Browse Our Articles & Podcasts

Chaput, Romeri and the Battle Over Music in Philadelphia


Most Catholics in our world seem to take a flippant attitude towards liturgical music. It is all-too-frequently deemed something suitable for competent amateurs, of lesser concern and of secondary importance – until, of course, it isn’t.

The news this week of the unexpected and noteworthy resignation of Johh Romeri as head of Liturgical Music in Philadelphia has put the issue of music front and center in the Catholic world. Mr. Romeri – once named “Full-time Pastoral Musician of the Year” by the National Association of Pastoral Musicians, is held in high regard as a performer, educator, and clinician in the world of Catholic music. It is worth noting that he is generally considered an aesthetic moderate, and thus, not a controversial figure.

Regarding the reasons for his resignation, Romeri cited a “constant griping” on the part of his boss, Archbishop Chaput, and “irreconcilable differences” regarding their understanding of the role of music in the liturgy. Perusing the Sacred Triduum congregational Mass handout for 2015, we can see Romeri’s tasteful selection of music, which alternated between simple chants, congregational singing, and choral polyphony. It is the kind of musical selection that might be heard in many liturgically conservative areas, and comparable to the regular and excellently executed musical fare at the National Shrine of the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. The work of this latter has become, by most accounts, the American standard for music at a well-executed Novus Ordo. It is therefore distressing that Romeri, in his otherwise genteel and understated letter of resignation, wrote:

“This Holy Week, while [sic] some of the most beautiful liturgies I have ever conducted, was not well received by the archbishop. This is the continuation of several years of discontent on his part with the Liturgical Music at the Cathedral and at Archdiocesan liturgies. There are simply irreconcilable differences in our understanding of the role of music in the Liturgy and the role of the choir. While at this point, I am not sure just what my next musical adventure looks like, it is absolutely the right thing for me to leave this present situation.”

While Archbishop Chaput is a well-respected and highly articulate theological conservative – as well as a gifted homilist – he has never been known for liturgical traditionalism. This author recalls his time spent in Denver, where Abp. Chaput’s masses were often accompanied by a well-rehearsed but aesthetically deficient contemporary band. The kind of music presented on these occasions rarely reflected the wishes of the Church regarding proper liturgical fare. In light of this, one can only speculate that the Archbishop may be pushing his See’s music program to sound more “contemporary” and less Catholic, especially in anticipation of the pope’s forthcoming visit to Philadelphia.

Regardless of the reason, this tragic misunderstanding between competent ecclesial authority and competent musical authority brings to light a long-standing conflict between the proper Catholic aesthetic and what is assumed to be the aesthetic derived from the so-called “Spirit of the Council.”

The simple fact that Catholic liturgy has historically evolved organically along with its music – that it is traditionally a sung liturgy (as aptly documented in William Mahrt’s “The Musical Shape of the Liturgy”) – puts music near the center of the hermeneutical debate over authentic liturgical development that is such a staple of modern Catholic discourse. Yet it seems that outside of the small community of competent musical authorities, few Catholics – let alone their clergy – seem cognizant of the fact that musical choices in the Mass are anything but a “matter of taste.”

The “tyranny of taste” is part of the “dictatorship of relativism,” each boiling over, often with disastrous results, into the Church’s liturgical life. This situation is made worse by a strong lack of seminary education on Catholic liturgical music and aesthetics, along with a general attitude which precludes the competent Church musician’s natural authority in such matters. At the very least, a pastor or bishop should know that the Church has specific wishes in regards to music in the liturgy, and be able to hire a well-trained music director to execute the Church’s vision. The pastor or bishop should also be willing to consult with – and when appropriate,  defer to – the director’s long developed specialty. In the case of Mr. Romeri, we have just such a specialist whose clear, Catholic aesthetic vision seems to have been senselessly pushed aside. Only time – and the future musical direction of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia – will reveal to what extent this conflict was over a proper understanding of the Church’s musical tradition and aesthetics. We’ll be watching – and listening – very carefully indeed.

