Fr. Joseph F. Wilson columnist
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3 December 2003
Dallas bishop moves on famed pastor, parish
Diocesan spokesman derides adherence to liturgical norms

Father Paul L. Weinberger, the Dallas pastor profiled in July 2003 in the Wanderer and across the Internet for his success in transforming a dying inner city parish into a dynamic model of parish life, was stunned to receive a decree from his bishop dated November 17, 2003 and delivered the same day, relieving him of his duties as pastor and authorizing a six month sabbatical beginning in January 2004.

Almost one year before, Fr Weinberger had met twice with Dallas Bishop Charles Grahmann--first on November 5, 2002, and second about a week later. To Bishop Grahmann’s statement that it was time that Fr. Weinberger be transferred, the pastor responded that the time could not be less opportune; his father was dying of cancer, the priest was his father’s primary caregiver and, in fact, the elder Mr. Weinberger was being cared for in the rectory with the help of the rectory staff.

Fr. Weinberger rejected Bishop Grahmann’s suggestion that he place his father in a nursing home, to which the bishop responded that he should then be prepared for a transfer immediately following his father’s death. Mr. Weinberger died at Christmas.

Several months having passed with no word from the chancery, Fr. Weinberger wrote to the bishop in March 2003, stating his reasons for wishing to remain at Blessed Sacrament, but adding that if the bishop really felt that this transfer needed to happen, he would accept reassignment, and requesting a sabbatical before assuming his new duties. This resulted in a meeting with the bishop and the bishop coadjutor, the Most Rev. Joseph Galante, at the chancery on June 17, at which Fr. Weinberger was informed that he was not part of their future plans for the parish, and that he would be granted a sabbatical to begin January 6, 2004.

None of these meetings were followed up with the customary letter stating in writing what had transpired and what had been agreed upon.

Writes Fr. Weinberger, "Just a few days ago, I was astounded to receive a letter, dated 17 November 2003, which said, ‘You are hereby relieved of your duties as Pastor of Blessed Sacrament Parish and given permission to take a six-month sabbatical, effective January 6, 2004.’ It is, in fact, the case that I have never resigned my office as Pastor. I must frankly tell you that I am at my wit’s end as to knowing what to do next."

Several peculiarities about the situation have raised the suspicions of observers that there is something unusual, even untoward, going on here.

Pastors in the Diocese of Dallas are ordinarily appointed for six year terms, renewable once. They can thus generally count on being undisturbed for twelve years. Fr Weinberger has only been at Blessed Sacrament for ten. When he pointed this out to the bishops during his June meeting, Bishop Galante replied that there was no term of office mentioned in Father Weinberger’s letter of appointment at all.

As it happens, this is true. The Diocese was actually planning to close Blessed Sacrament within a year or so at the time of Father Weinberger’s appointment, although they did not tell him this. The revival of the parish put those plans on hold. But a canonist consulted for this article points out that appointments such as Fr. Weinberger’s, for an indefinite period, should be more stable, not less stable than those for a set term.

Moreover, there are pastors in the Dallas Diocese currently serving twenty or more years in their current assignments. Fr. Weinberger and Blessed Sacrament Parish are thus being held to an unusual, if not unique, standard.

"It has been my understanding that, if I were to leave here in January, an Administrator would be appointed for the parish until, at the end of my sabbatical, I returned to be assigned a new pastorate," writes Fr. Weinberger. "It is not my understanding that I should resign my Pastorate, leave here for sabbatical and return to an unknown future. I think this would be unjust.

"My understanding of these matters comes from my having consulted with a canonist who also serves in his diocese’s chancery. He has advised me, regarding Bishop Grahmann’s letter of November 17, that it is uncanonical; a Pastor cannot be removed in this way. He has also advised me that by canon law I have ten days during which I can appeal this sort of uncanonical action; accordingly I have initiated the, for me, distasteful process of a canonical appeal of the Bishop’s decree of November 17 by a letter to him."

Canon Law provides carefully devised procedures for the removal, for cause, of a Pastor. It cannot be done by arbitrary decree.

Waiting for Bishop Grahmann’s response to these canonical representations affords one some leisure to ponder the motives behind these apparently arbitrary, uncanonical acts. This pondering might have taken quite some time, and gotten nowhere, were it not for the spokesman of the Diocese of Dallas, the tactless Deacon Bronson Havard, editor of the Texas Catholic.

