Thursday 9 October 2014

I Think It's Time To Comment...

I've given this post a lot of thought, and prayed hard too. Originally I was reluctant to blog about the recent events at Blackfen, and, from the lack of blogposts, I think that other Blackfen bloggers must have felt the same reluctance. However, a few people unconnected with the parish (but geographically close) have recounted what they have heard from other sources, and it seems obvious that the whole story is being given a very definite spin.

I do not claim to be impartial. On the other hand, I'm rather good at analysing facts and being objective about it - I wouldn't be much of a scientist otherwise. So I think the time has come for me, as one of the people caught up in the events at Blackfen, to set down a few of the facts, and to explain my conclusions. You do not have to accept my conclusions, but I think they stand up to scrutiny. The facts, however, cannot be denied.

The first fact is that there was no conflict in the parish which needed to be "sorted out".

There had been some conflict in the past, but this was back in late 2008 - early 2009. That is over five years ago. A small group of parishioners had become unhappy that, following Summorum Pontificum, Fr. Finigan had introduced (slowly and with detailed catechesis) one TLM on a Sunday (out of four Sunday Masses.) They wrote to the Archbishop to complain. A parish survey was carried out. This demonstrated that, although there was a very small number of parishioners strongly opposed to the TLM, and an equivalent number of parishioners strongly in favour of the TLM, the vast majority of parishioners were happy for Fr. Finigan to get on with whatever he thought best for the spiritual needs of the parish.

The area Bishop, Patrick Lynch, chaired a meeting in the church to discuss people's concerns. After this meeting, which was one of the most shoddily-run meetings I have ever been unfortunate enough to attend, Bishop Lynch had to concede that the people opposed to the TLM were being less than reasonable in objecting to one Sunday Mass out of four being celebrated according to the usus antiquior. Having failed to make any headway, a small group of around nine parishioners wrote to the Tablet to complain. Contrary to intention, the article actually gave rise to widespread support for Fr. Finigan's implementation of Summorum Pontificum.

The people (a very small group) who really couldn't stomach the successful introduction of the TLM at Blackfen left the parish - but since Welling parish church is about 10 minutes away and Sidcup parish church is about 5 minutes away, this isn't particularly surprising, and quite a few people cross parish boundaries anyway because of convenient bus routes. Other people crossed over into the parish, attracted by the reverent style of worship at Blackfen (and not just at the TLM.)

This happened over five years ago. Things settled down. There was a stable congregation at the 10:30am Mass, but a sizeable majority of the regulars at the TLM would happily attend one of the Novus Ordo Masses if they couldn't make it to the 10:30am Mass. Some people regularly attended two Sunday Masses. There wasn't a division. Most people just went to Mass, even if they preferred one form over another.

The next fact is that the parishioners who were devoted to the Extraordinary Form were not antagonistic to the arrival of Fr. Fisher.

On the contrary, we were delighted that we were to have a parish priest who had celebrated the Extraordinary Form in the past. The first Saturday morning Mass was to be the usual Missa Cantata, and, since many servers and singers went to a local pub for lunch afterwards, we had invited Fr. Fisher to come along too, informing him well in advance (at least a month previously). He declared himself unable to attend, which was fair enough, but we had attempted to welcome him.

We had expected changes - a new parish priest will want to do things in his own way, but we were led to believe that the TLM would continue at Blackfen, and would do almost anything in our power to keep that going. The comment, made by Fr. Fisher, in the combox of Richard Collins' blogpost reassured us that there were no plans to change the 10:30am Mass...

In view of subsequent events, one might question whether the specification of the time of Mass rather than the form was deliberate. After all, Mass continues to be offered at 10:30am on Sundays, just not in the Extraordinary Form.

The suggestion that the cessation of the TLM at Blackfen was planned in advance is given further credence by a couple of other incidents.

