Sunday, August 17, 2014

The end of the Fisher More College fight

Five and a half months ago, I spent the first day of what would eventually become a layoff following, and then writing about, a controversy in my home diocese of Fort Worth. It seems oddly fitting that, on the night before I start my new job, I can provide a coda to that story.

On February 24, the newly-installed bishop of Fort Worth, Most Rev. Michael F. Olson, sent a letter to Michael King, President of Fisher More College, a letter announcing that celebrations of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form had been suspended. A few days later, Rorate Caeli broke the story, with headlines screaming that the letter gave no reason, and wondering if the ban were "an effect of [the] new Pontificate". Rorate Caeli has been one of the prime vendors of the "Pope Francis Hates the Latin Mass" trope, despite the pontiff's stated refusal to cancel or strongly limit Summorum Pontificum.

Bp. Olson's Statement, 8 Aug 2014.
Well, there turned out to be a lot more to the story than just a new bishop's arbitrary decision to stomp on a poor, innocent college.

For one thing, the school was losing enrollments. For another, the leadership had approved decisions that had financially crippled the school, wiping out its endowment as well as the proceeds from the sale of its grounds. There was also some question about whether a suspended priest had performed a Mass — and whether the Masses were being said by priests from the schismatic Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). Furthermore, there were issues with the leadership of Pres. King himself, that his style of leadership and extreme "resistance" traditionalism had alienated staff members and student parents.

However, by the time this came out, most rad-trad blogs and sympathizers had accepted Rorate Caeli's version of the matter. It took a couple of days before most sites grudgingly accepted that the suspension wasn't causeless or out of the blue; Steve Skojec of Rorate still insisted that Bp. Olson was actively repressing the TLM, while Simon J. Dodd at Motu Proprio denied Bp. Olson's right to suspend the Latin Mass ... perhaps thinking that the new bishop didn't already have canon lawyers on his staff. Eventually, though, everything settled down.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Fisher More formally contested Bp. Olson's decision, and requested "recourse" from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.

Under the terms of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, the PCED "exercise[s] the authority of the Holy See, supervising the observance and application of" SP. Since 2009, the PCED has been joined to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and the Cardinal Prefect of the CDF is also the Cardinal President of the PCED. The "chief operations officer" who runs the PCED day-to-day is the Secretary, Abp. Guido Pozzo.

Fisher More College made the contest and the request for recourse moot by closing its doors in May. However, about that time, Bp. Olson got an inquiry from PCED, to which he responded at length.

"... [I]t remains in my judgment," Bp. Olson said in a recent statement, "that the limited scope of the previous permission granted by Bishop [Kevin J.] Vann [now Bishop of Orange, CA] had indeed been, in effect, ignored and abused by the administration of Fisher More College. My assessment regarding this matter remains also accompanied by several ecclesiological and pastoral concerns that I perceive to be circumstantially attached to the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass at Fisher More College." I have a copy of the statement above as a .jpeg, or you can download the .pdf here. Apparently, his Vicar General, Msgr. Karl Schilken, also included a note detailing the abuses of which FMC was accused.

On July 24, Bp. Olson received a letter from the PCED. In the letter, Abp. Pozzo informed Bp. Olson, "We now understand that this matter is, in essence, closed, since the College closed last May." When +Olson released his statement and the copy of the letter, he revealed that, "as part of the development of an overall pastoral plan," the diocese is considering establishing "an independent parish devoted to the Extraordinary Form and entrusted to capable priests". I'm sure the news will be greeted with great skepticism from the "help, help, we're being repressed" crowd; certainly, "considering" isn't "planning on".

But the establishment of an independent TLM parish is a different story. This story, the story of Fisher More College's demise, is come to a rather squalid and sad end. Just as has my 5.5-month "vacation".