Terry Mattingly is an accomplished journalist and Religion Editor of Scripps Howard News Service. His syndicated "On Religion" column appears in over three hundred newspapers nationwide. Having gotten wind of the battle for the turf of Blessed Sacrament in Oak Cliff, his curiosity was aroused and he did a bit of phoning. It is likely that what he heard when he spoke with the diocesan spokesman explains the current predicament in which Fr. Weinberger and his people find themselves.

One of the reasons the story of this parish became so widely known was the way in which, from a troubled inner city church the very existence of which was threatened, it grew over ten years to become a vibrant model of parish life. Fr Weinberger arrived to find a decayed parish plant sitting in a blighted neighborhood, struggling under a million dollar debt. By dint of patient endurance, he turned things around. Flowers, trees and shrubbery were lovingly planted to create an oasis; the Catholic Foundation of Texas extended a grant for the restoration of the stained glass. The roof was repaired, the inside painted, carefully procured statues obtained from churches which no longer wanted them now graced long empty niches. The lower church hall was beautifully renovated and put to constant use: in church were daily Mass, confessions, rosaries, spiritual conferences, Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament; downstairs throughout the week the "Center For Learning And Virtue," a series of presentations extending throughout the week on any and all aspects of Catholicism, in Spanish and English. Free. And the parish stands, today, active, vibrant and debt-free.

But it was the Liturgy which really got peoples’ attention. In addition to regular Masses in Spanish and in English, the 10:45AM Sunday Mass was a Sung Latin Novus Ordo Mass, with Gregorian Chant, and readings and homily in the vernacular: a thoroughly reverent, beautiful liturgy. Father Weinberger’s conviction is that the ancient tongue provides a common reference point in a parish where seventy percent of the parishioners are Spanish speakers and thirty percent are English speaking; thus a full Latin Mass is provided, and at every Mass the Eucharistic Prayer is in Latin. Journalist Rod Dreher, writing of his first time attending this 10:45AM Mass, said, "We received kneeling at the altar rail. When we returned to our pew, my wife was making her thanksgiving, and started crying. She couldn't stop weeping, and I asked her if she was okay. She said, 'This is what I thought the Church was. This is why I became Catholic.'" After mass, Julie was speaking to one of the parishioners outside the parish about how great the Mass was. She said to the woman, 'Do you realize what you have here?' The woman replied, 'You don't have to tell us! We know how blessed we are.' "

Evidently, Bronson Havard disagrees. The bishop’s spokesman was apparently quite blunt in his conversation with Terry Mattingly, to judge from Mr Mattingly’s article of 26 November 2003, "The Love of Latin Creates Controversy in a Parish." Supporters of Fr Weinberger had suspected that the problems he was having with the Bishop were rooted in the Latin Liturgy, and Havard’s astonishing comments did nothing to disabuse them of the notion.

After making the rather surprisingly inaccurate statement that it’s perfectly normal for a priest to be rotated to another parish after ten years (which is not true), and that the next pastor would make the decision about whether to continue the Latin Mass, Havard went on to contradict the latter assertion by saying that it is the policy of the Diocese of Dallas to require priests to seek PERMISSION to celebrate Latin rites, whether ancient or modern. Mattingly paraphrases Havard's words thus: This is an issue of loyalty. Only a directive from Rome can override the local bishop’s authority on matters such as this.

And Deacon Havard dismissed Father Weinberger’s conviction that the Latin serves as a sign of unity with the rather condescending observation that "Using the Latin may mean something to him, but it means nothing to the people in the pews – especially not to the Mexican immigrants who come into this area. We’ve had many complaints about that."

Havard’s comments, as reported by Terry Mattingly, are truly astounding, and confirm the darkest suspicions of the supporters of Fr Weinberger.

The official liturgy of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church is the Novus Ordo Missae, the Order of Mass contained in the Missal of Paul VI, the third typical edition of which was just promulgated a few months ago by Pope John Paul II. In Latin. It is this Liturgy which is used daily in the private chapel of Pope John Paul II. In Latin. The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council 1962-1965 decreed the restoration of the liturgy of the Roman Rite, but directed clearly and emphatically that the use of Latin was to be preserved, and Gregorian Chant fostered. Exhortations of postconciliar Popes Paul VI and John Paul II repeatedly called for the use of Latin in the Liturgy and the fostering of Gregorian Chant. This is the OFFICIAL liturgy of the Roman Rite.

