"The most powerful figure in the American Church"
The most dynamic figure in US Catholic publishing today, Fr Fessio SJ, is visiting Australia in July. He will address the Australian Confraternity of Catholic Clergy at their Brisbane Conference and later meetings in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne.
Fr Fessio is both a charismatic figure and stimulating speaker who appears regularly on Mother Angelica's Eternal Word Television Network.
In what was a crude caricature, yet an unwitting tribute, Fr Andrew M. Greeley wrote of Fr Fessio in Chicago's Daily Southtown (27.11.94): "Who is the most powerful person in the American Catholic Church? Cardinal O'Connor of New York? Cardinal Law of Boston? Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles? Cardinal Bernadin of Chicago?
"I would suggest that the proper answer is none of the above. The most powerful man in the American Church is Father Joseph Fessio of San Francisco, a Jesuitical Newt Gingrich who, with the help of money from family and friends, has turned his Ignatius Press into a base for attacking gender-inclusive language in Catholic documents."
Fr Fessio's 'crime' in the eyes of Greeley has been his effective opposition to the feminist 'inclusive language' agenda for the Church. Fr Fessio's strong connections in Rome have ensured that his concerns about English language translations of the new Catechism and the liturgy receive a serious hearing.
Aged 55, Fr Fessio was ordained in 1972 and holds Masters Degrees in Philosophy and Theology, gaining his Doctorate in Theology at Regensburg University, Germany, in 1975. His thesis was "The Ecclesiology of Hans Urs von Balthasar"; his thesis director was the then Fr Joseph Ratzinger, now Rome's number two man as Prefect of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
After teaching Philosophy at Gonzaga and Santa Clara Universities, Fr Fessio taught Systematic Spiritual Theology at the University of San Francisco. Here his capacity for vigorous original action in defence of orthodoxy became evident. After two years at USF he founded on campus the St Ignatius Institute to offer a traditional Jesuit liberal arts education to the University's students along with an affirmative approach to Church teachings. Regular Masses and retreats strengthen and develop the students' faith life.
When Fr Fessio left the Institute in 1987, he once again struck out in a bold endeavour. He set out to expand Ignatius Press which he had established in 1978. At that time its purpose had been to publish the works of Cardinal Henri de Lubac, Hans Urs von Balthasar and Adrienne von Speyr. Today the flourishing Ignatius Press produces a wide variety of soundly-orthodox Catholic books and videos.
More recently, under Fr Fessio's leadership, Ignatius has produced The Catholic Faith, a catechetical magazine edited by noted author and catechist, Fr John Hardon SJ, and described as a "faithful companion" to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Another Ignatius production is Catholic Dossier, a magazine covering Catholic beliefs and practices relating to major current issues.
However, it is probably Adoremus Bulletin, published by Fr Fessio to promote discussion of liturgical "reform of the reform," which is creating the greatest immediate impact. Following the lead of the Holy Father and Cardinal Ratzinger in calling for mature and careful review of the liturgy based upon the documents of the Second Vatican Council and known intentions of the Fathers, rather than the post-Conciliar activities of liturgical experts, Adoremus Bulletin has set out in measured tones and devoid of stridency, to promote informed discussion of the subject.
The Adoremus Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy took its inspiration from Pope John Paul ll's Apostolic Letter on the 25th Anniversary of the Liturgy Constitution (1989) and has as its principal activities in the US:
- provision of sound liturgical materials to priests and faithful desirous of a more reverent, traditional liturgy;
- provision of educational materials to aid in the rediscovery of the beauty, holiness, and the power of the Church's rich liturgical tradition;
- assistance to bishops and the Holy See with scholarly analysis and, where necessary, critique of present and proposed liturgical practices;
- publication of the monthly bulletin;
- the building of popular support (among priests and laity) for a new liturgical movement.
The guiding principle espoused by Adoremus is taken from Vatican II's decree on the liturgy Sacrosanctum Concilium, n.23: "... there must be no innovations unless the good of the Church genuinely and certainly requires them, and care must be taken that any new forms adopted should in some way grow organically from forms already existing."
Now at the height of his remarkable career, Fr Fessio has for more than twenty years actively defended and promoted orthodox Catholic teaching in the face of often aggressive and determined hostility without wavering.
Mark First is a Brisbane Catholic writer, businessman and observer of Catholic affairs.