A couple of days ago, a local news story out of Charlotte broke regarding a Catholic priest. Apparently, after being pastor at a small parish for nearly three years, Fr. Christopher Riehl resigned after several of his parishioners expressed their displeasure with his more traditional directives that were implemented. A rift had risen in the parish, with those who were complaining about his leadership splintering off to hear Mass at a dentist's office in "exile", as some described it. From The Charlotte Observer:
The pastor of a Catholic church in the N.C. mountains whose conservative leadership style split the congregation and drew national media attention has resigned.
In a Facebook post, the Rev. Christopher Riehl of St. John the Evangelist parish in Waynesville wrote that he was “worn out or burned out” and for his own well-being needed to take a sabbatical.
He did not mention the rancor at the parish, where he’s been pastor for nearly three years, or the petition by more than 100 members to have him removed. It was sent to Bishop Peter Jugis, who leads the 46-county Catholic Diocese of Charlotte.
The National Catholic Reporter published a January article on the clash between Riehl and many parishioners in the church of about 250 families. Some of those members have left St. John’s.
The article cast the divide as one of a new pastor who preferred traditionalist approaches to the liturgy and church governance versus parishioners who cherished what had been St. John’s post-Vatican II style of a greater role for the laity and more modern worship and music.
Vatican II refers to the Second Vatican Council of the early- to mid-1960s, when the Roman Catholic Church, for example, permitted the use of local languages for a Mass that had traditionally been celebrated all over the world in Latin.
According to the National Catholic Reporter article, Riehl threw out popular hymns and replaced them with the ancient Gregorian chant. When the music director was relieved of her duties, the article said, most of the choir resigned.
A group calling itself Appalachian Catholics in the Smoky Mountain Region said in a statement earlier this year that Riehl and some other conservative priests assigned by Jugis to small parishes in the mountains “seem to be more intent on taking the church back to pre-Vatican ll days rather than minister to the people. They seem to be steeped in doctrine and theology, but are unwilling to participate in ecumenical activities, and are lacking in compassion, love and mercy. They are doing the job of the theologian, but not the job of the pastor. This is directly opposed to what Pope Francis and Vatican II are teaching us.”...
In his June 4 Facebook post to members of his “parish family,” Riehl wrote that his leaving was not prompted by anything other than his own need to take some time away from parish ministry.
“It is with a heavy heart that I must inform you that I have decided, of my own free will and my own instigation, to resign my position here at St. John’s,” he wrote. “I have found that I am worn out or burned out and for my own well being need to take a sabbatical. There was no incident or event, just a feeling that I need some time away from full parish ministry. I have absolutely no questions or doubts about my vocation to the Priesthood of Christ.”A very sad state of affairs, indeed. NCR (more aptly called the Fishwrap or National Catholic Distorter, by others), also ripped Fr. Riehl over a year and a half ago in an earlier article, which I will quote more below. One commenter on the recent developments in this story said the following:
This new trend is disturbing to me - out with faith, hope and love ... in with appearances of reverence. I am glad these parishioners fought back against this movement of clerical snobbery. I get the sense that some of these younger priests just want to say Mass in what they perceive to be a reverent, or legal, style, without parishioners. It seems like they are removing the communion part of the faith. I hope priests like this can see that their approach is deeply flawed.
I am now starting to understand why our Holy Father talks so much about clericalism, rigidity and legalism in the Church.
The only trend that is disturbing is the trend of disobedience and the trend that wants to see the Latin Rite purged of all it's legitimate traditions. This whole episode leads me to compare and contrast the Latin and Byzantine Rites a bit. But more on that in a bit.
First, the NCReporter article that the Observer quoted from is a horribly, biased article. This writer for a very heterodox publication makes "the smell of incense, [and] the sounds of Latin chant" sound like a horrible thing, and implies the two things are synonymous with an unwelcoming atmosphere. How absolutely ridiculous! The writer claims in his headline that "The clericalism has been canonized". He goes on to write,
|St. Gregory the Great- Jusepe de Ribera|
"[Fr. James Cahil, who leads the disgruntled parishoners, said] 'I feel that I am tolerated. Someone of my generation is suspect of not being fully Catholic. They would likely retire us if they had enough young 'true' Catholic priests," he said.'
[Bishop of the diocese, Peter] Jugis, say a number of older priests, has communicated by his actions that he encourages the restorationist trend among his younger priests. The Cathedral of St. Patrick offers a Latin Mass and other traditionalist liturgical themes. Some older priests say Jugis encourages a cult devoted to external practices and costumes.You're only getting one side of the story from this disobedient publication. Are all young priests really "snobby". In what way does it seem that young priests are "removing the communion part of the faith"? Why is it that faith, hope and love are incompatible with reverence? The two are not mutually exclusive. There is a focus on externals in this "breakaway group" described here as well; the externals they exude is a bland minimalism. They also externally reject any legitimate and pious traditions of the Latin Rite. And they do so in a way that is not seen in, say, the Byzantine rite, or the East and West Syrian Rites.
