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Mark C. N. Sullivan is an editor at a Massachusetts university. He is married and the father of three children. Email
Tuesday, July 23, 2002 Bishops who Profaned Sacraments Lectured by Priest who Trashed Sanctuary
The great majority of members of Voice of the Faithful are earnest and dedicated lay Catholics who care about the Church, who do its work on the parish level and who sincerely hope to make the institution better. My mother, God love her, is one of them. Had the ecclesiocracy been doing its job and promoting the Faith rather than scandal, these good people in the pews – the people who do the readings and help give out Communion at Mass, who take the Eucharist to the sick, who support the parochial schools and who organize parish events from Bingo to bean suppers – would not have been moved to take up the campaign banners. They mean well, and are to be wished well, with the hope that good may come of their efforts.
Yet the well-meaning members of VOTF also are advised to be wary: Lay people can be as abusive of power as any clergy – ever tried negotiating with a liturgist? Trading hidebound bishops for a self-appointed "expert" class of Theology PhDs would be no improvement. And it's easy for popular movements to be highjacked by activists with definite – but not always clearly revealed – agendas. While the VOTF says its aim is to play it down the middle, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and too great an emphasis on genteel "consensus" can result in the most pushy – and most radical – seizing the day. Happens all the time in Town Meetings and Faculty Club debates.
Call to Action types are drawn to this type of thing as moths to a flame. As a 1948 Henry Wallace Progressive might note, beware who's actually pulling the strings while you're happily singing along to your Pete Seeger record of "Wabash Cannonball."
Consider, for example, the Rev. William Kremmell, who said the Mass and gave the homily at the VOTF conference in Boston this past weekend. The Boston Globe reported:
Despite concerns by some Voice of the Faithful leaders that the Archdiocese of Boston might attempt to bar them from celebrating the central ritual of Catholic Christian faith, the group closed its daylong convention with a Mass said by the Rev. William Kremmell, a diocesan priest who serves as chaplain to Regis and Framingham State colleges. Kremmell was clearly unafraid of any repercussions - he opened the Mass by noting that 25 years ago any Catholic convention of this size would have tried to persuade a bishop to celebrate Mass for them - prompting laughter from the crowd; he said that in 25 years, "hopefully," a married woman might be presiding over such a Mass; and he allowed laymen and women to join him in reading the Gospel, a task normally reserved for priests. His homily was greeted with applause when he declared: "No more abuse."
It was not the first time Fr. Kremmell had struck a maverick tone in the pulpit. Here is an excerpt from his essay "The Use of Media in the Liturgy," which was published in Reading, Preaching and Celebrating the Word, edited by J. Paul Marcoux [apparently not the Weakland one] (Sunday Publications, 1980):
I once introduced a sermon on ecology by dumping a bag of trash in the sanctuary. I noted the shock of many people in the congregation, and suggested that they should be equally shocked at the litter on the sidewalks and streets of our community, since God is likewise present there and our neighborhoods are therefore as holy as the sanctuary of the Church building. On another occasion (the Feast of Christ the King) I placed a television set on a table in the sanctuary; I put lighted candles on either side of the T.V.; and I asked the people in the congregation: "Who or what is enthroned and given the greater place of honor in our homes, Christ our King, or the television set?" On one Easter Sunday, I gave my homily while seated atop an eight foot ladder in front of the altar. I suggested that we all want to be UP, to be on top of things in our life, and that this is Christ's ultimate promise to us through his Resurrection. I have used masks on Halloween, helium-filled balloons for the Ascension, and once I used a sledge hammer to break down the walls that separate us from one another, even at Mass. I have used many visuals (some people might be tempted to call them "gimmicks") which are the stuff of our people, just as Jesus used the fig trees and vineyards were the stuff of His people. I have used drama and have involved the congregation in the action; they have enjoyed it, and through it they have grown in their appreciation of the gospel message.
Thus the VOTF spectacle: Bishops who profaned the sacraments by abetting child molesters being lectured by a priest who literally trashed the sanctuary. It is a sad commentary on the current Situation that the latter, in this case, is ceded the moral high ground.