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Fearful ideologues ambush liturgical reform

The ambush that some of the most reactionary elements in Catholic church leadership have carried out against liturgical reform is unconscionable.

Ambush aptly describes what has happened in recent years to the International Commission on English in the Liturgy -- called ICEL. This papacy has permitted a wholesale reversal of the intent of the Second Vatican Council, the work of 30 years of some of the best liturgists and biblical scholars throughout the world and the oversight by bishops of a translation approach that had the written approval of Pope Paul VI. The ambush happened at the urging of a small but highly dogmatic band of revisionists, largely in the United States, and aided by the likes of Chicago Cardinal Francis George and Denver Archbishop Charles Chaput, who served as point men on the mission.

While one of the most serious crises to rock the church in modern times went largely unattended, these clerics focused their attention on making sure that no unnecessary feminine pronoun crossed the lips of the faithful.

Perhaps they feel some consolation that, as members of a conference that now lacks credibility in the broader culture, they can still throw some weight around inside the church. Little by little they used backroom tactics, secret meetings, and the power of the office of Chilean Cardinal Jorge Medina Estévez, head of the Congregation for Divine Worship, to remake the International Commission on English in the Liturgy.

This paper has documented the overthrow of ICEL from the start. The reporting of Rome correspondent John Allen has consistently shone light on a story that would otherwise have gone mostly unnoticed.

What has happened is shameful, because a small cadre has decided -- not by dint of persuasion or by choice of most of the English-speaking Catholics, but by ecclesiastical force -- to roll back the work of a host of bishops and scholars who labored for more than three decades.

What was once the work of experts approved by the overwhelming votes of national conferences of bishops has now been put in the hands of ideologues fearful should our liturgies and prayers, in even the slightest way, appear inclusive. What we will get is the work of liturgical hobgoblins. This is an affront to men and women throughout the church, many of whom will continue to edit texts in the pews so that the language they speak in prayer is inclusive.

The shame of the matter is compounded by the fact that the revisionists’ tactics have demeaned and maligned the work and reputations of so many. Scottish Bishop Maurice Taylor, former chair of the International Commission, did little to hide his indignation in a press statement:

“The members of ICEL’s episcopal board have in effect been judged to be irresponsible in the liturgical texts that they have approved over the years. The bishops of the English-speaking conferences, voting by large majorities to approve the vernacular liturgical texts prepared by ICEL, have been similarly judged. And the labors of all those faithful and dedicated priests, religious and laypeople who over the years devoted many hours of their lives to the work of ICEL, have been called into question.”

The overthrow of ICEL is, in many ways, but another manifestation of the hubris that infects so much of the leadership of the church today. Those who proudly wear the labels of self-proclaimed orthodoxy and tradition often betray the best of both in their actions. They hold themselves above accountability. They set themselves up as bulwarks against dreaded secular influence and the evils of modernity when they actually fear the intelligence of the faithful and they fear losing control.

And God, in all her glory, surely is not pleased.

National Catholic Reporter, August 30, 2002