The People Speak Out

Local voices connecting globally

This is important: to get to know people, listen, expand the circle of ideas. The world is crisscrossed by roads that come closer together and move apart, but the important thing is that they lead towards the Good.  (Pope Francis)

Canon Law 212 calls upon the laity to speak up:

2 - The Christian faithful are free to make known to the pastors of the Church their needs, especially spiritual ones, and their desires.

§3. - According to the knowledge, competence, and prestige which they possess, they have the right and even at times the duty to manifest to the sacred pastors their opinion on matters which pertain to the good of the Church and to make their opinion known to the rest of the Christian faithful, without prejudice to the integrity of faith and morals, with reverence toward their pastors, and attentive to common advantage and the dignity of persons.

The following is my letter to the then head of the Canadian catholic bishops and the second is my bishop’s reply to the copy I sent him as a courtesy.

Calgary, Ab., January 1, 2012

Archbishop Richard Smith, President of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops:
Eighty-three years ago, in November, 1928, I was born into a faithful Catholic family. I was a religious boy and by the time I reached puberty, wondered if I might have a calling to the priesthood. I gave it no serious consideration however because I knew that I had no calling to celibacy. For many years I have thought that if I had been homosexual, I would most likely have gone into the priesthood. I think I could have been a good priest, partly at least because I have known some homosexual men who were good priests and I think I could have been like them.
I have remained a committed Catholic all my life, married a committed Catholic woman and raised eight children in the church. (Partly because of the abuse scandals, most have left the Catholic church.) In the years prior to Vatican II, both my wife and I did our very best to participate in the mass, using our St. Joseph’s missals to follow, as best we could in English, the mumbled Latin.
We both were active in our parishes. My wife was an active member of the CWL, I was in the Knights of Columbus and Holy Name Society, and when called upon by a forward looking priest, worked on his financial advisory committee promoting tithing in our parish.
Vatican II was a transformational event in our lives. By the end of that council, we understood that we have a right, even a duty, to form our own consciences, by doctrine of course, but through prayer and study as well. As soon as the documents of the Council were available, we purchased and studied them. It was a revelation to us to come to understand that we, with the millions of other lay people, equally with priests and hierarchy, are a Pilgrim People of God, called to live in and transform the world, and that we were not obliged to just blindly obey what the priests told us, but to find our own ways as adults to try to live our Christian lives.
Following the Council, we became even more involved in our parish life as well as serving in the wider community. My wife had sung in choirs for years and in the nineteen-seventies took a leadership role, leading congregational singing, and running both folk choirs and funeral choirs. She also attended several music seminars in cities in the U.S. in order to enhance her ministry.
As soon as our parish had a Parish Council, I became involved in several leadership roles including Education, Liturgy and Council Chairman. We both became involved in catechetical work, teaching and counselling in the RCIA program. We participated in numerous study courses both in our parish and the diocese. In addition we, of course acted as lectors and ministers of communion in our parish as well as in several diocesan celebrations. During the seventies I acted as Chairman of a diocesan Eucharistic Congress and both of us were active for years in the Cursillo movement, serving as lay directors for a two-year term. While we were there, we also helped organize the Cursillo movement in both the Anglican and United churches in our city. Those experiences taught us that we are not alone and can learn much from our “separated brothers and sisters.”
The change to vernacular in the mass was a truly uplifting spiritual experience. For the first time, I truly began to believe that we sacrifice and celebrate as one Body of Christ. Prior to the mass being in our own language there was always a strong element of feeling that the priest did the mass and we were mostly the audience. After the change to vernacular I felt an intimate part of the celebration. That was a huge, uplifting change for me as it was for many other lay people.

The above may sound like boasting, but I do not intend it that way. We simply did our duty and I mention it because we don’t want to be thought to be fringe Catholics, who attend only when they happen to feel like it.

