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Selections from ARCC LIGHT
the ARCC Newsletter 
edited by James E. Biechler, Ph.D.

A Question of Rights
The “Taxidermy” Church of the Vatican Curia

By  James E. Biechler

“Is it just my imagination, or are we seeing more examples of parishes reverting to pre-Vatican II architecture and devotions?  Not far from here is a church which has round-the-clock adoration of the monstrance.  Can you help me understand this?"
—VMA, Plymouth Meeting, PA 

Our ‘taxidermist’ bishops seem convinced that their restorations are alive.

Well, first of all, I don’t think the idea is “adoration of the monstrance” even though there may be some confusion on that point in the minds of those involved.  The intention is to adore the divinity of Jesus in the Eucharist.  Even though it doesn’t seem that this practice is in conformity with the wishes of Jesus—didn’t he tell us to ‘take and eat’?—such devotion outside the liturgy of the Mass has been going on since the 13th century.  Vatican II wished the emphasis to return to the Lord’s Supper, with the altar being a table rather than a platform for exposition.

In order to help you understand what is really happening we have to look at the larger picture of events in the contemporary Catholic Church.  A ‘preservationist’ mentality has developed in the decades since John Paul II began his reign.  Practices which had been abandoned or revised in an attempt to fulfill the aims of the world’s bishops at the Second Vatican Council need to be restored if the hierarchy and especially the authorities in the Vatican court are to maintain and increase their dominance over the Catholic world.  “Preservationism” puts the church back on the path of papal centralism so well marked out by Pius IX’s definition of papal infallibility, Pius X’s condemnation of “modernism,” and Pius XII’s world diplomacy.  “Preservationism” focuses on “hierarchy.”  It fears lay involvement, women, marriage, theologians who think, and people like ARCC who believe in justice and rights for all in the church.  

The hierarchs and princes of the church apparently cannot bear the loss of power and prestige and seem convinced that by resuscitating non-liturgical devotions, building multi-million dollar shrines to Our Lady of Guadalupe, and ‘restoring’ the Tridentine Mass, they will retain their power.  Instead of dealing with the real problems of poverty, loss of religious faith, the decreasing numbers of priests and religious, the alienation of women and intellectuals—the list goes on—they concentrate on authority and centralized power.  We cannot be faulted if we are led to the conclusion that what we have in the Vatican today is a group of taxidermists who take the corpses of dead entities, stuff them with excelsior—the term seems remarkably apt!—and prop them up for adoration as though they came from the hand of Jesus.  We have an increasing number of “taxidermy” bishops in America today—men who are so inept as pastors (mostly because they were never pastors until they were named as bishops)—that they cave in to every pressure from those who know no church history, little theology, and practically nothing of Pope John XXIII and the Second Vatican Council.  

Taxidermy is an art remarkably appealing to human pride and egoism.  I catch a big fish and take it to a taxidermist who stuffs it with excelsior and mounts it in a lifelike pose.  The hunter shoots a “trophy” deer and the taxidermist takes the head, puts in fake eyes, and mounts it for glorification.  Not the glorification of God but of the hunter whose ego is enlarged every time he shows his trophy.  The ‘taxidermist’ bishops and priests are engaged in a similar business, even, it seems, convincing themselves that their restorations are alive!  

But Vatican II was not a council which based its work on episcopal idiosyncracies.  Its work was solidly grounded on scriptural, historical, liturgical and theological studies.  Its decrees were hammered out by the world’s pastors.  These men were determined that their church should not be a museum piece.  They realized that serious measures were needed to translate the gospels into an idiom understandable by contemporary, educated people.  For the most part, they did a beautiful job.

The ‘taxidermy’ approach of today’s Vatican court and its underling ‘taxidermy’ bishops is clearly not the answer we need in the Third Millennium.  Going back to pre-Vatican II devotions is exactly the wrong direction for the church today.  It is not ‘restoration’ of anything, nor is it really ‘preservation.’  Just like taxidermy!

Dr. Biechler, an emeritus professor of religion, is a member of ARCC's board of directors. He also holds a licentiate in canon law and is a longtime member of the Canon Law Society of America. 

E-mail Comments to Dr. Biechler

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Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.
e-mail address: ihs@ionet.net
Posted 20 March 2000
Last updated 20 March 2000
Copyright © 1999 Ingrid H. Shafer
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