In February this year I did several posts about the resignation of Benedictine monk Fr. Anthony Ruff from ICEL (The International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) which he joined in 2005.
My main post on this is here.
Fr. Ruff was a Professor of liturgy, liturgical music and Gregorian chant at St. John's University in Minnesota,
In February he published an open letter to U.S. Catholic Bishops in America magazine explaining why he withdrew from all of his speaking engagements on the new Roman Missal.
"I'm sure bishops want a speaker who can put the new missal in a positive light," Ruff wrote, "and that would require me to say things I do not believe."
Now in today's NCR this article titled The Accidental Activist , from which the following extracts are given below, Fr Ruff expands on those reasons and his disquiet at the church hierarchy and their increasingly questionable methods as he gave a lecture in New York to the newly formed New York City chapter of Call to Action.
"Beyond his objections as a liturgist, on a pastoral level this cumbersome wording worries Ruff.
"I offer Mass for inmates at an area prison," he told the audience. "Some of them cannot even read English." How will these men and women adapt to the changes and find meaning in this language?
What troubles Ruff most about the experience is that not one bishop, even those with close ties to Rome, seemed to have the courage to speak up.
"Our system is not set up to tell the truth. It is not possible for those doing the work to say to those in charge 'this isn't working,'" he said.
"The bishops would be critical of Rome's translations over drinks at night, but the next day we would read that they were publicly defending the new Missal as a great moment of renewal. "
Cardinal and bishop source NY Times
"Our problem is that our structure doesn't allow people to say what they believe for the good of the church."
Ruff said he doesn't think all of the changes in the new Missal are bad. But because the process was so cloaked in secrecy, it necessarily became tainted.
"If there had been more collaboration at the table, those who are upset or confused by the new translations might have had the opportunity to see the reasons for the changes," Ruff said. "This lack of transparency leads us to automatically assume the worst of church leadership."
Since his open letter to the bishops, many have asked Ruff whether he is "in trouble" with the hierarchy. At first, he was surprised by these questions.
"This is not exactly a hot-button issue in the way issues of sexuality are. I would hope that we could at least have a variety of opinions about translation."
He has learned, however, that this new translation is just one more symptom of a profound dysfunction in the hierarchical structure.
"It reflects deeply problematic views of the relationship between the See of Peter and local church, the relationship between the church and culture, and the relationship between tradition and the ongoing need for renewal," he said.
These are large problems that pervade the church. But it is a church that Ruff intends to engage in and be a part of for the rest of his life.
His own disillusionment with the institutional church has sparked a new kind of creative vision. He now dreams of a renewed church that honors the prophetic tradition while also celebrating the beauty of tradition.
"I would love to belong to a community that was working for the transformation of unjust structures in church and society as well as offering direct outreach to the victims of oppression," he said.
"But this fantasy religious community would also pray the entire office in Latin chant. So, I'm not sure I'm going to find many fellow travelers."
My own thoughts
Having experienced the new Roman Missal since its recent introduction here in the UK I find myself in agreement with Fr. Ruff and I have commented on this in previous posts too.
But it is his views on the intractability of the institutional church that weigh heavily on my mind and heart.
The added fact that these criticisms come from someone of his background in the church continues to provide more evidence that there are serious concerns for the future welfare of my church.
When the big government in the church succeeds in provoking one of its most loyal members to resign from a post he was more than capable of, and when he
"Our system is not set up to tell the truth. It is not possible for those doing the work to say to those in charge 'this isn't working,', I find that my alarm bells are going off once again.
It indicates a situation reminiscent of Cool Hand Luke , as one where" what we've got here is failure to communicate !" ( If you are not familiar with film I recommend you see it as its saturated in religious allegory.)
Seismic problems face the church. There are repeated refrains coming from the few who dare speak out about the increasing enforcement of curial power inside the bureaucracies of the Vatican.
I am grateful and fortunate to have spent a lot of my life nurtured by priests and communities that welcomed free critical thinking.
These priests managed to encourage and nurture people of all persuasions in a climate that managed to hold the inevitable tensions of different generations and persuasions with good humour and a pastoral sense that allowed them to engage deeply with their people.
They did not hold anyone with different convictions at arms length nor did they create a hostile dictatorial climate.
Yes, there were challenges but I had a deep wellspring of vibrant faith and openness to draw from throughout my formative years.
I was optimistic about the future.
There are still priests I know who fulfil their pastoral ministry with richness deep humanity and generative self -giving.
But there are others who seem to be operating from a mindset that is narrow, defensive and constricted and who offer bleak and stultifying models of faith that are dry and lifeless.
Lately, I see the wells of optimism drying up.
The vigorous assertion of centralised power is completely at variance with the collegiality endorsed by Vatican II which emphasised the role of the local churches and bishop's conferences. More bishops and cardinals are being appointed by Pope Benedict who are subservient yes-men, dismantling the cornerstone of reform established by Vatican II.
Giving special status to an organisational sect that reports exclusively to the Pope and which bypasses episcopal and bishops conferences is a disgrace.
The ever increasing uber -right strategies of the church I am living in are in complete opposition to the letter and the spirit of Vatican II.
Genuine obedience does not operate in a climate of humiliating fear and censorship.
Fr Ruff has courageously spoken up for his convictions and he and all the other clergy who must be feeling the pain of stasis and retrenchment deserves support from those of us who still choose to stay in this sick church of ours and pray for its renewal.
Remember Cool Hand Luke ?
Click here for the final scene from Cool Hand Luke .....
There is rich symbolism on masses of levels here....
( sorry, there is no embed code for it)
Call To Action website is here