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The Church (re)Turns Right... San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone...Southern-Italian Americana Implications

The Church (re)Turns Right... San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone...Southern-Italian Americana Implications

Tom Verso (August 15, 2012)

For two of their three thousand year history, the cultural bedrock and core values for the people South of Rome was the Catholic Church. Waves of conquers came and went changing governments and policies, but the Church always persevered (the Mass, Sacraments, Saints, rituals, etc.). Similarly, in American’s Little Italy urban villages, through the first half of the twentieth century, the same Church was the basis for those same core values down to the rhythm of daily life (morning Mass, mid-day Angelus, evening Rosary for Peace, etc), and the calendar was punctuated by ancient holy events (holidays, Saints Days, special masses, etc.).... In the second half of the twentieth century all that changed. The social history of the southern-Italian American people through the mid-twentieth century cannot be understood apart from the Church, and the sociology of southern-Italian Americans post 1950s must seek to understand the affects of the profound secular and Church changes in the current milieu (e.g. movement to heterogeneous suburbs, liberalism in the form of sexual and marriage mores, etc.). Most important of all, the Vatican II changes in Catholicism, which in less than one generation tore asunder the core rituals, ideology, architecture, etc. of the two thousand year ‘traditional’ Church of southern-Italian Americans, and now seems to be moving back to its traditional roots.



Introduction – Same-O, More!

