Trouble in Charlotte

The National Catholic Reporter has published a story chronicling a fight between the parishioners of a parish in Charlottesville NC and their parish administrator, a young priest who, they say, came in and imposed a restorationist agenda, fracturing the parish. Many have protested, some have left, and others have formed a “church in exile.” Although the story deals mostly with a single parish, other examples throughout the Charlotte diocese were cited as well. The article draws a connection between these examples and what they say is a broader trend.

It is not a unique situation. Across the country, some young pastors, inspired by their seminary training or informal networks with other young priests, are determined to push the clock back before the church’s liturgical and governance practices of the post-Vatican II era. They have what some perceive as a fetish for elaborate liturgical vestments and other externals, such as the routine wearing of cassocks and birettas. Some of these priests call themselves, and sometimes others call them, restorationists.

In addition to conflicts concerning the liturgy in the Charlotte parish, the article describes lapses of pastoral care and charity.

They [the parishioners] have compiled a binder filled with testimonies of those who say they were given a cold shoulder . . .  or told to leave. They also recount stories of pleas for the sacrament of the sick to be provided to dying patients that were left unanswered. At times, they say, the parish administrator simply didn’t show up for Mass, offering no explanation.

The story also describes tensions between younger and older priests.

Full clergy get-togethers are rare and, when they do occur, the young traditionalists rarely speak to their older colleagues. Older priests report that their younger colleagues have placed the blame for the church’s problems squarely on them. . . .

“I feel that I am tolerated. Someone of my generation is suspect of not being fully Catholic. They would likely retire us if they had enough young ‘true’ Catholic priests,” he said.

Bishop Peter Jugis, the ordinary of the diocese of Charlotte, responded by email to NCR‘s questions and request for comment. Stating that the diocese is devoted both to Vatican II and to Pope Francis, he declined to go into specifics about the Waynesville situation, only to say, “All have been listened to.”

Jugis has been bishop of Charlotte since 2002.


  1. Having faced significant community blow-ups following a significant change in leadership more than once in my past, I will tell you what I have done:

    1. I typically wait before acting on my reaction. I don’t trust initial impressions, though being highly intuitive. The reason for patience is that there are many angles, many constituencies. Past practice has usually preferred some angles and constituencies over others that have either been silenced or marginalized into crankdom. It takes time to overcome what might be called legacy bias that we often don’t see because we’ve assumed it’s a normative reality. Pastors attract and repel – the people repelled don’t often resurface until after a given pastor leaves. Absence is not non-existence. My most recent departure was a situation something in parallel to the situation described here, both better and worse in myriad details. At times it felt callously wicked and wantonly cruel, to borrow from Waugh. And I do worry that my current community could be vulnerable to that down the road.

    2. I’ve certainly been involved in what might be called “clean-up”. Hence my periodic bleats here about clergy being temporary and the community being more permanent – and having the burden of clean-up. I think of the great line from “The History Boys” – “History is women following behind [men] . . . with a bucket.”

    3. What I’ve noticed over the years is that the temptations to rationalize egoism in the name of Churchiness are legion. So many people adopt the mantle of prophetic witness. Some are indeed prophets. But many are likely not, especially if ideologically ruddered.

    4. Given #4, I cast a gimlet eye at the “Church in Exile” concept. It’s such a recipe for rationalized egoism. Instead of finding or making a home somewhere that’s designed to address all my particular needs, I take up what I call a Hebrews 11 approach – in imitation of Abraham and Sarah, I am on the road, pitching tent for extended periods, but ultimately moving, not expecting any one place to be my home, but saluting my ultimate home from afar.

    5. The press is not anyone’s friend in these disputes. People should avoid involving the press in them (that’s very different from saying people should shut up about them; I don’t mean that at all). I can’t think of single situation where the press has shed more light and balm than heat and bile on a parochial dispute of this sort. It’s not analogous to the abuse cover-up scandals. The editorial exigencies of the press, and usually lack of deep familiarity with necessary background on the part of reporters and editors, creates more opportunities for harm than for good.

  2. As is well known, at ordination to the priesthood a diocesan deacon pledges loyalty to the bishop. I strongly suspect that this loyalty includes the resolve to offer Mass and all sacraments according to the custom and inclination of the faithful in a particular parish. If a seminarian finds that he would not obey, perhaps he should leave the seminary. (This is a sharp judgment from a layman, but I would say it stands to reason.)

    Many (if not almost all) of us have had employers who were difficult to bear, and were perhaps even an impediment to our pet projects. Still, many of us had to cooperate with a supervisor’s behavior for any number of reasons. If a priest is told by the bishop to say every Mass versus populum and with the Swiss Canon, then he is bound to do so. “Restorationists” disregard the primary need to celebrate the Eucharist according to the praxis that best feeds the faithful. If a priest cannot be a servant, then can he lead?

