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PALM LATITUDES

STATE OF MIND : That Old-Time Religion

January 02, 1994|R. Daniel Foster

Sitting in a pew at Queen of Angels Catholic Church in Newhall, I find myself thinking in Latin. Odd, since I haven't been to Mass since I attended Holy Childhood Catholic Church in St. Paul, Minn., where I was raised.

Now, out of curiosity, I am back at Mass and, seemingly, back in time. Queen of Angels, founded in 1983, ignores the sweeping, populist changes of Vatican II. Here, the priest faces the crucifix--not the congregation--the Mass is in Latin, confessions are heard only in the privacy of the confessional and women still cover their heads.

"The new church is more like a social club," says Father Dominic Radecki, the church's pastor. "Confessions are more like psychology sessions now. We still view the Mass as a mystical, supernatural event where the real presence of God is felt."

Seven other Southern California Catholic churches more or less share Radecki's philosophy. The Vatican and the L.A. archdiocese generally ignore the rebels, says Radecki. "They don't want to give us too much publicity," he says. "People might find out there's an alternative."

Catholics come from as far as Bakersfield and San Diego to attend the church, with its congregation of 250. "Before Vatican II there were moral absolutes," says longtime parishioner Myrna Migala. "Now it's 'Let your conscience be your guide.' " Others are more blunt: "The teachings of Vatican II are like quicksand," says Dick Jamison. "I don't want to go to Hell because of them."

It's been a heady morning. Driving back to Los Angeles, I consider Radecki's sermon, which covered the definitions of mortal and venial sins. I add up the numbers and discover I've committed three mortal and 17 venial sins since last Tuesday. I start to think in Latin again as the radio blasts R.E.M. One phrase repeats itself like a mantra: mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

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