Friday, September 21, 2007

Decision time

Another example of a bishop's defiance over Summorum Pontificum, this time in Italy:

Naples, Sep. 17, 2007 ( - Bishop Raffaele Nogaro of Caserta, Italy forbade the celebrate of the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass on Sunday, September 15, despite the permission granted by Pope Benedict XVI for all priests to use the older liturgical form.

The Italian daily Il Messagero reports that Bishop Nogaro ordered Msgr. Giovanni Battista Gionta to cancel plans for a Mass using the 1962 Roman Missal at the Shrine of St. Anne. Msgr. Gionta, who had scheduled the Mass at the request of local Catholics, posted a note at the shrine to announce that he was changing plans. "I obey the bishop," he explained.

Il Messagero said that Bishop Nogaro ordered the cancellation of the Mass "so as not to set a precedent." The bishop said that he was taking action to help his people pray properly, since "to mumble in Latin serves no purpose."

All right, this is not only defiance of the motu proprio, but the bit about "muttering" displays an ignorance and arrogance about the Latin Mass that is breathtaking in a bishop. But perhaps not so surprising: ordained a priest in 1958, as the rot was taking hold, and made a bishop in 1982, in Pope John Paul II's early years, before he became more careful about the bishops he was appointing.

This is a watershed for the papacy -- and not just the papacy of Benedict XVI. If Nogaro is disciplined publicly, we can look forward to much better obedience to Rome among the other bishops. If, on the other hand, Rome ignores him, or for any reason fails to call him to account, it'll be downhill fast from here on out. The temptation to do nothing will be strong, since Nogaro is only a year or so from the mandatory retirement age of 75.

Back in 1968, Pope Paul VI backed down when confronted by the defiance by some Catholics of his encyclical Humanae Vitae, in which he had reaffirmed the Church's well-grounded and longstanding opposition to abortion, among other things. His decision not to discipline the rebels within the Church cost his papacy much of the impact it might have had in its later years.

But at least one could say that the issue in Humanae Vitae was a big, external one -- asking the faithful to buck some very powerful cultural trends, largely involving their interaction with the outside world and their private behavior. The motu proprio is about a matter of liturgy, exclusively about how things are to be done within the Church. Yet it is intrinsically vitally important to the Eucharistic core of Catholic practice and belief.

If Rome can't or won't enforce its decision on this subject, and bring itself to correct this errant bishop, it will be sad day indeed, and Pope Benedict may see his ability to move the Church out the "spirit of Vatican II" morass much weakened.