Old-style Catholic mass in Oak Park, 1993, as in Chicago Tribune by Jim Bowman

Every time Julie Badon, a 46-year-old Berwyn homemaker and lifelong devout Catholic, goes to church in Oak Park on Sunday, she violates an edict of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

The mass, in which a priest stands with his back to the people, who pray to God with prayer books and rosaries, is celebrated by a priest of the Society of St. Pius X, founded by the late Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, a Frenchman who rejected the reformist Second Vatican Council as the work of the devil and was excommunicated for ordaining bishops on his own.

For Julie Badon and hundreds of other worshipers at Our Lady Immaculate, 410 W. Washington Blvd., ostracism by her church is not too high a price to pay for the consolations of the pre-Vatican II mass and the devotion it inspires.

Every time Julie Badon, a 46-year-old Berwyn homemaker and lifelong devout Catholic, goes to church in Oak Park on Sunday, she violates an edict of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago.

She does it anyhow, convinced that she has found at Our Lady Immaculate the one, true mass rejected for the most part by the one, true church she grew up in.

It’s a Tridentine Latin mass, outlawed for 13 years by one pope and only partly permitted by another, as of 1984.

The Lefebvre phenomenon is unique in recent Catholic history because, as a bishop who ordained other bishops, he set in motion a self-perpetuating rebel structure. It was the first major schism within the church since the turn-of-the-century exit of the Polish National Catholic Church of America.

Lefebvre ordained his four bishops in 1988, having broken off talks with the Vatican authorized by Pope John Paul II in an effort to head him off at the pass before he institutionalized his rebellion.

Lefebvre and his followers, the equally excommunicated priests and bishops of his society, have essentially told the Vatican to take the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), source of virtually all that is changed and modernized in the church, and shove it.

For Julie Badon and hundreds of other worshipers at Our Lady Immaculate, 410 W. Washington Blvd., ostracism by her church is not too high a price to pay for the consolations of the pre-Vatican II mass and the devotion it inspires.

It’s not the only Latin mass in town. Since February 1990, the archdiocese has allowed a Latin mass at three churches, one on Chicago’s Near Northwest Side, one on the South Side, and one in Antioch in Lake County.

But Our Lady Immaculate is the only local church run by the St. Pius X Society, an international organization that remains by far the biggest traditionalist thorn in the side of the Vatican since the Second Vatican Council.

At the heart of the rebellion, symbolic and symptomatic of the society’s rejection of changes in the church, is Sunday mass with incense and Latin and statues all around, as the mass used to be before the council.

To Our Lady Immaculate, worshipers come from Aurora, Oak Lawn, Rolling Meadows, Arlington Heights, the Northwest Side and points in between, self-described refugees from “the new mass” and the new church-what Catholicism hath wrought in the last 30 years.

`I feel like a dinosaur’

Balloons in church for her son’s first communion pushed Badon over the edge of churchly respectability 17 years ago; that and mass for a much-loved uncle held in the school basement around a small table surrounded by folding chairs.

“I wanted a mass for my uncle,” she said, “and instead I got a paraliturgy”-not a mass at all, but a prayer service modeled on a mass.

It wasn’t what she’d been raised on in several South Side parishes and a South Side high school-all of them gone now, like the Latin mass. She and her husband wanted their five children to have what they had as kids, “the sacraments, the way we were taught. Sometimes I feel like a dinosaur. Everything from my past is gone.”

At Our Lady Immaculate, it all returns. Rev. Peter Scott, a 35-year-old Australian ordained in 1988 by Archbishop Lefebvre, who died in 1991, commutes weekly from Kansas City, Mo., where he is U.S. superior for the Society of St. Pius X.

A slight, lean, dark-haired man who says mass with grave demeanor and preaches with verve and intensity, he is the chief deliverer to Badon and others of old-time Catholic religion, with its deep suspicion of the outside world, its emphasis on asceticism, and its confidence of possessing the true faith.

Living for the afterlife

“So many Catholics are Sunday Catholics,” Scott says from the pulpit after reading Scripture passages twice, first in Latin at the altar with his back to them and then in English from the pulpit. “They are a very common species. They don’t want to get involved.

“It’s a natural tendency. But we must overcome the spirit and influence of the world, perform our daily prayers, say the rosary, examine our conscience. We must watch closely over our daily lives, shunning immodesty, rock music, TV. The world is controlled by the passions of the flesh. The modern world is full of despair. It has no future, no hope.”

He decries “the liberalism of the day” and bids his listeners look ahead to the afterlife. “The torments of the world are allowed so that we might live not for this life but for eternity.” He extols “the joy of depending on God” and predicts, “Our sorrow can be turned into joy.”

Preaching like that keeps Francis Gaul coming back for more. Gaul, 74, a 1937 graduate of Mt. Carmel High School on the South Side, and his wife commute weekly from Des Plaines to Our Lady Immaculate. He hasn’t been to a new mass in 17 years.

He won’t attend any of the archdiocese-sanctioned Latin, or “indult” as they’re called, masses in the Chicago area. “The sermons would not be what I get here. The church isn’t Catholic anymore. It’s Protestant.”

“Today’s church is in direct contradiction with what the popes have taught,” Scott said. He argues that the church is in conflict because it approves religious liberty, ecumenism and the non-Latin mass, which were condemned, respectively, by Pius IX in 1864, Pius XI in 1929, and Pius XII in 1947.

The new mass is “Protestant in its inspiration,” vetted of its Catholic meaning for ecumenical reasons, Scott said. As such, it is “dangerous” to the faith of Catholics because it teaches the wrong things, de-emphasizing the sacrificial and emphasizing the communal-meal aspect of the mass.

