly) triumphal Mass at the National Basilica. I suspect the principal problem is that it was such a glorious triumph.

    That said, I recall a passing thought while watching Bishop Slattery’s entrance, a certain look on his face at one point that might have betrayed a feeling that he wouldn’t have minded being spared the cappa magna that had originally been written into the script for infliction on the Cardinal he replaced at the last moment.

    I could have done without it myself. No big deal, one way or the other. But I wonder whether some of those who seem to take it more seriously may share some of Bishop Dowling’s views on more consequential matters. Is the cappa magna just a . . . big red herring?

  22. asperges says:

    40 years of plastic, washable liturgy and a glimpse of the glorious, like this, designed to inspire and raise the mind and heart to the splendour of the heavenly court and they all become super humble.

    The same mentality balks at all ceremony, which is now considered mediaeval and superfluous. Yet we are creatures who need to be moved and inspired and overawed at times, if only to point us in the right direction. This is he power of the liturgy which cannot always be wholly cerebral. EF and OF again.

  23. Fr_Sotelo says:

    I don’t know if this is legend, but I once heard that in medieval processions, prelates were born horseback.

    I also heard that the cappa of princes and prelates would be draped over the horse, to give more pageantry and color for the liturgical processions through the streets. This would explain the length of the cappa. It acted as a train when the prelate was walking, but while on horseback was a practical covering to decorate the horse with draping.

  24. Nathan says:

    Hello, Athelstan–

    Well, I did a fine job of not saying what I intended to say! I was trying (miserably) to point to the seeming ability of a cappa magna to elict a strong visceral reaction in a number of liturgical progressives. I’ll defer to the wisdom of the gentlemanly Henry Edwards, who actually expressed what I was thinking.

    BTW, Athelstan, I hope you’re doing well. I really enjoyed chatting with you at the DC blognic.

    In Christ,

  25. DT says:

    Interesting thoughts from Bishop Dowling. I will cite just briefly Avery Cardinal Dulles’ “Magisterium” (highly recommended read!). In the 7th chapter (“The Response Due to the Magisterium”), Cardinal Dulles examines the degree of assent needed from the faithful on matters of revelation, doctrine, and various other teachings.

    “In the manuals published before and during Vatican II, it was customary to attach notes or qualifications to every proposition being taught. . . . A very simplified list would include the following:

    1. A doctrine of faith
    2. Doctrine infallibly taught as inseparably connected with revelation
    3. Doctrine authoritatively but non-infallibly taught by Magisterium
    4. Theological conclusion logically deduced from a proposition of faith
    5. Probable opinion

    In the decade following the council these theological notes disappeared from textbooks. There was a confusion as to what doctrines were binding, on what grounds, and in what measure” (Magisterium, 83-84).

    Each of these categories, according to Cdl. Dulles, required differing levels of assent on the part of the faithful. Cdl. Dulles cites Lumen Gentium in explaining that the 3rd category requires “religious submission of will and intellect” (Magisterium, 92).

    It appears from the citation that H. E. Dowling has a firm grasp of these distinctions. What is not so clear from the NCR piece is whether H. E. Dowling is advocating discussion or dissent.

    Cdl. Dulles’ conclusion:

    “To dissent from definitive non-revealed teaching, or to doubt it, is not heresy. But those who dissent from such doctrines are opposed to the Church’s definitive teaching and are objectively in error. . . . Theologians who dissent from doctrines in this. . . category frequently claim that the doctrines are not definitely taught. . . But this evasion is not acceptable in cases in which the Magisterium clearly teaches that the doctrines must be definitely held” (Magisterium, 96).

  26. TonyLayne says:

    It’s nice to know that, since Bp. Dowling’s opinions weren’t documented in concilium with his brother bishops, they aren’t infallible according to his own definition.

    “It appears from the citation that H. E. Dowling has a firm grasp of these distinctions [between the relative weights of doctrines]. What is not so clear from the NCR piece is whether H. E. Dowling is advocating discussion or dissent.”

    Sorry, DT, I have to disagree with you here. It’s clear from the extract that +Dowling has disposed of the distinctions in favor of a “decreed in council/not decreed in council” bifurcation all too similar to the Orthodox/Protestant rejection of papal authority. However, this is a self-defeating proposition, since the supreme teaching authority of the Pope was itself declared in concilium, and +Dowling can’t undermine the authority of V1 without endangering V2.

    As for whether he is promoting discussion or dissent: It’s clear from the context that +Dowling is proposing a critique of the various decisions of JP2 and B16 as if they were theses authored by bright but naïve and intellectually sloppy master’s-degree candidates rather than by Vicars of Christ. Roma locuta est; causa finita est: While the future may or may not bring a complete relaxation of clerical celibacy, the ordination of women is no longer an open question, whether +Dowling agrees with it or not. Therefore, his contention that Ordinatio sacerdotis is somehow “open to scrutiny” is mere fantasy.

  27. StMalachy says:

    Bishop Dowling is unfortunately a loose cannon. He is very much in the “peace and justice” mould – he is a Redemptorist after all – and I suspect he and +Trautperson would enjoy each others company!

  28. catholicmidwest says:

    ““The Southern Cross [South Africa’s weekly Catholic newspaper] about 3 or 4 weeks ago published a picture of Bishop Slattery with his “cappa magna”. For me, such a display of what amounts to triumphalism in a church torn apart by the sexual abuse scandal, is most unfortunate.”

    Absolutely & completely, a dead giveaway. Keep your children away from this man. His concept of the meaning of liturgical dress is interesting, isn’t it?

  29. Supertradmum says:

    Isn’t the Church the House of God and are not His ministers in the Presence of the Eucharist, Christ’s Body and Blood given to us on earth? Seems to me that minimalism has no place in the Holiest of Holies. And we mortals need signs, symbols, pomp and circumstance on high, holy days. Otherwise, bride and groom could wear gunny sacks and not pay up to 20k for the wedding, etc.

    Sadly, our minimalism extends to brain rot about the necessity and propriety of ecclesiastical clothing. And that goes for the short-shorts worn at our Sunday Masses here-where is the respect for God?

    Go, Bishop Dowling, to a Byzantine rite Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and see the love and respect we Latin riters should be giving to God.

  30. Supertradmum says:

    By the way, I think this type of criticism is a hidden form of envy, such as envy for those in high places or for the rich or supposed rich, an envy growing and being stoked by the politics of envy…

  31. New Sister says:

    I love the cappa magna – love it love it love it. When Bishop Slaterly processed in I had no idea what it was called (that is the only Pontifical Mass I’m familiar with to date), but just seeing it filled me with gratitude for my faith, for being Catholic – and I quite appreciate Brian2’s comment, how we could make a “modest 75 foot” capa magna …”modest” indeed! :-) But let’s keep them 100+! I am honored to help pay for dignified, regal vestments for our priests and bishops. They should be vested in the best we can afford.

  32. New Sister says:

    Supertradmum – envy sure, but I think the crticism is not-so-hidden evil — it’s Judas; it’s Marxism

Comments are closed.