Here we go again: another ill-informed attack on Bishop Egan and the Friars of the Immaculate

Bishop Egan (photo courtesy of the Latin Mass Society)

The Tablet is at it again. Fr Ray Blake has spotted the following onslaught on Bishop Egan, who, as he says, is not exactly one of the Tablet’s favourite prelates. The headline is “Friars accused of taking Portsmouth parish back in time”:

Parishioners at a church in Portsmouth diocese say they have been driven out by an order of traditionalist Franciscans who have been put in charge.

“The Bishop of Portsmouth Philip Egan handed over St Mary’s, Gosport, to the Franciscans of the Immaculate in June. Since then, parishioners say people are required to kneel to receive communion and women asked to cover their heads at Mass.

“The order attracted controversy in 2013 when Pope Francis dissolved its General Council and forbade the friars to celebrate Mass in the Extraordinary Form without permission. However the friars celebrate Mass in the old rite six days a week at St Mary’s.

“Dr Amanda Field, a convert to Catholicism, says she has stopped attending the church after six years. ‘We used to have something really special here. The church was packed; people had to stand in the porch. But since the friars came we’ve been plunged back into the days before Vatican II,’ said Dr Field.

That reminded me of something: at first, I couldn’t remember what it was, then it all came back to me: that’s just the kind of thing that was said at St Aloysius Church in Oxford just after the Oratorians were put in charge of it, by some of the lay bigwigs who had figured large in the management of the Church under its previous parish priest, Fr Crispian Hollis: “back into the days before Vatican II”, “we had something special here”, members of the congregation were leaving because of what was going on. But after 20 years, the Oratorians have quadrupled the congregation. There had been nothing special about the way things were done. Then Fr Hollis had thrown out all the old vestments, dumped the relics, went on the usual barbaric “spirit of Vatican II” rampage; and he had of course installed an anaemic and unattractive liturgy.

Fr Blake, whose parish is just along the coast from Gosport in Brighton, indicates in his blog that the Tablet didn’t even bother to check the facts of what has actually been going on in Gosport.

1. The Mass count in Gosport had fallen by 50 per cent in the last 20 years. It has risen significantly in the last two months;
2. It is not true that parishioners have been required to kneel or receive on the tongue, nor have women been told to cover their heads;
3. Mass is celebrated each weekday in the EF very early in the morning and the daily OF Mass takes place exactly as before;
4. The Sunday Masses in the OF remain.
5. The diocesan postbag is currently running 10 to one in favour of the, to quote one of them, “beautiful, more reverent Masses”.

Just what I suspected. It all sounds very attractive to me. In the case of St Aloysius, a lot of the initial trouble (it really was quite short-lived: a few of the malcontents went elsewhere, to be more than replaced by the substantial number of Oxford people attracted by the new ways) was caused by a few discontented Eucharistic ministers (there was quite an army of these, most of whom loyally supported the new dispensation) who, now that a number of priests and deacons were available for the administration of Holy Communion, were redundant. Nearly everyone preferred the new way of doing things, people mostly really would rather receive the sacrament from an ordained minister. I wonder if that has been a factor in Gosport? Any girl servers under the old dispensation? The friars would soon have replaced them I have no doubt.

A footnote: the wording of the 2013 decree limiting the friars’ use of the old Mass was as follows: “The Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorised by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.” Well, they have such permission in the case of Gosport, so there’s no disobedience there.

At the time, the Herald reported that “Despite Vatican reassurances, there are concerns that the decree contradicts Benedict XVI’s Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, under which the celebration of the traditional rite requires no authorisation from the bishop.” Sandro Magister (in my view correctly) reported under the headline “for the first time, Francis contradicts Benedict” that the decree was “astonishing”.

“The astonishment,” he went on, “stems from the fact that what is decreed contradicts the dispositions given by Benedict XVI, which for the celebration of the Mass in the ancient rite ‘sine populo’ demand no previous request for authorisation whatsoever”. I remember at the time being shocked by what the new Pope had done, and hoped uneasily that the decree wasn’t a harbinger of things to come. There will be different views on whether my fears have or have not in various ways been realised. But whatever we think about that, it is surely now time for this ill-judged decree to be rescinded. The Motu Proprio has become a liturgical pillar of the Church; it should be universally observed.