The analogy which I drew in my previous post, Imagine Yourself . . . , is a pretty strained and obvious one, and perhaps it trivializes the mission of Holy Mother Church, but it nonetheless serves as an passable introduction to a major problem in the Church in general and the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas in particular.
Now, before I get started, I acknowledge that I've been blogging nearly a year, and I've avoided dwelling too much on my own community, the St. Rose Philippine Duschene Latin Mass Community which meets at Blessed Sacrament parish in Kansas City, Kansas (Low Mass at 9:30, High Mass at 10:45—please join us). I haven't hidden my affiliation to the Community (we're not really a "parish" or anything like it canonically, so I'm stuck describing us as a "Community," even though has a rather newfangled ring to it). On the other hand, frankly, until recently, I've thought it better for the Community not to be too closely associated with me—they don't need a cantankerous blowhard who can't correct typos—someone like me—appointing himself as a community spokesman.
But circumstances change from time to time, and circumstances have changed for me and for the Community. Specifically, we're in Church-closin' season, and the Archbishop has his pastoral planning henchmen out amongst the parishes, gathering data, getting input, and making sure the church closing . . . er . . . the pastoral planning . . . process is conducted openly, and that the people who will be affected feel like they've participated fully in determining their own demise . . . I mean, their own future. I'm going to hit the issue head on. Not, of course, as the self-appointed community spokesman. I'm not. I haven't discussed my thoughts below with the chaplain or with any significant number of laymen in the community. I'm simply speaking for myself, from information I've been fortunate enough to gather here and there.
So the goal is tobe open and have the Catholics affected by the pastoral planning process particiate in and take ownership of the process. But there's just one problem. One group of Catholics isn't a part of the process. Like the odd store in my analogy which is ignored by the folks at the home office, one group is being systematically ignored by the consultants and, to the extent possible, the Archdiocesan facilitator, Teresa Horvat. That group is the St. Rose Philippine Duschene Community.
A little history here: The Community is made up of Catholics who are in regular standing with the Archbishop and fully subject themselves to his ordinary jurisdiction, and who have (as a community at least) stayed with the Archdiocese for almost twenty years, through persecution by the chancery and contempt from clergy and other Catholics. When they first started to grow and 200 or 300 started showing up to Mass, Archbishop Strecker tried to marginalize them by limiting Masses to twice a month, and that restriction continued for quite a while. Eventually, with the changing of the archepiscopal guard, they managed to restore their weekly Mass. It's only been in the last few years that they've been permitted daily Mass. The members honestly didn't have to put up with that persecution and those restrictions—they could have received the sacraments and enjoyed a full Catholic community life at one of the SSPX communities in Kansas City, Missouri or St. Mary's, Kansas (as many other people, understandably, did). But, out of a desire to remain within the regular structure of the Church—loyalty or stubbornness or fighting spirit or a little of all three—they tolerated the injustice, and as described below, they've prevailed by nearly every measure.
In 1995, there were only a couple dozen families that were considered part of the community. In 2000, there were 75 or 80 households. Now, there are more than 200 households registered, and somewhere between 700 and 800 people (not to mention the regular attendees who never registered with us). And they've grown only by two means: word of mouth and breeding. They have never been written up in the Leaven, and they aren't listed on the Archdiocesan website. I know one member who lived in the diocese for over six years before he knew the Community existed, and this is a man who once actually contacted the Archdiocesan liturgy office in despair to find out where he could get a good Mass celebrated in a traditional (small "t") manner, but the consultant who staffed it did not mention the Community. They have not only been ignored—they have been systematically and intentionally hidden from public view.
Today the Community is a vibrant one, with two full-time young priests who live upright lives, set an example of personal holiness and sacrifice, preach powerfully and truthfully, follow the rules, and spend more than a dozen hours each week in the confessional. They have two or three baptisms a month, and twenty or twenty-five first Holy Communions a year. At the other end of life, they only have one or two funerals a year. The Community has large families: there are more children than adults, with something like 50 families with 4 or more kids, and over a dozen with 6 or more kids, driving all those miles in gas-guzzling full-size, 10 passenger vans in order to get to Mass. Just recently, the community has spawned three vocations, and has had a hand in several more. Mass attendance is about 80% every Sunday (remarkable, considering how far people drive and how many other Catholic churches they pass) and there are 40 or 50 at the typical daily Mass, despite the fact that it's at noon, in the middle of the homeschooling day, and in a location that's difficult for any of the working men like me to reach. Needless to say, the Mass is celebrated reverently and strictly according to the rubrics, and the music is very good. We've got a small army of altar boys, too—always more than a dozen at High Mass. The Community has regular after-Mass social hours, picnics, a banquet and other activities, adult catechism classes, and is also active in the larger community, particularly in pro-life causes. We have two members of the Kansas legislature, professors, lawyers, doctors and a couple of published authors in our midst, too. And finally, our collections (though they look small in the bulletin every week) are the highest per household in the area. We're solvent, and we're supporting our Community. There's a lot more to the Community as well. By every measure it is a vibrant parish (or it would be if it were only a real, canonical parish)
But unless I told all of the above (or unless you're involved with the Community for some time), you wouldn't know any of this. Unless you've heard about us by accident or you've been reading this blog, you wouldn't know the Community existed.