50 thoughts on “Chaput, Romeri and the Battle Over Music in Philadelphia”

  1. While Abp. Chaput is thought of as a conservative, if you dig into what he has written over the years he is not that conservative. He is fully for innovation. He just seems conservative when compared to the likes of Bishops Hudson, Weakland, and Dolan.

    • This hasn’t a whisper of anything to do with ecclesial philosophy, David. It actually has little to do with actual liturgical praxis. This extremely disastrous situation has everything to do with presumptive hierarchy than chooses to engage in surreptitious “phone/email tag” communiques and self-evident intermediaries such as “the rector said,” rather than trustworthy, honest, competent (like both parties know their stuff) and consensus-oriented, scheduled negotiation and reviews.
      This sort of shenanigans happens parishes everyday, everywhere. It is extremely disheartening to see it happening to essentially good people, including Abp., in Philly. No wonder the Curia turns a blind eye to the Church in the USA. No one speaks for her.

      • This is an excellent article and, yes, it does have to do with American ecclesial philosophy as can easily been seen by dropping into any parish in America and listening to the crap chosen to accompany the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

        When the music one hears is not merely insipid, it is offensive, and it is not fit for the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass but we really do no longer have a Mass in America but we do have a synaxis of the self-righteous that desired an end to Catholic exclusivity and desired acceptance by its enemies and crappy music is just the persistent pustule on the ugly face of American Catholicism illustrating that

  2. Well, I was recently at one of the Novus Ordo ‘masses’ in that diocese which celebrated the 50th anniversary of a priest. First, prior to the mass, I was hardly able to pray my rosary because of all the hand shaking and loud noise going on right inside the church itself. Right in front of me a ‘sister’ came over and stood right in front of me speaking with some person for I don’t know how long. Then when mass was started, it was yippy skippy feel good protestant music. I was horrified to say the least and almost left. It is so very sad that our dear Lord is treated this way. Pray for the clergy. They certainly need it!

  3. My minions in Denver told me some rather disturbing news about Chaput, and I must admit, I have not been impressed by him since. While AB of Denver, he is reported to have allowed Lutherans to do their liturgy inside the Cathedral in Denver. On at least one occasion, he allowed an Indian medicine man to ‘bless him’ while they were at the alter, and it seems it was during a mass, but I’m not sure about that. However, when the local SSPX parish asked permission from him to stop at the Cathedral for prayer while during their pilgrimage from their parish church to Mother Cabrini Shrine, about a 30 mile trek, he refused them permission. Now the last I checked, the SSPX still hold to the dogmas of the Catholic Faith, while the Lutherans, not so much. And the medicine man, who knows what he believes.

    • Update this information a bit. I live in Colorado and am a member of a Latin Mass parish. Archbishop Chaput was letting the SSPX use the Cathedral during these pilgrimages until one year some of them decided to leave pamphlets critical of the Novus Ordo mass and the Church since Vatican II in the pews at the Cathedral. Almost any bishop, no matter how conservative, would take offense at them showing such disrespect for his kindness.

      • Sadly sometimes the SSPX is their own worst enemy. I am sympathetic to them, but this kind of stuff is indefensible.

        • Sadly, there are extremists in all parts of society, both religious and not. It was probably just one of them that did it which ruined it for everyone.

          • That’s right. Bow down and worship Vatican II and don’t criticize the Pope even if he is in error. That’s “extremism.”

      • Well I’m an everyday Catholic and I take offense to the latin mass being taken away and being forced to attend the Novus Ordo if I want to stay in the Latin Rite. Every priest and bishop has an obligation to pass on our catholic patrimony and make the Latin Mass available along side the Novus Ordo. If that were the case today the SSPX would in all likelihood not exist. We have a long way to go to dig ourselves out of this hole.

  4. “This author recalls his time spent in Denver, where Abp. Chaput’s masses
    were often accompanied by a well-rehearsed but aesthetically deficient
    contemporary band.”

    That can be said of the weekly 6:30 PM Mass that Chaput celebrated at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. However, the music, as arranged by the Office of Liturgy, during Holy Week, Christmas, ordinations, etc. was orthodox. It was no secret that Chaput wasn’t big on following the rubrics or very interested in pomp and circumstance. He is, for all intents and purposes, an enigma.

