Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions

Music chief for pope’s Philly Mass quits in dispute with Archbishop Chaput

John Romeri takes a moment during Mass on August 8, 2010 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Photo by Erik M. Lunsford, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch
John Romeri takes a moment during Mass on August 8, 2010 at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Photo by Erik M. Lunsford, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

John Romeri takes a moment during Mass on Aug. 8, 2010, at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Photo by Erik M. Lunsford, courtesy of St. Louis Post-Dispatch

(RNS) The head of liturgical music for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, who was also to play a key role orchestrating the huge outdoor Mass concluding Pope Francis’ trip to the U.S. in September, is resigning his post over long-standing differences with Archbishop Charles Chaput.

John Romeri, who has headed the archdiocesan liturgical music office for five years, said that he will resign effective June 30 because “there are simply irreconcilable differences” with Chaput over the role and style of music at Mass.

Romeri did not respond to requests for comment, and it was unclear whether he would still play a role in  preparations for the papal visit.

A spokesman for Chaput, Kenneth Gavin, said in an email that he could not comment on personnel matters and “there are no additional updates.” But he said that the archdiocese “will be prepared for the visit of the Holy Father on all fronts, including music for the Mass on the Parkway.”

The Ben Franklin Parkway, which runs through Philadelphia, will be closed to accommodate the more than 1 million pilgrims expected to attend the Sept. 27 papal Mass. It is part of what officials say will be the largest series of public events in the city’s history.

In his resignation announcement, which he buried in a list of liturgy news last month, Romeri indicated that he and Chaput had clashed almost from the time Chaput was appointed to Philadelphia in 2011, a year after Romeri arrived.

Archibishop of Philadelphia Charles Joseph Chaput attends a news conference at the Vatican on September 16, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile  *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LITURGIST-RESIGN, originally transmitted on June 2, 2015.

Archbishop of Philadelphia Charles Joseph Chaput attends a news conference at the Vatican on Sept. 16, 2014. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Tony Gentile
*Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-LITURGIST-RESIGN, originally transmitted on June 2, 2015.

Romeri wrote that these “several years of discontent” on Chaput’s part culminated with the music Romeri arranged this April for Holy Week and Easter. The approach, he said, “was not well received by the archbishop.”

“While at this point, I am not sure just what my next musical adventure looks like, it is absolutely the right thing for me to leave this present situation,” Romeri wrote. He said he would remain as music director for Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of Sts. Peter and Paul through the summer.

The resignation quickly sparked an intense online debate in the beehive world of Catholic liturgists, where even the smallest tweak to a rubric can become a source of extended discussion.

But it also has a wider resonance because Romeri is vice chair of the two committees organizing the music and rites for various events during the Philadelphia leg of the Sept. 22-27 papal visit.

Francis is to visit Washington, D.C., first, then New York. He is scheduled to end the trip by spending two days in Philadelphia to close the church’s World Meeting of Families.

“A change like this ahead of the papal visit must be causing a mini-meltdown in the Archdiocese,” Nathan Chase wrote in a post at a well-known Catholic liturgy blog, Pray Tell.

A clash over liturgy so close to such a major papal event, and one in which the liturgy plays such a central role, could complicate what is already a huge undertaking for the Philadelphia Archdiocese and the Vatican.

But such hurdles are hardly unprecedented.

Papal visits are tremendously complex, stressful and expensive projects for the dioceses hosting the pope. There is intense jockeying among bishops to try to host the pontiff, and much maneuvering within a host diocese over where the pope will visit and who will get to meet him — and how each papal event will be organized.

Then everything must be run through a committee, and approved by the Vatican. The process almost guarantees arguments, especially over liturgies, which are often flashpoints for internal church battles.

Outdoor papal Masses also tend to be huge events that must communicate a sacred rite in broad strokes to a diverse assemblage. So the music and design often have a popular, modern style that can irk liturgical traditionalists.

Many speculated that this difference in liturgical tastes might have contributed to the falling out between Chaput and his music director.

Romeri is said to have more of a “high church” sensibility in liturgy than Chaput, who has expressed a preference for the newer Mass in English and simpler styles of worship.

While Chaput is often described as a doctrinal and cultural conservative, in the Catholic Church, that does not necessarily equate with liturgical traditionalism, which is its own distinct — and proud — brand.


About the author

David Gibson

David Gibson is a national reporter for RNS and an award-winning religion journalist, author and filmmaker. He has written several books on Catholic topics. His latest book is on biblical artifacts: "Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery," which was also the basis of a popular CNN series.


Click here to post a comment

  • I can see why the Cathedral might have a ‘music director’, but not the archdiocese. They might try a little zero-base budgeting at the chancery, to combat Parkinson’s law.

