We end 2019 by republishing our most-read Magazine and Comment pieces of the year. This is Number 6: From August, CC Pecknold on the African priest who stood up to his liberal boomer parish
The Lutheran pastor and humorist Hans Fiene recently remarked “the most obnoxious Protestants in the world are liberal boomer Catholics.”
The comment, both funny and true, was prompted by a video which surfaced of a June 30th protest at a Mass celebrated at St Francis Church in Portland, Oregon. The sparsely attended parish was filled mostly with older progressives who were angry that their new Nigerian priest, Fr George Kuforiji, had been steadily introducing liturgical reforms aimed at restoring their liturgy to be in conformity with the Catholic Faith.
Most of the protesters were women who shouted at this gentle priest from Africa because he had removed their own supplement to the recitation of the Creed, and because he had removed political statements from the front of their parish. The conclusion that these “liberal boomer Catholics” had drawn was that Father must be against love! “We are following the voice of Jesus, of love,” one woman chanted. “The Jesus of inclusion. The Jesus of resisting the authorities because when we resist the law, we are in the Spirit of God.” Another woman shouted out the Amen!
One of the protesters asked Fr George, “How can you be a priest?” Suggesting he did not have the authority to change their local customs of worship, she asserted her own authority: “I’ve been here for over 15 years. You’ve been here a year.”
Without a hint of clericalism, Fr George simply asked in reply, “Do you have reverence for God?” The woman turned her back on the question, which is a pity because it’s the only one which matters.
One of the protesters insisted that Fr George and Archbishop Sample had been “abusing” them through these reforms which did take their own wishes into consideration. Yet what seems clear is that “lay participation” had become “lay control” of the Mass itself, to such an extent that it can be said that many of the parishioners were the ones who were doing the abusing, aligning the liturgy with the rubrics of progressive pieties. Fr George aimed, instead, at restoring the liturgy of this parish to align with the rubrics established by the Church.
The protest concluded with parishioners singing the civil-rights era song, “We Shall Overcome,” locked in arms against their black priest. The protesters were clearly blind to the irony of it.
Thankfully, Fr George has the full support of Archbishop Sample. After the protest video went viral, the chancery released a statement supporting the African priest, stating that the archdiocese is “happy to be working with Fr George Kuforiji, Pastor of St Francis Parish, to revitalize the parish so that it is able to better serve the growing population in the area as well as future generations of Catholics in Portland.”
The concern for “future generations” provides a veiled rebuke to a Woodstock generation that seems unable to envision any future that does not conform to their recalcitrant and nostalgic vision of what it must be. When parishioners have more reverence for a Pride parade than for that great procession of God’s own condescension in the Mass, then emergency measures are needed.
Some have suggested that Fr George has moved too quickly. People are creatures of habit, and so he should have moved more slowly to move their hearts and minds into conformity with the Church. There is a certain truth in this caution. I am not opposed to “gradualism” in forming a more reverent parish. Sometimes it takes a year or two to prepare a parish for an altar rail, or silence. But the early church fathers never took a “gradualist” approach to heresy embodied in liturgical irreverence, and when parishes as extreme as St Francis come along, bishops and priests must act decisively to guard the Mass against the abuses of local custom. As Chesterton says, some habits must be crushed under foot.
Thank God for the courageous and faithful witness of Archbishop Sample and Fr George. The question Fr George asks his own flock must become an ever more pressing one for each of us: “Do you have reverence for God?”
If it be God’s will that only African priests can regularly ask us this question, then I say the African Church can’t get to America fast enough.