Monday, March 3, 2014

Much ado over something at Fisher More College—UPDATED

Chapel (oratory?) at Fisher More College, Fort Worth.
The one big problem with criticizing the mainstream media is that non-traditional media sources (read: blogs) can be just as biased and inaccurate.

I just spent a good portion of my afternoon off jumping between other Catholic bloggers' Facebook threads concerning Bishop Michael F. Olson's decision to suspend Mass in the Extraordinary Form at Fort Worth's Fisher More College. Seems there's an awful lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth by traditionalists, a lot of "Help! Help! We're being repressed!" over an action the details of which are only now and very slowly beginning to emerge. 

Why? Because the blog that broke the news, Rorate Coeli, front-loaded the story with its near-trademark "Pope Francis Hates the Latin Mass" frame. Rorate Coeli is one of those traditionalist blogs that filled the 'Net with accusations that the newly elected Jorge María Bergoglio of being a Novus Ordo-loving, Latin-hating, pinko commie librul mere hours after the white smoke went up. Since that time they've been looking for evidence of "Latin Mass-bashing" from the Pope, possibly because they've lived too long under a siege mentality; unfortunately, when the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate had their indult to celebrate according to the 1962 missal suppressed, that just fed into the trope.

First, Rorate Coeli announced the news in banner headlines:

BREAKING & EXCLUSIVE: Bishop Bans Fisher More College from offering Traditional Latin Mass to students
Stunning letter gives no reason, simply bans the Mass said daily for last three years at school for sake of "your own soul"
Canon Law Centre: Bishop has "unlawfully restricted the rights of the faithful"
An effect of new Pontificate? First the FI, now the youth in America

Then RC thoughtfully provided the letter Bp. Olson sent FMC president Michael King on Feb. 24, 2014. This is where our first hinky detail, the first hint that RC isn't playing the story straight up, comes to light: Bp. Olson tells King that he is "writing ... to state formally what I told you during our meeting [which took place earlier that day; bold type mine.—ASL]." So while the letter itself gives no reason, we really don't know what went on during the meeting, so how do we know this is a "thunderbolt from the blue", as RC wishes us to believe?

The next hinky detail shows up in the second point of Bp. Olson's instructions: "You may only have the celebration of the Mass in the Ordinary Form by priests who explicitly have faculties for celebrations as granted by me as the Bishop of Fort Worth." All priests in good standing are granted the right to celebrate the Mass in the Ordinary Form by reason of universal law; a letter granting the faculties of the diocese are usually only required for those rights not granted universally. There's no point to the second paragraph unless there were some question of the propriety of any priest who had celebrated Mass there ... perhaps a priest of the Society of St. Pius X? (More on this later.)

Next, we have the opinion of the Canon Law Centre ... and a mess that a canon non-lawyer like me has no expertise or authority to decide. It should be noted, however, that the ineffable Fr. John Zuhlsdorf quotes an email from "a source in a diocesan office Somewhere In The English Speaking World" [emphases and bracketed comments in black bold type are presumably Father Z's]:
This morning I asked our excellent team of orthodox canon lawyers to comment on the situation at Fisher More as reported by Rorate. Here are their thoughts:
Essentially they said the whole matter centers on the fact that Masses for the school are held in an oratory … because of this, they said the bishop is probably on solid ground despite the fact that they “took an immediate dislike of the bishop when reading the decree.”
Canon 1225 states that “All sacred celebrations can be performed in legitimately established oratories except those which the law or a prescript of the local ordinary excludes or the liturgical norms prohibit.”
Everything that happens within oratories are subject to regulation by the local ordinary. Because the local ordinary can lawfully regulate, restrict, or eliminate the celebration of the Mass or any of the sacraments in any oratory in his diocese, our canonists said that he most likely can restrict which form of the Mass is celebrated, because “he who can do the greater can do the lesser.” If you can prohibit Mass outright, the principle in law would suggest that you certainly can prohibit one form of the celebration. Furthermore, this is in a similar vein of regulating activities in Oratories with stipulations — for instance, “the Mass may only be celebrated in this oratory when some of the Christian faithful are present,” or “the Mass may only be celebrated in this oratory if extraordinary ministers of holy communion are not used.”
Again, the whole thing here hinges upon the [presumed] fact that the ordinary is regulating the activities in an oratory. (If there was a parish church across the street from Fisher More, and the pastor gave approval for the priests of the college to celebrate the vetus ordo their every day, the bishop could not prevent it because the situation would fall under the norms of Summorum and UE). [In fact, there's a parish that celebrates the vetus ordo about two miles away.—ASL]
There is some doubt about his ability to differentiate between the forms … and hopefully ED [Ecclesia Dei?] will swoop in and issue a clear statement …. but we’ll just have to see.
If the oratory at Fisher More is really a private chapel instead of an oratory (unlikely but technically possible), Canon 1228 — which governs the sacraments in chapels — is even more restrictive: “Without prejudice to the prescript of can. 1227, the permission of the local ordinary is required for Mass or other sacred celebrations to take place in any private chapel.”

