My work for ICEL

I wish to acknowledge and confirm what Xavier Rindfleisch posted yesterday while I was en route from NAAL in San Francisco. I read the comment late last night when I got back to the abbey and have given myself a bit of time today before replying to it.

Yes, for the past approximately five years I headed up ICEL’s music committee developing the chants of the forthcoming English missal. It was wonderfully stimulating work, and I am very grateful for my experiences – all of them positive – working with ICEL.

In November I was informed by Msgr. Andrew Wadsworth, Executive Director of ICEL, that I would not be involved in the final stage of revising the music for the prefaces whose texts had been (yet again) changed. I suspect I was terminated because of pressure for Rome, since the letter stated that ICEL’s collaborators could not be seen to facilitate criticism of the Holy See in the public domain.

I am impressed that Msgr. Wadsworth delivered this difficult news to me with such sensitivity, such high respect both for my scholarly judgments and for my freedom to express them. I don’t think a parting of ways could be any more amicable or mutually respectful.

Now that my work with ICEL is known publicly, and now that I am not involved in the production of the forthcoming missal, I feel the freedom to speak more openly. I hope I am able to do so with wise judgment, concern for the good of the Church, and respect for everyone involved in a new missal which is, I am convinced, a mistake.



  1. I agree with your conviction, Fr. Anthony, and I will be looking to your helpfully nuanced perspective while trying to deal with this thing.

  2. Fr. Anthony – so sorry to hear this news, but I get it. Msgr. Wadsworth is a fine man, and I am not surprised to hear about his sensitivity toward you in this. Thanks for your fine work up until now on this, and as always, I learn from your insights and scholarship with all of this. Most of all, thanks for your courage.

  3. I serve on our Diocese’s commission for implementing the New Missal. Given all the ink spilled and information gleaned here and in various and sundry other venues concerning the New Roman Missal, where, Father Anthony, do we go from here? What does all this mean for a parish priest and his people? How, in your estimation, should the new texts be received and implemented? Your sage commentary would be most appreciated. Thank you for all you have done for the Church. May God bless you abundantly.

  4. Father your obviously a very good and kind priest to speak so well about the people who basically fired you or at least carried out the orders to do it. But you know the Sisters taught us in school the difference between ordinary people and heroes. Imagine if both with you and Fr Griffiths Monsignor Wadsworth had the courage to say No, this is wrong and unjust and I won’t have any part of this. That’s a real man. God bless Father.

    1. Andrew Wadsworth is a good man who is stuck between a rock and a hard place. Many people have been quick to blame him and ICEL for the débâcle, whereas readers of this blog will be well aware that the fault lies elsewhere. He has, I think, been trying to do the job he was asked to do, and do it with integrity. In recent times, this desire has been thwarted at every turn.

      1. Not talking about the missal debacle. Talking about people. Not talking about how he’s done his ICEL job. Talking about how he could have responded to the injustice to Father Ruff and Father Griffiths. And good is one thing courageous is something else. When you’re asked to do something to someone that isn’t right you don’t say just wait you just say NO. Bye bye job and promotions. Hello right thing and hero. That’s all.

  5. The difficulties here are obvious, and must have been very painful. Good servants of the Church should not be treated in this way–even if the gospel suggests that sometimes they will be.

    The ‘they’ behind your firing are behaving as apparatchiks of a totalitarian system, as they have throughout the whole sorry affair.

    I do not know Andrew Wadsworth personally, and am prepared to believe the good things I read from others. But I would make two comments:
    – if he was faced with a demand from a demand from on high to fire you and Alan Griffiths, he should have resigned himself and forced ‘them’ to do their own dirty work. Both of you, so far as I can see, have behaved in exemplary fashion, going seriously public only when the–by anyone’s standards–ludicrous work of the 2010 mess-up began,
    – the fact that he was seriously involved in the Latin Mass Society makes it difficult for me to have confidence in his leadership of anything about English in the liturgy.

    More generally, the fact that ‘they’ can behave in a way so crassly insensitive to Anglophone sensibilities about freedom of expression and good process utterly discredits ‘their’ credibility regarding anything to do with translation.

  6. Ever see True Confessions? Robert DeNero plays a young hotshot Monsignor calling all the shots in the LA archdiocese. One day the old Cardinal tells him he has to fire this nice old priest played by Burgess Meredith. DeNero says “For the good of the Church your Eminence?” the Cardinal says “That’s right for the good of the Church. You know I’ve recommended you to Rome to become my auxiliary bishop. Then maybe you can find an ambitious young Monsignor to do your dirty work.” movie is set in the 1940s. Vatican II maybe changed the liturgy but some things it didn’t change I guess.