  5. I remember when Prof. Horst Buchholst (sp?) was director of music at Abp. Chaput’s Denver cathedral. He is an excellent musician who left suddenly (and, from my corner of Colorado, inexplicitly) and was hired by an Episcopal church back east. Then, all of a sudden, he was back building Catholic music programs again, only this time in the St. Louis diocese.

    I have enormous respect for Abp. Chaput and he is widely respected and thought to have a red hat waiting for him somewhere down the line. But I am also saddened to hear about Romeri’s resignation and only hope the “irreconcilable differences” is related to personalities and not the quality of music. Professionals such as Mr. Romeri, Horst Buchholst (and his wife too) belong in Catholic music if we are to worship God as well as Protestants do in their churches.

    • Protestants do not worship God in their churches. They have no means of worshipping God. They do not have the Sacrifice of Christ being offered to the Father on the altar. They just sing a lot and often times it is offensive pop music that they sing.

      • I wouldn’t quite put it like that, Isabel. Even popes have acknowledged that salvation can be found in Protestant churches too — we Catholics simply possess the “fullness” of faith.

        The Reformation can be boiled down to this: Protestants told Catholics to keep their Sacraments and the Body and Blood, they would take the Word of God and singing. Catholics said fine, we’ll do that — have fun with your preaching and singing. There’s more to it than that, but the Word of God spoken powerfully in Protestant pulpits has brought many a sinner to repentance. Singing God’s praises in beautiful hymnody can raise worship to levels never dreamt of by Catholics who go to Low Mass. There is much we can learn from each other and it would be presumptuous of us not to acknowledge the gifts of well-trained choirs and preaching. Hopefully, one day, God in his mercy will bring churches back together. In the meantime, I will sing my heart out as I receive Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in my own church.

        • I think your heart’s in the right place, but:
          God did not scatter all the “churches” in the first place. Man did, in error or deliberate sinfulness.
          There is no “bring them all back together” to wish for. Only individual members of congregations that are not part of the Catholic Church can enter the Church.
          It is a de fide teaching that there is only one church, the Catholic Church.
          It is one of the Four Marks of the Church. “I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church”.
          If you don’t believe that, or promote an idea to the contrary, you are on thin ice.
          The Church, founded by Christ, is not scattered, but one, under the Bishop of Rome.
          Nice hymns, (or cheesy music not fit for liturgy) can not change that.
          A single Low Mass by a solitary priest with no one else present said in 25 minutes is infinitely more pleasing to God than a thousand protestant services with the most beautiful uplifting inspiring music and singing. This is because God the Son is offered as the fulfillment of all sacrifice to the Father in the former, but not in the latter.

          • Nice thinking, Mike (nice name — it’s my son’s name too!), and I stand corrected if you insist on splitting hairs between fullness of faith and fullness of truth. But you also miss the point in a couple of places and you limit the love of God, whose love extends even to those who go astray.

            Christ’s Church (capital “C”) is holy and can do no wrong (the gates of hell will not prevail, etc.). Jesus didn’t say assaults wouldn’t take place — he said they would not PREVAIL! This means the assaults would not ultimately triumph over the Church.

            Holy Mother Church has been under assault for centuries and she is under assault today. She will be under assault until the end of time. The Reformation was just one assault (and psst! it wasn’t the first one!).

            But look at it like this — assaults come from within and from without. Any student of Catholic religion knows PEOPLE in the church have erred, sometimes grievously so.

            This is not the same as the CHURCH (which Jesus established) erring. Popes have erred and so have church officials. Holy men and women throughout the ages have tried to correct these offenses. The Reformation is a case in point, but instead of Protestants coming back into the faith of their fathers, they kept going astray and today we have tens of thousands of churches without the root that goes back to the beginning.

            That root is found in the See of Rome, but good luck in convincing Protestants of that! It will take the Holy Spirit moving in and amongst the Protestant churches to bring them around. In the meantime we must not write them off as having no contribution at all. Thanks for commenting!