For instance, worshipers in the new mass often hold hands while saying the “Pater Noster,” or “Lord’s Prayer.” Asked about this, Scott said derisively, “Oh, please.”

Hand-holding, balloons in the sanctuary, wine served in paper cups, wooden chalices and folk songs-it’s all anathema to members of Our Lady Immaculate, who worshiped 10 years at the Hillside Holiday Inn before coming to Oak Park.

At the Holiday Inn, they set up an instant chapel, bringing statues in garbage cans that they up-ended and draped as pedestals.

This sort of preparation is crucial for Miguel Garcia, a Northwest Side computer programmer and father of four small children, here 17 years from his native Mexico. Garcia rejects the “party atmosphere” of masses where the priest dresses in “ethnic colors so Spanish people can relate to it.” He finds it disrespectful, “because God is King.”

A `vertical’ approach

The more than 400-year-old Latin Tridentine mass (established by the counter-reformation Council of Trent) is “the true mass,” he said. “God instituted it one way, and we shouldn’t be changing it. That’s what happened at Vatican II.”

Something else happened, according to organist and choir director John Cooper of Clarendon Hills, an insurance salesman and part-time jazz pianist. It’s not just that the new mass “an atrocity.” The new church “hasn’t worked.” Seminaries are closing and mass attendance is down, thanks to “all this liberty baloney. People need some kind of regimentation,” he said.

As Scott put it, “No condemnation, no obligation. Popes always used to condemn things, but liberals don’t believe in condemning anybody.”

Scott terms Pope John Paul II “a conservative liberal” who is “very weak in governing the church. He has not acted against heresies.” One such heresy, Scott argues, is to “make man the center of the liturgy.”

Indeed, at Our Lady Immaculate, worshipers look to the altar. There is no handshake of peace before communion (received kneeling and on the tongue, not standing and in the hand), as in the new mass. It is what’s called a “vertical service,” teaching people to look up, to God, rather than “horizontally,” to one another.

“The way you worship affects your view of God,” Scott said. “It is not just sentimentality. We like Latin, the Gregorian mass, and incense. But none of these are the point.”

“What was touted as church renewal and revival has obviously fallen flat on its face,” said John Pfeiffer of Forest Park, a 32-year-old Loop attorney, referring to priestly defections, shortage of vocations, and the like.

“People don’t realize their Catholic faith is being snatched away from them, like in the time of Henry VIII,” said Rita McCarthy, a 40-ish Orland Park typesetter.

“At a funeral, there’s no mention of purgatory. In baptism there’s no mention of original sin. In marriage, emphasis is on the couple. But the first purpose of marriage is to have children, and the relationship of the couple is secondary. All of the sacraments have been watered down. People don’t know anything about sin anymore. Divorce, abortion, birth control condemn you to hell. People don’t seem to know that.”

The church is not amused

Authorized Latin masses are offered at three churches weekly-St. John Cantius, 825 N. Carpenter St.; St. Thomas More, 2828 W. 81st St.; and St. Peter, in Antioch-and every other week in Libertyville and Techny.

But Catholics are forbidden to attend Our Lady Immaculate in Oak Park, though an archdiocese official is wary of saying that it is a sin to do so or that specific penalties will be meted out.

The Society of St. Pius X is “not schismatic,” meaning it hasn’t formally split from Rome, notes Rev. Robert Flinn, vice chancellor of the archdiocese. Its bishops and priests are excommunicated, but its parishioners are welcomed back “just by coming, with no need for special absolution.” They need only “disassociate themselves from their Pius X church.”

That’s “moral persecution,” Scott said. “We remind (archdiocesan authorities) continually of what they ought to be. We have a sense of identity and purpose and mission which they have lost.”

Scott himself is a convert from Protestantism, drawn to Catholicism by the writings of St. John of the Cross, the 16th Century mystic who wrote from a prison cell after getting in trouble with the church, and by the traditional Latin mass. Scott had found the new mass “more Protestant than Protestant services” and lacking in reverence.

He met Lefebvre in Melbourne, asked to be ordained, and went to Switzerland for six years to study theology. Ordained in 1988, he was sent to the U.S., where he taught for two years at the society’s seminary in Winona, Minn.

Now based in Kansas City, he heads the society in the U.S. with its 35 priest members (of 250 worldwide) and 100 chapels and other installations in 38 states. He says mass in Elkhart, Ind., or Memphis on alternating Sundays after his Oak Park appearances.

A former Jesuit theological seminary in St. Mary’s, Kan., near Kansas City is the site of the society’s coed kindergarten-through-high-school “academy,” with 345 students, and its 50-student college. At St. Mary’s the society has its biggest parish, where 1,300 attend weekly. The Oak Park parish has 90 families. Weekly attendance is around 235.

The church, formerly Second Presbyterian of Oak Park, was bought for $390,000 by members of the Holiday Inn group. The society took over payments and spent $20,000 to rebuild the altar area and install new stained-glass windows and an altar rail-“to remake it as Catholic,” Scott said.

Traditional worship and morality are the key to Our Lady Immaculate’s attraction, but members’ finding a home away from home is strong as well, as with any successful church.

A sympathetic ear

Scott talks a tough game from the pulpit, but he also offers a good shoulder to cry on, to judge from Julie Badon’s experience. One of her daughters sought him out in the midst of a recent crisis.

“Father Scott counseled her and was very patient with her,” Badon said. “She really loves Father Scott, and has no qualms about approaching him.”

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