DEATH OF A PARISH
Towards the end of the second year, the extent of the spiritual damage suffered by St. Joseph’s parish in the hurricane unleashed by Team Ministry was placed in a more objective context. A census of Sunday Mass attendance by the counterrevolution on 12 August, 28 October and 4 December 1990 revealed an average turnout of 710 parishioners as compared with a pre-Team estimate, confirmed by Monsignor O’Reilly, of 1200 a massive drop of around forty two per cent in the space of eighteen months!
Rather than go elsewhere, the greater majority of these absent parishioners seemed to think that they were no longer bound to attend Sunday Mass.’ But the contrary is true —the right response to a scandalous imitation of the Mass is to strengthen “faith in the real bodily presence of Our Lord in the Sacrament, and to desire more deeply than ever to attend Mass and receive Communion.” 2 In other words, orthodox parishes in one’s surrounding district should be sought out.
1See Constitution on the Liturgy V, 106. Referring to Mass on Sunday the Second Vatican Council states that “On this day the faithful are bound to come together … and take part in the Eucharist … ” [emphasis added]. In other words, the duty is objectively serious and they are obliged under penalty of mortal sin, subject to the usual conditions of full knowledge and consent, to hear Mass on Sundays. 2von Hildebrand, op.cit., p.245
The Team of course could point to the small majority of parishioners who chose to stay and participate in its new “happening” liturgies. Yet, some of those who continued to frequent St. Joseph’s did so in spite of their own better instincts. As one parishioner noted: “They have adopted the attitude that `this Team isn’t going to kick me out of my church’!”
But perhaps Michael Davies’ explanation was closer to the real reason for the Team’s ability to maintain a majority Sunday Mass attendance:
In his monumental work, The Great Terror, Robert Conquest notes that: ” … it was one of Stalin’s most constant principles that most minds are not critical.” It is a fact of life that the average man in the street or man in the pew does not think very deeply about such matters as politics and religion. The percentage of adults who have actually read a book about politics or religion is very small indeed. They are thus very susceptible to propaganda, particularly from those they consider to be experts … The average reaction [is]: “Father says it’s good for me so it must be good for me.” It is a fundamental axiom of the advertising world that if you tell people they enjoy something often enough, they will enjoy it.’
The fact that one might be “enjoying” something prohibited by the Church simply does not occur to the uncritical Catholic who, at the same time, has become increasingly secularised:
It is often pointed out that millions of devout Catholics prefer the new liturgy. But these Catholics also, according to sociologists, are now tolerant of contraception, abortion, divorce and so on. I argue that this incredible change is very much the result of the new liturgy whose symbolic externals never reproach humanist secularist morality; its people-centred emphasis makes it easier to accept the secular community’s libertine values even if one does not yet live by them.4
Aliens in Our Midst
Whether this switch in allegiance has been engendered by the newchurch hijacking of the “new liturgy” or the new Mass per se is a moot point. The fact remains, however, that an uncritical shift from faithful Catholic submission to pseudo-Catholic tolerance has created a church within the Church, functioning as an alien presence in our midst. It has imbued every aspect of Australian Catholic life with the spirit of “alienism,” in Joseph Sobran’s coinage, and as the Benalla storm subsided alienation remained as the outstanding legacy of the Bishop’s experiment.
In the context of today’s secular humanist/social engineering milieu, “alienism is hatred for the sane, the normal and the traditional in our culture, and a corresponding compassion for all that is failed, divisive or bizarre.”‘ Applied to Team Ministry, it represented a sort of holy rejection of the normal and enduring foundations of the Church, a rejection of the Catholic center in favour of the abnormal, which produced alienation in all areas of Catholic life.’ The spiritual damage thus inflicted was not only reflected in declining Mass attendance. It also sparked a social crisis that adversely affected personal relationships at every level.
In small, close-knit communities where social and commercial interdependence is accentuated, big city ‘escape options’ are often unavailable and, therefore, the potential ramifications of a major spiritual upheaval in a country town are enormous. Benalla was no exception. The fragmentation of the parish as a whole was mirrored in the tension and animosity that surfaced to a greater or lesser degree within families, among friends and between business partners and associates, all dependent on whether one was pro or anti-Team.