The vocations “crisis” has hit the Buffalo, NY, diocese hard. Many churches, most of them beautiful old churches in the city, may have to close. Because his predecessor, Archbishop Henry Mansell, now of the Hartford, CT, diocese, studiously avoided this issue, current Bishop Edward Kmiec, not one to revel in controversy, has no choice but to face it. Given the paltry number of available priests, many of them well over fifty years old already, the established policy of whistling past the graveyard is no longer an option.
The Buffalo chapter of Una Voce, a traditionalist group dedicated to restoring access to the tridentine Mass, is offering to help out Bishop Kmiec. They have asked him for a permanent parish for an indult which was granted the diocese in 1985, and in twenty years has been kicked around from one parish to another. If one were of a cynical turn of mind, one might hazard a guess that diocesan officials were trying to ignore it to death, so to speak. Is that possible? Before you say yes or no, consider the following.
I recently spoke to one of the folks involved in the current effort (a member of Una Voce, as I am not) about the1985 indult. It was granted, one of the first in the country, by Bishop Edward Head, our bishop during the 70’s and early 80’s. Not that Bishop Head wanted to do it. He had originally refused, and relented only when pressure was brought to bear by an influential “friend” [I don’t know more than that] in the Vatican. Head had little sympathy for the people involved, and dismissed priests performing the tridentine rite as “elitists”.
Kmiec appears to share Head’s opinions. He is considered by many a throwback to bishops of the Paul VI era: personally orthodox, but ineffectual in the face of controversy. In my opinion, he deals with friction from the left by turning a blind eye; he deals with friction from the right by ignoring it publicly, then surreptitiously taking it off life support, so to speak, if he can.
The indult has been ignored by three bishops, but not ignored to death. In fact, the number of people following it on its bumpy ride throughout the diocese has grown, slowly but steadily, to over two hundred, including young families. What might happen if it were given a permanent home?
Kmiec has no real excuses not to give it a try. The diocese has an ample number of priests trained in the tridentine rite. The usual excuse, that of the extravagance of taking a priest from another parish where he is needed to say Mass for a handful of “elitists”, simply doesn’t hold water: for one thing, it's not a mere "handful" anymore; for another, priests are always pitching in to say Mass outside of their parishes – how could it be otherwise in a diocese as understaffed as this one? Additionally, priests outside of the diocese have expressed an interest in serving as pastor of a traditionalist parish. According to the Buffalo News article, one of them is Monsignor Ignacio Barreiro Carambula, “a native of Uruguay who serves as director of the Rome office of Human Life International, a worldwide pro-life advocacy organization based in Virginia”. With that background, Msgr Carambula would be a huge asset to the diocese – unless of course, the bishop were one of those middle management-minded fellows who loathes controversy, and treats apologetics and pastoralism almost as antithetical concepts.
In public statements, Bishop Kmiec lards his boilerplate rhetoric with references to “family”. We’re all just one big happy family in the diocese of Buffalo -- except that certain family members are routinely ignored in pursuing that to which they are entitled: a parish in which to worship God according to approved rites of the Roman Catholic Church. Who is “elitist”? The group which humbly asks for acceptance within the larger community – an acceptance which two popes have agreed that it is entitled to – or the side that dismisses diversity while claiming to nurture it?
Pray for Bishop Kmiec. He does not have an easy time coming up. Nor do the rest of us here in the dysfunctional family diocese of Buffalo.
Note: the article referred to above has been removed to the Buffalo News library, where it may be viewed for a price. If interested, see www.buffalonews.com. Also, www.unavoce.org has a pictorial essay on the beautiful churches of my diocese. I attempted to link to it above, but it doesn't always work. To view it, go to the Una Voce home page, click on churches, and locate the article, "Catholic Splendor: the Churches of Buffalo, New York, USA", in the table of contents. It is definitely worth a look.