St. John Paul II told my Ukrainian Catholic cousin priest in a private audience "Keep your traditions". Those traditions include not only the prayers specific to the Byzantine Rite, but also the traditions of beautiful vestments, no women in the sanctuary, Communion only on the tongue, and lots and lots of incense, as well as lots of polyphonic chanting. How would these "Church in Exile" members feel about walking into one of these Byzantine parishes? Would they feel like they had "walked into the dark ages", as one member comments in the article above? What a childish reaction to the legitimate traditions of the Church. Again, why cannot the valid traditions of the Latin Rite not be compatible with "faith hope and love"?
Two other things I noticed. Look at the crowd in the pictures of the "Church in Exile" breakaway group (as NCR describes it... so much for obedience if they style themselves as such a "breakaway group"). See all the graying hair and elderly? There is a reason why the young are not there. There is a reason why these "younger priests" want to bring reverence and traditional piety back to the Mass. Millennials and some in the generation before we denied these traditions in many instances and simply want a hermeneutic of continuity with the past, not a hermeneutic of discontinuity or rupture, which Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI describes quite accurately, and can rightly be ascribed to these members of the "Church in Exile", going from their comments:
The hermeneutic of discontinuity risks ending in a split between the pre-conciliar Church and the post-conciliar Church. It asserts that the texts of the Council as such do not yet express the true spirit of the Council. It claims that they are the result of compromises in which, to reach unanimity, it was found necessary to keep and reconfirm many old things that are now pointless. However, the true spirit of the Council is not to be found in these compromises but instead in the impulses toward the new that are contained in the texts.Our traditions of the Latin rite aren't pointless and just because they give an external appearance of reverence, this does not mean that an internal reverent attitude is not present as has been implied here. Indeed, thee external signs move us towards that internal disposition; we shouldn't be saying that these external signs are leading young people, especially young priests astray.
We felt like the early Christians, gathering together out of fear," said Paul Viau, a member of the Church in Exile.
Others gave up entirely on their Catholicism and joined the Methodist and Episcopalian churches.How telling is this of the faith that those had that disagreed with Fr. Riehl's approach? Was their faith so weak that a simple priest, who tried to bring some legitimate traditions back to a parish that had lost them, was all it took to make them apostatize and leave the barque of Peter? How truly sad.
Again, I wonder how such people would react to their brothers and sister Catholics in the Eastern Rites. Well... maybe I don't have to wonder. If this is how they treat those that embrace the traditions of the Latin Rite (and I'm not even talking about the EF specifically), it's easy to see that my Ukrainian Catholic family members would be mocked as "want[ing] to go back to the 16th century", as one "Church in Exile" member had said.
So I say, " 'clerical snobbery' my foot!" Why don't we try listening to some of the 39 year-old Fr. Riehl's homilies before we judge him as being a snob. Perhaps he could've implemented some changes more slowly, but he's been putting up with this for over two years now. We should stop throwing these charges of "rigidity and legalism" around so flippantly. Fr. Riehl hasn't done any of the things that Pope Francis has denounced. Again, listen to his homilies to see how deeply he cares for his flock; that he has not tossed "out faith, hope, and love." I'm not surprised that he's tired out. He and his parishioners, especially the ones that left the Catholic faith need our prayers.
Now, some might ask, why should I even bring up the Byzantine Rite? These parishioners aren't Byzantine! I understand these parishioners are not Byzantine Catholic. So what? These parishioners are hostile to a type of worship that is natural to all rites of the Church, East or West. Let's look a little more at the January article:
While Francis regularly lambastes clericalism, with the famous injunction that pastoral shepherds should take on the smell of their sheep, the Charlotte diocese has instead been filled with the smell of incense, the sounds of Latin chant...
Other diocesan priests over 50 describe what they call a movement to take the diocese back to pre-Vatican II piety, with a focus on externals, such as elaborate vestments and liturgies concentrated on Latin chant and prayers.First off, the focus is not "on externals"; such things are simply a part of our Catholic identity. The focus is on the Eucharist, as can be seen if one listens to Fr. Riehl's homilies, especially the most recent one.
If what is being described in the article is a negative attribute of the legitimate traditions of the Latin Rite, how can it be positive and beneficial in the Byzantine or Syrian rites? If chant, incense, ad orientem worship, and elaborate vestments are things to be avoided in the Latin Rite, should they not be avoided in the entire Universal Church, including the Eastern Rites? These "exiled" parishioners see these things as "out of step" with Pope Francis.
