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.
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