Walking into Immaculate Conception Catholic Church Sunday morning is like turning back the clock 30 years.
Lace scarves cover women’s heads. Sitting next to them are two, three, sometimes five children who watch the service quietly, respectfully. Only the babies are disruptive.
At the front of the sanctuary, a priest flanked by altar boys genuflects before a high altar and prays in Latin. Nuns wearing habits sing softly from the choir loft.
While some Roman Catholics now call for a return to traditionalism, this congregation has lived and worshipped by pre-Vatican II rules for 20 years.
“The very nature of the (Tridentine) Mass instinctively appeals to people,” said the Rev. Christopher Hunter. “Because of the quietness of it, the reverence of it, the seriousness.
“It’s not commotion. It’s not agitation. It’s not activity. It’s not a social gathering.”
While many American Catholics push Rome to become more liberal, this small-but-growing faction tugs the church hierarchy in the opposite direction.
The members of Immaculate Conception are part of a movement involving more than a million people. They make a conservative Pope John Paul II look liberal.
The parish is led by five priests of the Society of St. Pius X, an order founded by the late French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, who was excommunicated by the pope in 1988. Four bishops ordained by Lefebvre also were excommunicated at that time.
The excommunication of their leaders leaves the rest of the order and its followers teetering on the edge of what is Roman Catholic and what is not, as far as the Holy See is concerned.
“We feel it is they who’ve changed, and not us,” Hunter said of Rome. “We can justify our situation according to the time-honored practice of the church. Now Rome must account for themselves.”
Immaculate Conception, like most traditional parishes, operates outside the authority of a regional bishop.
The original worshipers at the church were people who sought to preserve traditional ways of worship, which were all but erased by the Second Vatican Council.
George Orchard, 81, a retired Valley real estate agent, said he left his church when the Mass started changing.
“If I wanted to become Protestant, I would have become a Protestant,” he said. “I’ve been to too many of those phony Masses.”
Orchard said he would drive for miles to attend a Tridentine Mass, before joining the Post Falls church. “I was brought up this way, until they took it away.”
In the past five years, the church has grown rapidly, gaining mostly younger couples with children, Hunter said.
More than 260 families are registered with the church. Most of them are active. Many of the children attend the parish schools.
Although the pope has made overtures to bring the traditionalists back under the umbrella of Rome, most of the Pius X followers are skeptical.
“We would prefer to be under Rome,” Hunter said. “If we just unquestionably accept or blindly follow what Rome says we should be doing, this would put us outside what the church has always told us in the past we should be doing.”