Snapshot of a British Catholic PsychologyWilliam Oddie

FAITH Magazine May-June 2009

Dr William Oddie is chairman of the Chesterton Society

Ever since the motu proprio was published - (interesting, incidentally, how everyone now speaks of THE motu proprio, as if there had only ever been one of them) - and it was clear that the bishops hostile to it were not going to be allowed to get in its way, the battle moved to the next set of trenches: those dug by the increasingly desperate proponents of 'the spirit of Vatican II', who had so far seemed generally quiescent in defeat, but who had in fact been looking for a casus belli all along.

In the event it was The Tablet which decided to stick the bayonets on to their Lee-Enfields, and go over the top. There had been a rumour for some time that the 'bitter pill' was on the look-out for a parish which regularly uses the extraordinary rite on a Sunday so that they could do a hatchet job on it, or at least on its Parish Priest: and they decided to go for it against Fr Tim Finigan, the Parish Priest of Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, in the Southwark diocese: possibly an unwise choice, since Fr Finigan had the means very effectively to defend himself. I allude, of course, to the jewel in his crown, The Hermeneutic of Continuity, one of the most successful blogs in the Catholic world, which recently celebrated (by means of a High Mass in the Extraordinary Rite) its millionth hit. This meant that from the beginning, The Tablet's attack stirred up an international hornet's nest of traditionalist bloggers. In Italy, the blog published an article headlined "In Inghilterra, la stampa vicina all'episcopato diffama un sacerdote che applica II motu proprio" (in England, the press close to the episcopate defames a priest who applies the motu proprio). This denounced The Tablet's "odioso articolo contro il ottimo Padre Finigan" - as predictably, across the Atlantic, did Fr Zuhlsdorf (on Zuhlsdorf.webarchive) who told his readers that they should "keep in mind that this article was

written for no other reason than to discourage and intimidate priests in the UK from implementing Summorum Pontificum in their parishes." Fr Zuhlsdorf then does one of his famous line by line demolition jobs on the text of the article itself, of which more later.

First, however, we must report Fr Finigan's own deployment of this classic Zuhlsdorfian technique, if for no other reason than that it provoked The Tablet into making an abject and total fool of itself. Fr Finigan reproduced the entire text of the article, interpolating his own response where appropriate. This led The Tablet, unbelievably, to object not that Fr Finigan's reply was flawed in some way, but that he had had infringed its copyright'. At this point, I can do no better than reproduce Fr Finigan's amusing reply:

"The Tablet have contacted me to say that my fisk of the article "That was not my Mass' was a breach of copyright and would I remove it. The last ditch liberals really do not understand the internet, do they?

"OK, the article is down. Now here is my legally compliant review, with only little bits quoted in accordance with the 'fair use' provision, and the rest reported in my own words. (The previous version allowed complete fairness to the author of the article by quoting her words exactly.)

"I must add a little extra to this revised post from information received. I understand that The Tablet was indeed intending to 'have a go' at a parish that offered the usus antiquior. Another Southwark parish was in the crosshairs but mine was set as the target because there were a few parishioners prepared to go on record. I also hear that The Tablet regards the Catholic blogosphere as a 'tiny conservative world'. As I say - they just don't understand the internet. If you tot up the combined readership of the Catholic blogs which have written on

this issue, they have a daily readership far in excess of The Tablet's weekly circulation. One reason for that low circulation is that The Tablet thinks that enforcing copyright on the internet helps their cause. Bwahahaha!"

I don't have enough space to reproduce the whole of Fr Finigan's account of the article with his response; for that you must go to his blog; at the time of writing The Tablet has not hunted down all online copies of the whole text, which can be seen on, for instance, the exlaodicea and the Irishpilgrim blogs. The piece (which truly is, in the words of the Italian blog quoted above 'un odioso articolo') begins as it means to go on, in a tone of open ridicule (and incidentally, why, when these people are so utterly illiberal in their undisguised contempt for those trying to be faithful to the Magisterium, do we continue to call them 'liberals'?). The article is by Elena Curti, The Tablet's deputy editor, and is entitled 'That was not my Mass':

"Nearly 40 years ago, that was the comment of the keenest supporters of the Tridentine Rite as the new rite was introduced. Now the sentiment has been reversed in the suburban parish of Blackfen, where a priest's introduction of traditionalist liturgy has split the parish."

Fr Finigan comments:

"Ah yes, the 'split' - that's a key point of the article - but in fact the vast majority of parishioners just come along to whichever Mass they want, and wonder what all the fuss is about. What hurts them is the bad atmosphere caused by vehement complaining and controversy. This is not helped, of course, by airing it all in the press."

