Spirit Daily


Gyrations In Church As Controversies Erupt And Faithful Seek Pope's Mind (4 stories)

First story

There seems to be sudden jockeying in various corners of Catholicism as the faithful wait to see where exactly Pope Benedict XVI will settle when it has to do with 'liberal" and "conservative" interpretations of liturgical norms.

Was the pope, as Cardinal Ratzinger, as tough as many believe, or was he operating more at the behest of John Paul than previously recognized?

That's the question of the hour: how far the Pope, widely described as a liberal before Vatican II, but stringently orthodox since, will keep to the conservative strictures for which he was famous as prefect for the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. His actions will serve as guidance from the Holy Spirit.

As this is being mulled, there have been gyrations at both ends of the spectrum. One such eruption has occurred in the wake of a reprimand issued by Benedict XVI on January 12 to a group called the Neocatecumenal Way, which sits around a table during Mass and partakes of Communion in that position. The Pope has asked them to alter that practice, conform to Eucharistic norms, and connect more directly with local church communities.

In a very respectful letter back, leaders of Neocatecumenal Way have defended the unusual practice and may not yet have changed the way they receive. "Communion continues to be given seated, as at a banquet," complains a conservative Catholic news site located in Italy. "This is the upshot of [the] letter that the heads of the Way have written to Benedict XVI."

While in that case the Pope appeared to be in line with his tough conservative reputation, liberals have spotted what they see as an opportunity in the Pope's recent encyclical on love and his tolerant approach to dissenting theologian Hans Kung. "Anxiety about the Pope --- on the right," is the headline on a recent article by Father Richard P. Mc Brien, a staunch liberal at the University of Notre Dame.

"From Rottweiler to Great Lover," carped a secular publication irreverently.

But as yet there is no reason to believe that Pope Benedict will be less conservative than his mentor, John Paul II. Still, there is a shuffle to gain position -- and what may be a surge in the conflict between liberal and conservative factions -- while perceptions of Benedict remain in a formative stage.

The key worry of conservatives is over devotional practices. In the Archdiocese of Detroit is angst over a tightening of protocol for Adoration and Perpetual Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament -- so tight that there are fears it will all but strangle such devotion; such already has occurred in the Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida.

In other dioceses has been a very similar move to restrict the Blessed Sacrament. One in Upstate New York wanted Adoration only in a single central location. In other cases, shrines have begun to restrict it, often because there are not enough adorers and the Blessed Sacrament is not supposed to be left unattended. In the case of Detroit, round-the-clock Adoration soon may soon be limited to religious communities (although we are not yet free to reveal to full details).

Meanwhile, in Orange, California, are claims that parishioners have besmirched authorities in a struggle over liturgical norms. This came to a head after those disagreeing when parishioners should or should not kneel were accused by the diocese of spreading false accusations against priests and the bishop. The jockeying is between authorities and traditionalists, and the hotspot is a parish in Huntington Beach called St. Mary by the Sea.

"The reason for this is that all the current liturgical norms of the Diocese and of the U.S. are officially recognized and allowed by Rome," states a recent copy of the parish bulletin. "Furthermore, [a local priest] was allowed only to have the Tridentine Mass here at St. Mary's with its own norms: Communion by tongue, with one species, no sign of peace, kneeling after Agnus Dei  Lamb of God... that some parishioners here name that 'traditions' of St. Mary's. Besides, [the priest] allowed other liturgical practice/norms belonging to the Tridentine Mass to be applied to other Masses of Vatican II, including the Novus Ordo Mass: that is not correct."

"For this reason, if you are forgetful in obeying these norms, it is tolerable," warned the bulletin. "But if you intentionally oppose these liturgical norms, particularly by not standing after the 'Lamb of God' and at the 'Final Blessing,' either as individuals or as a group, it is totally wrong and a serious matter/sin: intentional disobedience not simply to the local Bishop, but also to Rome, and ultimately to God."

The blogs have complained loudly at the actions. At least one parishioner has been asked to leave the church -- and the diocese.

This is simply to report on trends at the same time that we urge obedience. In no case should a bishop be disobeyed. In most cases, actions are taken only after long and often tortuous deliberation.

Last week, the hot button issue was a priest who is especially well-known in parts of the Midwest, where his strongly orthodox views were often broadcast over a network of stations called Relevant Radio and also on a weekly radio program, "As the Spirit Leads," in Philadelphia. A website, "A Voice in the Desert," operated by parishioners, placed his homilies -- rich in traditional viewpoints, as well as prophetic interpretations -- on the internet.

But Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of Minneapolis has halted his radio and internet presence [see homilies], limiting him to the vastly smaller audience of local Mass-goers at the Church of St. Agnes in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Father Altier tends to the six a.m. Mass [see article]

It remains unclear exactly why Father Altier was removed. Neither the archbishop nor the priest has released the letter. There is no reason to believe that the action pertains to any issue of abuse, which has led to so many other actions. But there are times when the priest has openly criticized bishops and he has been especially opposed to a sex-education program okayed by Catholic authorities.

In a statement issued to Spirit Daily, the priest writes: "Praised be Jesus Christ! The people who take care of the Desert Voice website informed me of your interest in the case in which I am involved with Archbishop Flynn. It is certainly fine with me if you want to write something about it, but there really does not seem to be much of a story, on the surface, to write. The fact that this thing has taken on a life of its own with no help from anyone in particular should tell you that it is really not about me at all.  Rather, it is about something much larger than me. 

"Beyond that, I really do not have much to say other than what was said of the Apostles 2000 years ago, i.e., that they rejoiced that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name [Acts 5:41]. All of this is part of God’s loving providence and He will bring about a greater good from this than any of us can ask or imagine. Can you think of a better way to live out the Lenten observance? 

"Regarding the letter from the Archbishop, I will not release it to anyone. This is done solely out of respect for the Archbishop. He did not request that I not release the letter; it is my decision to act in this manner out of respect for his Excellency.

"The Archbishop acted within the bounds of his jurisdictional rights (canon 831 §2) and I simply have to obey. The rest is up to our Lord and Our Lady. It is so wonderful because I am at peace and filled with joy knowing that through obedience I am doing the will of God. 

"Who could ask for anything more in this world than to know with certainty the will of God for you at any given moment and to be able to live it out in peace and joy?  The whole thing is a pure gift from God. This is my take on the whole situation, but as I mentioned above, this cannot possibly be about me. I am merely an instrument that God is using for a much larger purpose. So, if you want to write an article, you really do need to look at what God is doing here."

We'll let the Holy Spirit do that; we'll urge obedience (above sacrifice); and we'll leave it to your own discernment.

The case once more points up the increasingly open face-off between liberals and conservatives, as well as conservatives and ecclesiastic authorities. The time has come to wait for further Vatican guidance and patiently listen to each other, avoiding disunity. Inquiries have been made for more information, if prudent, from the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, e-mails generated by the situation have been as fierce as they have been numerous. While most have supported the priest, a number have attacked him.

"Please do not divide the people of God further by presenting only one side of this story," said one. "Archbishop Harry Flynn has respected the seal of this private matter and has  not made public his reasons in respect of Father Altier's privacy. I read your page every day and know you will present a fair picture of what is happening, yet this is impossible for you to do without all the facts."

Indeed, facts behind the action remain scarce. But Archdiocesan spokesman, Dennis McGrath confirmed to Lifesite News that the silencing is not for any impropriety. “Father Altier is an honored priest, and has not committed any improprieties.” McGrath added that Archbishop Flynn will not discuss the issue publicly because it is a “personnel matter, but I surmise that Father Altier's contrarian position on Virtus [the sex-education plan] is the issue.”

"Believe me, there is ample reason for what the Archbishop is doing and I doubt disobedience is ever really a good thing in relation to the Church," wrote another e-mailer.

"It may well be that Bishop Flynn agrees with some of what this priest has been saying, but maybe does not agree with the way that it is being said," added Randal S. Coleman of Lafayette, Louisiana. "There may be reasons which he is not willing to state out of charity and matters of confidentiality. All-in-all, I was disappointed in the way that Bishop Flynn was portrayed. It is important to often recognize that there are many, many bishops who are carrying tremendous burdens, with great love, in silence, all for the glory of God in the service of His Church."

Previously, Archbishop Flynn was in the news in December 2004 when he said that he had Vatican approval to welcome a homosexual activist group called "Rainbow Sash" to receive Communion in St. Paul Cathedral during their protests against Church teaching on homosexuality. Archbishop Flynn was included in a list of prelates who were personally thanked by the Rainbow Sash movement. Father Altier has been outspoken against homosexuals, including those in his own diocese.