  3. Of course, what this article describes was exactly what was done to millions of Catholics back in the mid-1960s when the liturgical experts shoved their bright ideas down everyone’s throats, whether it distressed them or not. Now, when a more conservative or traditional Catholic tries to recover part of the Catholic tradition, he is accused of heartlessness, etc. How quickly we forget history.

    1. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      Agreed with Jeff’s helpful reply to you. In the 70s there was a sense in my parish that old and new elements could do things together, like record in album for a beloved music-loving pastor who paid attention to the choir, organist, and the new folk group.

      Additionally, many of those heady days of reform were accompanied with a sense of optimism. Many traditional-leaning Catholics seem not quite as optimistic to me. Change for the sake of a Council is one thing. Change for the sake of change is something else entirely.

    2. @Peter Kwasniewski:

      Peter, no one loves the Tridentine Mass more than me. I do not attend anymore because I have no place in extraordinary form communities. I’m in my late 30’s, never wed, and can’t support children. My lifestyle’s on a collision course with the traditionalist status quo. Many traditionalists refuse to talk to me because I don’t fit the traditionalist mold of a highly devout family with significantly more children than the 2.3.

      Regardless of whether or not the conciliar reforms were shoved down “everyone’s throats”, this is the only liturgy which many people have ever known. Their mold is the Ordinary Form, and even the introduction of birettas makes them uncomfortable. Why? The biretta introduces a variable into the liturgy which unsettles the routine they have come to know well. The biretta introduces a past which invades the “now” which parishioners consider comfortable.

      I pray that the priest who is “tradding” the parish turns around, has compassion on his parishioners, and do what is right — celebrate Mass in the manner the parish is comfortable with. I’ve long suffered with the rigidity of traditionalists. Let this parish free.

    3. @Peter Kwasniewski:
      Tired repetition – tradition, in your use, is just subjective.

      Remember this from Pelikan and his five volume work on the History of the Development of Doctrine:

      Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition lives in conversation with the past, while remembering where we are and when we are and that it is we who have to decide. Traditionalism supposes that nothing should ever be done for the first time, so all that is needed to solve any problem is to arrive at the supposedly unanimous testimony of this homogenized tradition.

      Suggest that your ideology of *tradition* is actually *traditionalism*.

  4. Actually, we don’t have to be “forgetting history” when we have clearly passed from one era to the next. The controversies and unrest that occurred in some parishes and dioceses during the fifteen years or so between the end of the council and the election of JPII were a sign of the times. We should recall that social unrest was widespread throughout the US during the turbulent 60’s flowing over to the 70’s that followed. Authorities of all kinds were called into question including by Catholic laity who thought themselves more Catholic than the pope. They labeled as “Protestant” the practice of singing at Mass, praying in the vernacular, and the introduction of such notions as evangelization, stewardship, tithing, and even fellowship. They lamented the passing of a Mass in which they could pray and worship without distractions not of their own making (greeting of peace, holding hands at the Lord’s prayer, etc.) Curiously, some of them preferred to abandon their Catholic faith while blaming the clergy on the way out the door.
    We have restorationists in my diocese. I would estimate their numbers at no more than a dozen or so but some of them seize every opportunity to make their disdain of older clergy evident if only by giving us scant notice at clergy gatherings. Some of them have referred to us as the “church wreckers”. We may have as many as five parishes in which parishioners have had to flee or adjust as “Spirit of VII” practices were replaced with those they regard as Traditional. No more blessings during Holy Communion, no holding hands at the Lord’s prayer, and no communion under both forms on most occasions. The Propers, of course, chanted in Latin or English, are introduced as “commanded” by the GIRM or some other Vatican directive. But as we all know Catholics are mostly compliant and willing to endure these practices because Father says this is what “The Church” wants us to do.

    1. #4 @Fr. Jack Feehily:

      “But as we all know Catholics are mostly compliant and willing to endure these practices because Father says this is what “The Church” wants us to do.”

      I think we endure because we value the celebration of the Eucharist as the font and summit of our faith, and would not willingly be denied the reception of the Sacrament.

    2. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
      Not saying that this makes it right, but this isn’t really all that different than claims that Vatican II documents required things such as the elimination of Latin, Gregorian chant, ad orientem celebrations, altar rails, Communion on the tongue, and the imposition of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion.

