The debacle at Our Saviour is a symptom of bureaucratic conditions more critical than any clash of taste in church décor. Umbrage over “the integrity of the art” is a red herring. If that were the essential factor, this would be a minor local foofaraw. But it is not minor; and the breach of trust on display extends beyond locale to the temper of our clerical bureaucracy itself.
At its simplest level, the stripping of the icons is a case study in pastoral stupidity. One pastor’s distaste for his predecessor’s design decisions is no basis to eliminate elements that contributed to revival of a once-failing parish. No sensible steward destroys the heart of the renascence with which he has been entrusted. Those icons were sign and symbol of that very rebirth craved by the New Evangelization.
The turmoil at Our Saviour’s is neatly summarized by an open letter circulating by a prominent layman and philanthropist. It reads in part:
Father Rutler turned a bankrupt and virtually empty church into a world-famous spiritual center, paid off the mortgage and long-standing debts, virtually rebuilt the infrastructure and exterior walls and roof, installed a magnificent new organ and many other improvements (and left well over 2 million dollars in the bank) and did much of the interior painting, gold leafing and decorating himself (he never takes a vacation) and produced a record number of candidates for the priesthood.
The author does not mention that the cost of the icons and their installation was met by two major private donations. These were gifts, not a drain on parish funds. The letter continues:
Father Robbins is on vacation in his villa in the opulent Hamptons. In less than two years, Rutler's successor, Father Robbins, has dismantled much of the interior of the church, alienated most of the parishioners, and nearly bankrupted the parish, spending vast sums on virtually reconstructing the plain but comfortable rectory (where Father Rutler happily hosted as guest Cardinals and other prelates and distinguished laypeople) - but which Father Robbins told people was a “slum” - so that the rectory is now a luxurious home for Father Robbins and his organist who also resides there.
Father Rutler has made documentary films in the United States and England, contributes to numerous scholarly and popular journals and has published 16 books on theology, history, cultural issues, and the lives of the saints, and also one book on sports, as a member of the U.S. Squash Racquets Association.—from the biography page, Church of St. Michael.
St. Saviour's became an icon—an icon of the Faith, of Tradition, of Jesus the Lord, of beauty, truth and goodness, of discipleship—under the leadership of the iconodule Rutler. Pray that the wreck-o-vation of St. Saviours becomes the beginning of the end of the modern era of iconoclasm in the Church.
Meanwhile, stubborn ideologues who persist in their wayward antics—shunting the tabernacle off to some hidden chapel barely bigger than a closet; moving the celebrant's chair to the place formerly occupied by the tabernacle (arrogance!)—are permitted to exploit parish churches by using them as a canvas upon which to paint self portraits, portraits of self enamoured, aesthetically challenged brats who bully others into participating in their kooky plans.
One Peter Five weighs in: HERE
Rorate Cæli weighs in: HERE