Let’s play a little game. I’ll give you a real headline from a newspaper article, and you tell me what you think the article is about. Ready? Here’s the headline: “Catholic Priest Whose Style Split NC Mountain Parish Is Leaving.”
Did you immediately assume that the priest was divisive because he was conservative or because he was liberal? If your first guess was that he was conservative, you were correct. Sadly, we have heard this song before.
But on to the story itself. Three years ago, Father Christopher Riehl became the pastor of St. John the Evangelist parish in Waynesville, North Carolina. Apparently, Fr. Riehl wanted to institute several changes in order to return the parish to a more traditional way of worship. For example, he discarded modern hymns and replaced them with Gregorian chant. To accomplish this change, Fr. Riehl had to fire the choir director, which led to the resignation of most of the choir. Catechists were told to teach true Catholic doctrine or resign. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Riehl and other young priests in the area had a “fetish” about wearing “elaborate liturgical vestments and other externals, such as the routine of wearing cassocks and birettas.”
A group called the Appalachian Catholics in the Smoky Mountain Region (I know. Strange name.) declared that Fr. Riehl and these young priests in the area “seem to be more intent on taking the church back to pre-Vatican II days rather than minister to the people.” In addition, these priests “seem to be steeped in doctrine and theology, but are unwilling to participate in ecumenical activities, and are lacking compassion, love and mercy.” Many parishioners left St. John’s and joined a nearby Catholic church that was more in line with Vatican II changes. A petition signed by over 100 parishioners was sent to the local bishop in order to stop Fr. Riehl. There were other complaints, but you get the gist of the situation.
My research on this story could not find any account of Fr. Riehl’s side of things. But, as the above headline indicates, Fr. Riehl has thrown in the towel. In a Facebook message, he announced that he needed to get away from parish work for a while. He blamed no one for his decision to leave, and the diocese made no comment.
So what are we left with? A young priest wants to restore the true teachings of the Church, remove dissident catechists, elevate liturgical music, and regain the beauty of the Mass. His opponents demand a church steeped in Vatican II changes. The young priest loses.
To the “winners” in this contest, I have a question for them: How have Vatican II and the changes that followed worked out for the Church? Has there been an explosion of vocations in the last fifty years? Do you personally know of a young person from your parish who has become a priest or a nun? How many seminaries or mother houses have closed and are now shopping malls or housing for senior citizens? How many church buildings have been sold to evangelicals or turned into homeless shelters?
Has attendance at Mass increased over the years? Are young people coming to Mass in droves? Is there a growing number of young marrieds with many children? At a typical weekend Mass, how many young boys are altar servers? Are there more female altar servers than male?
Do parishioners dress and act in an appropriate manner during Mass? Before Mass begins, is there a sense of quiet prayer and worship, or does it sound like a Bingo hall on “free beer night”? How many hours are available for confession each week? Is there an opportunity for Eucharistic Adoration on a regular basis?
How many parishioners have actually read the Catechism of the Catholic Church or even a small part of it? How many understand what the word apologetics means? How many believe that the Eucharist is merely a symbol? How many can effectively explain Catholic doctrine to a non-believer?
Finally, is the biggest crisis facing the Church today a lack of faith or a lack of a policy to save the planet from global warming?
I could go on, but the bottom line is that, with rare exceptions, Vatican II has been a disaster for the Church. In fact, my experience is that the individual parishes that are growing are very traditional in teaching and liturgy. For the people of St. John the Apostle parish in Waynesville, North Carolina, a young man filled with zeal for the Catholic Church is sent to be your priest. Instead of seeing him as a gift from God, you treat him like a pariah. In the fires of Hell, Satan must be smiling.