  • When the Cardinal screams across the Cathedral during the Offertory at the Chrism Mass of Holy Week that “The music is going on too long and the director of music should be fired,” I, too, would be inclined to resign. When you hear that he wants to implement a piano/flute duo he heard when he was in Denver, I would resign.

  • Both the Cathedral and the Archdiocese have a music director. In this case, both hats were worn by Romeri.

  • Is that quotation something that was actually said by Archbishop Chaput? And in that context?

  • Where does that come from? I researched for quite awhile and found nothing to validate that quote. I even found photos from the event and a whole story about the mass with Romeri directing the music. I feel like if an Archbishop did that in the middle of the mass it would be all over the news. And if it is true that Chaput is a little less conservative when it comes to the liturgical music and he wants a little more modern, I find it hard to sympathize with him over music, even if it went long, for that is one of my pet peeves.

  • I also was at the Chrism Mass this year and did not see this happen–though I don’t doubt that instead of a scream it could have been a sharp comment to Fr. Gill voicing from AB Chaput over displeasure with the music. Those in liturgical music in the archdiocese have a lot of support for Romeri in that he has the right kind of knowledge and background to be the music director for a large AD plus a Cathedral Basilica (and give direction to parish liturgical music). It is very sad to see someone with so much to offer to the church being driven to resign because the current AB has a different taste in music for liturgy. Imagine how bad the situation must be, for him to resign 3 months before the WMOF and Pope’s visit. Sad to see a good man leave.

  • I am all for the end of organ music at Mass. Our church probably has the best choir on the east coast, and it is comprised of a host of instruments, EXCEPT the organ, and it is great! I was down in FLA for several masses, and was bored stiff with the organ led music there. If it weren’t holy mass, I’d have fallen asleep. Sounds like Chaput is my kind of bishop.

  • Your comments fly in the face of the teachings of Vatican II: ” In the Latin Church the pipe organ is to be held in high esteem, for it is the traditional musical instrument which adds a wonderful splendor to the Church’s ceremonies and powerfully lifts up man’s mind to God and to higher things. But other instruments also may be admitted for use in divine worship, with the knowledge and consent of the competent territorial authority, as laid down in Art. 22, 52, 37, and 40. This may be done, however, only on condition that the instruments are suitable, or can be made suitable, for sacred use, accord with the dignity of the temple, and truly contribute to the edification of the faithful.”

  • That was the 1960’s, and music has become so much more than just the organ. In fact, the first question I ask the churches I visit when traveling, is what type of music do you play at your masses, and I will usually find one that has nice music, and not organ music. I will only go to one if there is no other mass to go to. In fact during one of his visits to our church, the bishop in our diocese has told the choir that they are the most refreshing and excellent choir he has heard, and would love to have something like it in the cathedral. And he is much older than I am. So I’m kind of hoping that a new trend is on the way, one that truly complements the mass, bringing the whole person to the heights of heaven during holy mass, when heaven and earth unite for a few precious minutes each day. I have a feeling the Archbishop Chaput is thinking the same way.

  • A choir is not composed of instruments; that would be an orchestra. Sounds like you might be looking (and hoping) for a performance, even at “holy mass.”

  • Not at all: I want to be engaged in holy Mass, fully. I want to sing every song and response with emphatic resounding joy, and have the entire congregation in harmony with the choir, and me. And that is why there is even music to begin with. Most of the saints, and even today’s apparitions, state that when Jesus, or Mary, appear, they are just filled with ecstatic emotion, which is the state of heaven all the time. And that is how we should feel at Mass, as heaven and earth unite for a brief moment.during the consecration, and following. And our Lord usually doesn’t give us the feelings associated with it–except on special occasion–so it it the choir’s job to raise us up to heaven. Music is one of the changeable things in the Catholic Church, so go Archbishop Chaput.

  • I’m a musician that participated in services at the Cathedral for 5 years. Dr. Romeri arrived as a highly-regarded expert with 2 papal visits under his belt. A year into his tenure Chaput came to Philadelphia,not a fan of anything that Dr Romeri had spent a year creating; Romeri accepted feedback. When Chaput said “brass is too loud” Dr Romeri cut brass. When Chaput said “No dissonance!” there was tonal music.No matter how Romeri responded to the feedback, it was never to Chaput’s liking. Romeri’s input was ignored for the papal visit. The Phila Orch was hired, with their own conductor.He was not going to have a pivotal role, so the implication that he is abandoning at a crucial time is not accurate.I played Chrism Mass and the Chaput quote DID occur. Music touches lives and enhances the liturgy but when demands result in the compromising of one’s personal integrity, a line is crossed. If what Chaput wants is not compatible for Romeri, sadly he did the right thing to resign

  • Music has always been much more than “just the organ.” Choirs and orchestras have been commonplace. However, Vatican 2 documents don’t just apply to the 1960s. They apply universally and for all time. They guide all of us and in the case of liturgy keep us worshiping in the same manner. The organ is to be held in high esteem. It is tempting to make our own personal preferences the guiding light, but that doesn’t lead anywhere good.

