A friend recently experienced in a “traditional” chapel something strikingly similar to what habitually goes on at SGG (St. Gertrude the Great Church, Daniel Dolan’s cult center in West Chester, Ohio) -- things like dress codes, rules governing “conduct,” and other practices that were (and probably still are) “staples” at SGG: first off (like this traditional chapel), SGG has a strict dress code. Men and boys are required to wear suits with ties (or dress slacks, jackets, and ties) – and, of course, no “shorts” (and no “sports logo” jackets); and women are required to wear dresses (no slacks or “pants suits”) with hems well below the knees (ankle length is preferred), and some sort of head covering (hat or veil). At one time, Dannie heavily hinted that women should also wear gloves (but stopped short of making it a requirement). The women are required, too, to wear dresses with sleeves (the longer the better). “Sleeveless” dresses are verboten.
Anyone who violates this “code” is forbidden communion, and told to sit in the back, where they can’t be seen (and, in some cases, they’re told to leave the premises altogether). Even first-time visitors to SGG are subjected to this sort of treatment, and are made to feel as unwelcome as possible. One wonders that Dannie and Tony don’t require some sort of covering over the crucifix itself; for, according to SGG’s dress code, our Lord is dressed immodestly as He hangs there!
Some of the SGG womenfolk look like they just got in from Amish country -- or Saudi Arabia. Yet, at the same time, there are some who – if they were “favorites” of Dannie and Tony, could bend (or break) the dress-code rules at will. Some of the “preferred women,” for example, could get away with wearing tightly-fitting dresses; and one man who was a “major fixture” at SGG habitually showed up in a pullover and “dockers.” To those who were “important enough,” the rules did not apply. But God help the “less important” -- the “nobodies” – and especially the occasional itinerants “just passing through” who showed up at SGG (especially “novus ordo” types). These poor devils were treated like lepers, and, of course, were told not to come to communion if they had not “confessed their sins to a traditional priest’ or had not “followed traditional communion fasting rules.”
Besides the “dress code,” there are other “rules” at SGG, such as the “thou shalt not re-enter the church during the sermon” rule: if a person steps out during the sermon (for example, to use the restroom), he cannot re-enter church until the sermon is over. This includes moms who have to leave if their babies are crying (a disturbance which His Self-Importancy will not tolerate while he’s talking). Those mothers cannot re-enter until after the sermon – even though the unheated vestibule is almost at freezing temperatures during the winter. Another “rule” – at least in the past -- was that children could not use the drinking fountain (in the vestibule) during Mass. When the SGG school principal’s daughter (a choir member at the time, and whose throat was dry from singing), once tried to use the fountain, he shooed her away, humiliating her in front of everyone.
And, of course, talking (or making any kind of undue “noise”) is strictly forbidden (making too much noise while walking, for instance). At SGG, even people outside the church building are not supposed to talk while Mass is going on (a former SGG church organist, for instance, who used to take a “smoke break” outdoors during the sermon, was chided by one of SGG’s priests for talking outside; this priest, by the way, was none other than Fr. Saavedra, the moron who skipped the consecration during one of his Masses). Another time, a woman exiting church after Mass made the mistake of hugging a friend (whom she hadn’t seen in a while) before she reached the vestibule. She was chided for “inappropriate behavior” (specifically, “turning her back on the Blessed Sacrament”).
And is SGG the only place this sort of nonsense has gone on? Not really. In the heyday of Schukardt, the CMRI faithful had to leave church after Mass by walking backwards, because they weren’t allowed to “turn their backs on the Blessed Sacrament”; and every woman in the congregation had to wear her dress down to her ankles (and long sleeves, of course). Thankfully, this sort of lunacy is no longer enforced. However, there are traddie chapels where women are still required to look “Amish,’ and where they can’t even whisper to each other while Mass is going on, without being tapped on the shoulder by some self-appointed traddie “policeman.”
Is this Catholicism? The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. Granted, the blatant immodesty that is tolerated in many Novus Ordo churches is not Catholicism either – but neither is the other extreme. What we have in traddieland today is some prudish cult-master’s warped notion of what constitutes “modesty” and “proper behavior.” This sort of nonsense has no basis in fact. Catholicism was NOT like this prior to Vatican II. Yes, immodest dress was not tolerated, but a sleeveless dress was not considered “immodest”; nor, by no means, were ankle-length dresses required -- or even encouraged. And, although men usually wore suits and ties, they were not considered “improperly dressed” if they didn’t – and they were certainly not denied the sacraments. As for young boys, suits and ties were NEVER required; and many young boys – especially pre-school aged ones – were often dressed in shorts.
“Professional prudes” like Dolan and Cekada have given today’s traddies the false notion that anything short of covering one’s entire body (excepting face and hands) is “indecent.” The irony of it all is that Dannie and Tony really don’t care about modesty. It’s all for show – to give their parishioners the impression that they care. And the strict rules about conduct are employed simply because they are an effective cult manipulation tool in exacting obedience from people. If he really did care, Dannie wouldn’t have referred to the SGG school principal’s sons’ watching porn on the school computer as “boys will be boys” – and he wouldn’t have tolerated one of those sons’ fornicating with (and impregnating) a fellow student. (Anywhere else, the boy would have been expelled.) One wonders if the principal’s sons were wearing “proper attire” while they were watching those porno flicks – or if the girl with whom one of them was fornicating was wearing an ankle-length dress at the time. Kind of makes the term “dress code” ring shallow, doesn’t it?
Besides the irony, what this really points up is Dolan’s consummate hypocrisy: preaching modesty and chastity, while completely ignoring them in practice. But that is what Dolan and Cekada have always done: they preach one thing, and practice another. They can excuse gross immorality on one hand (as long as it’s one of their “favorites” who’s doing it), yet can have a student threshed with a wooden paddle for missing a homework assignment. They can tell their parishioners to “sacrifice” and “offer it up” during Lent, while Dannie does his “sun and fun thing” in Latin America; and mothers with week-old babies are expected to use an unheated vestibule as a “crying room” in the winter, while the dynamic duo live in comfort in their three-climate-zone rectory (and ask the parishioners to pick up the tab if they can’t pay their heating bills).
Dolan and Cekada certainly represent a worst-case scenario of traddieland (at least, we hope so!) – because they are men without principles or conscience. But the rest of traddieland does share some common traits with them: like them, trads are usually preoccupied with appearances, and with being “letter-of-the-law.” When the occasional “Novus Ordo” Catholic shows up at their door, traddies usually look down their noses at them, and treat them like lepers. Instead of putting out the welcoming mat for these folks, they “turn them off” with their sterile, elitist attitude that is, at best, aloof – and, at worst, hostile.
Things such as “strict dress codes” and the like have little to do with real Catholicism. Collectively, what they represent is a cruel caricature of Catholicism. What traddieland lacks is balance: it fights one extreme with another extreme. And it is full of pharisaic hypocrites who think themselves superior to everyone else -- who confuse sanctimony with sanctity, and who are ready to pounce on anyone who violates one of their “protocols,” or who doesn’t measure up to their standards. And the reason that they behave this way is simple: they lack charity. They are the perfect example of St. Paul’s “sounding brass” or “tinkling cymbal” –of the Pharisee looking down his nose at the publican or the Samaritan.
Until traddieland rids itself of this mindset, where appearance -- not substance -- is paramount, and where extremism takes the place of common sense, it will go nowhere. It will fall victim to its own sterility, and it will bear no fruit. Traddies often think of themselves as the “real Catholics” – but, all too often, they are not. In too many cases, they are the new Puritans – or, put another way, the same old Pharisees.