Thinking about Tim Brunk’s post in light of Charlottesville in conjunction with my reading and conversations over the past weeks and months have led to some questions about diversity. Maybe you have some thoughts, responses, or insights to share in the comments.
Recently, I’ve been reading Tricia Colleen Bruce’s interesting sociological study of personal parishes, Parish and Place: Making Room for Diversity in the American Catholic Church (Oxford 2017). According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, “personal parishes” are non-territorial parishes established by a bishop for a particular group based on “the rite, language, or nationality of the Christian faithful of some territory, or even for some other reason” (Canon 518). After the establishment of many such “national parishes” to support European immigrants in the 19th and early 20th centuries (I grew up in one such Italian parish), personal parishes were heavily discouraged in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Several American prelates, including Cardinals Mundelein and Spellman, argued for the territorial parish (and against national parishes) as an instrument supporting Americanization of Catholics (Bruce 19). The idea being that the less Catholics were insulated by their cultural and linguistic “old world” ways, the more they would be integrated into U.S. culture and climb the ladder of success and influence. The stated goal of assimilation, however, ironically led away from the national parish structure that had gradually helped immigrant Catholics to gain a foothold in the U.S.
In the 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law includes a kind of ressourcement of personal parishes, which it acknowledges as the exception to the territorial-parish norm, but nevertheless a viable option when “expedient.”
Bruce argues that an ongoing increase of personal parishes, alongside the territorial parish structure, in the U.S. since 1983 represents a complex way of dealing unity and diversity in American Catholicism. One critique of the personal parish is that it adopts a congregational model of gathering for worship. That is, the personal parish represents a gathering of the like-minded in a voluntary way, rather than worshipping with whomever happens to end up within the parish boundaries. However, “Personal parishes,” Bruce emphasizes, “do not mimic congregations” because they are prescribed by the bishop. In the dynamic of lay desire and official sanction, they “embed choice in a way that goes beyond a tacit acceptance of individuals’ autonomy” (198).
13% of the personal parishes that have been established in the U.S. between 1983 and 2012 are related to the celebration of the extraordinary form, a specific option mentioned in Summorum Pontificum , art. 10. The much more interesting question, I think, relates to racial and ethnic minority groups. Bruce’s numbers do not include the last five years, but excluding those, 76% of personal parishes established since 1983 are related to ethnicity or race (40).
Nevertheless, not every case of racial or ethnic homogeny is one of reticence or exclusion.
Bruce raises some interesting points about racial and ethnic diversity. She suggests that diversity in a parish cannot be simply embraced for its own sake. “Sheer internal diversity does not ensure an equal distribution of voice and power (especially for minority groups), nor ownership and empowerment for those already marginalized. Color-blind rhetoric and diversity talk in a world of ‘racism without racists’ can conveniently blind Americans to the realities of difference, but does not erase the realities of difference (199).” She goes on to emphasize that parish diversity typically requires the comfort of the dominant party, or it falls apart. This gives rise to a variety of resentments, which bubble under the “cosmopolitan canopy,” Elijah Anderson’s term for the interracial civility that tends to exist in urban settings. In such a situation, personal parishes that support a given minority can be very helpful toward the development of the faith.
Returning to the important questions raised in Tim Brunk’s post about segregation in churches and racism, the liturgical and extra-liturgical practices in the parish are an important locus of the church’s engagement with racism. However, it’s not always clear how those practices speak and form us. Undoubtedly, the same thing could be said about singing certain hymns that Bruce says about parish diversity: it tends to require the comfort of the dominant party. If that’s the case, then apart from the thorny issues of cultural appropriation, I wonder is there potential for transformation embedded in singing Spirituals or Spanish language hymns? Perhaps.
But it’s also too easy to develop a thin veneer of cultural and racial acceptance or, worse, a sense of having transcended the racism the continues to plague us. This is not the kind of transcendence our liturgies aim to meet us with. As there is empty cosmopolitan gestures, so there are empty appeals to Galatians 3:28 and the body of Christ, as if the kingdom has already arrived in its fullness and the body is not broken. Dr. Arthur Falls, a medical doctor and Catholic Worker who lived during the push for civil rights legislation, characterized white Catholic thinking that racism was no big deal or already overcome in the church, appeals to the “mythical body of Christ.”
As one who has been a tireless supporter of territorial parishes precisely because they are a check against the relentless American apotheosis of choice, I’ve come to see over the decade or so that they are a function of a more basic choice (or not) of where to live. With the cultural heritage of subtle racist practices such as redlining and white flight, the territorial parish simply fails as a check against our insidious practices of exclusion.
Bruce makes a compelling argument that it’s precisely the interplay of choice (requests from Catholic groups on the ground) and authority (the assent of the bishop) that makes the response of personal parishes more than assimilation to American voluntarism. They represent “a novel organizational form, re-centering otherwise de-centered people and purposes. Personal parishes create a structural alternative to conformity, a named specialist organization alongside the generalist organization” (201). But they are not a panacea, as she notes. And sometimes they can be problematic, depending on the circumstances.
Liturgically, I wonder if we’re brought back to the questions around inculturation. There’s something profound about the depth of liturgical expression that comes from the cultural inheritance of a people. And celebrating a liturgy marked by at least an aspect of different cultural inheritance can be an important reminder of unity in diversity. But I wonder: does there need to be a population at the parish to serve as custodians of that music, for example? Or is that too limiting? A parish I formerly attended had a sizable Rawandan population. When Rawandan music was integrated into the liturgy, the Rawandan parishioners, as a choir, led us in the singing. It didn’t erase tensions, but it did accomplish significant levels of understanding.
The national language, English in this case, does not get at the cultural inheritance in the U.S., which is far more diverse. Other languages have always been a part of the American Catholic experience.
Spirituals are a particularly compelling example of musical diversity because they emerged on our soil, unlike so many European hymns that many of us are used to. But the appeals they make are so deeply embedded in the African-American experience, it seems fair to wonder how they can be sung without appropriation, especially when the concupiscence that follows America’s original sin is still so pervasive.
So how do we deeply inculturate the liturgy–an essential task of catholicity–while continuing the task of breaking down barriers and walls, of encountering those who are different? Perhaps personal parishes are an important element of growing into the full expression of Galatians 3:27-28, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”