If one were looking for a front-row seat to comprehend the disarray that’s befallen the Catholic Church, one needn’t look far from the Los Angeles Religious Education Congress (“REC”), taking place this March 21–24 at the Anaheim Convention Center. Though the REC, sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, is hailed as the largest annual convention of Catholics in the country, drawing nearly 40,000 Catholic educators and students each year, it provides a stark representation of the issues plaguing the Church — namely, the failure to handle the abuse crisis, heterodoxy, and the disintegration of the liturgy.
The Congress is no stranger to controversy. In 1994, the California Coalition of Concerned Catholics raised concerns over the REC’s promotion of former priest Daniel McGuire, a vocal proponent of abortion. Though McGuire’s appearance was revoked, the Congress has continued to raise concerns in years since, and 2019 will be not at all different.
This year’s Congress will feature the retired and disgraced Cardinal Roger Mahony giving a workshop to junior high and high school students regarding “Volatile Immigration Issues.” The cardinal has concelebrated Mass at previous congresses alongside Archbishop José Gomez and Bishop Kevin Vann of the Diocese of Orange. His appearance comes despite the fact that he was stripped by Archbishop Gomez of all “administrative or public duties” in 2013, following revelations of his cover-up of homosexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Aside from his malfeasance on abuse, Cardinal Mahony embodies the decay that has gutted the Church for the past 60 years — from his broadsides against Mother Angelica and his insistence on giving the Eucharist to pro-abortion politicians to his construction of a $250-million modernist-style concrete cathedral adjacent to the 101 freeway in downtown Los Angeles.
In his testimony last August, Archbishop Viganò recounted how former cardinal McCarrick had been rehabilitated by Pope Francis. Mahony’s prominent appearances at the Congress, his materialization at recent years’ confirmations, and the subsequent silence of current Church leaders have left Angeleno Catholics to speculate if Cardinal Mahony has obtained similar reprieve and wonder why clerical leaders in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Orange (where the event is held) have not publicly addressed this.
The cardinal’s presence isn’t the only visualization of the crisis at the event.
Also speaking at the 2019 Congress will be Fr. James Martin on “LGBT Spirituality.” Fr. Martin is no stranger to controversy, drawing critiques from both Cardinal Robert Sarah and Archbishop Charles Chaput in 2017 regarding Martin’s approach to and intentional ambiguity on the issue. Martin has also drawn criticism for his wholehearted endorsement of the Manhattan-based gay ministry Out at St. Paul, whose activities include outings to local gay bars; “Pride Mass”; and social media postings celebrating St. John of the Cross’s “gay soul,” drag shows, and “Queer Lady of Guadalupe,” each of which offends the senses of the faithful and denigrates the dignity of our church’s treasures.
Other presentations at the 2019 REC will include the following topics from a variety of presenters: “LGBT Ministry & Justice,” “Building Bridges with Catholics Who Are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender or Questioning,” and “Human Sexuality and the Catholic Church.” Last year’s conference featured five workshops on “LGBT Ministry” including one titled “Transgender in Our Schools: One Bread, One Body” whose presenters included a female-to-“male” transgender panelist, offering discussions about gender identity and transgenderism, including proper use of gender pronouns and acronyms and more awareness for Catholic schools to adjust their uniform policies to accommodate children wishing to “transition.” The presentation included a slide featuring “the Genderbread Person” an image used to promote gender ideology to young children in schools. One quotation from the slide: “Gender identity is how you, in your head, think about yourself.” According to one attendee, the panel emphatically stated that there was nothing dangerous about letting young children “transition.” All of this under the banner of religious education.
The liturgy at the congress leave much to be desired. The Masses — held in the large convention center surrounding a wooden table altar and no visible tabernacle — feature large jazz ensembles, rock bands, modern anthems of Haugen and Schutte, and liturgical dancers twirling wooden bowls of incense around the altar. The 2014 Congress offered an “Urban Fusion” Mass.
Pope Benedict wrote prophetically in 1997 that the crisis within the Church was rooted in some part to the “collapse of the liturgy.” Is it any wonder that young people are leaving the Church en masse, and those who stay increasingly prefer the traditional reverence of the past?
In the wake of the current catastrophe within the Church, Archbishop Gomez has stated, “I believe we need to respond to this crisis with a new call to penance and purification and a new dedication to leading holy lives.” If we are to take this exhortation seriously, we must start by purifying the Church of its failed leaders, spiritual arsonists, ambiguity, mediocrity, and stupid liturgy, both in the Congress and the Church at large.
Peter LaFave writes from Southern California, where he lives with his wife and three small children.