But according to the spokesman of the Dallas Diocese, priests of that Diocese need special permission to use it. And if the rumors are true that Fr Weinberger’s designated successor has already gotten his instructions to suppress the Latin Mass – and this writer believes they ARE true – then there is no place, in the whole Dallas Diocese, for the full, official liturgy of the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.

There are other problems with Deacon Havard’s observations also. As noted previously, it is NOT true that Fr Weinberger’s transfer is routine. More seriously, Deacon Havard publicly asserted that the diocese has received "many complaints" about the Latin Mass at Blessed Sacrament; yet diocesan policy requires that all complaints be signed, and that copies be immediately forwarded to the pastor of the parish concerned.

Father Weinberger has received no copies of complaints.

All of this is deeply troubling, for a number of reasons. For one, anyone tempted to rejoice at the publication of the third edition of the Latin Missal, or over the attention given to the new directives of the General Instruction of the Roman Missal, or the disciplining of the liturgical translators of ICEL, must stop and realize that, in reality, Rome can send over ocean liners full of decrees – but the implementation will be presided over by bishops like the Bishop of Dallas, whom Rome put in place and leaves in place, governing in such a way that his spokesman, a clergyman, has no hesitation publicly saying that his boss is above the Universal Law of the Church. The Missal of Paul VI with accompanying norms is quite clearly crafted to allow for a certain legitimate diversity of implementation. Certainly, it is NOT crafted to disallow classical forms of sacred liturgy.

Yet it is the case in parish after parish, diocese after diocese, in chapels of seminaries and religious orders, colleges and universities that Catholic liturgical worship has been dumbed-down in the most mindless possible way. We do little or nothing to foster the arts through the Liturgy; indeed, we routinely deny people their very birthright, so that the Gloria of the Missa de Angelis or the haunting melodies of Iesu Dulcis Memoria mean nothing to people who think the Mass invalid unless it includes the ghastly "Eagles’ Wings" and other specimens of consecrated camp fire music.

It is one of the most intractable puzzles of the postconciliar Church. Trained and ordained Priests in the 1950s-1970s, the generation governing the Church today spent decades incessantly wailing about the sterile, unyielding rigidity of the "pre-Vatican II Church." Yet, once they had attained to positions of governance, they proved seven times worse than the alleged evil spirits who had been banished when the "aggiornamento" opened the windows. The whole notion of fostering the good in diverse ways has been foreign to such men; woe betide the parish that prefers to keep its communion rail (let alone kneel for Communion!) or leave its sanctuary as it has been. Such men scorn and deride the Traditional Mass even after the Pope calls for a "wide and generous" allowing of its use; a school which sought to continue using the traditional Catechism would quickly find that this was impermissible.

And the fruits of this "dogmatic progressivism" are evident everywhere, but nowhere so clearly as in the sacred Liturgy. The standard of worship prevalent in the Church in our country is so appallingly lousy that liturgical Protestants converting to the Faith find our worship their severest cross, and the Eastern Orthodox, the special object of our ecumenical strivings under Pope John Paul II, are convinced we’ve gone mad. And this is not a problem which should only concern those wishing to foster traditional Liturgy. Anyone who believes in a worthy standard of Liturgy should be concerned about the widespread prevalence of McWorship.

But there is an even more important consideration at issue here, a consideration which will mean nothing to the Bronson Havards, or to the liturgical establishment and their episcopal patrons who never seem to pause to consider the People in their mad rush to implement their sterile, cerebral liturgical norms, the sort of men who never give a moment’s thought to the implications of the fact that we have lost sixty percent of our worshipping flock in thirty years, the thirty years of the implementation of their crack-brained ideas. Incomprehensible to them would be the sentiment uttered so well, as from the heart of a Pastor, by Father Paul Weinberger: "What father does not want to see his whole family gathered around the same table? That has always been my goal. I want to see our whole parish there, from the first generation immigrants who only speak Spanish to the native Dallasites who only speak English. I don’t want the language to divide us. I want it to unite us."

As of this writing, Father Paul Weinberger continues to serve as Pastor of Blessed Sacrament in Dallas, Father-in-God to his family, while awaiting a reply from Bishop Grahmann to his request that the uncanonical decree removing him as Pastor be revoked and the comments of Deacon Havard be publicly corrected.

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FR. JOSEPH WILSON is a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn. He writes from Queens, NY.

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