        • Forgive me for this but I think the Popes have said we have the fullness of Truth, not Faith. You can not believe and doubt at the same time or believe and disbelieve. Protestants do not have Divine Faith. They have mere human faith which can not save them. God did say that without faith you can not be saved and Jesus did say that unless one eats His Flesh and drinks His blood they have no life (supernatural) life which is needed to go to heaven which is a supernatural place.

          As for the Reformation, I call it a great rebellion against Jesus, the Savior of the World. They were all thinking according to the flesh and not the spirit. Nothing good comes from rebellion against God. The only good they had was what they held onto which was Catholic. Protestantism is dying now. Everyone just thinks and does and believes as they please. If you are not in the Church you can really go off the deep end. I heard recently that the Anglicans were going to have transgender baptisms! You see they have gone mad. That is what eventually happens to those who rebel against God.

          As for their music. It is sometimes beautiful and I certainly can appreciate it as a form of entertainment but not a liturgical form of prayer or worship. I am sorry but I honestly can’t.

          Anyway, this is one of my very favorite sermons of John Henry Newman and He really straightened out my thinking regarding Divine Faith. I hope you will read it because it had to have been divinely inspired. After he gave the sermon, many of the people (Anglicans) immediately wanted to enter the Catholic Church. They realized right away that they did not have Faith.

          • Thanks again for writing, Isabel (I love your name — I sang with a Jewish lady by that same name decades ago in an Episcopal choir. She became Catholic — yes! — many years later and died in the faith!).

            I will be 80 years old my next birthday, which will make me an octogenarian. Prior to that I was 20 years in the Methodist church, 35 years in the Episcopal church, and all the while I sang in those wonderful choirs. I know what their music is all about and have seen from the inside what their music can do!

            God moved in my heart in a special way when John Paul II came to Denver for World Youth Day in 1993 and I have not been the same since. I’ve also been Roman Catholic ever since and — being a choral musician myself — I have spent the last couple of decades trying to raise their awareness of the need for good music in Catholic churches.

            God bless! Thanks for helping me do the same.

          • I am so happy to learn that! Thank you for telling me. I do beleive that it is grace alone that converts us and not words or music or even the Gospel. As you know, Jesus preached the gospel from His own lips for three years to the Jews and were they converted? A mere handful. However I have no doubt that God uses whatever means he can to supply the grace of conversion through a hymn or a building or an atheist. I also believe God really speaks to our hearts in adoration through the eucharist where he is truly present. I am very happy to meet you!

          • I’m happy to meet you too, Isabel. May I recommend Richard John Neuhaus’ book, Death on a Friday Afternoon? As you know, Father Richard was a Lutheran minister for 30 years (his father was too) until he became Catholic. And not just Catholic, but a priest too! His first book thereafter was “How I Became the Catholic I was.” He is (or was — he’s passed on now) a logical thinking and has a theologian’s mind to the extent he became a friend and confidant of Pope John Paul II who, incidentally, is responsible for me being in the church. RJN says the love of God for his creatures is so great that we should never presume anything. Yes, we know Jesus said no man comes to the Father but through him. That’s fine but we cannot conclude anything, least of all that someone is lost simply because we think he or she didn’t go through Jesus. RJN uses the “other thief” as an example. Jesus said the so-called “good” thief who turned to Jesus was told he would be with the Lord in paradise that very day. But Jesus didn’t go to heaven “that very day.” He went to paradise, which the Church says is the place of departed spirits. Where did the other thief go? We don’t know and should not conclude that the went to hell because God’s love, being infinitely greater than ours, may have saved him too! It’s God wish that none would die. Stated differently, it’s God’s wish that all would be saved. He sent his Son to make the ultimate — the complete and perfect — sacrifice. Who are we to suggest that this sacrifice was not great enough to save even unbelievers? My two cents on a Tuesday morning.

          • Yeah, but never forget the Doctrine, which one must hold to be a Catholic, which is Extra Ecclesia Nulla Salus, Outside the (Catholic) Church there is No Salvation. One must either be formally in Holy Mother Church or joined to her by desire, true desire. RJN, RIP, if he made it, made it because he was a good Catholic.