With the exception of the relatively short period following the fall of the East Roman Empire, when the Byzantine Church challenged the Catholic Church in southern Italy and Sicily, Southern Italians were largely spared the great theological conflicts such as those that tore Europe asunder following the Protestant Reformation.  The people south of Rome were largely immune from the brutal northern European religious wars and the great intra-Church conflicts such as the Albigensian heresy, which took hold in the south of France and parts of northern Italy.
This high degree of (although not perfect) theological homogeneity and continuity was preserved in American Little Italy urban enclaves through the mid twentieth century.  Accordingly, southern-Italian Americans have virtually no history of profound inter and intra Catholic dissidence.  Of course they were aware of Protestant religions; but there was for the most part a “live and let live” attitude.  They had their religious beliefs and southern-Italian Americans had their Catholic beliefs. –“so be it”!
All of this changed dramatically for southern-Italian Americans post 1950s.  American secular society as a whole began embracing values that conflicted with Catholic teachings such as sexual freedom, contraception, abortion, marriage, etc.  Southern-Italians were being asked to choose between supporting social policies that contradicted their traditional Church moral teachings.
To make matters worse, during this same period of profound secular changes in morality, the Catholic Church herself dramatically and profoundly changed in terms teachings, ritual, governance, etc. In short, the Church did not present clear and unequivocal guidance for the tradition oriented southern-Italian Americans. For example:
·      Nuns took off their habits, no long taught in Catholic schools, moved out of the convents into the secular world.  Amazingly, they not only challenged Vatican directives, they demanded input into the formulation and interpretation of Sacred Theological teachings.
·      The mass was no longer in Latin, the Alter was turn around, twanging guitars and folk songs replaced solemn organ music and Gregorian chant.
·      Churches built in the style of millennia old Romanesque architectural traditions were remodeled and new churches were built with no religious architecture symbolism and tradition.
·      Statues of saints revered for centuries were removed; the once prominent Stations of the Cross that aligned the walls were rendered minuscule if present at all. 
·      The communion host was no longer delivered by a priest, with profound great care with an alter boy at is side holding a protective dish, to the tongue of the kneeling recipient; rather the host is impersonally dropped into outreached hands of a standing receiver by not necessarily a priest.
·      Confessionals were closed, penance was no longer prescribed, and the Sacrament of Confession was rendered Reconciliation entailing a simple mental “I’m sorry”.
·      Most shocking of all, Priest on a mind-boggling scale did not simply violate their vows of chastity, but did so in the form of child molestation!
For all of this profound secular and sacred change, southern-Italian Americans had no experience or social history to guide them.  The core institutional values for fully two thousands years were torn asunder in the span of less than a generation.
For example, in the Rochester, NY Diocese, savor the contradictions:
·      A second generation Sicilian (parents off-the-boat) asked the Bishop why a St. Joseph statue was no longer in the church.  The Bishop responded: “He is not important”.  While the very large Rochester area Sicilian community puts on at least two major St. Joseph Tables and many minor ones each year indicative of their devotion to the man who raised, nurtured and protected the boy Jesus, the Bishop render the Saint “unimportant”.
·      During the tenure of the Bishop, 72% of the Catholic Schools were closed resulting in an 80% reduction in enrollment.  The traditional school system of southern-Italian Americans was literally obliterated.
·      At the same time 10 million dollars was spent remodeling a beautiful 100-year-old Romanesque Cathedral into a de facto Protestant assembly virtual devoid of any traditional Catholic symbols.  Southern-Italian Americans were so moved after their heartfelt impassioned petitions to the Bishop not to “destroy” the beautiful Cathedral fell on deaf ears, they retained the services of a Cannon Law lawyer in Rome to take their case to the Vatican.  That failed, so they raised two million dollars and built a ten thousand square foot St. Padre Pio Chapel. (see below)
One could go on with these types of anecdotal examples of the contradiction between traditional southern-Italian Catholicism and the contemporary Church.  To the extent that these anecdotes are representative of the near seventeen million Americans of southern Italian descent cannot be ascertained without a systematic sociological study.  Sadly, our literati are more literature and fine arts orientated than social science. However, the numbers of anecdotes clearly suggest generality.
The Church Turns Right
For American Catholics generally and southern-Italian Americans particularly, there have recently been clear and unequivocal signs that the Vatican realizes that the American Church has taken the 1960s Vatican II reforms and American liberalism to an extreme that violates if not the letter of the edict, certainly the spirit. In recent years, the Vatican seemingly has come to recognize that the American Church was in big trouble and is responding in a manner that may be appreciated by traditional Catholics such as southern-Italian Americans.
  • American Nuns
The extreme that some American Nuns have taken their demands vis-à-vis Church Doctrine have recently been met with a clear and unequivocal Vatican rebuke. They have been told in no uncertain terms, they must bring their behavior and teaching into conformity with the Church’s Sacred Doctrines.
Cardinal Raymond Burke, a senior Vatican prelate, said:
“If The Leadership Conference of Women Religious (LCWR) can’t be reformed, then it doesn’t have a right to continue,”
“How in the world can these consecrated religious who have professed to follow Christ more closely … be opposed to what the Vicar of Christ is asking? This is a contradiction,” (see more: "The Vatican, American Nuns..." in the related article box).
  • Obama Care Law Suit
Across the country Catholic Bishops are suing the White House over contraception, abortion inducing drugs and sterilization provisions of the new Affordable Care Act; and the implications it has for the First Amendment religious freedom rights.
Forty-two of the most influential Catholic institutions in the country filed suit against the Obama administration over the so-called contraception mandate, including the University of Notre Dame, the Archdiocese of New York and The Catholic University of America.
The Catholic Diocese of Peoria sued the Obama administration, asking a judge to block the president's health care plan, saying it should not be forced to violate religious beliefs by allowing employees to use their health plans to pay for contraception or abortion-inducing drugs.
  • The San Francisco (theological) Earthquake – Archbishop Joseph Cordileone
To my mind, the most significant substantive and symbolic indication of the Vatican’s commitment to bring the American Church back into line with Traditional two thousand year Catholic teachings (Yes! DOGMA!), as opposed to the extreme subjective interpretations based on ephemeral social mores, is the appointment of The Most Reverend Bishop Salvatore Joseph Cordileone(lion heart) Archbishop of the epicenter of American non-traditionalism – San Francisco.
Of course, time will tell just exactly what actions Bishop Cordileone will take.  However, there are a some vary clear indications:
(1) California’s  Proposition 8
Bishop Cordileon had been a leader in the fight against same-sex marriage and characterized as ‘the father’ of California’s Proposition 8 which Eliminates Rights of Same-Sex Couples to Marry, and personally contributed thousands of dollars promoting its passage.
He is quoted as saying:
"Marriage is the union of a man and a woman, because children can only come about with the embrace of a man and a woman together. I don't see how that's discriminatory against anyone."
 (2) Gay sexuality
As Bishop of Oakland, Cordileoni issued an ultimatum to the Oakland-based national Catholic Association for Lesbian and Gay Ministry, telling the group after a year of talks that he would declare the group “not authentically Catholic” if it refused to endorse traditional Church teaching on sexuality.
(3) No Drag Queens in Church
The Archdiocese has some history of what traditional Catholics might call (being polite)‘inappropriate’ involvement with the Gay community. For example:
  • In 2007, Archbishop George Niederauer was filmed giving Holy Communion to the “Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence,” a group of men in flamboyant nun outfits whose mockery of Catholic culture is a staple at local homosexual events.
  • Most Holy Redeemer Parish has frequently stood at the center of the controversy, hosting “gay pride” masses and sending a contingent to the city’s (what have called) obscene Pride Weekend and gay pride parade
Also, Most Holy Redeemer annually hosted a fundraiser for a group helping homosexuals recovering from drug and alcohol abuse.  However, the event was known for having Drag Queen performers and emcees.  This year, according to parish pastor Reverend Brian Costello, “There is a new archbishop. The archdiocese told me straight out, ‘No drag queens’ ”.

