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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

But…but… but he’s a conservative!: Norman Co-ordinate!

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Archbishop Chaput's famous feather Archbishop Chaput's famous feather

One little item among zillions caught my attention today as I was having my morning coffee and Facebook scroll (I remember when I used to read the paper…). The music director for the Philadelphia archdiocese has suddenly quit. This made the local news because it is just hours before the Red Hour when Pope Francis is expected to show up for the World Meeting of Families, an event which will doubtless be a glorious extravapolooza of mercy, joy, welcoming and accompaniment.

John Romeri quit, citing “irreconcilable differences” between his idea and Archbishop Chaput’s idea of what music is supposed to be for in the liturgy. The Easter liturgies were reportedly punctuated by Chaput growling under his breath that Romeri was not long for his job.

“After the chrism mass on [Holy Thursday], Chaput said, 'You might not be coming back for Easter,’” reported.

It’s funny, isn’t it, how quickly the headline writer at Phillymag jumped to the s-word… it seems to be much in the air of late: “Ahead of Pope Francis’ Visit, a Musical Schism in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.”

So, I know what you’re thinking: it’s Chaput, right? The guy’s one of the most conservative bishops in the US, so Romeri was probably into the whole guitars and dancing girls routine, and Chaput had finally had enough, right?

Yeah, not so much…

Instrumentalists who have played for him say Romeri prefers conservative (classical) church music while Chaput wants to go in a contemporary direction. "Romeri is said to have more of a ‘high Church’ sensibility in liturgy than Chaput, who has expressed a preference for the newer Mass in English and simpler styles of worship."

Many years ago, back when things were a little less, shall we say, highly charged between the polarities of the Church, I had to explain to someone I worked with that Chaput was going to turn on us at some point. He asked me how I knew. I told him that he’s the kind of priest who likes to “inculturate” things into the liturgy. I sent him a photo of the soon-to-be bishop of Denver waving an eagle feather over the altar at a Mass. (He’s part Potawatomi Indian, as everyone knows from the number of times a week he tells everyone.)

I explained to my colleague that, as a conservative himself, he hadn’t yet quite figured out the connection between the liturgy and theology. Liturgy is always, always, an expression of what we believe. So the rule is, where there is bad liturgy – made up, improvisational and personalized – there will always be bad theology. Always.

And sure enough, a year or two later, the “archconservative” Chaput didn’t fail to disappoint on some fairly significant areas of the moral law, and my friend was as shocked and horrified as a novusordoist conservative usually is when one of their heroes turns out to have modernist clay feet.

This story neatly illustrates the problem that the poor Novusordoist conservatives are now facing. Being in a constant state of awkwardness about their basic assumptions, having failed to grasp (or refused to face) the foundational Catholic ecclesiological concepts and the fact that they are utterly incompatible with the dictates of Modernia, they have a habit of clinging to this or that discrete artifact or individual. This is why they so often make a hobby out of pointing to their favourite heroes and yelling, “See? He’s a conservative! You Trads are doom-saying nutbars!” And then when their paragon says or does stuff that’s incompatible with their worldview, they have sad little logical programming-conflict melt-downs as that worldview slowly crumbles. Smoke comes out of their poor wee ears: “But Chaput’s a conservative! But the pope can never be wrong! Norman! Co-ordinate!”

This is how we got the disquieting phenomenon of papalotry in the first place, and why we now have the sad spectacle of ever more desperate “conservatives” trying to defend the indefensible. The logic of their precarious situation is increasingly undeniable, but the alternatives – accept the traditional ecclesiology and theology of Catholicism and join the Trads in social exile, or follow the path of the Protestant revolutionaries into functional atheism – is too much for most of them to deal with, so they lash out at us for being so unkind as to point out their difficulty. (Well, also because we tend to snigger a bit... we’re only human, after all.)

Meanwhile, the circus continues to be more entertaining every day. Seriously, I don’t think there’s enough popcorn in the world to keep us going through the next six months.

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Last modified on Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.