Friday, December 05, 2014

On liberal Catholic iconoclasm

There will be a fearful reckoning ...

1. Most of such churches in the US and Canada were built with the hard-earned money donated by working-class immigrants, such as the miners who were my grandfathers, or the miners who were the great-grandfathers of my Irish classmates.

2. Many of them were actually built by the very hands of those men.

3. Much of the decoration itself was fashioned by the people themselves.

4. Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody in the pews in Catholic churches when I was a boy wanted the walls to be whitewashed, the altars reduced to rubble, the rails removed, and the statues dumped. Father Longenecker doesn't mention it, but a lot of those statues weren't simply put in basements. They were destroyed. They were tossed in ponds and swamps, or sent to the town landfills. Once in a while a persistent parishioner might save one by demanding it for her own house.

5. And now guess who has to pay for the restorations?
Photos: St. Joseph Cathedral, Baton Rouge, La.

Two such wreckovations I've seen, both by Irish-American Augustinians (no more vocations: average age in the 60s?): St. Thomas of Villanova at Villanova University and Our Mother of Good Counsel, Bryn Mawr (built with the pennies saved by Irish maids to the Main Line; the liberal friars finally had their way with the building about 20 years ago). Both Victorian Gothic-ish houses of God (OMGC being an exposition chapel with Gothic trappings like my parish church in Philly) whitewashed and gutted: embracing the "Reformation" (but not conservative evangelicalism) and SWPLness (SWPLs still hate the church for what she is). VU even has properly Protestant organ pipes where the high altar's reredos or crucifix used to be. (Want your son or daughter to vote for people like Obama, and learn about God our mother and that Jesus had brothers and sisters? Send them to 'Nova. One older gentleman I knew has sent his diploma back. I took myself off their mailing list.) The iconoclasts today are almost always old.


  1. Yet, at the same time, many parishes are recovering their old-timey statues and icons. Here in the Charlotte Diocese, we have inherited a lot of stuff from closed convents and wreckovated churches up north. E.g., the gorgeous golden Tabernacle at the mission church I attend; the traditional Stations on our walls; the beautiful Nativity painting over our entrance door, inside the nave.

    1. As I noted on Facebook:

      There's been a "reform of the reform" conservative counter-movement among the young still in the church, buying up statues and furnishings from closed churches here in the Northeast and recatholicizing or building churches elsewhere in the country.

      By the way, in the beautiful "before" picture of St. Joseph's Cathedral, one way you can tell it's not an Episcopal church is the shallow (short) chancel; no choir stalls. The choir and organ are probably up in a loft in back, an Italian feature you see in lots of American Catholic churches. It's an exposition chapel, not really Gothic.

      As for the "after" picture, I've seen worse. At least it's still recognizably Catholic, crucifix and all. Liberals hate symmetry.

  2. An Irish-American professor of mine once told the story of his pious old aunt, who passed away leaving piles and piles of religious articles- statues, rosaries, prayer books, holy cards, etc. Her (largely lapsed) children didn't know what to do with all of it (they weren't sure if some of it might have been blessed), so they laid it all on a table and waited for their brother, her son who was a priest, to arrive and tell them what to do. Without saying a word, he took one look at it, grabbed a garbage can, and swept all of it off of the table and into the bin.

    Even granting that a lot of it probably WAS kitschy junk, that story always stuck in my mind as a metaphor for everything that happened to the Church in America before and after the Great Wreckovations.


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