Fr. Fisher arrived in Blackfen on Wednesday. On the next day Fr. Fisher cancelled the schedule of extra Masses which had been planned for some Marian and other feasts. He explained that this was because it was not permitted for a priest to binate (to say two Masses) on a weekday. In fact, for pastoral reasons, a priest can binate - and one might speculate that a stable group requesting a Mass for a feast of Our Lady in a parish dedicated to Our Lady might qualify as a sufficiently pastoral reason. Nevertheless, it was always possible that Fr. Fisher felt that he was already over-committed, or that he just didn't wish to celebrate extra Masses, which was his right. Therefore an offer was made to arrange for other priests to celebrate the Masses instead. This offer was refused. No parish priest is obliged to allow Mass to be celebrated in his church, but it is difficult to comprehend why he might not wish to do so, especially if he is not expected to do anything other than allow it to happen.

On the third day of Fr. Fisher's tenure, he told a parishioner that these extra Masses would be stopped, and when she expressed regret at the removal of evening Masses he stated that he had had hours of meetings with Archbishop Smith and Bishop Lynch to discuss the direction the parish would be taking, and he declared that Blackfen was a Novus Ordo parish.

He had already introduced changes at the weekday Masses. The speed of change was a little unexpected but things would probably have continued quietly if it hadn't been for one major turning point. During his first Sunday Extraordinary Form Mass, after the Domine, non sum dignus and, holding Our Lord prior to giving Communion to a server, Fr. Fisher stopped and declared loudly to the congregation that there had been considerable confusion expressed over the correct way to receive Communion at the TLM, and that, according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Communion could be received kneeling or standing, on the tongue or, in England and Wales, in the hand.

That is untrue.

Universae Ecclesiae, the Instruction on the application of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum, issued by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei states quite clearly that:

"by virtue of its character of special law, within its own area, the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum derogates from those provisions of law, connected with the sacred Rites, promulgated from 1962 onwards and incompatible with the rubrics of the liturgical books in effect in 1962."

In other words, if it wasn't allowed in 1962, then it's not allowed at the Extraordinary Form. That applies to Communion in the hand, extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion and female altar servers, for example.

Now, it is possible that Fr. Fisher was not aware of this.

Nevertheless, this statement caused a great deal of scandal to members of the congregation, especially because of when it was made, and the manner in which it was made. The inappropriateness of the timing and manner of the announcement was really shocking. After Mass, several people expressed their feelings, and there was much discussion of the laws concerning the rubrics of the Mass.

If the rubrics concerning Communion in the hand were to be ignored, then that begged the question of what might follow. The intention of having Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion at all Masses had already been indicated in the newsletter. An Extraordinary Form Mass in Wales had been cancelled because of a failure to observe the 1962 rubrics, and there was, understandably, speculation that this might happen at Blackfen. Quite a few people wanted to know how things were going with the new parish priest. News travels fast, and bad news travels even faster...

Unfortunately, Fr. Fisher did not appreciate the criticism.

On his second Saturday morning in the parish, at the Extraordinary Form Low Mass, he delivered a strongly-worded address to the congregation, telling them that the people at the TLM at Blackfen were toxic and uncharitable, and the cause of major division in the parish. He stated that two friends of his (he referred to them as his "spies") had been shocked at the views expressed by people on the previous Sunday after the Old Mass, and because of this, he was going to cancel the Extraordinary Form Mass from the end of the month, and would hold a Novus Ordo Mass at that time instead. He also pointed out that someone had "denounced him" to the editor of the Spectator magazine, and that to discuss private parish business with outsiders was gossip and a mortal sin.

The parishioners at the Sunday morning Latin Mass were given the same speech instead of a homily.

Yes, to be fair, I suspect that people had been less than complimentary the previous week - remember that they themselves had been shocked and scandalised by the announcement about Communion in the hand. Even so, cancelling the TLM as a result of a few unpleasant remarks seems somewhat extreme.

One might even be led to speculate that the announcement at Communion the previous week had been made on purpose, especially recalling that on at least two occasions previously, deliberate disregard for rubrics had led to the cessation of the Extraordinary Form Masses. I wouldn't like to think that this could be the case.

UPDATE: It would appear, from one of the comments I have received, that something along these lines was the case. Fr. Fisher has declared in the parish newsletter that he had not intended to end the Extraordinary Form Masses and was surprised by the fall in numbers... however, in view of this drop, he is going to have to consult with the Parish Council. Since the chairman of the Parish Council, appointed just over a week into Fr. Fisher's tenure, is known to be strongly opposed to the TLM, the outcome is predictable. Be that as it may, the intention to cease the TLM provision from the end of September had been announced from the pulpit on Fr. Fisher's second Sunday.

