The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench

“We live it every day”

In its ongoing run-up to the pope’s visit, the Washington Post is taking a look at how some Catholics live, and has discovered — surprise surprise — that some of them really are Catholic:

During an era when two-thirds of young Catholics say they can be good Catholics without going to Mass and many believe in a woman’s right to choose abortion and view premarital sex as morally acceptable, Karen and David Hickey might be considered renegades — because they are so devout.

The lives of the Fairfax County couple and their five young children revolve around the Catholic Church, and they stand out as devoted because so many others do not follow the teachings of their church to the letter.


For the Hickeys and a community of young, conservative Washington area Catholics who piously follow the teachings of the church, Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Washington next week carries a special meaning.

They appreciate Benedict for his unwavering advocacy of what they hold to be “Catholic”: ancient liturgical practices such as the traditional Latin Mass, the supremacy of the Catholic Church, Gregorian chants in worship and theologians who concur with the pope’s teachings. As the Vatican’s orthodoxy watchdog for 24 years before becoming pope, Benedict earned this group’s devotion.

“I love Pope Benedict,” said Karen Hickey, 35, who keeps a bust of him on her piano. “He’s done so much good in the little time that he’s been there.”


Young, orthodox Catholics are more enthusiastic about Benedict than are many in the older generation, said Colleen Carroll Campbell, author of “The New Faithful,” a book about the youthful set. “They like his countercultural stance on a lot of things. . . . They also like his emphasis on Catholic identity and fidelity to Catholic doctrine.”

But even Benedict in person isn’t enough to draw some traditional Catholics to the papal Mass next week at Nationals Park. They feel it will be too informal for their taste, and many dislike the idea of receiving Communion standing up instead of kneeling at an altar rail.

Chris Paulitz, a Senate aide, says he won’t go, but he will show his support for Benedict by going to see him pass in the popemobile.


Such young Catholics’ strict obedience to the tenets of their faith makes them an anomaly in their generation. Only 14 percent of Catholics ages 20 to 40 attend Mass at least weekly, according to research by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University, and just one in five goes to confession once a year or more.

For conservative Catholics, that’s unthinkable.

“You have to live your faith and practice, not just learn the doctrine,” said Anne Francoise Guelcher, 40, the mother of six children — ages 15 months to 14 years — who lives with husband James in Montclair, Va.

Guelcher home-schools her children. “That way, I can really teach them about the faith,” she says.


The family goes to Mass every Sunday and on Holy Days and celebrates the myriad Catholic feast days. Like other devout Catholics, they keep holy water, which has been blessed by a priest, in a small font by their front door. They say the rosary and pray to the saints daily.

“We live it every day,” Guelcher said.

Like Catholics of their generation, young conservatives grew up under the liberalizing changes to the church brought on by the Vatican II Council in the 1960s, but some rejected those reforms as they reached adulthood.

Paulitz, 32, remembers “lots of guitars and banjoes” at church services and priests who had fallen away from church doctrine.

“I felt uncomfortable about it constantly,” he said.


Like the Hickeys and the Guelchers, Paulitz and his wife, Diane, found their way to St. Mary Mother of God, a 163-year-old parish near the Verizon Center in Northwest Washington. It is one of the few churches in the Washington area that offers the traditional Latin Mass every Sunday.

To traditional Catholics, the old Latin Mass — a formal rite entirely in Latin — stands in marked contrast to the more informal modern Mass ushered in by the Second Vatican Council. Benedict last year loosened restrictions on the traditional Latin Mass, also called the Tridentine Mass, cheering conservative Catholics everywhere.

St. Mary’s, which has been holding the Tridentine Mass for more than a decade, has become a gathering place for traditional Catholics. Most Sundays, the church is overflowing.


Capitol Hill aide Paul-Martin Foss, 26, says he feels comfortable at St. Mary’s. Worshipers there, he said, don’t question church canon.

“On the major doctrinal issues, it’s pretty much settled,” he said. “They are all pro-life and faithful on all the church’s moral teachings and dogma.”

It is not an easy existence. Conservative Catholics, compared to “cafeteria Catholics” — the term for Catholics who pick and choose which doctrines to follow — say they can feel off the beaten path culturally.

Daniel Heenan, 25, a Sterling Catholic school teacher who plans to enter the seminary, faces the amused scrutiny of his peers for his devout life. “A lot of them think I’m a lunatic,” Heenan said.


He said friends will say, “You’re 25; you should be out getting drunk and having a good time, not going to church.”

Those who eschew artificial birth control and have large families say they hear comments and rude remarks when they venture out with their children: “Don’t you have enough?” and “Aren’t you done yet?”

Sam Fatzinger, a Bowie mother of 11, has learned to respond with a tart: “No, I’m just getting warmed up.”

You can read the rest at the link. It got prominent play in the print edition, smack in the middle of page 1 of the Metro section.

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posted April 9, 2008 at 8:02 pm

I object to the classification of orthodox Catholics as “conservative. It seems that when the media looks for orthodox Catholics, they go dig out the rignt-wingers only. Some of us are orthodox, love the past few Popes and look forward, not back.

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posted April 9, 2008 at 9:23 pm

As a “conservative” latin Mass Catholic, I would say you don’t have to “love” the post conciliar popes — you love the papacy. And those who are truly orthodox would never love and cherish our tradition by calling it looking “back.”

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posted April 10, 2008 at 7:50 am

Please get all of these ‘chains’ of orthodox (right teaching) Catholicism off of me. How dare me to “eschew” artificial contraception when I have grown one with my spouse without it. The way God has intended! How come one experiences freedoms when learning the teachings of the Church and the whys? As far as Vatican Council II, I suggest that before you can comment on it, you should read it first!Kabloona: It helps to know where you came from to fully understand where you are going and how you got there.Peace, Graubo

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posted April 10, 2008 at 11:42 am

I am also uneasy with this article that seems to lift up the conservatives and criticize the liberals. Neither is orthodox Catholicism. I love the Church, her teachings, the Sacraments, etc, but the solution to 14% of young adults going to church isn’t Latin and chapel veils (even though both are wonderful if you understand why you’re doing it). Also, it does us no good to lift up those who don’t question the Church. As I said I embrace all that she teaches, BUT we can never grasp all that the Church teaches. At times it is healthy to wrestle with what we believe in order to expand our own understanding. Conservatives often focus so much on the letter of the law that their heart for humanity is left undeveloped. The Gospel does minimal good when we do not allow it to transform our hearts so that we might generously bear it forth to others. I love the example of the young man (it sounds familiar), but if he turns around and scolds his friends for living in sin he will do little good. Hopefully the fullness, peace and joy of his own life is able to reach out to them in love and share the Truth with them without hitting them over the head with a catechism (and I love the CCC by the way).

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