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“The New American Catholic”: A Documentary from 1968

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Following up on Peter’s post on Monday, “An American Layman Reminisces about Liturgical Upheaval”, here is a fascinating documentary broadcast on NBC in mid-1968 about “The New American Catholic”, which proves the truth of the adage that nothing goes out of fashion so quickly as modernity.

As someone raised in the Church in the 1970s, I found all the talk here about “renewal” simultaneously funny and saddening. Funny, because in 1968, people did evidently still think, quite sincerely, and despite many warning signs to the contrary (signs that Vatican II had told Catholics to look for and read) that conforming the Church to the modern secularized world, embracing its culture and its concerns, was going to be a roaring success; saddening, because the failure of it all could not have been more complete, and even more so, because even today, so many people in the Church refuse to recognize this singularly unmistakable fact.

There are quite a few things here which I thought were noteworthy, although not, alas, as signs of the much vaunted “renewal.” The young bishop who appears several times, James Shannon, auxiliary of St Paul-Minneapolis, resigned from that office later that year in protest against Humanae Vitae, which (using some of the cant of his era which has of late become fashionable again), he called a “rigid teaching”, declaring God’s law “impossible to observe.” The following year, he would marry civilly without lawful dispensation.
From about 16:00 forward, we see several scenes of what was for that era a very modern (i.e. broadly desacralized Mass): an ugly poncho vestment, guitar players processing in with people waving posters, lots of clapping, people calling out their prayer intentions; but perhaps the most absurd part of all is the setting, as people seem to be sitting around the tables of the school cafeteria. (The scenes of the Mass are interspersed with other signs of “renewal”, including a young woman teaching children from a poor neighborhood how to sing Kumbaya… as if their lives weren’t difficult enough.) The celebrant, Fr William Nerin, a priest of the diocese of Oklahoma, left the priesthood in 1975.
At 30:38, we meet Fr James Groppi of the archdiocese of Milwaukee, a well-known civil rights activist. This is perhaps the saddest case of all, a priest who seems to have completely forgotten the things of heaven for the sake of concerns which, however worthy and laudable in themselves, are concerns of this world which passeth away. “Now you ask me, what do I think about the Catholic Church? To tell you the truth, I don’t even think about it.” In 1976, Fr Groppi left the priesthood.


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