I even argued with my mom about it this afternoon. We’re a little closer to the situation than many, since the college in question is practically in my parents’ former backyard, and when I finished college and grad school (elsewhere) and lived back at home for a year, I attended Mass at the Catholic Campus Ministry, since I just wasn’t quite ready to transition back into regular parish life. So I am well-acquainted with the priest in question. Apparently he had the dogs during the time I attended Mass and participated in Music Ministry there, but I don’t remember seeing them. At that time, there was no separate chapel, just a large living room/meeting room filled with “This End Up” furniture.
Frankly, if Father Lou’s dog had wandered into this room during Mass, I don’t think I or anyone else would have blinked an eye. It was an extremely informal situation at that point. But now there is a proper chapel next door to the Catholic Campus Ministry Center. And I think the situation calls for more formality.
Animals in the sanctuary are going to be a distraction–at best. Have you ever been in church when a squirrel blunders into the sanctuary? I have. No one is participating properly in Mass at that point. They’re all watching the squirrel, and wondering how he’ll get out of church, and thinking about what the squirrel will do before he gets out of church. They’re giggling and whispering.
I’ve attended Masses celebrated by a blind priest, and I can tell you that I and many others there probably paid way more attention to his service dog, who was remarkably well-behaved and there to do a job, than we should have. Father Lou’s dogs are not there to do a job. They are companion animals–pets. And whether Franciscans are supposed to love animals or not, I don’t think that pets have a place in church. The dogs are socializing with the congregation, and that can be done in the other, much less formal situations, that take place as part of Catholic Campus Ministry.
Yes, dogs can teach us about trust, loyalty, and fidelity. There was even a large article in Faith and Family on that subject over the summer.
But Father Lou, you’re not celebrating Mass in your living room anymore. Please leave your dogs in the living room until Mass is over. Your young parishioners need your example of reverence, respect, and attention–and if your pets are there, that lesson goes right out the window.