What's the Real Story on Environment and Art?

Author: Staff of Adoremus Bulletin


Staff of Adoremus Bulletin

As beleaguered parishioners across the United States continue to face the threat of radical changes to their churches whenever even routine repairs or improvements are needed, signs point to a below-the-radar campaign to influence the deliberations of the Task Group appointed to write a new document to replace Environment and Art in Catholic Worship, issued by the Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy in 1978.

One sign of this campaign can be seen in the pastoral letters of a few bishops, which continue to cite EACW, even as it is under active revision, and in the increased pressure exerted by liturgical journals and liturgical experts who counsel parishes on renovations.

Another signal: accounts both of the Task Group's purpose and its timetable have appeared which conflict with the official statement of the BCL. (The Task Group was appointed in spring of 1996 by Bishop Donald Trautman of Erie, then chairman of the BCL.)

The March 1999 BCL Newsletter says that therevised document will be reviewed by the Committee in June 1999, a draft presented to the bishop in November 1999 (if the Committee review is favorable), and the result will be available for "a possible final consideration in June of the year 2000".

But an article in a magazine concerned with art and liturgy claims that there is "no definite timetable" for review of the document and that its release "may never happen."

Environment and Art Letter is a glossy 12-page magazine published by Liturgy Training Publications, of the Archdiocese of Chicago's Office for Divine Worship. The April 1999 issue opens with a brief unsigned article (p. 15) recapping the fortunes of EACW to date.

The article begins by claiming that EACW "was accepted by the whole body of bishops as a teaching tool for the church in the United States in the same way that other statements had been accepted by other committees of the bishops conference."

This statement is misleading. The majority of bishops never even saw EACW before its release by the BCL in 1978. It was never presented to them for a vote. Hence they never "accepted" it "as a whole body", except ex post facto and by default.

The authority of EACW was carefully circumscribed in a recent BCL Newsletter, which said its authority is limited to its quotations of authoritative documents.

The Environment and Art article says that "in those years [up to the release of EACW], there was ... wide consultation inside and outside the bishops' conference with experts in various fields. The conference respected and supported the work of its committees and experts." (Does "respect and support" really mean unquestioning acceptance?)

No Novel Legislation?

The same article asserts that "EACW did not introduce novel legislation, it merely developed legislation that was already in various places, especially the General Instruction of the Roman Missal."

How to tell "developed" from "novel legislation ..."? An old principle in law says that a law's force should be judged by how it is consistently applied. EACW "guidelines" have in practice been treated as rigid norms—as was recognized by Chicago Cardinal Francis George when he observed that "the 'Art and Environment' document ... has ... been elevated to a status beyond all comprehension. People who dismiss Humanae Vitae as just somebody's personal opinion will swear that we all must be guided by 'Art and Environment'" (Adoremus Bulletin February 1999, Vol. IV, No. 9; "Bishops Mull Restructuring").

EACW has become a paradigm example of the problem with giving conference committees the power to issue statements in the name of the whole body of bishops.

In hundreds of renovations around the country, EACW has been cited as the sole authority for drastic, expensive and often irreversible changes.

EACW revision "may not happen"?

The Environment and Art Letter article summarizes the Task Group's constitution and meetings, noting that it convened in August 1996 "to consider topics not fully developed in the original document". In December 1996 the Task Group, says E & A, decided to create a new document (rather than revising the old one), and prepared an annotated outline and drafts of the text. In June 1997 the Task Group presented a draft to the BCL, at which it was decided that the new document would be a statement of the entire bishops' conference, not a single committee.

The E & A article claims that "recent reports in the press that the new document will be released soon are erroneous. It will probably not happen until late 2000 or well into 2001, and it may never happen if the bishops cannot agree on the text presented to them".

We Believe! complains

The newsletter We Believe!, published by the organization of the same name, went further: in its April 1999 issue is an unsigned account of a leaked copy of the new draft, titled "New 'Environment and Art' Rejected".

The article repeatedly complains of secrecy surrounding the draft, is dismayed that the draft "seems to put the liturgical consultant on the same level as a mechanical or electrical consultant", and that the draft says space must be provided for kneeling. The article also criticizes the draft because it "seems [too] concerned about asserting the importance of the priesthood".

We Believe! was formed by 18 liturgists in Chicago in 1994, during the height of the controversy over proposed revisions of liturgical translations. Its founding president was Capuchin Father Ed Foley, professor of music and liturgy at Chicago Theological Union, and its founding members included Sacred Heart Sister Kathleen Hughes, also of CTU, a longtime member of ICEL and sometime consultant to the BCL.

The group launched a campaign to collect fifty thousand signatures expressing support for ICEL to present to the bishops. Only three thousand signed, among them Cardinal Joseph Bernardin and Bishop John Gorman.

Neither the Environment & Art Letter nor We Believe! gave a source for their information from the Task Force.

AB spoke with Father James Moroney, director of the BCL secretariat, who confirmed the information in the March BCL Newsletter.

Taken from:
Adoremus Bulletin
June 1999, page 1, 7

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