DISUNITED THEY STAND


Eureka Street is a smug little magazine of religious and general affairs, highbrow in aspiration but middlebrow in realisation. It is published (and subsidised) by the Jesuits, and represents their attempt to contrive an Australian version of the Tablet, that standard-bearer of Catholic anti-Vaticanism in England. Eureka Street is the name of a lane behind the Jesuit publishing headquarters in Richmond, Victoria, a thoroughfare that must have seemed to Eureka Street's begetters when thinking up a title conveniently close for reasons that have nothing to do with bringing the car round the back. Did the Eureka appeal to editorial hopes that readers opening the magazine and absorbing its wisdom would leap from their baths in transports of enlightenment? Perhaps. More probably though the appeal was as an allusion to an intended policy of dissent parallel to that of the Tablet, but with a flavour of Irish-Australian nationalism and the cultural larrikinism thrown in, in the spirit of the stockade and its rebellious heroes.

In selecting contributors the editors of Eureka Street exercise the Jesuits' well-known preferential option for leftish bien-pensant social workers, university teachers and journalists, the kind of people who see themselves as radicals fighting injustice like the miners in the stockade, but are themselves pillars of a liberal establishment that enforces its orthodoxies in all areas of public life. There is a stock catalogue of them on the magazine's website, where the cast list includes such luminaries of the left as Moira Rayner, Clive Hamilton, Frank Brennan and Paul Collins. At the editorial heart of Eureka Street the dual spirits of Vatican II and the Berrigan brothers still flicker falteringly after nearly half a century, like the fading flame on a liquescent tea light.

Naturally, as a mouthpiece of modern Aussie Jesuits, Eureka Street is no fan of Pope Benedict XVI and is especially disapproving of his efforts to clear away the dated detritus of post-Vatican II liturgical innovation. The Pope's rehabilitation of the Latin Mass is a particular cause of irritation. Vatican II enthusiasts have fought tooth and nail to keep the post-conciliar Mass the only Mass because its radical discontinuity with what went before symbolises their distorted and unhistorical notion of the Council as a "fresh start" for the Church.

Eureka Street article touching on this topic and subsequently the subject of a complaint and a retraction has afforded the following pleasing little illustration of the way in which opposition to a papal initiative is expressed by a member of an order once noted for its loyalty to the Pope, the opposer scuttling back behind a wall of apologies and protestations of having been misunderstood when called to account, like a child caught out playing knick-knock. The article was published in 2009 but I have only recently come across Eureka Street's retraction.

The article was headed "Disunity in the Year of the Priest" and came from the pen of the magazine's arch-liberal theological correspondent, Father Andrew Hamilton SJ. The complainant, a young Sydney priest called Father James McCarthy (son of the new Australian ambassador to the Holy See) drew attention to the fact that in his article Hamilton had "fairly explicitly" criticised three unnamed newly ordained priests, one of whom McCarthy felt might be taken to be himself, for having said their first Mass (an important event for every new priest) in - you can almost hear Hamilton's shocked little intake of breath at the thought - Latin (though whether Latin in the "old Mass" now authorised by Pope Benedict as the Extraordinary Form or in the normative text of the post-Vatican II Novus Ordo was not specified). In Hamilton's book this was an act of "disunity", as he explained in his article:

"The concerted choice of Latin suggests that many young priests share a distinctive vision of the Church, of priesthood and of pastoral priorities that older priests would not share."

Which being interpreted is, they don't go along with the desacralised, pottery-cup-and-ironing-board, cardboard-language liturgy that Hamilton's generation forced on their congregations, and the concomitant theology that demotes the priest from alter Christus to "presider" at a communally celebrated memorial meal.

Moreover, Hamilton admonishes, "the co-existence in the same church of priests who have a radically different outlook and preference for forms of worship ... would affect particularly the critical relationship between priests and the people they are ordained to serve. Will congregations be subjected to the conflicting styles of preferences of priests who succeed one another?" (And a pretty rich question that is, coming from a representative of the generation that, in order to release the "spirit" of the liturgy and let it float free, made ignoring the unifying rubrics in the Missal the core strategy of their ars celebrandi, so that from church to church no Mass is quite the same.) "Will there be a settlement by which individual congregations are reserved to Latinophile or Anglophile (sic) priests? Will Catholics be encouraged to shop around to find priests and congregations that offer congenial brands of Catholic life and worship?"

Talk about the boot being on the other foot. That last question describes exactly what Catholics are obliged to do to avoid the awfulness of the liturgy the Eureka Street mentality has imposed wherever it has been able. But that of course is fine, as long as it's only unreconstructed pre-Vatican II reactionaries and nutters who have to shop around. But what if liturgical liberals had to? Oh dear, it doesn't augur well, those three young priests ordained in Sydney saying their first Mass in Latin.

Except of course that they didn't. So keen was he to get in his snipe against Latin that Hamilton had rushed into print on the basis of hearsay or his own imagination. "I do accept that I was mistaken in saying that three out of four priests in the Sydney archdiocese celebrated their first Mass in Latin," he conceded in reply to McCarthy's letter. "I should have checked the facts before publishing the statement. And" - get this - "I apologise to Fr McCarthy for inferring" (sic again, he means implying) "that he had himself celebrated his first Mass in Latin, and for any hurt" (my italics) "that this inference" (sic yet again) "may have caused him." That phrase "for any hurt" is revealing of Hamilton's own attitude to the traditional Mass, I should say. He'd presumably be very put out in the unlikely event of someone accusing him of saying one.

Hamilton went on, still in unconsciously self-revelatory mode: "I should also emphasise that in my article I did not argue that it would be blameworthy for a priest to celebrate his first Mass in Latin," - blameworthy! What could be blameworthy in a Catholic priest doing something authorised by the Pope himself? - "nor that it would be divisive to do so." Why then did he write an article nominating the use of Latin as one of the contributing elements to this supposed disunity in the Year of the Priest? "I wanted only to argue that among priests there are quite different approaches to their priesthood, and that this must be recognised in order to ensure that these differences do not become divisive." Yeah, of course.

It might be argued that such disunity as there undoubtedly is in Catholicism can be laid at the door of those who in the fifty years since the Second Vatican Council have consistently misrepresented and defied the liturgical norms of the Church in the name of "renewal" rather than of those now seeking to return to the traditional Mass and to authentic Catholicism.

In this regard a young priest such as Father McCarthy represents the future. He describes himself as "pastorally formed and prepared to celebrate the Mass in whatever form and way the faithful desire and spiritually need." In other words he is happy to celebrate a Latin Mass if required and presumably at some point will. So will many if not most of the other young priests emerging from the seminaries. Eureka Street and the Hamiltons of this world will have to like it or lump it. They can either persist in their own anti-Latinate disunity or get with the programme.

31 January 2013


5 comments:

  1. Bring it on! Let's have a return to pre-Vatican II. I love your writing style.

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  2. Bring it on! Let's return to pre-Vatican II. I love your writing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Yet another excellent post. You should write more about the Catholic Church as you clearly have talent for spotting an interesting story and writing further about it. The likes of Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ have almost had their day and it will be a happy occasion when it arrives It's a pity Eureka Street doesn't invite you to be guest editor for an edition on what was wrong with the Second Vatican Council. Imagine?

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