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Cardinal George fires Gabe Huck, longtime liturgical publisher

Special Report Writer

The recent firing of Gabe Huck, longtime director of one of the major publishers of liturgical materials, is the latest indication of a campaign to change the course of liturgical renewal underway since Vatican II. Huck, 60, was officially notified of his removal as director of [Liturgy Training Publications] (LTP) in mid-July during a meeting with Chicago Cardinal Francis George.

[Liturgy Training Publications] is owned by the Chicago archdiocese. The company, which publishes books and training materials that are widely used in Catholic parishes and schools, has been in the forefront of liturgical renewal in the Catholic church for the past two decades.

In a letter to Huck, the cardinal thanked him for his “good work,” adding, “I believe this is a new moment in liturgical catechesis, one that requires new policy and new direction.”

Huck told NCR the cardinal’s action “surprised me in the timing,” though he acknowledged his relationship with George has been stormy. “We have had some clashes over inclusive language,” he said, citing disputes regarding the company’s publication of the Psalter prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), over a book on Eucharistic prayer and over the publishing house’s use of the New Revised Standard Version translation of scripture.

Two years ago, George’s appointment of Msgr. Francis Mannion to launch a Liturgy Institute was viewed by many as a move to dilute Huck’s position, but Huck continued his work unimpeded, reporting to Auxiliary Bishop Joseph Perry, with whom, he said, “We’ve had a good relationship.”

[Liturgy Training Publications] has grown dramatically since Huck joined a two-member staff in 1977 when it produced about $100,000 in sales yearly. The staff has grown to more than 50 and sales to about $7 million a year. The company provides a sizable subsidy to the archdiocese.

The company’s books and training materials have won scores of awards from the Catholic Press Association, associations of liturgical leaders, marketing groups and visual and graphic art associations, both religious and secular. Recently materials in Spanish have found growing acceptance in the United States and in Latin America.

Huck himself is author of the company’s “Liturgy with Style and Grace” and a variety of other works dealing with the Paschal Triduum, the Communion rite, preaching and communal singing.

Huck said the cardinal indicated to him that he wants to work more closely with the Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, whose present staff Huck finds excessively compliant with Vatican directives. Huck faulted the staff for “constantly shuttling back and forth from Rome to Washington, playing an active role in the whole series of retro measures aimed at putting an end to the liturgical renewal begun by Vatican II, and involving itself with the circle of Roman authorities only too eager to hear the complaints of reactionaries in this country and to translate those complaints into new legislation or into heavy-handed changes.”

He was even more outspoken in a speech last fall when the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Consultants presented [Liturgy Training Publications] with the Msgr. Frederick McManus Award for leadership in pastoral liturgy.

“We are in the midst of a whirlwind of the line-drawers and the literalists,” Huck declared, “the successors of those fearful curial folk who never wanted a council in the first place.” He referred to the Second Vatican Council (1963-65), the impetus for widespread liturgical renewal in the church.

Huck regretted that “the Catholic genius for sacramentality and metaphor” is being replaced by “the Catholic weakness for power and for the literal.” He was particularly angry, he said, “about Rome’s suffocation of ICEL and our bishops’ so-far willing compliance,” and about the “way that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal has been recast in Rome without consultation beyond those unhappy few who grind their paltry axes.”

In his letter to Huck, the cardinal did not amplify on how he understands the “new moment” requiring new leadership, but some limited insight may be gleaned from his commencement address at Thomas Aquinas College in California last spring. George stressed a need for more literal translation of Latin in the liturgy and extreme restriction on inclusive language.

“The translations still being used in our celebration of the liturgy were done far too quickly,” he said, “probably with good intent.” But, he said, “they did not adequately capture the Latin original. And a new document [Authenticam Liturgiam] … from the Holy See presents guidelines for the second generation of translated liturgical books,” which must be “understandable in English but with the first emphasis on fidelity to the Latin.” There is great difficulty, he added, in making these translations inclusive. “We want to see that this language is inclusive as possible,” he noted. “And yet we cannot do that, and most bishops, being kind men, are sensitive to that.” Very often, he explained, “in the kind of language that now is politically correct, we have an idiom that is unable, in itself, intrinsically incapable of expressing the mysteries of our faith.”

Bishop Donald Trautman, former head of the U.S. Bishops’ Committee on the Liturgy, told NCR he was saddened by the removal of Huck, whom he called an “extremely competent liturgist who has done so much for the American liturgical renewal.”

A former director of the bishops’ committee, Divine Word Fr. Thomas Kosnicki, said he “fears the progress we have made since Vatican II can be too easily eroded.”

Fr. Michael Joncas, liturgical author and professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, said, “I regret that Gabe’s contribution to renewal has been diminished, if not removed.” Joncas praised Huck for his refusal to let liturgical renewal be divorced from social justice issues, his “profound gift for crafting language,” his respect for historical tradition, and his “sensitivity to what is possible in parish settings.”

Huck, who has until Aug. 31 to depart from his position, said he has no idea what his next move will be, but Fr. Joseph Champlin, former associate director of the Bishops’ Committee on Liturgy, said, “I think someone will surely take advantage of his experience and expertise.”

National Catholic Reporter, August 10, 2001 [corrected 09/07/2001