On Fr. Fisher's third Saturday in the parish, Mass was offered in the Ordinary Form instead of the usual TLM. It was explained that this was because there wasn't a server who was able to serve Low Mass, and therefore all Saturday Masses from then would be in the Ordinary Form.

If there isn't a server, it is permissible for someone to make the responses from the pews for Low Mass... or even for the celebrant to make the responses...

So, the result is that, after seven years, the usus antiquior is no longer celebrated at Our Lady of the Rosary.

It was suggested that parishioners affected by the changes should write to the Bishop and Archbishop to complain, citing Summorum Pontificum. There isn't really any point - if, as Fr. Fisher said, he has discussed this over many hours with them already, this was probably planned from the beginning. After all, there was nothing to stop the Archbishop from moving Fr. Fisher to Margate rather than Fr. Finigan.

And this brings me to another point: it has been suggested that Fr. Finigan was moved to Margate as a promotion. I find that rather hard to believe.

I doubt very much that Fr. Finigan thinks in ecclesiastical careerist terms. If he did, he might consider that being sent to Margate was very much a demotion. A brief look at the Southwark diocesan directory indicates that the parish of Margate, although geographically bigger than Blackfen, has a much lower Mass attendance. Being in a deprived area, the income of the parish is correspondingly lower. In addition, there is far more work, with two churches and a busy hospital to look after. His blogposts indicate that he is, despite this, very happy in his new parish.

Finally, no-one is suggesting that Fr. Fisher, as parish priest, doesn't have the right to make whatever changes he wishes in his parish. But to make so many changes so rapidly suggests that this was carefully planned from the outset. I think that the most upsetting aspect of it all is the lack of honesty. We were deliberately led to believe that the usus antiquior would be allowed to continue as before. And since Fr. Fisher did not arrange to move himself to Blackfen, then one might reasonably conclude that Archbishop Smith and Bishop Lynch have orchestrated the whole affair.

If that is the case, it suggests that honesty and integrity are as lacking among the hierarchy of Southwark as they were in Arundel and Brighton.

Please pray for everyone concerned.


Just another mad Catholic said...

Want I want to say about your new parish Priest mac would probebly necessitate going to confession, so in the spirit of MP's(who are not allowed to accuse a fellow parlimentarian of lying within the commons chamber)I shall simply say that your New PP should seriously consider a vocation with the Jesuits

Sitsio said...

Thanks for having the courage to post this Mac, it strikes me as utter insanity that a priest would want to dismantle the hard work of his predecessor so thoroughly. What ever else, this has all been dealt with appallingly. I will remember you all in prayer. Please God someone in the hierarchy has the courage and insight to do something about it.

Genty said...

Nothing short of a re-run of the 1970s.
The Magic Circle retreated to their corners during the tenure of Pope Benedict. Now the gloves are off and, unhappily, I expect to see more of this infantile form of revenge, dressed up as the new buzzword "pastoral".
In my own diocese of A&B I do not doubt there will be many dropped shoulders when the new incumbent is announced. We certainly need prayers, but we need to say them more fervently, too. God Bless the parishioners at Blackfen.

Carl said...

Unfortunately for Fr Fisher a number of the parishioners that attended the Sunday EF 10.30am Mass also were involved in other various activities for the Parish and he has lost that assistance. (at least until he finds others to take these activities on) Those of us who no longer attend the 10.30am Sunday have moved else where and myself and my family are happy that we have moved. I was shown by a friend who attends the 9am Sunday mass a copy of the newsletter from last week where Fr Fisher states that it wasn't his intention to cancel EF mass and his is surprised by the reaction and the significant drop in numbers. He has put it to the parish council to vote on what to do next. However the Parish council is comprised of people who do not support the EF mass and he did make it clear that by the end of September the EF would no longer take place. My personal view is that by asking the parish council to vote on this question.He can state that there is no longer any demand for the EF Mass at Blackfen. All part of a plan only you can decide.

Rhoslyn said...

Thank you very much for this post. It is refreshing to be able to read about the whole affair without needing to wonder if something has been exaggerated or twisted.

It is all very sad but God can make good come out of anything and I'm sure this occasion will be no different.

