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.




Survey showing US priests dislike new Missal: not what it seems

There has been some buzz in the Catholic media, both new and old, about the findings of a recent survey of priests in the United State showing that just under 60% are unhappy in some way with the new Missal. An example report can be read at a Canadian Catholic website. But the organisers of the survey, at the Benedictine St John School of Theology at Collegeville, have issued a press release which is worth closer examination; headlines do not tell enough, as we recently saw with the English bishops on royal marriage.

Don’t accept too quickly the spin this press release puts on the survey. It says that “U.S. Catholic priests are sharply divided”, and after presenting a highly selective and inadequate presentation of the alleged findings, the press release indulges in some Missal bashing. Thus, “The new translation theory has been sharply criticized by many liturgists and experts in translation”. It offers no examples, and we are supposed to accept that this assertion is an accurate representation of reality. In this negative atmosphere the statement is generating, it then asserts that “The new English Missal was a key initiative of the papacy of Benedict XVI”. So that awful Benedict XVI was resposnible: typical! – we are meant to cry. Of course, the translation is of the 2002 Roman Missal, an initiative of Bl John Paul II. You would think, from the Collegeville statement, that the mere fact of an English translation was Benedict’s initiative, rather than an inevitable development in the light of the current obsession with vernacular liturgy.

But the press release ends with a blatant plug for the blog run by the monk heavily involved in the survey, Dom Anthony Ruff OSB, a monk of Collegeville. Dom Anthony and his Pray, Tell blog (no link from here) have been fomenting opposition to the Missal for years. Of course this is not because he was not included in the translation committee.

Let’s look more closely at the details of the survey. 32 dioceses participated, though all 178 US dioceses were invited. There is the first alarm bell – the diocesan participation rate is a mere 18%. Is this survey going to be representative? The press release also states “A total of 1,536 priests participated in the survey, with a response rate of 42.5 percent.” Yet if we read the survey’s full report we find that the number of respondents varies from question to question, down to 1527 for one question. Even more importantly, the highly manipulable section for comments on various issues never has more than 372 respondents for a single section, and sometimes as few as 20 (for Chant in the Missal), 22 (for Missal format) or 64 (for theological content of the Missal – this is a bizarre category!).

Most of the survey report draws wind for its sails from this comments’ section. Taking the highest number of respondents, 372 for Aesthetic Expression, we see that at best these comments represent 2.7% of the 14000 priests in the US. Yes, this supposedly damning report is really based on, at best, 2.7% of priests in the US, and of them up to 40% are favourable to the Missal on various issues, leaving less than 2% who are clearly vehement in opposing the new Missal. Given that the vast majority of priests who are content with the Missal would have been unlikely to respond to this survey, especially given its nuanced questions and notoriously dissenting organisers, then probably only those who militantly oppose the Missal would have bothered to reply, so that they can be “heard”, no doubt. Barely 2%. Piddling.

The survey seems to have been a waste of time and money, not only because of the poor rate of response, nor only because the Church does not change anything on the basis of political lobbying by tiny minority groups of dissenters, nor because it actually confirms what Catholics might rightly hope for – that the vast majority of their priests are happily getting on with their job using the Missal. It is not only wasteful but verging on scandalous in its attempts to foment discord and opposition to the new Missal.

The preamble to the main report of survey results has the temerity to end with “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus” (That in all things God may be glorified) This survey singularly fails in that regard. Let it be consigned to where it belongs.