When John-Paul II was elected pope, it was with great hope that I welcomed the first non-Italian pope in centuries. “Surely,” I thought, “he will bring in more of that fresh air that was begun by John XXIII.” Sadly, over the next few years, I watched the increase in centralization of power and the decline and finally, death of collegiality in the church. Every new bishop, it seemed, was more conservative than the last and forward thinking theologians were being silenced or removed. With the main intent of the last two popes seeming to be, in the naming of Cardinals, that they be conservative and ultra-obedient to Rome, it seems impossible that the church, in the foreseeable future, will be blessed with any leaders of the stature of Angelo Roncalli, Leon Suenens and other prime movers of Vatican II.
We were both appalled to hear the Pope say that women could not be priests because women could not reflect Christ because He was a man. I wondered if the Pope had ever read the first chapter of Genesis, which clearly states that both women and men are created in the image and likeness of God! The next chapter in my disillusionment came with the elevation to sainthood of an Italian couple. The couple, according to the Pope’s words, were canonized largely because they had for most of their “married” life, lived as “brother and sister.” To those of us truly married Catholics, that constituted a breaking of their marriage vows and even smacked of a near incestuous lifestyle. My wife and I take very seriously the biblical view of marriage as a bond that unites us as one flesh. It now has become obvious that the celibate hierarchy of the church know little or nothing of married life and the growth in grace that comes from the physical bonding of married couples.
The emergence of the sexual and other abuse scandals in the past decade or so has only strengthened my belief that many bishops and those of influence in the Vatican have completely lost sight of the service they were called to as shepherds. Instead, it seems that the so-called leadership of the church are almost exclusively concerned with preserving their power and image, contrary to the message of Jesus in the twenty-third chapter of the gospel of Matthew.
I also find it almost impossible to fully express my disgust at what some of those who are supposed to be shepherds are prepared to allow to be done to the powerless ones of our church.

Now we come to the final straw: “The New Roman Missal.” We still have the St. Joseph’s Daily Missal that I gave my wife for Christmas in 1961. When I first read the new translation that was brought out this Advent, I dug that old missal out to see how it compared with the new one. There were many differences such as the old ‘prayers at the foot of the altar’ and others, but the tone more closely resembles the old ‘sin-oriented’ Mass than what we have celebrated for forty years. The language used in the translation is in general very ornate and has a medieval feeling instead of being in the easily understood modern English of the former missal.

Some of our objections are the following:

“And with your spirit” St Paul used that blessing in several of his letters, but it was directed from the apostle to his disciples and communities, not from the people to the priest or apostle. In the understanding of the day, body and spirit were believed to be separate and often at war. That is not the understanding of modern theology which sees humans as an integrated whole. If those words are to be used at all it would be better said as; P- “The Lord be with your spirit(s)”…R- “And with yours.” I wonder if the intent is to express to the laity that the priest is a more spiritual being, raised above our level, or that he alone conducts the mass.
The words of the Confiteor are somewhat disarranged and confusing, but the worst of it is the overemphasis on sin. As a small child I was taught that “sinned exceedingly” and “grievous fault” meant mortal sin and was told that I was in peril of God condemning me to hell unless a priest was present to give me absolution when I was dying. By going back to that attitude I believe that the writers of this missal are telling all of us, especially our little children, that we are mortal sinners. To me that constitutes child abuse and I will not and cannot accept it.

Kyrie eléison. It is unlikely that one Canadian in ten thousand understands ancient Greek, so why is that even an option in the missal?
The Gloria; Do we really believe that God only wishes peace to ‘people of good will?’ And who exactly are those ‘people of good will? Pope, Cardinals and bishops perhaps? ‘His people on earth’ was much closer to the teachings of Jesus.
The Creeds: Why the change from ‘we’ to ‘I’? Vatican II described the church as a community gathered to pray, sacrifice and celebrate together. This change takes us back to being people who, though in one place, all worship as individuals. (Is the Lord’s prayer soon to be changed to; ‘My Father…give me this day…forgive me my trespasses…etc?)
In the Nicene creed, the rather silly use of ‘incarnate of’ and ‘consubstantial with’ hardly need comment. The phrase “the Holy Spirit… has spoken through the prophets” clearly implies that the Holy Spirit was limited to prophetic times. What about St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Teresa of Avila, Teilhard de Chardin and many others? This creed seems to be saying that those great teachers were not inspired by the Spirit!
In the apostles creed we are told to say that Jesus descended into hell. I am aware that in the middle ages the concept of hell included both purgatory and limbo, but in modern usage it is solely used as the realm of Satan, from which there is no escape. In the middle ages it was clearly believed that Jesus went down into limbo and released all those good souls who waited there for His coming, so why not simply continue to say that He descended to the dead?

He took the chalice… What was wrong with “He took the cup?” All three synoptic gospels say that He took a cup. Certainly not a chalice of silver, lined with gold.

