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(LifeSiteNews) – Merry Christmas! The coal in the stockings keep right on coming, especially for those that live in the Chicagoland area.  After Cardinal Cupich’s article in America magazine, The Coalition for Canceled Priests (CFCP) decided to expand its billboard campaign, “Not One More Penny,” to include the defense of the Traditional Latin Mass.  At the time of Cupich’s article (November 10), the Archdiocese of Chicago, as most dioceses across the country, had not yet released its norms for implementing Traditionis Custodes (TC).  Now that it has, it’s time for us to reiterate the Coalition’s philosophy for dealing with bishops, to share what we’ve seen regarding the response of the laity to our campaign, as well as the response of some traditional and traditional minded groups to the latest attacks on the Traditional Latin Mass, and to put out a call for both courage and unity in the face of what our leaders are doing.

As a canceled priest for the last ten years, I learned through my experience with other canceled priests that once a bishop has made a decision and issued a decree, it is a rarity that he reverses course.  In fact, when faced with criticism regarding a decision he has made, a bishop usually doubles down.  Many canceled priests, when they are first removed, are advised to be quiet and let the process work itself out with appeals to Rome.  However, experience has shown this merely allows the aggressor, i.e., the bishop, to control the narrative, especially regarding what the bodies in Rome are told both about the priest and the situation.  As a result, the bishops usually prevail and become all the more emboldened toward the next priest who has the misfortune of getting on his wrong side.

In the last few years, we have seen two priests and their parishioners defy the pattern of going quietly into the night.  These priests reside at opposite ends of the spectrum of Church politics. (In reality, they represent two different churches.)  The first is Fr. Michael Pfleger, long time pastor of St. Sabina parish on the South Side of Chicago and the other is Fr. James Altman, pastor of St. James parish in La Crosse, WI.  Pfleger is seen as the liberal lion while Altman is seen as the conservative anchor who has galvanized the Catholic faithful across the country to stand up and say enough is enough.  Each has little in common ideologically with the other.  The two things they do have in common are: first, they have been a headache for neo-cons and neo-liberals who dominate the so-called “catholic center” of the spectrum.  The critique of being “too harsh” and “too zealous” have been leveled against both.  Second, they take hold of the narrative and never let it go, thereby bringing to the light of day their bishops’ acts of injustice and thereby emboldening the laity rather than the bishop.  Whatever you may feel about either one, the point is their choice to stand and fight for what they see as truth limits the power of their bishops, both to control the narrative and to disregard the needs and actions of the laity they serve. 

A cursory look on social media this Christmas Octave shows the righteous anger many Catholic faithful are feeling toward the Pope and Cardinal Cupich regarding the Mass.  Posts juxtaposing the Midnight Mass at St. John Cantius with that of Pfleger’s Christmas Eve “Mass” are flooding Facebook and other platforms.  At Cantius, the African American auxiliary bishop of Chicago, Joseph Perry, led a packed church filled with mostly young people.  The music was sacred, interwoven with Polish and English carols and included Gregorian chant and polyphony.  At St. Sabina, the act of worship can best be described as having been a mix between a Baptist revival and Joseph, The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.  Seeing the two Masses side by side at precisely that moment when the ancient rite so beloved by many is no longer allowed, while the liturgical abuses on display at St. Sabina has the blessing and support of the Archbishop – has driven home for even Novus Ordo Catholics the injustice coming out of Rome and liberal dioceses like Chicago.  

The Coalition’s philosophy for dealing with bishops seeks to take a page from both Altman’s and Pfleger’s styles: pushing back against bishops and engaging the laity in the battle against false premises and untruths.  All too often, both in society and in the Church, conservatives and traditionalists have been far too passive.  Over and over again, the mantra of “let us wait and see” has allowed the aggressors to seize the initiative and control the narrative.  For example, since the release of TC, I have seen liberals defend it by calling Summorum Pontificum (SP) a failed “experiment.”  I have yet to find where Pope Benedict said SP is an experiment, yet where is the conservative push back?  Another example is when liberal writers (and bishops) refer to the Novus Ordo as the Mass of Vatican II.  In actuality, the opening Mass of the Council (in 1962) and the closing Mass (in 1965) were the Traditional Latin Mass.  Yet again, I have not seen (perhaps I missed it) any conservative commentator push back on this.  We should not let them get away with such blatant untruths.  

Another premise many progressive bishops and even so-called conservative bishops use is that TLM faithful are a small minority.  We must push back on this as well.  If trads are so small, why is it that the Vatican news organ is publishing Cupich’s decree for his local church?  Why are they seen as any kind of threat to unity?  Perhaps it is because, though the TLM faithful are at present a small minority in the Church, they are a minority that is both growing and young.  Only by pushing back on the bishops’ untruths and false premises can we bring to light the reality of what is going on.

Regarding the laity’s response to what is occurring, the question many are asking is, “Can a faithful Catholic stand up and publicly protest a bishop in charity?”  The answer is certainly yes and if one reads The Code of Canon Law, the faithful at times even have the duty to do so (see Canon 212).  In light of this and anticipating that Cupich would soon crack down on the TLM, CFCP and its partners sent two billboard trucks to Holy Name Cathedral and four other parishes on Sunday, November 14, 2021.  To fulfill their duty to stand up for their Faith, the laity need first to be made aware of what is happening and then assured of their right to make their needs known.  It is part of the Coalition’s mission to assist them in both areas.

