Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Scandal in Suburbia

The Washington Post, in a recent installment of the ironically-named column "On Faith," reports on a situation developing at a parish in the Virginia suburbs of DC.

The popular music director at a Catholic parish in Fairfax says her pastor demanded her resignation after she was quoted in a Washington Post article sympathizing with the women's ordination movement. The pastor denies the assertion ...

A volunteer organist quit in support of the music director, and an effort is underway to get the church musicians to boycott playing at Mass in protest. Others are rallying behind the pastor.

It seems that the music director of this parish, a former nun married to a former priest, took complete leave of her senses, and made comments on the record to a major newspaper, dissenting from a constant teaching of the Church.

Sylvia Mulherin, 69, a former nun married to a former priest, said that Jesus was progressive in his treatment of women but that, over time, men unjustly pushed women out. "Maybe the women don't have to come in the back door, but we still have to sit in the pews," said Mulherin, who lives in Fairfax County.

The pastor is not going to comment on a personnel matter. He's not supposed to. But it's very likely that any telephone conservation they had, amounted to his recourse to persuasion, that she disassociate herself from the position just as publicly as she assumed it. That probably didn't go over well, so the pastor had no choice but to disassociate her from her job -- you know, the one on the payroll of that from which she was dissenting.

Hey, doesn't the REAL world work that way? Diss your employer in public one day, out on the street the next day. Who knew? Many of the parishioners don't, because they're supposedly divided over this, and a woman who didn't want the Post to make anything out of this ...

... tearfully asked The Post not to write about her situation.

"I was a faithful person, and I thought you could express yourself but didn't recognize that there is no further discussion allowed on this point," she said Wednesday. "Frankly, I've always done exactly what they want and never went against anything. ... please let this go, I don't want to get involved."

And with that, Sylvia Mulherin appears to be the inspiration for an attempted boycott of the parish music program.

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Saint Leo's may be the last parish in the world where one might expect such drama. The church building itself is a typical example of poorly inspired modern architecture. A large blank brick wall in the middle of the sanctuary, was for years the setting for a gigantic felt banner, that was amateurishly conceived, and perfectly dreadful. With each change to the liturgical season, it would be replaced by another equally gigantic and equally dreadful banner. Thankfully, a renovation of the sanctuary in the last few years (a magnificent job, by the way!) eliminated the need for such a monstrosity -- Deo gratias! -- at which time a celebration could well have ensued, the banners consumed in a large bonfire, surrounded by the faithful joyfully singing Te Deum.

But I imagine they're not that inventive.

In the mid-1990s, I was a member of a schola put together by a parishioner there. At our first attempt, the Mass began with the celebrant prattling on for several minutes after the Greeting, about the Latin Mass of days gone by and what-not. The endeavor didn't last long, as we didn't so much sing the Mass, as we did sing AT the Mass, and not even the whole setting, which is a guaranteed kiss of death for a beginning schola. Oh, but the pastor was "completely supportive of us." It probably helped that we weren't too much of an imposition.

A few years later, there was an opening for a director/musician for the Sunday evening folk choir. I must have been a glutton for punishment at the time, because I was one of two applicants. The job went to the other guy. It's just as well, for in the years that followed, they succumed to purveying that praise-and-worship Steubenville sound from the charismatic movement, the kind that brings out the obnoxious in flattop-flogging guitar slingers everywhere.

And finally, it was several years ago that Saint Leo's was ...

... [the] suburban parish where Father Benedict Groeschel was the main celebrant. The entrance hymn concluded, and the celebrant was about to begin. Just then, a concelebrating priest in residence interrupted the Rite of Greeting [and] went on for several minutes while standing at the altar of God, about what a privilege it was to have such a holy man in our midsts, I was genuinely embarrassed for the good friar. I was also reminded of what I hate most about Mass "facing the people." If only for a few minutes, we were not there to worship God, but Father Groeschel.

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So now you ask, hey, Mister Black Hat Guy, what can your limited experience with this parish possibly teach us about our Faith, and the Meaning of Life?

Ah, my little minions, there is so much to tell.

You see, many of us are inclined to confuse "orthodox" with "middle of the road." We want to reach the most number of people with the message we would share. We transfer this aspiration with the desire to please that most number, and offend the least number. We don't want to lose our audience. So we find that place that ensures us a peaceful existence, where everybody is more-or-less happy, and the accolades (and the money) keeps rolling in. The problem is, to be a Catholic is not to stand in the middle of the road, but in a very clearly defined center. What is the difference? The difference is that we don't necessarily please anybody, except the Only One Who Matters.

Is that the problem at Saint Leo's? I don't know. But I do know this. Only a fool would let this happen to them, knowing full well the consequences. Only a selfish, self-absorbed, aging adolescent would forget, that being in a position of responsibility in a community of faith, and then becoming a source of scandal, has the potential of dragging others into the fray, compelling them to take sides. And only a community of faith which has allowed themselves to be lulled into a stupor, would have enough fools among them to even think of there being two sides to this.

At the end of the day, there is only the Truth, and that is the only side that matters.

Faced with the daunting task of defending that Truth, is the pastor. As one who is charged with the care of souls, he may find himself in the thankless position of re-catechizing his parish. One might wonder if, somewhere along the line, enough of them were misled, as to what is means to be Catholic. Such misdirection could have taken place over many years. Any effort to correct this dysfunction must fall to him.

For all her pretense at shying away from controversy, Sylvia Mulherin has knowingly and willingly placed herself at the very heart of it. She has the power to remove herself from that position. Let the heavens rejoice when she does.

[DISCLAIMER: The above reflects the opinion of the writer, and only the writer. In so doing, he does not presume to speak for any agent of the Diocese of Arlington, nor is he of the understanding that such is required of him.]

[UPDATE: The story has been picked up by the National Catholic Reporter. There is no shortage of intellectual giants in the comments section.]


David L Alexander said...

It's always the anonymous ones, isn't it? I wasn't angry, I was relieved. And YOU are outa here.

Maggie said...

She didn't realize there was no further discussion on this point? It's made pretty crystal clear in John Paul's 1994 letter.

Sigh. But I applaud the pastor for having the courage of his convictions.

David L Alexander said...

"Addicts tend to lie. You might want to factor that into your analysis."

Yes, and so do people who are too chicken$#!t to use their names when making such charges. As to my analysis, at the moment I'm factoring in the need to close this blog to anonymous commenters.

A "troll alert" will be issued later this evening. Thanks for the help.

Angela M. said...

I bet it's no great loss that the parish is experiencing a boycott to support Ms. Mulherin - they were probably playing Haugen and Haas drek anyways. Maybe she's done the parish a favor!

David L Alexander said...

"Oh - a degree in art? from a no name school?"

Actually, the graphic design program at the University of Cincinnati is one of the world's finest, producing such notables as Bruce Blackburn and Michael Bierut.

"Whose the looser?"

It's spelled "Who's the loser?" That answers that question.

Anonymous said...

I've visited this parish with a friend, who sent me a link to the story. I was going to blog on it, but you said everything I would and better, so I just linked you instead.

steve said...

This is my parish, although I usually go elsewhere for TLM. Interesting turn of events. I can't say that I'm surprised. I should probably not say anything else.

I don't know if Father K was there in the mid-90s, but I can totally see him telling you that he "completely supportive of us." He was not a fan of the TLM.