Monday, February 4, 2019

An open letter to Bishop Hurley

Something a little different today. I wrote a letter to Bishop Walter Hurley, who recently removed a priest from service, not, for once, for an act of horror, but for trying to bring some reverence to a Catholic Sunday mass with the goal of trying to do something within his power to help stop the decline in attendance by younger people.

 A note- I make reference to Protestant religious services several times, not in criticism, but to emphasize the formerly gigantic distinction between a Catholic mass and a Protestant Sunday service. If you don't know, the formality, ritual and familiarity of the mass is an essential identity of Catholicism.

Bishop Walter Hurley, the apostolic administrator of Saginaw, has relieved a priest from his assignment at a parish in Bay City, Michigan.
The reason? Not because of the theft of parish funds. Not for sexual or moral impropriety. Not for supporting ideas opposed to Church teaching like abortion, same-sex marriages, or female ordinations.
No, the priest was not guilty of any of these. This priest’s crime? Attempting to restore some tradition to the liturgy in an attempt to reinvigorate his rapidly dying parish.

A good summary of what happened can be found here:

Here is a copy of the letter I sent:

The Most Rev. Walter A. Hurley
Apostolic Administrator
Diocese of Saginaw MI

            Your Eminence,

            I read with great sadness of your treatment of young Father Edwin Dwyer. His removal has reached the ears of Catholics throughout the country. 
 Put briefly, I believe you have chosen a safe and utterly wrong action that does no service to our church. Sadly, this has not come as a surprise. 
       Two or three times a year, I attend Sunday mass at a beautiful big old church with a proper choir and organ in Brooklyn when we are in port and I am able to get ashore for a few hours. There is easily room for 1,000 people. There are usually less than 100 there, and at age 44 I am the youngest one there.
       My own home parish in [redacted] is better attended. The mostly retired people there use the church as a social center, advertise for insurance, and to listen to tepid Protestant songs played on guitar and drums while a series of foreign-born pass-through priests try to shore up the dwindling attendance. The one thing missing is anyone paying attention to the priest or anything he has to say. But hey, plenty of free coffee and donuts for 80% of the parishioners to enjoy after walking out after communion and before mass ends.
         The brand new parish next town over has a Latin mass once a week. There is nowhere near enough seating, and the sounds of crying babies, animated young families and plans being made brings an energy that I haven’t felt in the last 20 years. I will change parishes when I next return from sea.
       With respect, I ask that you consider restoring Fr. Dwyer. He has inspired people to come back to church, the opposite of what is happening in the west right now. While I recognize that you have a duty to listen to the subset of parishioners who are unhappy with Fr. Dwyer, I do not believe that removing him represents a greater good than the alternatives available.
    Above all other things, it becomes obvious that Fr. Dwyer believes that he has an obligation to his parishioners, to get them to mass again, to act like Catholics again. This resonated with people who weren’t going to mass!  
       I submit that the aging body of leadership within the Catholic Church represents both chicken and egg in fomenting the crisis that is rapidly becoming existential for us. Aside from the self-inflicted horrors that make the news, our bishops and priests do nothing to inspire the young and ensure a future for our church, save occasionally badly aping Protestant revivals for kids, which are rightfully mistrusted and tasteless from our tradition as worshippers.
       The farmers have stopped planting seeds in favor of tending the dwindling existing crop.  There is no secret that age is winnowing down the number of parishioners AND priests. Local actions, such as the events at Our Lady of Peace, where a reversal of this was happening, is a perfect example of why mob rule is not an effective managerial tool. Serving settled practicing parishioners is part of the job. But the church’s recruiting efforts, frankly, are awful, and I pray that this is not intentional. Young priests are a treasure, and it may be that there is something so horribly twisted and disordered and self-reverential in the chain of command in the Church today, that  preservation of that management has become a more important goal than service to  the people and service to the Lord. This is certainly a popular opinion, with reason. There are other, less tactful references to be made, to which we can not enumerate, but all, sadly, appear to be well-deserved. Let this not be one of those things.