Well then, if some Latin Rite priests and laity are out of step with Pope Francis and Vatican II (as these practices are called "pre-Vatican II piety" in the article) for exercising these practices, then it follows that not only is Fr. Riehl and the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church my family belongs to out of step with Pope Francis and Vatican II, but all 14 particular Churches of the Byzantine Rite are out of step! That's pretty serious, no? External signs like elaborate vestments and chant are simply "appearances of reverence". If the Latin Rite has purged them, then so should the Byzantine Rite so that the entire Universal Church conforms to the spirit of Vatican II, by this logic.
And this is why I think what these "exiled" parishioners are saying is not heroic or laudable, but absolutely ridiculous. These traditions of ours have not been purged. They've been made optional, and many don't like opting back in to the traditions that have developed in the Latin Rite. Similar traditions in the Byzantine Rite are simply a default, just as it was a default in the Latin Rite only a few decades ago.
As Pope Benedict said, "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful. It behooves all of us to preserve the riches which have developed in the Church’s faith and prayer, and to give them their proper place. " These exiled parishioners apparently do think such things are harmful and should not be preserved, and since they are not sacred (in their view), they would logically believe that such practices that are still carried out in the Byzantine Rite carry the same traits of "clerical snobbery" and should be considered harmful. Because if they are not inherently harmful, then why are such things permitted in the Byzantine Rite as a beneficial aid to worship, but not seen as beneficial when they are done in the Latin Rite? This is the hard question that those who oppose "restorationists", as they call them, need to answer.
In addition, I think it's unfortunate that the pastor had to take a sabbatical over this, and I wish he would've had a bit more fortitude to stay, but if someone were to compare and apply my own statements about the faith of those parishioners that left to the pastor's faith, that would be inaccurate. Fr. Riehl is not leaving the Church. He is also not disobeying his bishop as several of the exiled members did when they (for a time) kept holding Mass at Living Waters Retreat House. He has also not left the Church for Methodism as some of those people have. The comments regarding those parishioners in no way apply to Fr. Riehl... that's why I didn't apply those statements to him.
Now, some might be reticent to totally condemn Fr. Reihl by name, but some have observed, as one commenter to this story put it, that Fr. Reihl "seems to be a part of, that being the movement of a reform of the reform, [which can be considered] clerical snobbery."
A good reply to this would be that it's not merciful to label an entire movement, with legitimate liturgical preferences. The labels of "clericalist" or "snob" suggests that the liturgical movement that is rising within the Church has somehow condemned by the Pope.
Pope Francis has condemned those that are rigid many times. I see no evidence of Fr. Reihl being rigid or guilty of clericalism.
Also, "the reform of the reform" is a valid liturgical movement, as even Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI mentioned it often. Cardinal Robert Sarah has mentioned the "reform of the reform" approvingly on two recent occasions. He said this in his 2016 London address, where he was maligned by many (such as several columnists at the National Catholic Reporter) for asking pastors to implement ad orientem worship in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite, emphases mine:
I have spoken of the fact that some of the reforms introduced following the Council may have been put together according to the spirit of the times and that there has been an increasing amount of critical study by faithful sons and daughters of the Church asking whether what was in fact produced truly implemented the aims of the Constitution, or whether in reality they went beyond them. This discussion sometimes takes place under the title of a “reform of the reform”...
I do not think that we can dismiss the possibility or the desirability of an official reform of the liturgical reform, because its proponents make some important claims in their attempt to be faithful to the Council’s insistence in article 23 of the Constitution “that sound tradition…be retained, and yet the way remain open to legitimate progress” and that “there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them; and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing.”
Indeed, I can say that when I was received in audience by the Holy Father last April, Pope Francis asked me to study the question of a reform of a reform and of how to enrich the two forms of the Roman rite. This will be a delicate work and I ask for your patience and prayers. But if we are to implement Sacrosanctum Concilium more faithfully, if we are to achieve what the Council desired, this is a serious question which must be carefully studied and acted on with the necessary clarity and prudence.And from his address on the 10th Anniversary of Summorum Pontificum just a few months ago:
Many priests... are conscious of working for the liturgical renewal, of contributing their own efforts to the “liturgical movement” that we were just talking about, in other words, in reality, to this mystical and spiritual renewal that is therefore missionary in character, which was intended by the Second Vatican Council, to which Pope Francis is vigorously calling us. The liturgy must therefore always be reformed so as to be more faithful to its mystical essence.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
But most of the time, this “reform” that replaced the genuine “restoration” intended by the Second Vatican Council was carried out in a superficial spirit and on the basis of only one criterion: to suppress at all costs a heritage that must be perceived as totally negative and outmoded so as to excavate a gulf between the time before and the time after the Council. Now it is enough to pick up the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy again and to read it honestly, without betraying its meaning, to see that the true purpose of the Second Vatican Council was not to start a reform that could become the occasion for a break with Tradition, but quite the contrary, to rediscover and to confirm Tradition in its deepest meaning.
