Rite Matters

The Catholic Church is a thing of many complex parts. It is geographical in scope. The Pope heads the Universal Church (that’s his pope hat), the Roman Catholic Rite (that’s his patriarch hat), a diocese in Rome (that’s his bishop hat), and is a priest. Priests are subordinate to bishops, bishops are subordinate to patriarchs, and all patriarchs are subordinate to the Roman pontiff but at the same level of responsibility they are at the same level, with the same rights and privileges. Priests can’t mess with one another’s parishes, nor bishops with one another’s diocese in the normal course of things. But the geographic limits break down when you get to the patriarchal level. The patriarchs (there are several, not all of which are in communion with Rome) run different rites under which each assigns bishops to geographic territories without regard to the geographic territories of other rites.

Thus, if you are a Catholic layman, you can elect to participate in any of the particular organizational structures embodied in any rite (though you’re encouraged to stick with your own in the normal course of things). The point of the rites is to create alternate valid structures of approaching God that fit the different styles and temperament of mankind all within the Universal Church and under the Pope.

For Catholic laity, the upshot is that if a bishop screws up badly enough to endanger your ability to stay in the Church, you don’t have to leave the Church because he won’t permit a married priest or doesn’t address the pedophilia issue adequately. You can leave the rite and sign up with another bishop who covers the same territory but isn’t going to torture you with issues that are not essential matters of faith and morals but are a major obstacle to continuing your spiritual journey towards God and away from sin. The profound ignorance of most Catholics regarding their rite rights is a very sad thing.

Centuries ago, there was an idea of splitting things up on ethnic lines. Thus, in Chicago, you have the Roman Catholic diocese of Chicago headed by Francis Cardinal George but you also have St. Nicholas in Chicago for Ukrainians headed by Michael Wiwchar. Vatican II, in one if its more inspired reforms, killed that idea officially and called all the rites back to what they were, particular flavors of a universal faith. The document (read it, it’s short) doing this is called ORIENTALIUM ECCLESIARUM.

Shifting from one rite to another is not something to do willy nilly like shifting from KFC to Burger King from one meal to another. But if the choice is between exiting Catholicism and exiting a rite, finding a better rite for your particular spiritual needs is a lot better as it may very well solve your problem without you having to shift over into a whole new theology.

The particular church that I go to, St. Peter & Paul Romanian Byzantine Catholic Church (yes, there’s a St Peter and Paul RC church as well), is under John Michael Botean whose official residence is in Canton, Ohio and who has services running under his authority from Boston to LA (he get’s a lot of air miles, I suspect). It’s an absolutely tiny diocese with 4 churches in the Chicago metro area, only one of which is in Chicago proper, the afore mentioned Peter and Paul, a mission church.

Cardinal George, (who I’ve met) is an impressive fellow and I don’t think that there are very many people in his territory who would take the opportunity to jump to another rite because I don’t see there being much of a need with him. But clearly not all bishops are so well qualified.