But, again: exactly what has occurred will not be known until there is official comment or one of the parties releases the letter. For now -- as with the other controversies -- it is best placed on a shelf while we listen to the Vatican and pay closest attention during Lent not to legalisms and disputes but to our own spirituality.


Bishop Halts Homilies By Midwest Priest With Strong Contentions, Following

Second story

We note that the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, for all practical purposes, has silenced a priest named Father Robert Altier. It is an interesting action, at several levels. We find it noteworthy at the same time that, as always, we urge obedience.

Father Altier is a rare one indeed, at 45 a relatively young priest who unabashedly speaks strong stuff -- including prophetic stuff, and including exposes of alleged wrongdoing -- from the pulpit. As it was, he had been relegated, at the Church of St. Agnes, in the city of St. Paul, to the 6:30 a.m. Mass (although the church's website disseminated his homilies).

On weekdays, it has been the six a.m. shift -- a Mass that regularly attracts between 75 and a hundred despite the early hour. Some of his homilies, including a recent one, have been surprisingly open in their criticism of bishops.

He may be a bit strong, and naturally we're not sure of all his views (we all have different ideas), but so popular and unusual have been his homilies that for a while now they have been disseminated over the internet via his own website, called "A Voice in the Desert." That website has now announced the bishop's closure.

"In obedient compliance with the expressed written request of Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA [left], Father Altier’s homilies and spiritual presentations can no longer be published on www.desertvoice.org or broadcast on Relevant Radio," says the website. "Please be assured that this action of the archbishop is not related to any scandal or sexual misconduct on the part of Father Robert Altier. We regret any inconvenience and humbly ask for your prayers."

Father Altier has expressed a number of views that some in mainstream Catholicism consider strong and controversial. We have contacted the diocese for comment.

"They say you can't preach like that because the collection will go down," said Father Altier, who is a third-order Carmelite and who before becoming a priest, at age 28, had attained a degree in computer programming.

But his "tell-it-like-he-sees-it" approach, he says, has not hurt. "Parishioners seem to be fine with it, but I'm not sure other priests like it," he told Spirit Daily a while ago. "Priests are into materialism and worldliness. And if you want the material, you can't have the spiritual. Priests have gotten into a lot of worldliness."

As a local newspaper notes, Altier is a prominent voice in conservative Catholic circles and has spoken out against a sex-abuse prevention program being taught throughout the archdiocese, including to schoolchildren. He says the program is too explicit. Such programs were mandated in all dioceses by U.S. bishops as part of their response to the clergy abuse crisis.

It is Father Alitier's contention that there is a simple and real truth behind scandal. "I got sick and tired of all the lies. I just laid it out. There are three groups that have infiltrated the Church, the Masons, the Communists, and the homosexuals, who came in 1924," he alleges. "85 percent of all the abuse cases are homosexual. There is rank homosexuality. Homosexuals chose the best and brightest and best looking and put them into the priesthood."

As for our times, Father Altier views it as relating to the Gospel reading on cleaning the temple -- but this time with the Blessed Mother, who will "clean it like a woman, not like Jesus did (when He threw out the merchants); she is being more deliberate and every nook and cranny will be cleansed," he says insightfully. "When it is done, it will "not be pretty but it will be immaculate.

"I have been speaking about this since the early 1980s, but after 9/11, I said, 'Now the birth pangs have begun.'"

They are like labor pains that will get closer together and more intense, contends the priest, who spends hours each day in front of the Blessed Sacrament.

Why is he controversial? And why do people -- including many priests -- reject the idea of purification?

"I think because people don't want to deal with sin," he says. "The loss of the sense of sin is one of the great tragedies of our time. They don't want to deal with the idea that God would allow any kind of purification. We focus on His mercy so much that we forget His justice. The devil is resisting the idea of chastisement. If we can explain it scientifically, it denies the spirituality of an event, and what the devil desires most is to remain hidden. Certainly he is going to be involved in some of these things, whether directly or from chaos at spiritual level. He is inspiring chaos at spiritual level.

"And some of it -- wars as well as storms -- we are doing to ourselves. Nature reflects the chaos in the spiritual order. You see that right from the Garden of Eden. There was peace until they sinned, and that continues. The chaos that we see -- the storms and tsunamis -- continue to get more intense and closer together and it is because sin is getting worse. We can't keep killing babies and violating human dignity and think that nothing is going to happen to us. We're doing it to ourselves. It's a natural consequence of what we're doing."