          • At the risk of putting words in RJN’s mouth, I suspect he would say — while we are compelled to obey it — doctrine is a human contrivance that proposes to figure out what God wants us to do. Doctrines are arrived at by councils Catholics believe are inspired by God. That’s fine and good Catholics obey doctrines of the Church. But don’t you suppose God has had a good laugh (or two or three) as He watches these human cardinals trying to identify His intent?

      • Paint with a broad brush much, Isabel? I would v venture a guess that there are a few million Lutherans and Anglicans who would beg to differ with you.

        • Sometimes a big broad brush is called for when painting the truth. A few million Lutherans and Anglicans are in the wrong religion. They do not have divine Faith. They can not worship God as they have no victim to offer him on the Altar.

          • They are extremely impoverished Christians who are starving to death and everyone pats them on the head never even attempting to lead them to the infinite banquet of the ONE TRUE FAITH in the ONE TRUE CHURCH! Stop letting your neighbors starve to death. Offer some real Christian Charity no matter what the cost to yourself.

          • People in my parish wouldn’t know Christian Charity if it bit them in the butt. They’d insist on doing it in English or not give at all. It’s one reason why our parish is dying. Gonna be a LOT of surprised people come judgement day. Reminds me of the old joke about the Christian who dies and goes to heaven. He meets St. Peter at the gate, and ol’ Pete gives him the tour. He takes them past the Baptist section, the Lutheran section, and the Methodist section. He stops and turns to the Christian and says, “Now you’ll have to be very quiet. This is the Catholic Section and they think they’re the only ones here.”

            BTW, Kilian is my mother’s maiden name. The Kilians in my circle of acquaintance are all Lutheran. Just thought you’d like to know.

          • Did you know that God doesn’t joke?

            Yes, I know that many Kilians are Lutherans. Very sad. I am a Catholic Kilian (by marriage and by the Grace of God and Irish Flynn before). I have no intention to enter into a false religion started by a disobedient monk who like Miriam in the Old testament believed God spoke to her as equally as he spoke to Moses. She was so wrong and God came down to tell her so. Received the special gift of leprosey too, to wast away at her flesh because she was apparently thinking according to it rather than the spirit.

            Did you know there is a Catholic St. Kilian. I will pray to him for you.

          • I see from the Wikipedia article that St. Kilian was from Wurzburg. So was my mother’s family (near there, anyway). Too funny that I’m distantly related to a Catholic saint. That would aggravate people no end in my family. Pax vobiscum!

        • What the heretical, schismatic, apostate believe is not relevant, they spit in the face of the bride of Christ and on His Vicar. Once will never get to Heaven for being a good Lutheran or Anglican.

          • Won’t get there for being a good Catholic either. No effort on the Christian’s part is worthy of admittance to heaven. Only by God’s grace are we saved.

          • Cooperation with God’s grace is also necessary. One must be a saint upon death to enter into heaven as nothing unholy can enter it. That is why the purifying fires of purgatory are such a blessing for one who dies in a state of grace but still not perfect as we are called to be.

        • Yes, and I am one of them, Daniel De Kok. The Anglican Communion has bishops and priests who are as much a part of the Apostolic Succession as the Roman Catholic Church does.

      • They do worship God. They have an act of worship and service. Whether God accepts this worship is another question. Basically, their worship is not acceptable to God. They do worship God, but it’s a false worship.

  6. The mass for the Pope is NOT about the Bishop’s likes or dislikes, it should be about what is appropriate for that particular mass. Maybe this Bishop needs a few workshops on good liturgical music. Band, seriously????????????????

  7. Well, my my, why is this big front-page news? Musicians are notoriously vain and sensitive, and I have never met a music director in or out of the Church that does not get somewhat petulant when things don’t go his or her way.

    Neither Abp Chaput or Dr. Romeri are “wrong”. The archbishop is a bit of a micro-managing boss and the music director, like all talented musicians, does not want to be micromanaged, so he quit.

    No problem, if he is so vastly talented, he will no doubt get plenty of offers now flowing in for a great new gig. Let the Abp hire someone who fits his style, and let this very talented man who seems to be a true artiste find a better niche where he can fully utilize his superior abilities.