      1. @Jay Edward:
        When SC allowed for the use of the vernacular it may well have reflected the conviction that some Latin would be retained. But what actually happened was that once it was introduced, both clergy and laity couldn’t get enough of it. Praying in a language we understood simply made the most sense. Only so-called “Latinists” and “traditionalists” lamented the passing of the “official” language of the church. In 1962, Pope John XXIII issued a document calling for the restoration or retention of Latin in seminaries as a primary language of instruction. It was never implemented because it didn’t make any sense. When SC called for preferential treatment of Gregorian Chant it wasn’t because there was a rich tradition for such chant in parish liturgies. The only Latin musical compositions employed in parish liturgies was by choirs and organists who could sing the Dies Irae at daily requiem Masses. There were some exceptions, including a parish I grew up in which adopted the dialogue Mass in which all the people chanted the ordinary and the responses. And there were some parishes which were home to excellent–even professional–singers who could take on both chant and polyphony. But there was not tradition or even custom for people to be singing anything during Mass. I could go on, but I hope I’ve made my point that all of the matters which you mentioned flowed from liturgical studies and a myriad of liturgical convocations which mainly attracted church professionals and devout Catholics.

      2. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
        The Council also thought it made sense that the laity knew the Ordinary of the Mass in Latin since more frequently Catholics of different countries get together. I think having a common language as a source of unity is a strength. Of course, vernacular was permitted but the fact that this was taken as pretext to purge Latin is a travesty. Learning the Ordinary in Latin/Greek isn’t difficult, and it’s patronizing to think that regular Catholics can’t do it…I know of a Ordinary Form where the people sing the Kyrie/Gloria/Sanctus/Agnus Dei in Latin/Greek…as the Council envisioned lay people would be able to do. Also, Gregorian Chant has not been given its rightful “pride of place” in most parishes.

      3. @Jay Edward:
        Years ago we were on holiday in France. We went to Sunday Mass where there was a small congregation that also included a group of German Boy Scouts.
        Having noticed the situation, the priest announced that he would celebrate in Latin.
        The upshot was that none of us understood, whereas most of us would have grasped at least some of the French.
        Latin is not a common language, if by language you mean something that conveys meaning among those mouthing it.

      4. @Fr. Jack Feehily:
        So why not spend the energy lovingly educating the faithful so that those things aren’t only flowing from “liturgical convocations which mainly attracted church professionals and devout Catholics”? Wasn’t greater education of the faithful in such matters a stated desire of the Council?

  5. Peter, Vatican 2 was implemented after much deliberation and had the blessing of the the Pope and hierarchy. It was an institutional directive. In contrast, individual or small groups of so called ‘traditional’ Catholics are acting on their own in the face of Vatican 2. These two things are not equivalent. One reflects obedience, the other its opposite.

    “it’s your turn to have something shoved down your throat” is not exactly a good basis for reconciliation or community building.

    1. @jeff armbruster:

      “it’s your turn to have something shoved down your throat” is not exactly a good basis for reconciliation or community building.

      Moreover, it’s about the the surest way to corrode the foundation of whatever it is you want to support.

      Ideologues can be their own worst enemies. (Just to be clear, traditional*ism* is a modern ideology, it’s not some special snowflake magically floating in a spotless heartful Empyrean over all Those Real Ideologues.) But, because they believe in The Cause(TM), they can’t see that in front of their own nose. It gets even harder with a river of position papers to more deeply obscure it.

  6. Let me begin by saying I have issues with the existence of the Extraordinary Form on multiple levels and have no desire to see the clock turned back to the 1950s or 1850s or 1550s.

    Are there “restorationist” priests and musicians out there who I would take pains to avoid at the post-Chrism Mass reception because even a two sentence conversation with them does not pair well with hor d’oeurves? Absolutely! But to characterize anyone who veers even slightly to the right of the “progressive” perspective as a heartless thug is degrading. Personally, all I have ever sought to do is faithfully carry out the documents of the church: patiently encouraging the use of Gregorian Chant, the use of Latin by both choir and congregation, exposing the faithful to the “treasure of inestimable value” that is the Catholic musical tradition, and the use of the Propers (because yes, they are a legitimate option and, arguably, a wonderfully “pastoral” practice). Why is it that lovingly and patiently doing any of those three things is unmercifully booted out from under the umbrella of “praxis that best feeds the people” but putting together a folk group to lead the assembly is always encouraged? Reading articles like this leave that impression that because I teach towards a version of the Ordinary Form that, to some, smacks of “restorationism” or “traditionalism” or whatever “slightly-right-of-center-ism” you want to truck out, I become labeled without question as some sort of unloving parasite leeching on the faithful.

    1. @Robert Cruz:
      “But to characterize anyone who veers even slightly to the right of the “progressive” perspective as a heartless thug is degrading.”