  • Secular styles of music are forbidden in the liturgy, if that’s what you’re getting at.

  • I empathize. But one must really reflect on the situation. Who was Dr. Romeri employed by? I mean to whom did he report? The Archbishop. Who is responsible ultimately for the liturgy in the Cathedral? The Archbishop. There is a point at which personal integrity and expertise has to give way to a little humility and obedience. Nobody is too important that they can’t take direction from the local ordinary. It sounded like these were really just matters of preference. And if a resignation was deemed appropriate, why do it in a splash 3 months before the Papal visit? Was that simply a professional move, or an act of protest? With all respect to Dr. Romeri and his long experience, that was not a move designed to avoid controversy and scandal.

    Curious, did the Archbishop say that comment over the microphone, out loud or was it just to an individual?

  • Incorrect. In Sing to the Lord, the document released by US bishops about 10 years ago, emphasis on the organ is still mentioned.

  • If the comment containing the words ‘two broads’ is what I, as a European, thinks is derogatory to women, I object to the lack of respect you show towards women, Art Deco.

  • Pope Francis doesn’t like white. Guess what color he wears: white. Why? Because that’s what the pope wears. When you’re the archbishop of a major Catholic diocese, with a large Cathedral Basilica, your personal musical preferences need to take a back seat to history, liturgy, and tradition. I have lost all respect for Chaput over this crisis. He has proven himself to be an incredibly vindictive leader. As for the timing of the resignation, Chaput could have asked Dr. Romeri to reconsider until AFTER the papal mass. Chaput made the decision to accept his resignation effective June 30.

  • Ms. Banos, how interesting to hear– from one of the musicians—-about concrete examples of what’s actually been going on! Was the music in contention newly composed or arranged? Or was it church music in the repertory for a long time (and therefore already accepted elsewhere as not a problem)? Is this an issue over clashing “classical styles” (for lack of a better term), rather than the “classical vs. popular” that lots of people are assuming? (E.g., Palestrina vs. Messanien, say, rather than Palestrina vs. “On Eagle’s Wings”).

  • Applause for Chaput!!!!! He’s 100% right!!! Let us ALL RECALL that ROMERI should of NEVER been hired here in the first place. Why? BECAUSE he was Cardinal Rigali’s music director in Saint Louis previously. RIGALI had him HAND PICKED for the job and anyone else didn’t have a chance. His initial hiring process was rigged. ROMERI doesn’t even have a doctorate in music. It’s an honorary in another totally different subject. ROMERI even hired a great organist to play from Atlantic City (with the diocese’s money) because he can’t play any major works of Organ himself. Oh by the way, his wife is music director at Saint Patricks!! How did she get that so easily? Romeri got whatever he wanted under Rigali & a good organist Michael Sherrin was removed to bring Romeri in. Now he gets his payback & doesnt it sting? ROMERI wants us to have sympathy for him? No way! He should of stayed in Saint Louis. Furthermore its a shame CHAPUT has to clean up RIGALI’S mess. WHOLE TRUTH FROM the WHOLE…

  • I am in the archdiocesan choir and after Easter John Romeri announced he was resigning. He related to all of us that Archbishop Chaput wanted him fired during Holy Week, and then the Tuesday after Easter the Archbiship delivered a “rambling” 3 page letter to the cathedral rector (not to John) essentially forcing Romeri to resign.

    The music for Chrism Mass was beautiful. Nonetheless, an imperious archbishop thought otherwise.

    It is outrageous that this should happen 4 months before the Pope’s visit. For months, we were told that there wasn’t any decisIon on the number of choir members, instrumentation and even some specific music. There had been plans to have a 1000 person choir from all over PA but apparently Chaput wouldn’t say yes. The decusion was frustrating John and us. The Archbishop had apparently no idea what impact his impulsiveness and imperiousness has caused on the many volunteers who have worked hard for this event.

    The pope should fire…

  • Obviously you’re to ashamed or embarrassed to even note your name in your post, so you make your critical remarks anonymously.

    You obviously don’t know anything about John’s immense talent and experience or ever sung under him. He’s incredibly energetic and gifted. As for his organ abilities, he was just elected dean of the local American Guild of Organists chapter by his peers. Take a look at some of the Facebook comments people like Michael Stairs of the orchestra and congrats from other prominent organists like Matthew Glandorf and Alan Morrison.