In fact, what is called “the reform of the reform”, which perhaps ought to be called more precisely “the mutual enrichment of the rites”, to use an expression from the Magisterium of Benedict XVI, is a primarily spiritual necessity. And it quite obviously concerns the two forms of the Roman rite.As we can see, both Pope Benedict and Pope Francis are on board with the "reform of the reform" (or "the mutual enrichment of rites") as Cardinal Sarah describes above, and as it appears that Fr. Reihl was implementing. And I am aware of the Pope's comments here, but I believe this is merely a matter of semantics. In Cardinal Sarah's recent audience with the Pope, Pope Francis indicated that he does not want the exact term "reform of the reform" used. Cardinal Sarah agreed, and we can see that he was on board with what the Pope said, because he began referring to the "reform of the reform" as "the mutual enrichment of the rites". That term is not as charged as the other, but it's the same thing. It's the same liturgical movement that Cardinal Sarah talked about in both of the addresses I previously posted. But Pope Francis would rather the Cardinal go about describing it in different terms. So yes, I do believe Pope Francis is on board with "the mutual enrichment of the rites", as evidenced by Cardinal Sarah's own testimony, but the Pope would rather not call it the "reform of the reform".
That being said, many people were just fine celebrating Mass the way they wanted prior to the liturgical reforms in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Yet the parishioners were told to change their ways because the traditional way of doing things was too "restrictive" and it was "bad or negative". So yea, I guess you could call Fr. Reihl a "restorationist", as the NCR like to call him in a pejorative sense. But I don't use that term in a pejorative sense here; I say kudos to for Fr. Reihl for taking action on something Cardinal Sarah and Pope Benedict (and even Pope Francis as evidenced above) called attention to.
Now let's look at another aspect of the NCReporter's January story:
In their petition, dated March 9,  signees say that Riehl has... "openly defamed the Second Vatican Council" while substituting popular hymns with Gregorian chant.The portion in quotations come from the parishioners. Shockingly (OK, maybe not), these parishioners think that including Gregorian chant "defames" Vatican II since popular hymns aren't being used at certain times. Ironic, as popular hymns are the substitution for the Mass Propers which are sung in Gregorian chant. If that's not saying anything negative about Gregorian chant, that it's "defamatory", then I don't know what is.
This leads me back to the parallels I made with the Byzantine Rite. The point I made still stands. We've already seen that these parishioners that signed the petition to Bishop Jurgis believe that restoring Gregorian chant to St. John's Masses is "defamatory". They also complained in the petition that "funerals dispensed with any discussion of the deceased, with homilies focused on the church doctrine of purgatory." As if to do so were a bad thing! Parishioners were also quoted as saying "It's the Dark Ages for me. It wasn't like that when I moved here", and, "They want to go back to the 16th century." I don't think they're using the "Dark Ages" or "16th century" in a positive sense here, do you?
The more we dig into this, it's clear that these parishioners of the "church in exile" have a problem with the authentic traditions of the Church. So when certain people such as these speak this way, and have a disdain for traditional practices of the Church, specifically in the Latin Rite, I ask this: why wouldn't they also have a disdain for the same practices in the Byzantine or Syrian Rites of the Catholic Church? If they abhor ad orientem worship in the Latin rite, wouldn't they logically abhor it in the Byzantine Rite? If they see the addition of polyphonic chant in the Ordinary Form of the Latin Rite as having "openly defamed the Second Vatican Council", having a negative perception of Gregorian chant, wouldn't they also perceive polyphonic chant in the Byzantine Rite of also having a defamatory character? But if they don't have this negative view of the Byzantine Divine Liturgy, then my question from earlier still stands.
In closing, it does not worry me that young priests are coming out of seminary who are "reminicsent of pre-Vatican II ways of thinking". I thank God that they are! These men are trying to revive our Latin traditions that have been forgotten. They are heeding the words that St. John Paul gave to my Ukrainian Catholic cousin, encouraging him to rid his Church of Latinizations: "Keep your traditions!" On our side, the Latin Rite side, we have to rid ourselves of modernizations that have led to the "hermeneutic of discontinuity and rupture" we have seen in many US parishes in the last 50 years. Unfortunately, some of those priests will have a bad attitude (I honestly don't think Fr. Reihl is one of those with said bad attitude); but that's always been the case, hasn't it? There are good priests and bad priests. What we need to do as faithful Catholics, is to pray for both, and pray for more vocations to the priesthood so that holy men will fill these ranks.