I am very glad that I visited the parish for the first time just before Fr Finigan left. Now I can say I was there and witnessed a beautiful TLM in all its glory at Our Lady of the Rosary in Blackfen.

May God bless you.

Amanda said...

So sorry to hear all this Mac, very sad. Will keep you all in my prayers. Please do the same for us, we too are struggling with recent changes....

Anonymous said...

**sigh** All so sad, and all so unnecessary. Courage.

Zephyrinus said...

Excellent Post, Mac.

You've covered everything that needed to be said.

Zephyrinus said...

Mac, you mentioned our friend, Richard Collins.
In case you and your Readers were unaware,
Prayers are needed for Richard.

An Article was carried, yesterday, on

God Bless Richard and his wife, Sally, and family.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for giving concerned Catholics the facts of this sad case. It is only reasonable to presume on the available evidence that the whole thing was a set-up from the outset. This is the kind of devious viciousness that the Sacred Mass of All Ages can evoke - it disturbs the demons greatly. I hope and pray there will be healing and restoration in the parish at some point not too distant; and that everyone regains access to our liturgical heredity very soon.

In Ireland, the situation is appalling, with, not only the majority not having access to the Traditional Holy Sacrifice of the Mass but the vast majority not even having been informed by their bishops and priests (deliberately) of their right to its availability, or even that it exists!! How can people request it as "a stable group" if they are not aware that they may do so, (or, more appropriately, that they are invited to do so!) or that the Ancient Mass is still the Mass of the Church; and, of course, how do they know that they desire/need the traditional liturgy (including Liturgy of the Hours) if they have not been taught the full, true Faith (as most have not)? It is clear that people have been left uninformed on the matter as a deliberate ploy by those bishops and priests opposed to the reintroduction of the Traditional Mass. Thus, has the whole purpose and intention of SP been subverted, in most places in the world.

God bless you.

Your sister in Christ


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post. It must have been very painful for you to write it. Nevertheless it was needed. I am glad you waited for some time before writing it.

Please be assured of prayer.

IanW said...

The impressive thing about Southwark is that it hasn't been known for intolerance and abuse of position. I pray this is not a straw in the wind.

Unknown said...

Whoaaa..... people!!!!

As a long standing parishioner and a supporter of Latin Mass there is something I must say here to put the record straight. I have attended every Sunday 10.30 Mass at Blackfen, bar one when I could not attend mass at all on Sunday for health reasons, since Fr Steven took over from Fr Tim and every single mass has been a Latin Mass and beautifully celebrated I can tell you - albeit with one alter server as all the others appear to have jumped ship - why??
Fr Steven has said he will continue the Latin Mass on Sundays at 10.30 which he loves to celebrate, until the end of October, because will something like only 30 parishioners in attendance (my count last Sunday) it is not viable to continue. I can understand that and our family will continue to support Fr Steven in any which way we can to help rebuild 'broken bridges' and mend 'broken fences' in the hope that one day we will have a monthly at least if not weekly return to our beloved Latin Mass.

In Domini +

George Gawor

Eccles said...

Excellent post, but the story still doesn't make much sense to me. There are people who are EF-phobic (which is arguably a heretical position to be in) but Fr Fisher did not suffer from this malady in the past. I think he owes the world a public statement: was he under orders from on high?

Left-footer said...

I am as impressed by your restraint as I am angered by what you describe.

Thank you for speaking out.

God bless!

Transformed in Christ - Louth said...

It would be interesting to hear what your LMS representative has advised you all to do. What have they said?

Mulier Fortis said...

George - the week you were away is the week he told the congregation at the 10:30am Mass that we were divisive and toxic and the cause of division and as it was his responsibility to heal division he would be stopping the celebration of the TLM from the end of September.

He actually stated that the Mass would stop for that reason.

To now say that he is *now* going to have to stop because of falling numbers is disingenuous (at best)-numbers fell because, after his words and actions, people thought they had better make alternative arrangements to be able to attend a TLM.

Et Expecto said...

The best advice that I can give is to implement the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. If the procedures set down there are followed to the letter, the process is threefold. ie Pastor, Bishop, Ecclesia Dei Commission. The first step is to gather a stable group and submit a formal letter of request. Fr Fisher cannot ignore this.

