Well-known hymns, but composer left Church?

Here’s an interesting thought: what should we do with music of people who left the Church at some point in their lives?

For example, Martin Luther, of course. Folkie Ray Repp, once a seminarian, is now gay-married — supposedly, a large percentage of the folk Mass folks left the Church at some point. The great choral composer Richard Proulx (local guy!) converted to the Episcopal faith months before his 2010 death. Tim Manion of the St. Louis Jesuits is said to have become a Buddhist, though I couldn’t confirm that.

The concern, especially if the composer is still alive, goes something like this: Why should we continue to pay the composers for their work, even though they have left the faith behind? For those who are dead, does playing their music indicate a pseudo-endorsement or tolerance of their actions?

I understand that concern, but I can’t go along with it. Most people in the pews don’t look to see who composed a song. All they know is the song itself. They’ll have to go several steps until they can figure out that the composer left the Church. Instead, I think this approach is better, and it’s the one I take with pretty much any hymn I hear: I think we should split the song from its composer. Is the hymn itself solid? Does it express Catholic (or at least not-anti-Catholic) thought, even if the composer no longer does?

If the hymn is solid, we should, except in very rare circumstances, stop there. It’s kind of the same system when we’re considering arguments — aiming criticism of the speaker of a quote for his personal life or behavior, instead of the quote itself, is an ad hominem logical fallacy. We’re much better off focusing on the content of a song than the perceived content of a person’s character.

One response to “Well-known hymns, but composer left Church?

  1. I love so many of Ray Repp’s songs, and I find it depressing to see them missing from current Catholic hymnals. It’s like the voices of my childhood faith are being stifled and forgotten… How I detest songs that leave the congregation standing mute, listening only to a warbly soprano! If the majority aren’t singing, it’s not the right song for the Mass!

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