These days, when it comes to Christianity, he says, "we only want the parts we like."

The priest has also harped on the need for deliverance.

"I did an awful lot of deliverance work, and the bishop shut it down," claimed Father Altier. "He said he didn't want any priest in his diocese doing this."



originally published as Altier

From The Mail: Archbishop Explains Actions With Father Altier


The following e-mail was sent to viewer Mary Grace Westman, who inquired as to why a Minnesota priest, Father Robert Altier, was no longer allowed to conduct a radio and internet ministry. The move by Archbishop Harry Flynn caused a heated controversy two weeks ago, for Father Altier had a significant following in conservative and Marian circles. The archbishop's explanation:

Third story

To interested party

Thank you for your recent note. I appreciate that you have benefited spiritually from Fr. Altier’s homilies. He has done much good work and is not being “silenced.”

Fr. Robert Altier is a priest of the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis in good standing. He wrote to ask me for permission to extend his radio ministry. I reviewed the situation and discerned that a break from his multi-media apostolates might be beneficial to him and to the parish of Saint Agnes. His primary responsibility has been and continues to be as assistant to the pastor there in ministering to the parishioners. The specific reasons for this decision are within the context of a bishop’s relationship with his priests. It would be most inappropriate to discuss them with others.

Many people have leaped to inaccurate and unkind conclusions. They do a disservice to Fr. Altier and to me. I pray that Lent will be a time for them to examine their consciences and grow in charity. They would be well-advised to listen to or read some homilies about the perils of rashly judging others and about the respect owed to the successors of the apostles.

Some people have mentioned concerns with regard to the “safe environment” programs for children. Let me assure you that pastors in this Archdiocese have a number of options from which to choose and that parents always retain the right to withhold their children from any program to which they object.

I hope that you may avail yourself of some of the other good spiritual resources on the radio, Internet or in good, old-fashioned books. I personally enjoy the insights of the periodical missal Magnificat. You are also free to visit Saint Agnes where Fr. Altier continues to actively minister.

With every good wish, I remain
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Most Reverend Harry J. Flynn, D. D.
Archbishop of Saint Paul and Minneapolis


originally published as altierbishopresponse


Fourth story

Outspoken Priest Taken Off Internet Is Sent To Nursing Home As Ass't Chaplain


Sometimes, we get confused. Such was the case the other day when we were informed that Father Robert Altier, a well-known priest in St. Paul, Minnesota, was being assigned (he is 45) to a nursing home.

The priest was the subject of recent controversy when his prelate, Archbishop Harry J. Flynn [left], ordered him to stop broadcasting over a Catholic radio network called Relevant Radio (based largely in the upper Midwest) and to cease activity on a website that propagated his homilies -- many of which were staunch conservative ones and some of which were critical of bishops and especially what he sees as rampant homosexuality in the priesthood, including the St. Paul-Minnesota archdiocese.

We're not sure because Father Altier does not comment on that publicly. He has commented publicly on a sex-education program that he felt was unfit for children, and this is what seemed to spark the latest controversy. Currently an associate pastor at St. Agnes Church in St. Paul, he will now head to Regina Medical Center in Hastings as an assistant chaplain (meaning he will no longer be a regular daily Mass celebrant in public). While at St. Agnes, Father Altier's Masses -- relegated to the early hours of morning -- were unusually well-attended. He was viewed as a staunch conservative.

From those Masses came homilies that were distributed via the internet. There will be no more such homilies.

While Dennis McGrath, official spokesman for the archdiocese, told Spirit Daily that Father Altier allegedly was happy with the reassignment and in fact had requested it, Father Altier [left] said only, "I am just being obedient to the bishop. This is what he requested. This is what he asked me to do." He withheld further comment. The priest has declined suggestions to leave the diocese.

The sex-education program is known as "Virtus" and is related to a program called Talking About Touching, designed in response to the sex-abuse scandal. "Unfortunately," says the website dedicated to Father Altier, "these graphic sex-ed programs are in direct violation of Vatican teachings on human sexuality and do nothing to stop predators but instead place the burden of protection on young children themselves." This is apparently Father Altier's viewpoint.

The new assignment, which will last for three years, will allow him tremendous free time, he said, during which he plans to read, write, and exercise. There are few duties accorded an assistant chaplain. "I've been too busy the past few years to exercise and I've put on some pounds that I may be able to take off now," he said. "There's a 'Y' below the nursing center."

added 5/12/06

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