Friday, November 19, 2004

The US Bishops: Leading Us Boldly Forward to 1978

Well, the Bishops had their meeting in Washington this week, and in their deliberations showed more of the bold thinking and outspoken witness to the Truth that has made the Church in the US the "Shining Light on a Hill" which we've known it to be in the last couple of decades.

Some have suggested that some of the decisions taken by the bishops at their meeting indicate that they are seriously beginning to re-think how the USCCB does business, and how the bishops can more effectively witness to the Gospel. I'd like to believe that, but the elections of Bishop William Skylstad as USCCB President and Bishop Donald Trautman as chair of the Bishops' Committee on Liturgy make the suggestion of "rethinking" on the part of the bishops seem a bit counter-intuitive.

Bishop Skylstad is, perhaps, emblematic of the problem of the American bishops: he is mired chest-deep in the priest-abuse scandal, unable to account for his failure to heed warnings about a pedophile priest assigned to work under him as pastor, and about whose conduct he was also aware as a member of the diocese's personnel board. Furthermore, he is leading his diocese of Spokane, Washington, into bankruptcy, the result of mounting lawsuits against the diocese for sexual abuse by priests. Finally, in a meandering column earlier this year, Bishop Skylstad indicated that, in his concern for the common good, he would take no action to publicly hold accountable Catholic officials who support abortion.

So, the US Bishops elected as their president a man who was, at the very least, ineffective in dealing with sexual predators in the clergy, a bishop whose temporal stewardship of his diocese has led to bankruptcy, and a cleric who will not stand up to witness against those who advance the Culture of Death.

And why was Bishop Skylstad elected? Why, because it's his turn, don't you know? It's a strange way to signal that they're "re-thinking" anything.

The election of Bishop Trautman as chair of the liturgy committee is a signal that many bishops want to return us to the heady halcyon days of 1978, and the "flexible" liturgy that Bp. Trautman has championed. For Bishop Trautman is one of the principal architects of the trivialized, banalized, insipid liturgy which is the norm in most American parishes.

In a 2001 article published in America magazine, the Bishop dismissed concern for accurate liturgical translations as Vatican "micro-management", and chafed at Rome's insistence that it have oversight of liturgical translations. Bishop Trautman also seems to think the current ICEL translations we have are just fine, and sees no need for the ongoing work of Vox Clara for truly faithful translation. He asks rhetorically, "Are we to tell our people now that the bishops’ approval of these texts 30 years ago and Rome’s confirmation of that approval was flawed?" In a word, Your Excellency, "Yes". Honesty, a trait which has been in short supply in our episcopate, would demand as much. Anyone with a couple of years of high school Latin can see that the ICEL translation we currently use is flawed from beginning to end. And those with real expertise in Latin and familiarity with the Tradition find it shockingly bad. A whole generation of Catholics has been given watered-down liturgy and has been deprived of our Church's full liturgical patrimony thanks to ICEL. The whole ICEL structure, it's architects and apologists, needs to be jettisoned. Bishop Trautman will be an obstacle to true reform of the liturgy, and his election is lamentable.

There is one glimmer of light in this mess, though. Cardinal George was elected the vice-president of the USCCB, and thus will probably take over the presidency in three years. Perhaps he can resume the work of reform which will in all likelihood be stalled for the near future.

I have predicted that things would get worse before they got better. In this case, I'd rather have been proven wrong.