The parishes we visited were chosen for their proximity to one another, and our message was targeted to faithful who normally attend the Novus Ordo, but who believe the Faithful should be able to attend the Mass of their choice, be it a Novus Ordo or a Traditional Mass.  The goal was to make them aware of Cupich’s anticipated actions and to make it clear to the him that support for the TLM extends beyond just those who attend it.  He presents himself to Novus Ordo Catholics as a tolerant and compassionate leader and calls them to be likewise tolerant and compassionate.  We believe they will be if made aware of the Cardinal’s hypocrisy regarding their traditional brethren in the Faith.

As expected, at all five parishes we found tremendous support from the laity.  We were able to coordinate the trucks outside each parish at the start and end of most of the Masses.  One parish was predominantly Hispanic, another predominantly Polish.  The Cathedral and the other two parishes are a Chicago mix of the many different ethnicities that make up the city and suburbs.  The message on the trucks was this: “Defend the Traditional Latin Mass,” with a picture of Cardinal Cupich dressed in his red choir cassock.  

Though the response from the predominantly Novus Ordo laity was almost universally positive, the pastor at one parish made it clear from the pulpit that he and his parish did not support the initiative, despite the fact that they offer the Traditional Mass there and are most at risk of being impacted by Cupich’s new decrees.  Like many responses we’ve seen from traditionalists, he seemed fearful of what the Cardinal would do and, like so many canceled priests, was taking the approach that being submissive and quiet would be the best approach.  Many priests and laity, even those attached to tradition, do not have the right understanding of obedience and believe that complete submission to one with power over them is the best and only way.  They fail to realize that just because one has the power that does not mean he has the authority.  They need to read Eric Sammons’ article and ask themselves if they really are being obedient to legitimate authority, an obedience they pledged and are dutybound to demonstrate, or if in fact they are actually cowering before the unjust display of raw power.  They should consider two things Sammons makes quite clear: one, submission to power only makes the power-hungry hungry for more power, and two, they only have power because people submit to it.    

When I told a friend about the priest objecting to the campaign and denouncing it from his pulpit, he responded: “They think if they keep feeding the crocodile, it will not bite them.” Since the release of the Congregation for Divine Worship’s dubia responses, I have seen many devoted to the TLM similarly trying to feed the crocodiles.  It appears to be a problem that exists across the traditional Catholic world.

While some believe submission is required due to obedience, and some think “feeding the crocodile will pacify the beast,” some attribute it to something else, and have compared the relationship between Pope Francis and traditional Catholics to that of an abusive parent to his children.  The behavior of some traditional Catholics fit this analogy perfectly; their reaction to any kind of protest is precisely the response an abusive child gives to an abusive parent.  The child, in the hope of stopping the abuse (in this case from Cupich), will try to placate the parent, avoid the parent, and cower to the parent.  Yet history shows the abuser will just keep abusing until someone says enough and steps in.  So many are hoping that if they just look flexible to the bishops, they will be left alone. A major problem with this approach is that it sends the message that some TLM communities will turn a blind eye to other TLM communities being shut down, dividing rather than uniting against the injustice being done to all of them.  

We need to step and back and consider how, since the release of SP, traditional Masses and parishes have exploded across the country.  They all should be fought for.  The FSSP should stand shoulder to shoulder with ICKSP (and all other Ecclesia Dei communities) and vice-versa.  Diocesan parishes with the TLM should stand with the Ecclesia Dei communities and vice-versa.  Weak statements about following the constitutions of one’s community need to stop.  

It is time to stop the abuse, time to stop responding like abused children.  We need to put aside our differences and unite.  Some might think I am naïve for saying this and perhaps I am!  I have been in the traditional world for twenty-five years, fifteen of those years as a priest.  We ought to be tired of petty bickering and the lectures of centrists on what “obedience” means, which too often means: consent to your own euthanasia.   For an excellent treatise on true obedience I highly recommend Dr. Peter Kwasniewski’s latest work: True Obedience in the Church: A Guide to Discernment in Challenging Times.

Far too often I find myself counseling a canceled priest whose life was shattered by an abusive bishop.  What did the priest do wrong?  He stood up for the beauty of Catholicism.  These priests find solace in the beauty of the traditional Mass and Office.  Priests and laity need to stand together and fight back so that more priests can find that beauty.  Yes, this can be done with respect and charity.  What I am not for is the attitude of “Unite the Clans! Except you and you.”  The Coalition has officially added defense of the TLM to its mission.  We ask you to pray for Pope Francis, pray for Cardinal Cupich, and pray for the so-called “good bishops” that they have the courage of St. Paul to confront Peter to his face, “because he was to be blamed” (Gal 2:11).

Father John Lovell is originally from the South Suburbs of Chicago. He was ordained for the Diocese of Rockford in 2007 by Bishop Thomas G. Doran. Father studied at Mt. St. Mary’s Seminary where he obtained a Master’s in Dogmatic Theology. In 2012, while Father was studying at the Dominican House of Studies, he was removed/canceled by the new bishop of Rockford, David J. Malloy. For the last decade, Father Lovell has fought for his good name and has helped other priests in the same situation. In the spring of 2021, he co-founded the Coalition for Canceled Priests. More information can be found at canceledpriests.org.