In Sum
The American Catholic Church for approximately fifty years has been, to my mind, bordering on schism. His Eminence Raymond Cardinal Burke to my mind, eloquently summed this up:
“What the Holy Father… and I’m just reflecting now on what he himself has written… is trying to communicate is the continuity of our Catholic faith down the centuries.
Sadly, what happened after the Second Vatican Council was – an idea developed that we were forming a new Church and that everything that had gone on since the time of the first Christians was all retrograde and in some way a defection from what was supposedly this Church of freedom and truth and joy..what happened in the process is that the tradition was lost.”
Such a rejection of tradition is unprecedented in the history of southern Italians in America through the first half of the twentieth century, and maybe the history of southern Italy generally.
Exactly how the divisiveness resulting from the spontaneous rejection of tradition in less than a generation has affected southern-Italian American culture, in the absence of systematic sociological study, cannot be precisely known.  All we can do is gather anecdote reports, literary documents and other publications, and make probabilistic judgments.
However, what makes such a study even more difficult is that the situation continues to be so dynamic; the variables keep changing dramatically.  The southern-Italian American people, now six generations removed from the pre-1920 immigrants, are evolving in the post 1950s American liberal culture generally (minority rights, women’s rights, sexual freedom, violent and foul language entertainment, etc).  At the same time the bedrock of their historic value system, the teachings and liturgy of the Catholic Church, has undergone similar radical changes in an effort to accommodate the new social mores. 
In turn, attempts at accommodating traditional Church teachings with changing social values led to contradictions.  Society, for example, accepts Gay life style and Catholic theology does not. Yet some clerics seem to ignore theology and embrace Gay culture. Similarly, there appear to be contradictions between Church teaching and clerical behavior on issues such as abortion, contraception, marriage, etc.  While the letter of Catholic theology is abundantly clear in these matters, the behavior of some clerics is contradictory.
Now the Church seems to be undergoing another change in direction back to its traditional teachings; indeed there is even a resurgence of the Latin Mass. Bishop Morlino of Madison, responding to the Pope's encouragement to revive the "Sacred Liturgy" , now requires all seminarians to learn the Latin Mass.  
 Cardinal Burke calls this post-Vatican II adjustment, “The reform of the reform”. The Vatican seems to be demanding that clerical behavior be consistent with traditional (historical) Church Teachings, for those teachings are nothing less than Sacred and not subject to personal or social ephemeral interpretations.
Again, what all of this will mean to the southern-Italian American culture as a whole remains to be seen.  But, there can be no doubt that many southern-Italian Americans will appreciate the clear and unequivocal reassertment of Church tradition like those made by Cardinal Raymond Burke and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone.

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This southern Italian

This southern Italian couldn't care less about a tradition most of my family ignored or rejected. Pray to San Rocco or La Madonna del Carmine, yes, but identify with the institutional hierarchy? And I'm not alone, a sinner among Calabrese anti-clericals. Care what Cordileone says about anything? Ma quando mai. You can argue for or against where Benedict is taking the Magisterium, but I cannot fathom why there should be any special "southern Italian" effects of these changes within what is, after all, a self-proclaimed universal church. Is there a Genovese effect as well?


E.g.: alter or altar? long or longer?

Dude, check your spelling before you post. We can't afford to look bad!