    As for what happened to the former organist, how is that John’s doing?

  • As much as the Organ is given a place in sacred music, I just don’t like it. And why should I be stuck singing along with organ music, when so much better, holy, and engaging music is available. For instance, in “Sing to the Lord” the document on music, put out by the USCCB, also says,
    “However, from the days when the Ark of the Covenant was accompanied in procession by cymbals, harps, lyres, and trumpets, God’s people have, in various periods, used a variety of musical instruments to sing his praise. Each of these instruments, born of the culture and the traditions of a particular people, has given voice to a wide variety of forms and styles through which Christ’s faithful continue to join their voices to his perfect song of praise upon the Cross.
    Many other instruments also enrich the celebration of the Liturgy, such as wind, stringed, or percussion instruments “according to longstanding local usage, provided they are truly apt for sacred use or can be rendered apt”

  • Does the congregation at the cathedral enjoy the music? Or is there a mixed reception to it?

  • WholeNote, having a doctorate or not, doesn’t mean a thing. I’ve been to masses with music directors that have had doctorate degrees, and you can keep them. It is all about passion, and willingness to serve our Lord. I have said above that I do not like organ, pipe organ, or any organ music. If there is a cathedral mass going on with the pipe organ, while at the same time a smaller setting mass going on with piano, violin, and acoustic guitar (or other arrangement), I’ll choose to attend the latter every time. I kind of hope Chaput brings the subject to a head, so that music at mass can begin to adapt and change as it should, moving on from the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • No that’s not what I’m getting at. I like church music presented in a way that is fresh and new, and uplifting. The old, stale, rote presentation of church music does nothing for me. I turn within during those masses, and meditate on being in heaven.

  • Looks like it wasn’t DURING the offertory, but ABOUT the offertory music:

    Karen Banos, a violinist who has been playing for Romeri since he arrived in Philadelphia, says the dispute was particularly evident the week leading up to Easter. “When we had Easter services for Holy Week, after literally every service Chaput was saying that [Romeri] should be fired,” Banos says. “After the chrism mass [on Holy Thursday], Chaput said, ‘You might not be coming back for Easter.’”

  • *Whole Note* You probably got a doctorate and realized that you have no career in music. That’s probably the best explanation for you rant. Guess who else doesn’t have a doctorate? Anyone from Reneé Fleming to Vladamir Horowitz to internationally renowned organist Nathan Laube. Get a life!

  • WOW – I had no idea that he never earned a doctorate. Who actually uses the title “doctor” from an honorary degree?

    From Western Virginia U:
    “When addressing a person who has received an honorary degree from another university, it is not correct to use the term “doctor” nor should the title be used in correspondence, biographical sketches, introductions, or on place cards.”

  • I’ve known John for almost 25 years, & I find this entire episode disgusting. Again, another Church employee is harassed & belittled by the “powers” above. The excellent music program created by John in St. Louis could have also been Philadelphia’s. John has always been a liturgical musician of superior quality, expertise, & humility. Why has Chaput had the audacity to make vile comments in public? We don’t see John making public accusations – this kind of discourse would be beneath him. It’s also disheartening to see John’s wife brought into this. She’s had nothing to do with it. I applaud John for taking a stand in his beliefs & resigning his position. I know how he feels. I was Dir. of Music for our Cathedral for 16 yrs. I didn’t resign over musical styles, I resigned because I refused to work with pedophile priests at the Cathedral. Jesus wouldn’t tolerate Chaput’s blatant hatefulness-why should John? Too bad one has to take a stand for the good of the Church to…

  • heresay. she could not have heard those comments directly from the archbishop. stick to the facts please

  • Greg1 is out of luck. Chaput doesn’t like trumpets or drums or harps either. Hopefully Greg1 doesn’t represent the majority of Roman Catholics. If he does we are all in trouble. Spoiled child “I want what I want and not what is right” attitude is what has gotten the church in trouble and what has driven people away in droves.

  • sounds like you prefer a me-centered liturgy. why not go to the baptist or pentecostal church. they let you do whatever you want.

  • WHOLE NOTE verges on abusive comments and should be reported. The comments are not pertinent to the discussion and the subject of academic credentials is a foolish argument, specially in the artistic performance world.

    HOWEVER, I am driven by respect and decency to correct misinformation and straight out lies:

    Romeri has a Master of Music (Sacred Music) from Westminster Choir College
    Nathan Laube has a Masters degree in organ from the Musikhochschule Stuttgart and is Assistant Professor of Organ at Eastman School at the University of Rochester.

    Folks, if we don’t report this fool for abusive comments, we must at least correct the lies posted.
    Michael Sheerin (prior director at the cathedral named in WHOLE NOTE’s rant has no academic degrees.