… “That You should come under my roof” When the Roman officer begged Jesus to cure his child, he surely knew that in His religion the Lord would be made unclean by entering a Roman establishment, so he asked only that the Lord speak His Word to heal her. By using that phrase, is this missal telling us lowly lay people that by receiving Him “under our roofs” we may be making the Lord ritually unclean? What in the name of Heaven was in the minds of those who wrote this stuff?
I was even a little surprised to find that ministers still say “The Body of Christ” as they present the Host. I expected that they might be forced to go back to; “May the body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve your soul unto life everlasting, amen.” — But maybe they wish to wait until they get rid of all of the lay ministers.

The use of flowery, multi-syllabic and arcane wording throughout the new translation does little or nothing to make the mass more inspirational or even understandable, but instead seems to be aimed at making some microphone-assisted bishops and priests sound more impressive as they roll such phrases as “now and for ages unending” and “we make humble prayer and petition” (and on and on)…off their tongues.

As can easily be seen, both my wife and I are deeply hurt and angry at the way the church hierarchy has, bit by bit reversed the modernization of the church that came from Vatican Council II.
Though we as a couple have been deeply bonded together for many years, we are still two people who see the world very differently. My wife says that the parts of the “new” wording that she does not agree with, she will simply ignore and “do her own thing.” I cannot do that. I have come to believe that the only way that the People of God can have any influence on the regression by the leadership of our Church into medieval, hierarchy-centred ways is if we the laity refuse to finance this sorry mess. I do not expect that I can change the attitudes of others, (although I will certainly express my opinion to my fellow Catholics when appropriate) but in conscience I can no longer be a part of it. I therefore have taken the agonizing decision to resign from this travesty of a “church.” And no part of my share of our tithe will any longer go to the Roman Catholic church.
The unwanted and painful distance this has caused in my wife’s and my life, I hold the Catholic hierarchy directly responsible for, so perhaps “greatly sinned” should continue to be said by pope, cardinals and bishops who have imposed it on us. For my part, I will say Jesus’ prayer on the cross;- “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” in the hope that it may someday help me to forgive this church’s hierarchy.

Gene Swain, formerly of St. Patrick’s parish,

Cc: Bishop Frederick Henry, R.C. Diocese of Calgary

This is an exact copy of the reply to my letter that I got from Bp. Henry [typos & all]:

Office of the Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Calgary

January 9, 2012
Mr. Gene Swain
3331 Millrise Pt. SW
Calgary, AB, T2Y 3W4


Dear Gene

I don’t normally reply to letter which are only cc.’d to me but I have decided to make an exception in your case. Why? For two reasons: you are or were a member of this local church and I am the bishop of that church; and secondly, as an elder myself, though not quite as old as you, I see over and over again the old adage confirmed: “there is no fool such as an old fool.” With all due respect, I think you are acting like one.

You are certainly welcome to leave the Roman Catholic Church. It’s your call and you are ultimately responsible to God for your decision. However, do it for the right reason.

Your emphasis on refusing to support the church financially is both amusing and insulting. I don’t know you and you don’t really know me but I can assure you that your protest will have negligible impact. Furthermore, you don’t have enough money to buy me or anyone else involved.

If you choose to leave the church do so with full knowledge and understanding and that I’m afraid you don’t evidence at the moment. I think there is an attitude problem that goes well beyond the so-called “tipping point”. I prefer the humility of the great liberation theologian Gustave Guttierez who once said: “I would rather be one with the church than alone with my theology.”

Furthermore, I have to ask have you ever read Sacrosanctum Concilium (The Constitution on the Divine Liturgy)? If yes, how recently? What about Lumen Gentium (The Constitution on the Church) or Christus Dominus (Decree on the Bishops Pastoral Office in the Church)? Do you understand the fundamental difference in roles, ministries, offices and charisms in the church?

I recently made a presentation on Theological Reflections on the Mass and the Roman Missal (cf. enclosed copy). It may help you understand and appreciate both a bit more. As for the reasons for and the norms involved in the translation, the little booklet entitled “Magnificat” might be enlightening.

I sincerely hope and pray that the Holy Spirit guides in your decision -making. Wishing you all the best, I remain,
Sincerely yours in Christ,
(signature with cross)
(Maltese cross) F. B. Henry
Bishop of Calgary

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