Again, I don't know the standing or reputation of the Canon Law Centre. But it does seem that they(?) wave Summorum Pontificum around as if it were a trump card, while "Deep Purple's" team of experts seem to believe that other norms of canon law still apply. So I'm wondering whether there's an agenda distorting CLC's analysis, à la Southern Poverty Law Center. Moreover, a poster on Fr. Z's blog, Linda Robinson, pointed out that Bp. Olson has recourse to canon lawyers of his own, and most likely wouldn't have taken this step if he didn't believe it conformed with canon law and SP.

Again, RC presents the whole matter as if it came out of nowhere — a young new bishop (at 47, he's younger than I am), a creature of Pope Francis, whacking an innocent traditionalist community for no good reason other than to suppress the Latin Mass and make them suffer guitars and altar girls. This would be a bit much to believe even if it came from a source I deem more level-headed on things traditionalist.

As it was, information began trickling out of various sources which indicate that there were big problems at Fisher More long before Bp. Olson had his meeting with Mr. King. Writes "tantamergo" at A Blog for Dallas Area Catholics:

A lot of people who live outside Texas, and even many within the state who reside outside the Metroplex, do not know how close together Dallas and Fort Worth are. It’s only about a half hour drive from downtown Dallas to downtown Fort Worth. As such, our local Traditional Latin Mass community shares a lot of people between the two cities. And, the priests of our FSSP parish provide a TLM in the Fort Worth Diocese on Sundays. Some priests from our parish have taught classes at Fisher-More.
But they have stopped doing so. In fact, many long-time faculty have left Fisher-More. This is not solely related to their financial woes. In fact, it has to do with really severe problems with the college’s administration, and in particular, the college president Michael King referenced.
I know many exceedingly good traditional Catholic families who have (or, I should stress, had) children at Fisher-More. I know some folks who have taught there. I know some who are still employed there. All are unfailingly stalwart supporters of the great Tradition of our Faith and all recognize the hideous crisis now afflicting the Church. But many – most – have increasingly grave concerns regarding Fisher-More and especially the direction Michael King is taking the college. Well-known traditional Catholic academic Taylor Marshall left Fisher-More last summer over these same concerns. [Dr. Marshall has promised a blog post on the controversy, which I keep checking for ....]
These concerns center on Mr. King taking an increasingly severe stand regarding the Council and the changes that have occurred in the Church in the past 50 years. I am not privy to all the details – perhaps some of those who are could chime in – but the level of excoriation for the Church and Her leaders has reached a state that even many good, traditional Catholics are scandalized by the rhetoric. And, from what I have been told by many, no dissent from Mr. King’s “direction” is tolerated. Those that voice doubts or express concerns are dismissed, virtually on the spot.  This applies to both faculty and staff. As such, the college has lost many longtime faculty and administrators and even the college’s founder has been sidelined. Again, I have had all this confirmed to me by numerous sources. Many students – very solid, traditional Catholic students – have left the university as it seems to be heading towards such extremism the students fear scandal if they continue their studies.
In addition, many parents feel that they are being told one story by the administration (Mr. King), but that the reality is something quite different.  Many parents feel misled.

The aforementioned Linda Robinson states:

Some have suggested that this was a hasty action on the part of a new bishop. In fact, the episcopacy in Ft. Worth had been vacant for quite a while (more than a year, I believe) and the apostolic administrator had been quietly accumulating a dossier on Fisher More and Michael King. I was myself an employee of the college until I could remain no longer on grounds of conscience. My friends who remained employed there have given me a lot of information over the eight months since I resigned and so I have a good idea concerning the information that is in the dossier; it’s not pretty stuff. In fact, rather than being shocked at the stern tone of the letter, I congratulate the bishop on his gentlemanly restraint. ...
Those who love the EF should understand that the EF is being used, as were good priests and people, for bad ends. [Bold font mine.—ASL]

So it appears that Rorate Coeli was most likely "played" by someone on the FMC staff — perhaps King himself — into releasing the letter without doing any further checks on the letter's context. To compound matters, followers like Catholic Family News and The Remnant blithely repeated RC's slanderous attacks without doing any checking themselves. Unfortunately, Patrick Archbold at Creative Minority Report still isn't aware that misuse of the EF may be involved; however, he had sense enough not to commit himself totally to CR's yellow journalism.

It was only when fellow blogger John Darrouzet came across the Blog for Dallas Area Catholic's piece that I could start piecing the background together. Diane Korzeniewski of Te Deum Laudamus also helped tremendously by referring me to Father Z's post (which, fool that I am, I should have looked for as soon as I knew it was about the TLM).

I feel for everyone who's been caught out on this; if you'll read back, I've been caught shooting first and asking questions later a couple of times, most notably when Planned Barrenhood threw the beatdown on the Susan G. Komen Foundation. So if it seems sometimes like I'm the skinny little kid in the gang who starts kicking the victim after he's already half-unconscious and bleeding ... this is why I hold back. You just don't know how soon the story will change.

Update: March 4, 2014, 12:32 AM CST
 Pat Archbold reports that Fr. Nicholas Gruner, the leader of the International Fatima Rosary Crusade (Catholic World News says "self-styled", but I see no reason to call that item into question), spoke at FMC, but reportedly did not act as a priest. The information was obtained through the Fisher More website, where they've listed their guest speakers since 2012.