  7. I do not know Philip Endean personally, and am prepared to believe the good things I read from others. But I will only make one comment:

    -It seems to betray an incredible narrow-mindedness to suggest that involvement in the Latin Mass Society would disqualify someone from zeal with the English Liturgy. By such false logic involvement with English would disqualify one from support of Latin or any other language. Both and, not either or! One can love Latin and accurate translations at the same time.

    1. I was well aware of sailing close to the wind on this one–and please note that I did not say that AW was ‘disqualified’, only that I found it difficult to have confidence in his leadership, given that LMS has been characterized by outright resistance to Vatican II.

    2. Too bad he didn’t have the commitment to the principles of justice toward Fr Ruff and Fr Griffiths that he does to the Latin mass. Whatever happened to justice and honesty in dealing with each other in the Church?

    3. I think, Bruce, you have missed the point. I think what many of us would like to see is someone at the helm of ICEL who has demonstrated a love for and commitment to the English liturgy first and foremost, and whose career is marked by work toward the advancement of the vernacular, not advancement of the Latin liturgy.

      Both/and in the Church as a whole, yes. But this is a very specific project. And it’s not about the advancement of Latin, as much as others may wish it were.

      1. Rita Ferrone, thank you for you thought, but I will respond that you yourself have missed the point. I abide by my claim that love of the Roman liturgy in its traditional language does not thereby indicate one is not committed to an accurately translated liturgy into the English or any other vernacular. (Is a father who is proud and supportive of his handicapped son to be judged incapable of being equally proud and supportive of his athletic daughter?)

        Msgr. Wadsworth loves the Roman Rite both in Latin and English. Moreover, he is well qualified for his position because of his knowledge of the liturgy, of the Latin language, and the English language.

        In conclusion, my point is that love for the liturgy in the Latin “typical” language is not incommensurate with nor degrading in any way to love for the liturgy in the vernacular. Let’s end the false presupposition that one who loves liturgy in English cannot equally love it in Latin, and vice versa.

        Jeremy Stevens, Fr. Ruff has no gripe against Msgr. Wadsworth, but you seem to. So I ask, can you read Wadsworth’s heart and all the substantial circumstances of his actions such that you presume to become his judge and accuse him of injustice?

        Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites. Et in medio nostri sit, Christus Deus.

      2. Bruce, I understand and certainly agree with the logic of what you are saying. One can do both in theory. But I have been unable to find anything on the web concerning Msgr. Wadsworth’s background that would suggest this emphasis upon the vernacular liturgy that you seem sure of. Perhaps you know him personally and can testify, but there seems to be no public track record. He holds an important position for improving on what has been a disastrous beginning, hence my concerns. Thank you too for your response.

  8. Thanks is certainly due to Father Ruff for his work on the ICEL chants. They are quite wonderful and I look forward to hearing them next year.

    1. Fritz – not a problem, and it’s not about me. I don’t always agree with the music committee’s consensus – nor do I always agree with what I thought a year or two ago! Chant adaptation is not an exact science, and there are oftentimes 2 or 3 possible solutions in a given case which are viable.

  9. It’s my understanding that the final Missal will be much improved because of your efforts, and of course you paid the price. This is not-at-all surprising, see, e.g. the fate of a certain Lord Acton at Vatican I.

  10. I am sorry you were treated this way. One reason I am so dubious about the new translation is that it seems to empower a hierarchy that answers to no one rather than to remind us that we must serve each other.

    1. Brigid, Along similar lines, given the power of the shock troops in charge of the liturgy’s future, I wouldn’t give the preservation of the Anglican patrimony much of a future through the Ordinariate, or the prospect of having a hieratic (as in Thomas Cranmer) English Tridentine Mass for the Latin church.

      I really don’t trust Benedict’s crowd at all.

  11. Borrowing a line from Brother Martin, the unfinished novel of Georges Bernanos: “To suffer for the Church is nothing; it is necessary to suffer through her.” A very French sentiment in its extremes. I usually translate it: You’re not a real Catholic until you have suffered at the hands of the church.

  12. “Cessent iurgia maligna, cessent lites.”

    Some would say it is uncharitable to characterize the criticisms of the new translations in these terms. Fr Ruff et al are not just troublemakers, they show real concern for the pastoral welfare of the faithful who will suffer the evil consequences of these incompetent translations.

