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Something’s “Fishy” in Texas

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Not just a simple “oppressive bishop vs. faithful traditionalist martyrs” story, there’s “more than meets the eye” in the Fisher More College controversy.

“Hold your peace. Watch for how it unfolds, and most of all pray for the students that are still dutifully studying and praying.”

That’s the advice former Chancellor of Fisher More College Taylor Marshall gives in a Facebook post addressing the situation between the school and the recently installed bishop of Fort Worth, the Most Rev. Michael Olson.

The traditionalist Catholic blog Rorate Caeli published yesterday a copy of a letter sent by Bishop Olson to Fisher More College president Michael King. The letter (which can be viewed here) prohibited celebration of the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite on the school’s campus.

Rorate Caeli, self-described as “the most-read international traditional Catholic blog on the Internet,” called the action “a grave injustice” and urged its readers to raise media pressure against the bishop’s decision.

“We must do everything in our power,” the blog exhorted its readers in a final “Call to Action,” “to spread the word and help this school and students regain their God-given patrimony. Don’t think for a second this starts and stops with this college. If we don’t act now, we will surely regret it later.”

But don’t get worked up too fast. Details are still emerging, but a simple “oppressive bishop vs. faithful traditionalist martyrs” narrative can already be almost certainly rejected, as will be explained below.

Since passions run high when it comes to traditionalism and the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and people on both sides often have deep suspicions of those perceived to be in opposition to them, I’ll lay my cards on the table: I’m a Catholic (convert from evangelical Protestantism) who fully accepts the authority of the Magisterium. I’ve been to the Extraordinary Form many times before, have lots of friends who prefer the Extraordinary Form, but I still prefer the Ordinary Form, which I attend regularly with my wife and children. Regarding the Second Vatican Council, the interpretation of which is closely linked with these disputes, I fully accept it as an ecumenical council and endorse what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI called “the hermeneutic of continuity” – rejecting both radical traditionalists and theological liberals who view the council as a radical break with the Tradition.

So what’s going on at Fisher More College?

Digging into the Details

Fisher More College, short for The College of Saints John Fisher & Thomas More, is a small, private liberal arts school in Fort Worth, Texas. Founded in 1981, it self-identifies as a “traditional Catholic college” and, until the bishop’s new rules, offered the Extraordinary Form of the Mass daily on campus for its students, faculty, and staff.

The bishop’s letter was apparently sent after a personal meeting between Bishop Olson and King, as it opens saying, “Thank you for your visit today. I am writing you to state formally what I told you during our meeting.” The only explanation for the new rules given in the letter is a line in the final paragraph: “I make these norms out of my pastoral solicitude and care for the students of Fisher-More College as well as for your own soul.”

Despite what many have claimed, the bishop did not say that the Extraordinary Form was a danger to the souls of the students or even the president. On the contrary, he mentioned that, while he would no longer allow the Extraordinary Form to be celebrated on campus, members of the Fisher More College community were free to attend the Extraordinary Form at a nearby parish.

The letter was addressed specifically to Fisher More College president Michael King and does not appear to have been intended for public consumption. The letter was leaked to Rorate Caeli by “a source who has requested anonymity.” Since we can be confident Bishop Olson didn’t leak the letter, it was most likely leaked by King or someone related to the college, though it’s also possible it was leaked by someone sympathetic to the school in the bishop’s office (but this is unlikely given the timing of everything – more on this later).

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