And that's exactly the problem here. Going back to our retail/restaurant analogy, the Archbishop, the president of our chain, would (but for our Community's extra effort to publicize our story) never find out any of this. In the pastoral planning process being run by Meitler Consultants and Teresa Horvat and Msgr. Thomas Tank, our Community has not been recognized as a distinct group in any way.
In the initial scheduling of "Listening Sessions," special sessions were arranged for the Spanish parishioners in the parishes where they are in significant numbers—recognizing their special needs, as well as the language barrier. However, the Community didn't get its own session. Even though the Community has its own special needs, and its own language barrier, of sorts, (and even though the Community is actually bigger in numbers than the regular parish) it was lumped in with the regular Blessed Sacrament listening session. (The result of that, BTW, was rather odd. The Archdiocesan facilitator was trying to write down strengths and challenges for two distinct groups whose comments were directly contradictory, e.g., one of the challenges was that "there weren't enough young people," while more than a dozen kids from our small contingent were going nuts in the back of the room, and one of our members suggested that we needed a cryroom and diaper changing facilities to accommodate all the young mothers and children. After the listening session I heard (through the grapevine—I haven't seen it) that Horvat minimized the Community's comments in her summary, and only through the quick action of several people in the community was a fair, comprehensive presentation of our strengths, challenges and vision written and submitted to the consultants and to the Archbishop. I've also learned, again through the grapevine, that the "hard" data on our demographics and finances which was gathered by our Community was not included in the initial reports prepared by the Archbishop's consultants. All they reported was Mass attendance. Again, but for the quick action of several people who are attending to such things, the facts about our community would never reach the Archbishop. It's safe to assume that if we don't continue to exercise such diligence, we'll be excluded from the remaining steps of the process (and even if we do exercise this diligence, we may be ignored by the Archbishop when the time comes for a decision, but we'll address that possibility only if and when it seems to be coming).
Which begs the question—the question that most of the people who've read this far have already answered: Why are we being ignored? Why don't the consultants at Meitler and the Chancery powers like Teresa Horvat and Msgr. Tank want to deal with us on par with the other communities?
Is it because we're doing something we shouldn't be doing? Let's see, even if we set aside St. Pius V's bull Quo Primum, we can take comfort in Ecclesia Dei Adflicta and in numerous other statements of various canonical weight and made by persons of pastoral influence that we're doing exactly what we're permitted to do. We're just celebrating Mass and living the liturgical life of the church fully and (if I may say so myself) beautifully, and we're taking joy and comfort, as much as we can, in the company of others who want the same.
Is it because we're culturally different? At first glance, no. In fact, to look at us quickly, you'd see we're pretty white-bread. However, a closer look suggests that we might be a little different. The women dress modestly, many covering their heads, and the men tend to wear coats and ties. They have religious and pro-life bumper stickers you don't see on many cars at other parishes (not me though--I'm not a bumper sticker guy). The families tend not to own TV's, or to rarely turn them on if they do. They tend to homeschool, and they appear (at least when they're all together) to be a rather devout and earnest bunch, in an old fashioned way. But then, I'm sure the Archdiocesan powers that be, if they recognized these sorts of things as a cultural difference, would not discriminate against the Community on the basis of cultural difference! Surely not!
Is it because we're failing? No, see the above.
Is it because we're too successful? How can you be too successful as a religious community? How can one say that two hundred or two hundred and fifty families are too many, or that collections per household are too high, or that there are too many children, or that there are too many confessions?
Then again, maybe we're on to something here. Too much success.
No one in the chancery would never say there was "too much" success in the Community. But someone—particularly someone who had a hand in implementing the changes in liturgy, catechesis, and administration of the Archdiocese over the last twenty or thirty or forty years—wouldn't want to have the success of a Community that generally was untouched by that implementation to stand in contrast to the steady degeneration of those regular parishes that they did help shape. Such a comparison would never do, particularly when such a person is now answering to an outsider—the new Archbishop from St. Louis who is judging both, and who doesn't have as much personal investment in the status quo.
Right now, I have to believe that the Archbishop is not a party to the systematic silencing that's going on—I have to assume he's a man of good will. But on the other hand, I can't say the same for those whom he has working on this process. I don't believe they want him to be able to evaluate our Community on the merits.
And we'll continue to reflect on that over the next day or two.