Cardinal George of Chicago sacks leading 'progressive' liturgist

Cardinal George of Chicago sacks leading 'progressive' liturgist

Michael Gilchrist

In a move of considerable significance for the future direction of the Catholic Church's liturgy, Cardinal Francis George of Chicago last July (2001) relieved of his duties Gabe Huck, long-time director of one of the major American publishers of liturgical materials based in Chicago. It was a further indication that runaway liturgical "renewal", much of it of questionable connection with Vatican II, was being reined in, not only by the Holy See, but also by the US Hierarchy.

Huck, who left his position on 31 August, has been much admired in progressive liturgical circles around the world. He was officially notified of his removal as director of Liturgical Training Publications during a meeting with Cardinal George.

Liturgical Training Publications, which is owned by the Chicago Archdiocese, publishes books and training materials that have been widely used in Catholic parishes and schools around the English-speaking world. It has been a major force in "progressive" liturgical developments over the past twenty years or more.

New direction

In his letter to Mr Huck, the Cardinal said, significantly, "this is a new moment in liturgical catechesis, one that requires new policy and new direction." It was clear that this was a response to recent Vatican documents on liturgy like Liturgiam Authenticam and the new General Instruction on the Roman Missal which call for a retreat from the excesses of the post-Vatican II period.

In an interview with the liberal (and sympathetic) National Catholic Reporter on 10 August 2001, Huck said the Cardinal's action "surprised me in the timing," though he acknowledged his relationship with Cardinal George had been stormy. "We have had some clashes over inclusive language," he said, citing disputes regarding the company's publication of the Psalter prepared by the International Commission on English in the Liturgy (ICEL), over a book on Eucharistic prayers and over the publishing house's use of the "inclusive" New Revised Standard Version translation of Scripture.

Two years ago, Cardinal George's appointment of Msgr Francis Mannion - who has led moves towards a more balanced interpretation of Vatican II's liturgical reforms - to launch a Liturgy Institute was viewed by many as a move to lessen Huck's influence.

Huck told National Catholic Reporter the Cardinal had indicated to him he wanted to work more closely with the US Bishops' Committee on the Liturgy, whose present staff Huck said he found "excessively compliant with Vatican directives". Huck criticised the staff for "constantly shuttling back and forth from Rome to Washington, playing an active role in the whole series of retro measures aimed at putting an end to the liturgical renewal begun by Vatican II, and involving itself with the circle of Roman authorities only too eager to hear the complaints of reactionaries in this country and to translate those complaints into new legislation or into heavy-handed changes."

For liturgical experts like Gabe Huck, who seem to think they have a monopoly on insights into the "real" liturgical message of Vatican II, the recent moves to roll-back their versions of "renewal" have come as a rude awakening.

During a speech last year, when the Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Consultants presented his Liturgical Training Publications with the Msgr Frederick McManus Award for leadership in pastoral liturgy, Huck was even more outspoken: "We are in the midst of a whirlwind of the line-drawers and the literalists," he declared. These people, he said, were "the successors of those fearful curial folk who never wanted a council in the first place."

He regretted that "the Catholic genius for sacramentality and metaphor" was being replaced by "the Catholic weakness for power and for the literal." He was particularly angry, he said, "about Rome's suffocation of ICEL and our bishops' so far willing compliance," and about the "way that the General Instruction on the Roman Missal has been recast in Rome without consultation beyond those unhappy few who grind their paltry axes." Sour grapes indeed.


An indication of which direction Cardinal George was taking could be gathered from his commencement address at Thomas Aquinas College in California earlier this year. There he stressed a need for more literal translation of Latin in the liturgy and tight restrictions on inclusive language.

"The translations still being used in our celebration of the liturgy were done far too quickly," he said, "probably with good intent." But, "they did not adequately capture the Latin original. And a new document [Liturgiam Authenticam] ... from the Holy See presents guidelines for the second generation of translated liturgical books," which must be "understandable in English but with the first emphasis on fidelity to the Latin." There is great difficulty, he added, in making these translations inclusive. Very often, "in the kind of language that now is politically correct, we have an idiom that is unable, in itself, intrinsically incapable of expressing the mysteries of our faith."

Several of Huck's peers were quick to spring to his defence. Fr Michael Joncas, liturgical author and professor at the University of St Thomas in Minneapolis, said, "I regret that Gabe's contribution to renewal has been diminished, if not removed." Fr Joncas praised Huck for his refusal to let liturgical renewal be divorced from social justice issues, his "profound gift for crafting language," his respect for historical tradition, and his "sensitivity to what is possible in parish settings." Alas, Gabe now joins the growing throng of yesterday's Catholic progressives.

For those who have suffered from the post-Vatican II liturgical excesses over the past 20-30 years at the hands of self-proclaimed experts like Huck, the move by Cardinal George sends a loud and clear message around the world's English-speaking Churches - including, one hopes, Australia.

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