      Robert, I don’t think that’s what’s going on here. It may feel that way to you because of experiences you have had, but I’ll warrant that the commenter here would generally be accepting (if not supportive) of your efforts as you describe them, since it sounds like you are working in a pastoral rather than ideological manner.

      Keep working to build bridges with your people and meet them in the middle.

  7. I think an interesting contrast to the situation in North Carolina would be that of Our Lady of the Atonement in San Antonio, where an conservative pastor who built the a vibrant, thriving parish out of almost nothing is being made to leave by the Archbishop to the dismay of the parishioners who are pleased with the leadership of the parish. Would those who support the lay people in the NCR article support the lay people in San Antonio in their aspirations to be taken into account by their prelate as the People of God?

    1. @Jay Edward:
      The first rule is that the faithful are to be served by their pastors and not bullied.
      Any priest who has issues with that should look for alternative employment.

  8. The Blessed Percy Dearmer was quite right when he reminded his readers that vulgarity was the lack of due proportion.

  9. Peter Kwasniewski : Of course, what this article describes was exactly what was done to millions of Catholics back in the mid-1960s when the liturgical experts shoved their bright ideas down everyone’s throats, whether it distressed them or not. Now, when a more conservative or traditional Catholic tries to recover part of the Catholic tradition, he is accused of heartlessness, etc. How quickly we forget history.

    I don’t know about you but when I was a kid and used the argument that “he (or she) started it” when having a tussle with any of my brothers or sisters” my parents quick reply was “and I’m stopping it.”

    I have no recollection of a pre-V2 church. I respect that there are those who have a pining for those days whether or not they remember them but can’t grasp why so many of those who do, especially priests, can offer the same consideration to me.

    It also seems odd that many of the same clergy, and laity, who for 35 years insisted that we must follow the directives and examples put forth by the pope now want to ignore those same directives and examples.

  10. The internet and social media have connected and emboldened traditionalists, who are a small minority, to feel they can take back the Church. I am grateful for oratories dedicated to the Tridentine rites, it is good that people who are drawn to those spiritual practices can gather together for prayer. But when an overly ambitious pastor and a handful of allies decide to run an experiment on a neighborhood parish, suddenly changing the style of worship and thereby driving out many longtime members, the fruits are often division and a sense of betrayal.

  11. Most of this seems personality driven and a dispute over aesthetics. If I were to zero in on a real problem, it would be the allegation that the parish administrator is failing in his obligation to support the parish sacramentally by not showing up for Mass and not visiting the infirm.

    I don’t care whether you’re a traddy, a dyed in the wool liberal, or anything in between. If those allegations are true, that’s a fail.

  12. God bless Father Riehl. My wife and I drive an hour each way to attend, revere and celebrate the Latin Mass in Charlotte. We are considering moving to Waynesville, specifically because the Latin Mass is celebrated at St. John’s. The news report failed to include in the story that the Latin Mass is celebrated at St John’s once a week on Wednesday evening. The eight other weekly masses are celebrated as Novus Ordo, including two Spanish Masses. Apparently one traditional Latin Mass per week is enough to drive some “Catholics” out of the pews, and in some cases into Protestant churches. Incidentally, this story is about two years old, and is routinely resurrected from the mothballs whenever it seems necessary to diminish, marginalize and otherwise slur those who find holiness and solace in the traditional Mass. Tolerance too often works only in one direction.

  13. Mike Mattson : . Apparently one traditional Latin Mass per week is enough to drive some “Catholics” out of the pews, and in some cases into Protestant churches.. Tolerance too often works only in one direction.

    If you think that the issue in this parish is only about one Latin Mass per week you apparently did not read the article very carefully. The issue goes much further than that.

  14. I’m most surprised by the comment that the priest ignored sick calls and didn’t show up for Masses, as that seems wildly out of character for more traditional priests in my experience. Traditionalists generally go out of their way to make Extreme Unction/Anointing of the Sick and confession more available

    1. @Jack Wayne:
      I’ve always suspected that the real issue is not traditional vs. progressive but rather jerk vs. non-jerk. A priest, whether a traditionalist or a progressive, who truly loves his people and is willing to lay down his life for them will be loved by them in return.

      1. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        Spot-on. Among the many priests I’ve worked for over the years, they’ve run the gamut between vigorous progressives and strong traditional-leaning guys. By far, I’d rather work for a non-jerk conservative than someone who agreed with me but had no sense of diplomacy or pastoral sense. By far.

      2. @Fritz Bauerschmidt:
        I would certainly agree with this. I mostly wished to convey with my comment that being uncaring or neglectful is not a typical characteristic of more liturgically traditional priests. Being cold and being traditional don’t automatically go together.

        In my experience of interacting with priests outside of Mass, I’ve generally found no correlation between being a good, tactful person and liturgical style.

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