The site claims: "After investigating the public record of this matter and obtaining an explanation directly from Fr. Gruner himself, the College learned that no Bishop has ever issued a sentence suspending Father a divinis, and that Father has two separate letters from the Archbishop of Hyderabad confirming (1995) and reaffirming (1999) his incardination in that diocese."

However, Fr. Gruner was incardinated in Avellino in 1976, and the bishop of Avellino suspended him in 1996. The late Archbishop of Hyderabad, Samimini Arulappa could not have incardinated him without excardination granted by the late Bp. Antonio Forte, OFM (cf. CIC 267, 269 – 270). As it was, the Vatican Congregation for Clergy confirmed the suspension on Sept. 12, 2001. At best, then, the college was imprudent to bring Fr. Gruner in; at worst, FMC's administration continues to mislead.

Now, this doesn't necessarily address what the "bad ends" were to which Linda Robinson alleges the Latin Mass was being used. And we may not get an answer in that direction from the Diocese of Fort Worth. Explains commenter "Fr. Andrew", "... [W]hen in authority, there are limits to the transparency you can allow. For example, the Bishop has to insure that the good reputation of individuals/institutions be protected. So if the errors are not public, he may not be able to pronounce them."

So we may get more clues from other sources as time goes by, but not likely straight from +Olson's mouth.

Update: Same day, 10:05 AM CST
Doctor Taylor Marshall, former chancellor at Fisher More College and TLM devoté, released his statement on the controversy through his Facebook page. At risk of making an outrageously long post longer, here are some salient quotations [bold type my emphases]:

I resigned when moral, theological, and financial discrepancies came to light regarding the presidency of Michael King. I was an ex officio member of the Board so I knew what others did not. From May to early June of 2013, five of the eight College Board Members also resigned for two reasons:
1) Mr. King refused to disassociate himself from the public statements of faculty member Dr. Dudley that claimed in his Year of Faith lecture that Catholic professors have the duty to teach young people that Vatican 2 is not a valid Council (he also endorsed other “resistance” positions regarding the Novus Ordo, John Paul II, etc.)
2) Mr. King, after selling the original FMC campus to Texas Christian University for millions of dollars, had imprudently entered into a real estate deal that financially crippled Fisher More College.
Much of the politicization around the “Latin Mass and FMC” is Mr. King’s careful attempt to distract attention away from his financial misdealing at FMC. The college is currently teetering on bankruptcy and this latest entanglement with the bishop will lead to a public statement: “Fisher More closed down because the new bishop of Fort Worth persecuted the Latin Mass!” when in reality the College is failing because Mr. King entered into a dubious real estate deal that washed out college’s endowment AND all the proceeds from the sale of the original campus. ...
FMC hosted a public repudiation of Vatican 2 and the Ordinary Form of the Mass in April of 2013 that was so offensive that my wife and I walked out of it before it’s conclusion. That did not do much to heal the breach with the local diocese or presbyterate and it contributed to the priests of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) discontinuing their support and presence at FMC. The current FMC website advertises that the FSSP provides a chaplain, but this is not true.
At the same time, Michael King estranged himself from the diocese of Fort Worth by not allowing the Ordinary Form (as stipulated by the previous ordinary Bishop Vann of Fort Worth). He also contracted an irregular/suspended priest without faculties, and hired “trad resistance” faculty while there was no bishop in Fort Worth to check these developments. Mr. King was able to create a community in his image (he affectionately referred to himself the “father” of this community) during the episcopal inter-regnum of the diocese of Fort Worth.
Clearly, a bishop's intervention was inevitable. The current controversy really has nothing to do with the Latin Mass per se. The Latin Mass is at the center because Michael King is politicizing the Latin Mass in his favor, knowing that “bishops vs the Latin Mass” is red meat for some traditionalist blogs. ...
As one who loves and prays the Latin Mass, please don’t curse or blame Bishop Olson for this one. He is a new bishop who inherited a TOUGH pastoral problem. Pray for him. And if you love the Latin Mass, don’t be so quick to judge the bishops or cite canon law. Sometimes there are things behind the scenes that you don’t know.
1 Cor 11:1-2 If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.

Doctor Marshall also points out that Summorum Pontificum doesn't apply because a layman, not a priest, is requesting the permission, and that "Bishop Olson supports the FSSP in his diocese and has nothing against the Extraordinary Form."

Doctor Marshall's allegations are serious, and I should note that Facebook statuses have very little privacy protection, so he's taken some drastic legal risks by speaking out as former chancellor. However, it dovetails with everything else we've learned so far from other sources, and goes far to explaining why Bp. Olson is requiring the Ordinary Form at the College. And it appears that there are questions Rorate Coeli should have been asking months before this situation came to a head. However, much like SNAP, the folks at RC are so stuck in their "victim" mentality that they'll broadcast accusations without doing even basic fact-checking.

I don't think much more of interest will crop back up on this story; but if it does, I'll probably put it in a new post.