Elena Curti goes on:

"Each Sunday at around 9.45 a.m. a team at Our Lady of the Rosary, Blackfen, in the south-eastern suburbs of Greater London, erects a wooden stepped platform faced in a marble-effect laminate on the altar. On this is placed a gold crucifix, six large candlesticks, vases of flowers and altar cards for the celebration of the old Latin Mass. Welcome to the parish of Fr Tim Finigan, popular blogger and leading light of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales."

You get the point. Not that here is a parish which is going to great lengths worthily to celebrate a liturgy which the Pope has described as one of the most precious jewels of our heritage, so that, as Fr Finigan points out, 'youngsters get there up to an hour before Mass to help prepare', but that on the contrary, here is a set of ritualist wierdos who have no care at all for the true pastoral and emotional needs of their fellow parishioners. And Oh, how Curti capitalises on the dissidents' emotions:

"The group describe feelings of irritation, discomfort and sadness at the changes that have been made. Those who prefer to stand for Communion and receive it in the hand say they feel selfconscious doing so at Fr Finigan's Masses.

"Several said their adult children vowed never to go to the church again [question: and were they going before? I bet they had lapsed already], such was their unhappiness with the liturgy. 'People who have been away from church come back at Christmas and Easter and are totally put off. It is so sad,'"

So, comments Fr Zuhlsdorf, "is this about feelings? I am getting the sense that it is not about what is right to do liturgically or what the rights of other Catholics may be regarding the Church's worship."

So, how real is this "split"? A high proportion of those actively objecting (accounts vary between 6 and 9) appear to have been "Eucharistic

ministers", in a Parish which Fr Finigan thinks doesn't need them ("Eucharistic ministers", it may be said in passing, are frequently among those semi-clericalised laity who busy-body their way into positions of prominence in the Parish, and don't like it when Father decides he is going to exercise priestly leadership in a way which threatens their little world). Curti says that:

"Between 30 and 40 people no longer attend the church and a similar number have taken their place": but as Fr Finigan points out, "In these suburban parishes, over the course of a year or so, there are at least that number coming and going for all sorts of reasons". The attendance at his Sunday celebration of the usus antiquior is around 135; attendance at all four Sunday Masses (the other three are of the novus ordo in English) is around 550. So 30 out and 30 in hardly constitutes a "split".

So far, Curti's case is pretty weak: simply a matter of using the subtler kind of sneery smear technique. This is where she decides to go beneath the belt: by implying financial irregularity, or at the least, indefensible extravagance. And at this point, a nasty little piece becomes really contemptible, truly "un odioso articolo":

"There were also complaints about their priest's refusal to support Cafod [this, Fr Finigan explains, is because of Cafod's support for condoms as a means of combating HIV], his expenditure on traditional vestments and other clerical garb, the absence of a parish council and failure to account to parishioners how money from the collection plate was being spent" [in other words, possible corruption]

"The bit about vestments and clerical garb {Boo! Hiss!)", replied Fr Finigan, is... a cheap shot. It is a part of my responsibility to ensure that there are dignified vestments for the Liturgy.... Over the past few years... I have also, among other works, replaced the roof, floor, heating and lighting in the Hall, put in disabled toilets and levelled the entrance, repainted the interior of the Church, replaced the roof on two areas, replaced the guttering', and on and on. It is absolutely clear that Curti has no evidence whatever of extravagance or irregularity and is relying on the hope that people will say there is no smoke without fire, thus little by little undermining Fr Finigan's reputation.

There have been strong reactions: most substantially, perhaps, that of James MacMillan, the Scottish Catholic composer (whose best-known work the St John Passion, has just been recorded by Sir Colin Davies and the LSO). Dr MacMillan is so far from being a dyed in the wool reactionary that he says he has "always seen [The Tablet] as an important and sensible Catholic voice in the media". Curti's article, he writes (in a letter to her) "has unfortunately plumbed new depths that I thought I would never see in a Christian publication. The whole tone was disrespectful, mischief-making and opportunistic, lacking no palpable sense of Christian charity." He goes on to say that "Our liturgy is in a deplorable state ...and, in the spirit of Vatican II, it is imperative that steps are taken to reform the reform for the good of the faithful. There is no attempt by the Pope, or Fr Finigan for that matter, to turn back the clock". He concludes that "The implied assaults on the character of Fr Finigan were a disgrace, and... when you suggest financial impropriety, may be actionable. I hope the good parishioners of Our Lady of the Rosary can find it in their hearts to forgive you and pray for you."

The Tablet seems on this occasion to have bitten off more than it can chew; but they will undoubtedly be back. Watch this space.

Faith Magazine