Cardinal Sarah and failures at the college of cardinals

The ability, or even tendency, to make stupid remarks is not, at least officially, a prerequisite for being made a curial cardinal. But neither does it seem to hurt the odds of one’s wearing a red biretta around Rome.

In 2011, a Spanish bishop claimed that Cardinal Ennio Antonelli, then head of the Pontifical Council for the Family, had declared that the United Nations was conspiring to make half the world’s population homosexual over the next 20 years.

Like the U.N. quest for world peace, health and education, if such a program indeed exist it seems to be behind schedule.

A more recent asinine declaration by a cardinal comes from Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments.

Repeating a call he has made many times, in a recent interview the cardinal said he wants priests to face east when celebrating the liturgy.

In my childhood parish in New York City, built long before Vatican II, facing east would have entailed the clergy and congregation turning 90 degrees to the left toward the side wall of the building, since the altar was at the south end of the structure.

The plot of land on which it stood allowed for no other layout. In fact, because of the layout of streets in New York, most sanctuaries are at either the north or south end of churches. Even churches with an east-west layout often have the sanctuary at the west end.

Presumably, Cardinal Sarah is not calling upon congregations to do a military-style “left face,” “right face” or “about face” toward the rising sun.

What he seems to actually want is for the clergy and congregation to face the same direction when offering prayer to God. But, that direction often, or even generally, cannot be the east.

There may be merit to such an opinion, but the cardinal does his position no favor by using such patently stupid phrasing to present it. It merely demonstrates ignorance of the actual places where Catholics gather to worship.

The cardinal seems to use the phrase because it literally translates the Latin, “ad orientem,” and Cardinal Sarah is among those committed to fidelity to Latin even when it becomes nonsense. Continue reading

  • Father William Grimm, MM, is publisher of and is based in Tokyo.
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