Want to see how worthless vague religious labels can be when used in the mainstream press? Here's a classic example from an ongoing story in Jackson, Mich., where a priest who backs church traditions -- which ones, we are never really told -- is clashing with many leaders in a "progressive" Catholic parish. Here's the top of the report in the Jackson Citizen Patriot:
The Rev. Jeffrey Robideau has rubbed some members of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church the wrong way, but others are lauding him for being "a real priest."
"He makes me want to be a better Catholic, and I hope people will give him a chance," said parishioner Penny Marino of Cambridge Township in Lenawee County.
The heart of the debate seems to be whether placing a traditional priest in a progressive parish like Fatima -- which has embraced practices like female altar servers and blessing children during communion -- was a good move.
It appears to have had a polarizing effect on parish members, some of whom recently organized a parishwide meeting at a location outside the church and began passing a petition calling for Robideau's removal. ... A spokesman has said Bishop Earl Boyea would review the situation this week.
Now that passage gives us two issues that supposedly illustrate the split in the parish. The issue of female altar servers is one that has been debated for years and this, as I understand it, is basically an issue that the Vatican has left up to local bishops. Please correct me if I am wrong. As for the issue of blessing children during Holy Communion, I have no clue what that is about. I need more information to understand what is supposed to be divisive about this, which is kind of the whole point.
Even a brief scanning of the comments on this story reveals that something is indeed happening here. It sounds like a pretty normal battle between a doctrinally conservative priest and a large American congregation that has become used to running things its own way. But maybe there is more going on.
In a follow-up report, readers were given a bit more information:
Among their concerns are the priest's refusal to train girls to perform altar services and his decision to disband the choir. He's also refused to hold any church committee meetings, parishioners have said.
"He doesn't seem to care how he hurts people," said Delores Walsh, a member for 28 years who recently left the parish because of Robideau.
OK, I'm more confused. What church "tradition" is at stake in a priest's refusal to hold "any" church committee meetings, if that statement is factually accurate? Is this an allusion to him having a higher, more authoritarian concept of the priesthood? Again, how could a priest do that without some permission from the diocese?
Now, the choir issue -- backed with a later statement that Robideau has banned Protestant hymns -- could be a clue that there is a true liturgical war going on. I wonder if there are people in the parish who, for years, have been silenced in their criticism of worship services there? I wonder if there have been battles over the rosary, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling to receive Holy Communion, etc.? We don't know if, in fact, there are two sides of this story. How divided is this large parish?
Supporters of the "traditionalist" priest, as well as critics, have taken to the comments pages to express their views -- a fact that is now affecting the coverage.
"Finally we have a priest in Jackson ... a real priest ... who is out to help us save our souls. Isn't that what holiness is about?" wrote one reader.
Marino, who joined Fatima a few years ago, said she understands where her fellow parishioners are coming from. She came from a church that was very traditional so Robideau's style was comforting to her, she said. For those accustomed to a more progressive approach, it can be difficult.
"People need to be patient and understanding. He is filling the shoes of a man who was here a long time," said Marino, referring to the now-retired Rev. Andy Dunne, who was Fatima's priest for more than three decades.
The previous priest served the parish for more than three decades?!?!
There's the story. Clearly, what we have here is an example of what is often called "great pastor" (or rabbi, or priest, or college president) syndrome. After that amount of time the structures of an organization -- like the parish committees -- truly reflect the beliefs, strengths and, yes, prejudices of the previous leader. Period.
Apparently, the diocese wanted a fresh start. But why? What has been going on in this parish that may have caused this episcopal reaction? Truth be told, we don't know. Maybe there will be more facts, and fewer labels, in future stories.
Second photo: Father Jeffrey Robideau