If a satisfactory solution does not emerge, the next step is to take the matter to Archbishop Smith, who also cannot ignore the matter. It may be that at this stage, the possibility of regular Latin Masses at a nearby church could be considered. I don't know the local geography, so am unable to suggest another church, but I would expect that there is one that is more suited to the Extraordinary Form.

It strikes me that a fresh start in another church may provide the best solution.

Charlene said...

Sunt lacrimae rerum...

Carl said...


what Mac has said is correct he said that the TLM on a sunday would stop at the end of september. Further as a family we attended his first parish surgery, where he said to us that if the children wanted to continue to serve at the 10.30 TLM mass, that they could but it would change to Novus Ordo. he made it crystal clear that there would not be any TLM mass after September. On the way home both our children bust into tears because the TLM is the only mass they have known since being small and they didn't want to serve a Novus Ordo mass out of choice.

Transformed in Christ-Louth

I did approach our LMS rep however I am not prepared to say on a blog what the results of the conversions where nor what he advised to do. All i can say on that matter is that we now attend another parish and the children are continuing to serve a EF mass.

grahammoorhouse said...

Folk interested in this blog might like to check out:

~Katherine~ said...

My heart aches for all of you that you're placed in such a position. I won't even begin to speculate as to what's going on; just know that you have my sympathies, and that I'll offer up our lack of a local diocesan TLM this week for you. I grew up in it, and I miss it terribly. I can only imagine having it and then having it taken away like that.

Gungarius said...

Hmm. It appears to me from comments that the good Fr Fisher is attempting to backtrack a little and perhaps save face. Presumably because he has been hit in the only way the laity can hit someone behaving like he has been alleged to behave - in the collection plate and with a sudden lack of parish helpers.

The problem with depending on liberals to run your parish is that there are not that many of them and in my experience they generally prefer to pontificate and assist with the liturgy in 1970s ways, rather than help around the parish and contribute generously to the collection, I suspect he may have just discovered that the hard way.

If the EF Mass has after all continued into October, then this is good news. The impression I get is that he has been put up to this by certain outsiders (+) who have probably now retreated well below the parapet and left him to his fate especially as they are all in the Doghouse with Rome right now over A&B, the last thing they need is an international uproar over this.

Just as making up with a seemingly unrepentant spouse when you know you are in the right is sometimes necessary for the good of a marriage, it may be wise to accept the continuation of the EF into October at face value for the good of everyones soul.

G. Thomas Fitzpatrick said...

Mac, thank you for posting. I think you have drawn the only conclusions possible. How are you getting along with your own spiritual life?

Unknown said...

Even after 6 weeks I am still so shocked by events at OLOR that I cannot truly comment without bursting into tears, but will just say that like many other parishioners I have had to leave the parish that I loved and had a lot of responsibility for. My son has been an alter server for 11 years and is totally shocked that this has happened and so suddenly. Very sad times and prayers needed for everyone caught up in this tragic situation.

gemoftheocean said...

Thanks Mac. I have heard it said on Facebook that Fr. Fisher actually YELLED at parishioner re: this entire fiasco. Is that correct (if you know?) My heart aches for Blackfen too.

One annoying part is the insult to the intelligence. Is he REALLY relying on people to be ignorant of rubrics. That business regards "can't say mass because of no server" is a bald faced lie and he HAS to know that. "back in the day" even a woman was allowed to give the responses. In the US when I regularly attended the daily EF at St. Anne's parish, sometimes there wasn't a server for the morning mass, and ALL of us would say the responses. And of course, the priest can do the responses does the priest who has TLM at 5:30 weekdays on a "catch as catch can" basis at Brompton Oratory. [Not an Oratorian, but an Italian priest who lives in the area, and says it a few times a week.] It's not formally listed in the parish, but it's said at St. Wilfred's chapel. But many times he does the responses himself.

Does Fr. Fisher really expect people to buy that stuff? He HAS to know better, he's not a stupid man. Personally, one has to ask if +Lynch has "something on him." "Kill off the Latin Mass or else." What really *should* happen is people need to get a petition together and sign it...send copies all over to social network etc. so "the powers that be" can't bury it. The 9 malcontents who were recently installed, can't be the only ones heard. Send to Damian Thompson too so he can give it some play. The "powers" will hate it if he publishes an update that makes +Lynch et al the baddies---WHICH they are.