    I do not say that sarcastically – could it not be this is just not a good fit for two very particular and gifted men?

  8. I have recently called Abp Chaput out with his fake conservative facade. He does not live up to what God called him to do in his Vocation which is to save souls. He has never Condemned the Homosexual Militant group LGBT and their promoting the terrible perversion of Sodomy and the so called LGBT masses horribly said in Catholic Churches around the country. He has failed his Vocation.

  9. So here’s the deal: Bishops are permitted to do as they wish, they are the ultimate “liturgists” of their diocese. Romeri is very talented, this is a fact. There is a difference between “conservative” and “traditional” priests, bishops, etc… Chaput is no doubt NOT a traditional guy. Conservative? who knows.

    What is clear is that Philadelphia is no longer the great diocese it once was when a poor polock butcher was the archbishop, the great John Cardinal Krol (of Cleveland!). He ran a tight ship, there was no dissension. If he had a problem with you, he’d tell you personally. He was a “man’s man” with the strength of his convictions. He never tolerated disobedience, but everyone knew it, and knew what to expect. He was unwaveringly faithful to the Church, so it was never “personal”. He personally gave every priest a set of diocesan guidelines and simply said, “follow these, we have no problems”.

    So, collaboration, discussion, consensus, collegiality….the Romeri situation is the result of this. Never would have happened under my lord Cardinal Krol, SRE and Archbishop of Philadelphia.

    • Bishops are not permitted to do “whatever they wish.” They are not permitted to alter the ruberics, and they are still bound with the responsibility of passing down our Catholic patrimony to future generations. Part of that patrimony is the liturgy and the various monuments of the faith in our Churches.

      • I think you need to understand a lot more a bout liturgical law, canon law, and frankly, logical argument. I wrote my comments in context of the article, so I never advocated that bishops can thwart liturgical law or rubrics (not ruberics). The rest of what you say is arbitrary and pure conjecture that lends nothing to the discussion.

        Everyone serves at the pleasure of the local ordinary, period, end of story. Get your ducks in a row if your going to pick an argument with me, because you’re not that good.

        • First of all…pride comes before the fall. Raguel may have misspelled “ruberics”, but pointing it out is a sure sign of arrogance and LOGICALLY as an Ad Hominem attack contributes nothing to your argument.

          Liturgical law is clear that the bishop is the chief liturgist in his dioceses SUBJECT to the law. So no, the bishop is not PERMITTED to do whatever he wishes, even though because in civil law the Bishop owns everything often he acts this way. Both Morality and Canon law subject priests and bishops the to the Holy Father, Church law, and ultimately to Christ, the only “owner” of the Liturgy in this equation. The Church’s clear teaching in 100 years of documents on Liturgical music is clear that Chant is the typical form of music for the liturgy and insofar as music follows the paterns of Gregorian Chant it is more or less fitting. And since all Catholics have the Canonical RIGHT, really a God given right, to the Liturgy celebrated well according to the rubrics, all Catholics have a RIGHT to music in keeping with the liturgical documents of the Church.

          It is true, its unlikely that any Tribunal in Rome will sanction a Cardinal for bad music, and so practically he may be at liberty to do what he pleases, but there are other Tribunals to which even Cardinals and Popes must answer. Calling ArchBisp Chaput to fidelity to the great tradition therefore is part of the filial Charity owed a father.

          • I’m done arguing with armchair neocons who know very little theology/ecclesiology/liturgiology, spotlight it, insert pure conjecture/opinion and then pass it off as an erudition you don’t possess.

            This is the problem with the Church, you are no different from the “liberals” who do the same. Stick to the FACTS of what we believe, the facts of liturgical law, and the facts of canon law and as my canon law professor stated, “no more, no less, no other!” Gads….go back to you playpens.

          • You point to one canon that PERMITS the ordinary to do whatever he wants vis-a-vie the Liturgy and I will give you ten that says he can’t.

            Don’t pout that your bullying tactic didn’t work.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Popular on OnePeterFive

Share to...