CHICAGO — CHICAGO - Seeking to put their mark on worldwide Catholic practices, conservative cardinals in the Vatican recently suggested the church outlaw dancing and applause during Mass and deter girls from serving alongside altar boys, according to Vatican observers.
The proposed rules, which high-ranking Vatican officials reportedly rejected, are part of a long process aimed at cracking down on "liturgical abuse" and creating uniform rules for worship.
Drafted by two Vatican departments that oversee doctrine and liturgy, the proposals sparked harsh criticism from Catholic liberals. The cardinals now will seek to modify the document before it is presented to Pope John Paul II for approval.
But experts on Vatican politics said last week that the dispute is only beginning. That such conservative ideas were proposed illustrates that traditionalists are trying to assert their influence, particularly as the pope's health declines and the election of a successor draws nearer, they say.
"This document reflects the views of some very influential people in the Vatican," said the Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of America, a Catholic magazine, and an authority on the Vatican. "The fact that it was sent back to the committee doesn't mean these ideas are dead."
Reese said the proposals represent an attempt to centralize power in the church.
"There was a movement to allow these kinds of decisions to be made locally, by local bishops," he said. "If you can't trust bishops to decide when it is appropriate to have altar girls, then you are treating them like franchises of McDonald's."
Vatican experts said the document was presented because some conservatives believe the pope will support their initiatives and want new rules in place before he dies.
If accepted, the new rules would have affected some of the progressive changes established through the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, such as the greater role for lay people in the Mass. The proposed rules said lay preachers should not "usurp" the role of priests, or deliver the homily, a lesson often given during Mass.
The Vatican gave bishops permission in 1994 to allow girls to serve at Mass. But observers say conservatives within the church fear that the use of altar girls is adding to pressure on the church to allow female priests.
Under the proposed regulations, the use of altar girls should be avoided "unless there is a just pastoral cause," and "priests should never feel obliged to seek girls for this function."
The rules also sought to ban dancing and applause in church. This caused alarm because such a ban would hamper worship among many African-American Catholics and in other churches around the world.
The Rev. William Kenneally, of St. Gertrude Church in Chicago, said dancers have interpreted gospel music for 19 years in his parish, which is composed of diverse ethnic groups. "I hope the pope realizes things like clapping and dance have meaning. It's not just hooting and hollering," he said.
The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.