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Liturgical Institute president resigns

NCR Staff

In a move likely to have significant implications for liturgical affairs in the United States, Benedictine Fr. Cassian Folsom has resigned as president of Rome’s Pontifical Liturgical Institute.

Folsom, an American strongly aligned with conservative trends in liturgy, has served since 1996 as president of the institute, which has long influenced the thinking of both bishops and liturgical experts in the United States.

Folsom’s resignation, which comes in the wake of a change in the top office in the Benedictine order, is expected to result in a more centrist direction for the liturgical organization. It is the Vatican’s official liturgical institute and as such, opinions of its faculty, and particularly its president, are widely considered authoritative.

Folsom has long been associated with the conservative reaction against some aspects of the liturgical changes that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). He has ties to Adoremus, the foremost American conservative liturgical activist group, and to the International Center of Liturgical Studies, a European group for Catholics drawn to the traditional Latin Mass.

More recently, Folsom has championed more traditional forms of church art and architecture, a view some see reflected in a new draft document of the U.S. bishops’ conference on church design.

Folsom’s conservative activism has alienated some Benedictines who regard it as inconsistent with the order’s moderate tradition. The liturgical institute falls under the jurisdiction of the Benedictines. Known as Sant’Anselmo’s, it is housed at the Athenaeum of Sant’Anselmo in Rome.

Folsom’s resignation, a surprise to many observers, followed election of a new abbot primate for Benedictines. Fr. Marcel Rooney, also an American, resigned Sept. 3 as abbot primate midway through his eight-year term. Rooney, who had appointed Folsom acting president of the institute, cited personal reasons for his resignation, but most observers believe it was in part a response to growing unhappiness among the Benedictines to his management, including the conservative direction at the liturgical institute.

Rooney’s successor, chosen in a Sept. 7 election, is Fr. Nokter Wolf, a German who mistrusts ideologies.

Vatican sources told NCR that Folsom, following protocol, had submitted his resignation shortly after Wolf’s election because the president serves at the pleasure of the abbot primate. Wolf immediately accepted Folsom’s resignation. Folsom signaled his surprise by posting a letter on a bulletin board at Sant’Anselmo’s stating that his resignation had been merely “pro forma.” He had told colleagues privately that he had expected to stay on.

The institute’s faculty is expected to select Folsom’s successor by election in November. Folsom will remain on the faculty but will take a sabbatical during this academic year. He heads a new Benedictine monastery he recently founded in Italy called Sedes Sapientiae (Seat of Wisdom).

Folsom, originally from [St. Meinrad’s] Abbey, did not respond to requests for comment.

Wolf declined to say whether Folsom’s ideological orientation had been a factor in his decision to let Folsom step down. Wolf indicated, however, that he prefers a centrist approach. It is important, he said, that “neither a leftist nor a rightist” controls the climate at St. Anselmo’s.

“St. Benedict was against all kinds of ideologies,” Wolf said. “Coming from Germany myself, I have seen too many ideologies.” Wolf, whose student years at Sant’Anselmo’s coincided with the Second Vatican Council, added, “Vatican II is absolutely the real line to take.”

Wolf said his decision to relieve Folsom of the presidency had derived partly from administrative concerns. Folsom has been “acting president” since 1996 because he lacks the proper faculty rank. Wolf said someone who meets the requirements should step into the role. Also, Wolf said, he worried that Folsom’s duties as the founder of a monastery would compete with his commitments as president.

Sources told NCR that Folsom enjoys a reputation as a talented administrator. The decision to create his own monastery at a time when Benedictines are struggling to staff existing facilities has drawn criticism. The monastery was a point of contention during the September congress of Benedictine abbots that elected Wolf.

U.S. observers who regard the institute as important in shaping the American liturgical climate include Fr. James Moroney, head of the U.S. bishops’ staff for liturgical affairs.

“Barely a month goes by that someone from Sant’Anselmo doesn’t make a significant contribution to the work of this office,” Moroney said. He told NCR that faculty members have advised American bishops on matters ranging from translation principles to the rites of ordination.

Msgr. Francis Mannion, who runs a liturgical studies program at Chicago’s Mundelein Seminary, described the Sant’Anselmo as “the premier institute of liturgical studies in the world.”

“All the best-trained American liturgists have studied there,” he said.

The e-mail address for John L. Allen Jr. is jallen@natcath.org

National Catholic Reporter, October 27, 2000 [corrected 11/03/2000]