 I fear that there will be no church within driving distance of my home when I am your age. In 30 years the number of priests will be a fraction of what it is today. Possibly the number of Catholics, too. A VERY small number of priests and parishes are thriving- not fiscally, as elderly Catholics are certainly generous, and young families rarely have enough money to spare much, but in the spiritual sense- growing and tending to the next generation of us has become a ministry poorly executed, with evidence to be found at every single mass. Fr. Dwyer’s assertion that
”Old ways” are quite popular among younger Catholics. Smells, bells, classic hymns, chant, prolonged silence, and, hold on for this one, LATIN are all largely embraced by the younger generations of the Church.

   This is patently and obviously true. The gap between Catholic Mass and a Unitarian Sunday service has shrunk.  The terribly sad belief that the church administrators are focused on preserving their perquisites and not on service has grown for a reason.  I ask that you support and foster Fr. Dwyer’s efforts to return some reverence to the mass and thereby try to grow the church again.

                            Submitted with respect,

                                                             Paul [redacted]


Beans said...

Yes, what you said, ditto, and all that.

The lack of the 'Mysteries' and 'Secrets,' all the things that made church interesting when I was young, is definitely killing the Church.

And stop the 'holy' dance recital. Get rid of new-school music and return to the roots that made the Catholic Church so sacredly powerful.

Iron City said...

I was raised 2x per year protestant and thanks to my indecently hot New York Jewish wife we have gone to lots of Unitarian services. They can be really interesting, in a hippie kind of way, but they can also turn into mini courses in comparative religion. And if you get them really mad at you they will burn a question mark on your lawn.

Been to a few fairly full dress Masses too (alas, mostly funerals) without much Latin but plenty of "smells and bells" (that's a protestant thing, too, sometimes) With the Mass here is a underlying strong structural aspect that screams stability, continuity and bedrock you can rely on. Were I Catholic I'd not necessarily really go for the full dress bit more than a few times a year, but not having been raised in it the service doesn't have all the memories and associations that it would for people born and raised in the church, I think. And that could be a real comfort and place to go home to.

greendiver said...

Hi Paul, Lindsay B. here from Llano, TX, I have a book I'd like to send you. I tried replying to the e-mail you sent regarding your recipe for Coxinha but I'm thinking it didn't go through. Anyway, if you'll send me a mailing address I'd like to get this book off to you, I'm pretty sure you will enjoy it.

Bob said...

Only thing I'll mention is a nitpick - - Bishops are addressed as Your Excellency. Your Eminence is reserved for cardinals (and the Pope is, of course, addressed as Your Holiness).

jerseygirlangie said...

Copies of your letter should be sent to every Catholic diocese - hell, every Catholic parish ! - in the US !

Tsgt Joe said...

I read your article with some interest, then realized who the priest is. Father eddy,as we called him when he was at our parish( Sacred Heart in Midland) as an associate, is a wonderful young man. If we werent down in florida for the winter we’d be involved in protesting his removal. Speaking of florida, it seems that our age (70) seems about average at the churches we attend and the priests are foreign born. Father Eddy probably goofed when he didnt take the hint to take 3weeks off and the church will learn nothing from this situation. I believe we will write the bishop as well with our concerns.

Brian Niemeier said...

Bravo, Paul! God bless you for exercising your lay vocation to consecrate the world to Christ!

doubletrouble said...

Well done Paul! We attend an FSSP parish in Nashua, & the place is usually crammed for Sunday High Mass. Kids everywhere, & a lot of ‘under 30’s’ attending on their own. Confession lines snake through the pews near the box. The average age is probably around 35, whereas in our old Norvus Ordo parish the average was nearer to 65.
The answer to declining attendance, as you have observed, is obvious.

leaperman said...

Send a letter to the Pope also.

Tsgt Joe said...

Checked the Saginaw Diocese website 3/13 and Fr. Eddy is still un assigned. Rebellion and independant thinking dont sit well in authoritarian organizations.