    And all that has been said here does indeed suggest that peole who “love” the Latin and are devoted to a literal translation of it are most unlikely to be faithful and pastorally sensitive servants of the vernacular liturgy.

  13. I did not know about Andrew Wadsworth’s membership of LMS, which indeed appears at odds with his work. However, at the time of his appointment, the rumour mill did say that he never celebrates in the OF, only in the EF, which does seem a rather bizarre qualification for someone heading the body that produces our English texts (or did until they got hijacked) for the Missa Normativa.

    I still think it may have been possible for him to have done a good job with integrity, even though it risked being coloured by his own personal preferences.

    1. As chaplain at Harrow School, Msgr. Wadsworth celebrated in the Ordinary Form with the high school students. I have heard anecdotes about his liturgical style being downright ‘informal’ (at least on occasion), which I chalk up to his pastoral sense in relating to this group.

      1. Now, let me get this straight. Msgr. Wadsworth is known to have celebrated the Ordinary Form in high school liturgies at an exclusive school for boys.

        Anywhere else? Does anyone know?

        As much as we all love teens, we know they are not a typical assembly.

        My concern stated above is deepening.

      2. @ Fr. Ruff, you seem to imply that “informal” liturgical style is good pastoral sense. Why? What is the basis of this presupposition?

        @ all the Nervous Nellies out there: Msgr. Wadsworth was once assigned to that specific ministry a Harrows. Now, he offers the Mass in the ordinary form in various parishes and religious houses and institutes in Washington, D.C. He also offers daily Mass for the staff at ICEL.

      3. Bruce Tereski,

        I don’t assume that “more informal is always more pastoral,” nor did I mean to imply that. I do assume that all sorts of things might be advisable in particular pastoral situations. For example, people with formal liturgical preferences like Msgr. Wadsworth or Fr. Anthony Ruff adjusting to what they think will help a particular community.

        That’s all.


  14. “I suspect I was terminated because of pressure for Rome, since the letter stated that ICEL’s collaborators could not be seen to facilitate criticism of the Holy See in the public domain.”

    Is it insensitive or asking too much to ask you wether you think they were wrong to fire you?

    1. Will,

      It’s an interesting question which I honestly hadn’t thought of as you frame it. Your question is difficult to answer because the problem is the whole system, not ICEL or the good people who work there. The whole system is top-down, secretive, lacking accountability, and lacking mechanisms of consultation. The system values obedience more than truth or honesty. The system allows abuse of power and authority.

      I’m not sure what ICEL can do – it’s stuck within this system. ICEL has so little ability to speak the truth as it sees it. ICEL (bishops, staff) are painfully aware that the higher-ups will likely punish them for giving honest and helpful feedback.

      Of course it would have been “right and just” if ICEL had stood by me when Rome objected to my involvement in Pray Tell. But I’m hesitant to expect ICEL to defend a freedom for me which neither they or no anyone else has. I’m not sure that’s really an option for them.

      Everyone involved has to decide how to respond: work within the system and try to do some good, or separate from the system because it’s unworkable. I respect all the people in our Church who choose the first path, oftentimes under great duress. I hope people understand why I lean increasingly toward the second path. I would never separate myself from the Church, but I find it hard to stay engaged in official liturgical projects.


      Fr. Anthony

      1. As Pope Benedict said: “The biggest weight on the church doesn’t come from the enemies outside, but is born from sin inside the church.” He also talked about “cancer”.
        He was referring to individual acts of sexual abuse, but I like to read it as a description of the “system” (as you call it) as a structure of sin – an evil setup that magnifies and compounds mistakes and that nourishes sin; that squelches good initiatives and takes advantage of people’s weaknesses to reward sin; a place where “good people” (as you say) are stuck; a context where a rotten minority can dominate, where our individual qualities seem powerless and our individual faults are dangerously powerful. That’s my view of the current system of governance in our Church.

    2. The behaviors in the governance system shows many of the signs of addiction/abuse. (For example, even there is no Maciel-like vow to muzzle complaints, ICEL’s work is in fact governed by contractual and cultural omerta that achieves the same effect.) If that is not acknowledged, the conversation is kinda beside the point. When people rush to protect the system from critique, it’s usually a red flag for this kind problem.

  15. Dear Fr Anthony, I’m sorry for what has happened. All of this makes me fear for the future of the Church. I hope that it does not become the clerical bastion it was before Vatican II. If people like you are sidelined, what chance is there for the average Joe Catholic to have their voice heard? After all, WE ARE the Church…aren’t we?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.