The Odour of Desperation

Most of the anglophone Church has settled into the use of the revised English missal. Priests are getting to grips with sentences more than a few words long and containing some commas and subordinate clauses, and are doing what we always should have been doing (though sadly some didn’t), namely reading ahead and preparing those parts we have to say. This development has allowed many more people to relax with the new missal, as the mis-readings die off in light of clerical comfort and familiarity with the new, more accurate texts. No doubt most can see that, notwithstanding a few areas that could be improved, this missal is vastly superior to the previous paraphrased one, and brings the verbal content and meaning of our liturgical texts into closer and more obvious unity with the rest of the Church.

However, some people will not give up. Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, they will never accept the revised missal. So they change the texts to suit their own understanding of liturgy, manifesting at the very least sheer disobedience, and perhaps even an attempt at a type of social engineering. As they get more desperate that they cause is not prospering, they resort to subterfuge to foster the appearance that it is prospering.

The latest instance is the reporting of yet another survey of priests and their opinion of the revised missal. Leaving aside the whole issue of church governance by opinion poll, a little light delving into the reporting of the survey reveals that the dissenters’ emperor has no clothes. The worst offender is the National Catholic Reporter (NCR), which headlines its article “Study indicates wide rejection of new translations by US clergy”. Oh my goodness! How ominous. Patrick Archbold has done what many readers will not do, and read all the way to the end of the article and taken note of what is passed over in silence.

The NCR reporting is alarmist in the impression it gives, though observant readers will see what is going on. An example:

 … 75 percent of respondents said they either “agree” or “strongly agree” that “some of the language of the new text is awkward and distracting.” Forty-seven percent answered “strongly agree” to that statement.

Likewise, an even 50 percent of those answering said they “agree” or “strongly agree” that “the new translation urgently needs to be revised.” 33 percent answered “strongly agree” on that statement.

Now someone who is not reading carefully will not take in the full significance of the word respondent. In light of the misleading headline, they might have the immediate impression that pretty much 75% of US clergy are of the opinion that the missal’s language is “awkward and distracting”, to take one example.

But Pat has read through and discovered the most salient fact of all: 6000 parishes were surveyed, only 539 responded. That is a response rate of less than 9%! So the 75% who do not like the linguistic register of the missal represent only 6.7% of the 6000 actually surveyed. “Wide rejection”?

However Pat seems to have missed one further point. Only 444 of the 539 respondents were actually “US clergy”; the other 75 were “lay leaders”. So it is not even 9% of clergy that is the real survey pool; it is actually only 7.4%. Alas, there is no breakdown on how many clergy responded negatively as distinct form the “lay leaders”, who are likely to have been predominately negative. So, allowing the dissenters their best case scenario, the highest possible percentage for clergy dissatisfaction they can claim on the basis of their survey is 7.4%.

Somehow a 7.4% negative response rate equates to “wide rejection”.

The active opponents of the revised missal may be very loud but they are very few in number. They shout loudly and often, to make one think they are many. They are not many, but their sly fudging of their own statistics reveals that they are increasingly desperate.

The Pray Tell blog, which is partly responsible for the survey, did not even bother to include reference to the dismal response rate to the survey, and thus the tiny portion of clergy it represents, and posted an even more misleading headline. Desperate indeed.




Portsmouth Diocese Roman Missal Survey

A while back I remember a copy of survey questions, emanating from the diocesan bureaucracy, floating around our common room. It struck me, even without reading it through, as an exercise either in futility, at best, or potentially wilful pot-stirring at worst. After that I gave no more thought to it.

Alas, its results have been released under the name of Paul Inwood. The report makes some desultory attempts at being impartial and even-handed but largely fails in that endeavour. It tends to confirm both my initial musings. You can read it here.

Others better than I can dissect it if they choose to do so. One section will suffice here. The section on the “language of the texts” (pp.9-11) has the equivalent of 8 paragraphs describing (in obsessive detail) negative comments, and the equivalent of 2 paragraphs at the end with the positive comments. It is clear that the editorial preference of this report favours the negative. This is confirmed in the conclusion when Mr Inwood opines:

The final outcome, however, as evidenced from the overall reactions summarised above, is clearly weighted towards the negative, with narrative reactions indicating just how bleak the landscape is for many. The majority are disappointed and hurt, even angry, and remarks about the deleterious effect the texts have had on their prayer lives are both moving and disturbing. At a more prosaic level, it also appears from many comments that church attendance is haemorrhaging as a result of the introduction of the new translation.

That something so tendentious and self-serving could come from a paid diocesan employee is food for thought. His conclusions may well be a justifiable assessment of the survey, and that might be telling in some circumstances. But wait… some context is enlightening.

At the outset Mr Inwood admits that “a significant number” of responses came from outside the boundaries of the diocese of Portsmouth, including some from overseas or from temporary visitors. That alone should make us wonder how representative this survey actually is of the true balance of opinion in the diocese. What rather confirms that it is most definitely not a reliable gauge of opinion within the diocese is in the very final paragraph (p.18):

Although the final number of responses received is not enormous (a total of 307), they appear to be broadly typical of what has been heard in parishes all over the country. It is to be hoped that the Bishops will indeed not file them away but take appropriate action.

The total number of responses is 307, out of a diocese with an estimated Catholic population of 192,000: that is 0.16%   It is freely admitted that of this paltry total of 307 responses, a “significant number” are from those not part of the Church in this diocese. Mr Inwood offers no evidence at all for his claim that the survey accords with national opinion. A survey with a greater number of respondents, and executed far more rigorously, while admittedly from the USA, tells a far different story to this one. The American context may involve factors lacking here, catechesis perhaps, but its results tend to demand that Mr Inwood provide evidence for his peremptory assessment of the national Catholic mood.

Ironically, given its insurmountable inadequacies, what Mr Inwood hopes to avoid is precisely the fate that this survey deserves: to be filed away. It hardly justifies any action by the bishops against the new Missal, even if there were action able to be taken. Liturgy and doctrine are not products of popular surveys at any time, and that such a deficient survey can be touted as justification for action against the 2011 Missal is the stuff of cloud-cuckoo land.

Neither Bishop Philip, the diocese nor the wider Church are in any way well served by this flawed survey and report, and at a time of financial constraint for the ordinary person one might ask if it was a judicious use of the faithful’s money.

Advent blessings.