NEWS STORY: Cardinal Mahony, Mother Angelica in flap over liturgical changes

c. 1997 Religion News Service

LOS ANGELES _ Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony's effort to introduce changes in the way Mass is celebrated in his Archdiocese of Los Angeles has drawn the fire of influential traditionalist nun Mother Angelica, who is urging Southern California Catholics to disobey Mahony on the matter.

The criticism has led to a sometimes bitter exchange between the cardinal and the nun, and their various supporters. At one point, Mahony even said he would take up the matter with Vatican officials.

At issue is a September pastoral letter Mahony wrote outlining liturgical changes aimed at making the celebration of Mass more accessible and meaningful to worshippers.

But Mother Angelica, a 74-year-old religious broadcaster, decried the changes on her Eternal Word Television Network, the Birmingham, Ala.-based national Catholic cable station that has become a bastion of conservative Catholic opinion.

In discussing Mahony's proposed changes, Mother Angelica said she found them confusing and extreme, while calling into question what she believed to be Mahony's understanding of the consecration of the bread and wine of Holy Communion."In fact,"she charged,"the cardinal of California is teaching that it (the elements of Holy Communion) is bread and wine before the Eucharist and after the Eucharist. I am afraid my obedience in that diocese would be absolutely zero. And I hope everybody else's in that diocese is zero." Mahony, who is in Rome for the monthlong Synod of Bishops for America, wrote the nun in mid-November and called her charges"absolutely preposterous.""To hold such a view is nothing short of heresy in our Catholic Church,"Mahony added."I have a lifelong love for the Holy Eucharist, and it is with great joy that I celebrate Mass each and every day. ... For you to state publicly on television that I do not believe in the Real Presence (that the body and blood of Jesus are present in the bread and wine) is astounding and reprehensible, and calls for an immediate public clarification and apology from you." Mahony also said he was consulting with Vatican officials about"this very grave and serious matter."He said"both church law and civil law forbid spreading erroneous information, as well as the scandal that can be caused by publicly accusing the archbishop of heresy. I am taking counsel with our canon and civil lawyers to make certain that my rights are protected."To compound the matter, your call for my people to offer zero obedience to their Shepherd is unheard of and shocking,"he added.

In late November, the apology Mahony asked for came on EWTN."I do want to apologize to the cardinal for my remark, which I'm sure seemed excessive,"said Mother Angelica. But the apology did not end the matter as she continued her criticism of the cardinal and his pastoral letter."The apology in a sense was an occasion to make another attack,"Los Angeles Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry said in an interview with Religion News Service."I would not want to say that Mother Angelica is carrying on or continuing a campaign of disobedience. It would be a very serious matter for somebody to recommend that people not obey their bishop. It's an internal church matter. It has to do with a question of the cardinal's orthodoxy." The nun's comments, he said,"focused on a specific individual. That would be acting as jury, judge and everything." Additionally, Mother Angelica's remarks about Mahony have been criticized by the diocesan weekly in EWTN's home diocese of Birmingham."The cardinal is the official teacher in the (Los Angeles) diocese, named to such a position by the pope,"said a Nov. 28 editorial in One Voice."Mother Angelica, however, speaks for nobody. She has not been named as any teaching authority in the Catholic Church. She is not recognized as a theologian. ... In her apology, she explained away her confusion and, in the end, had explained away her apology, too. ... It seems to us that a great potential of spreading the gospel has gone sour. Such is regrettable." A spokesman for Birmingham Bishop David Foley said Foley, who has a weekly program on EWTN and is a member of the network's board, is keeping out of the fray."He said he feels it is a matter between EWTN and Cardinal Mahony,"said the Rev. John Igoe, Foley's spokesman and the One Voice editor who wrote the editorial."Bishop Foley said it would be `inappropriate for me to speak at this time.'" The nun has picked up support from other conservatives and, somewhat more surprisingly, from a prominent dissident on the reform side in church debates."She made an apology for the exaggerated nature or at least the ambiguous nature of her remarks,"said the Rev. Joseph Fessio, a San Francisco Jesuit and publisher of the conservative Catholic World Report monthly newsmagazine."Mother Angelica has been on TV and radio for years, thousands and thousands of hours. So I don't think it's fair to judge the value of her work by this 15-second soundbite, which was off-handed and not premeditated." Mother Angelica's plunge into dissent, however, was cheered by Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, the independent group that opposes the church's opposition to abortion and which the nun has frequently denounced on the airwaves. "Mother Angelica is an infant in her dissenting period,"Kissling said in an interview."I'm always glad to see Catholics on the right fighting with bishops. I'm not opposed to Mother Angelica dissenting. I'd like to see her dissent a little more. I'm glad she has discovered you can be a good Catholic and disagree with positions taken by bishops and maybe even the pope." Auxiliary Bishop Curry, meanwhile, urged both sides to be calm."I would like to see this matter settled productively and amicably and not be a source of further division within the church,"he said.