The little girl, who always sang the Ave Maria in pains me to think how distressed she must be over this whole thing. Have they left to attend elsewhere? My heart aches for those young boys who faithfully served..especially the lad who finally got to be MC. All that, just snatched away.

And I'm angry that Fr. Tim was lied to.

Православный физик said...

Praying for all of you ticked decit was used

Deo volente said...

Thanks for the insight, Mac. I've noted that something was happening from across "the pond" and your clarification really helps. God willing, it will be put straight and an authentic TLM will again be part of your Sunday schedule. As for "Communion while standing" at a TLM, the Lord forbid!

Pax tecum!

Anonymous said...

Universae Ecclesiae speaks of later innovations incompatible with the “rubrics” in force at the time. But the distribution of Communion was not described in the 1962 Missal, therefore its rubrics are silent on this. The rules about Communion then in force were as laid out in the 1917 Code of Canon Law; and its canons did not prescribe Communion on the tongue. I believe this to be a moot point but it may be that Fr Fisher’s view may have its merits.

Society of St. Bede said...

But the new (and incomplete!) parish website tells us "All are welcome"

For a translation...

Anonymous said...

Surely Holy Communion was not received other than on the tongue in 1962?

Unknown said...

painful to read Mac - I can only guess at what it was like to go through

Damask Rose said...

Dear MF
I was wondering when you were going to blog about this.

Sounds like a set up to me.

For Fr Fisher to interrupt a TLM before Communion to announce that Communion can be received in the hand is very rude indeed to the sensibilities of the TLMers there and was bound to elicit a response. So sad that a priest should behave this way in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament.

"...discuss private parish business with outsiders was gossip and a mortal sin." [You gotta be kiddin' me...]

"...the people at the TLM at Blackfen were toxic and uncharitable, and the cause of major division in the parish." [Oh, the cliché.]

I see that George Gawor says that 30 attended a TLM there, I think that's quite a lot.

With regards to Fr Finigan, he has moved to a beautiful church (perhaps he'll put some more pics up, and maybe you'll take them MF?). Margate seems like a lovely place. I'm sure Father will up the Mass attendance there, and though a lower income parish, I'm sure those pennies saved will spill-over like the 'loaves and fishes' and Father will know what to do with he 'widow's mite'.

Is Blackfen near Margate? Perhaps you can travel over to Margate, MF?

I'm sure it's all been a sad upheaval for the parishioners at Blackfen.

I wonder if Fr Finigan's move has anything to do with a change in pontificate? It all seems very clericalist and Renaissance Princeling to me.

Mulier Fortis said...

Damask Rose - 30 at Sunday EF Mass is actually very small compared with the 120+ we normally had.

Blackfen is not near Margate - but it's not a million miles away. The journey, according to Google Maps takes about 90 minutes. And there isn't a Sunday EF Mass there. Maybe some time in the future...

. said...

I live more than an hour from Blackfen, and never got up there during Fr Finnigan’s tenure. I’m much closer to Margate, and hope to get down there. But we already have an EF Mass over in Ramsgate, quite close to Margate, every Sunday at noon, and often there’s one on Wednesday and Fridays—but as the on-line bulletin sometimes isn’t accurate, I’d advise you phone before you make the trip.

I met a couple from Blackfen about a year ago. They were very much of the Novus Ordo persuasion, and not happy with things under Fr Finnigan. Fair enough; I think the (difficult) job of a parish priest must be to try and serve everyone in the parish, and no one’s perfect—perhaps Fr Finnigan could have done some things more sensitively. I don’t know; only going by what they told me. Certainly sounds like this Fr Fisher isn’t handling things well, though. The question I keep asking the ardent NO people (and here I’d include the bishops) is, ‘Why can’t we co-exist (like on the bumper sticker)? Why do you want to tell other people how they must worship

Question: is this Fr Stephen Fisher the same Fr Stephen Fisher who used to be parish priest in Ramsgate? I’m guessing the answer’s ‘no’—he was the one who re-started the EF, which has been admirably kept up and indeed developed by Fr Holden.

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