|A Question of Rights
The “Taxidermy” Church
of the Vatican Curia
By James E. Biechler
“Is it just my imagination,
or are we seeing more examples of parishes reverting to pre-Vatican II
architecture and devotions? Not far from here is a church which has
round-the-clock adoration of the monstrance. Can you help me understand
—VMA, Plymouth Meeting,
Our ‘taxidermist’ bishops
seem convinced that their restorations are alive.
Well, first of all, I don’t
think the idea is “adoration of the monstrance” even though there may be
some confusion on that point in the minds of those involved. The
intention is to adore the divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist. Even
though it doesn’t seem that this practice is in conformity with the wishes
of Jesus—didn’t he tell us to ‘take and eat’?—such devotion outside the
liturgy of the Mass has been going on since the 13th century. Vatican
II wished the emphasis to return to the Lord’s Supper, with the altar being
a table rather than a platform for exposition.
In order to help you understand
what is really happening we have to look at the larger picture of events
in the contemporary Catholic Church. A ‘preservationist’ mentality
has developed in the decades since John Paul II began his reign.
Practices which had been abandoned or revised in an attempt to fulfill
the aims of the world’s bishops at the Second Vatican Council need to be
restored if the hierarchy and especially the authorities in the Vatican
court are to maintain and increase their dominance over the Catholic world.
“Preservationism” puts the church back on the path of papal centralism
so well marked out by Pius IX’s definition of papal infallibility, Pius
X’s condemnation of “modernism,” and Pius XII’s world diplomacy.
“Preservationism” focuses on “hierarchy.” It fears lay involvement,
women, marriage, theologians who think, and people like ARCC who believe
in justice and rights for all in the church.
The hierarchs and princes
of the church apparently cannot bear the loss of power and prestige and
seem convinced that by resuscitating non-liturgical devotions, building
multi-million dollar shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and ‘restoring’
the Tridentine Mass, they will retain their power. Instead of dealing
with the real problems of poverty, loss of religious faith, the decreasing
numbers of priests and religious, the alienation of women and intellectuals—the
list goes on—they concentrate on authority and centralized power.
We cannot be faulted if we are led to the conclusion that what we have
in the Vatican today is a group of taxidermists who take the corpses of
dead entities, stuff them with excelsior—the term seems remarkably apt!—and
prop them up for adoration as though they came from the hand of Jesus.
We have an increasing number of “taxidermy” bishops in America today—men
who are so inept as pastors (mostly because they were never pastors until
they were named as bishops)—that they cave in to every pressure from those
who know no church history, little theology, and practically nothing of
Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.
Taxidermy is an art remarkably
appealing to human pride and egoism. I catch a big fish and take
it to a taxidermist who stuffs it with excelsior and mounts it in a lifelike
pose. The hunter shoots a “trophy” deer and the taxidermist takes
the head, puts in fake eyes, and mounts it for glorification. Not
the glorification of God but of the hunter whose ego is enlarged every
time he shows his trophy. The ‘taxidermist’ bishops and priests are
engaged in a similar business, even, it seems, convincing themselves that
their restorations are alive!
But Vatican II was not a
council which based its work on episcopal idiosyncracies. Its work
was solidly grounded on scriptural, historical, liturgical and theological
studies. Its decrees were hammered out by the world’s pastors.
These men were determined that their church should not be a museum piece.
They realized that serious measures were needed to translate the gospels
into an idiom understandable by contemporary, educated people. For
the most part, they did a beautiful job.
The ‘taxidermy’ approach
of today’s Vatican court and its underling ‘taxidermy’ bishops is clearly
not the answer we need in the Third Millennium. Going back to pre-Vatican
II devotions is exactly the wrong direction for the church today.
It is not ‘restoration’ of anything, nor is it really ‘preservation.’
Just like taxidermy!
Dr. Biechler, an emeritus
professor of religion, is a member of ARCC's board of directors. He also
holds a licentiate in canon law and is a longtime member of the Canon Law
Society of America.
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