In a one-and-a-half-hour long interview broadcast on September 1, 2021, on Spanish radio COPE, Pope Francis answered a series of questions regarding his pontificate.
Interviewed about the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, which drastically limits the celebration of the Tridentine Mass, Pope Francis denied having banged on the table: “I’m not one to bang on the table,… I’m rather shy.”
He recalled that an overall assessment had been carried out recently [a survey of bishops whose results were not released. Ed. note]. According to him, “the concern that appeared the most was that something that was done to help pastorally those who have lived a previous experience was being transformed into ideology.”
“So we had to react with clear norms,” he said. Pope Francis confided that he had “worked a lot, with traditionalist people of good sense,” without giving any names.
He also wanted to re-explain the spirit of the measures taken: “If you read the [cover] letter carefully and if you read the decree [the motu proprio], you will see that it is simply a matter of constructive reorganization, with pastoral care.”
This “constructive reorganization” is far from having been perceived as such by those it mainly concerns: the communities formerly attached to the Ecclesia Dei Commission, which is now dissolved.
On July 30, Philippe Maxence on the L'Homme nouveau website indicated the different treatment on the part of the Pope vis-à-vis the Society of Saint Pius X and the Ecclesia Dei communities: “If Pope Francis has taken such a decision, it is because he considers that there is a risk of the constitution of a parallel Church and a growing questioning of Vatican II.”
“Note, however, that these measures do not concern the Society of Saint Pius X founded by Archbishop Lefebvre, to which Francis has granted such a number of authorizations that it is in fact recognized in the Church.”
“Yet it is within it that a constant criticism of Vatican II continues to be made. The severity towards Catholics within ecclesial structures and moderation towards those outside raises more questions.”
“If, contrary to what Benedict XVI thought, the traditional Mass cannot be the lex orandi (the law of prayer) of Vatican II, in common with the Mass of Paul VI, then those who criticize this Council as a radical break with Tradition find themselves justified in their approach.”
“We are then in a situation that calls into question not only Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, but also his December 2005 speech on the two hermeneutics.”
The Ecclesia Dei Communities
Regarding the Ecclesia Dei communities and the Society, it is worth referring to an interview given in Res Novæ on June 14 - a month before the publication of Traditionis Custodes - by Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò. With his insider knowledge of Roman circles, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States addresses the issue without any doublespeak.
According to him, the Pope's approach is mainly “political: he tolerates the Ecclesia Dei communities because they keep the conservatives out of the parishes, and at the same time he maintains control over them, forcing them to limit their dissent solely to the liturgical level, while ensuring their fidelity to the conciliar ideology.”
For the Roman diplomat, “With regard to the Society, we are witnessing a more subtle maneuver: Bergoglio maintains ‘good neighbor’ relations, and while recognizing certain prerogatives of its Superiors — thus demonstrating that he considers them living members of the Church — on the other hand he may want to barter their complete canonical regularization for an acceptance of the ‘conciliar magisterium.’”
“It is clear that this is an insidious trap: once an agreement is signed with the Holy See, the independence which the Society enjoys in virtue of its position of not being completely regular would be lost, and with it, its economic independence.”
“Let us not forget that the Society has assets and resources that guarantee sustenance and security for its members. At a time when the Vatican is experiencing a serious financial crisis, those assets are certainly enticing to many, as we have seen in other cases, starting with the Franciscans of the Immaculate, and the persecution of Fr. Mannelli.”
“Do you think that the protective status (dependence on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and not on the Congregation for Religious) desired by Joseph Ratzinger before and after his accession to the papacy for societies of apostolic life which practice the traditional Mass is in danger today?”
Bishop Viganò answers unequivocally:
“The canonical position of the Ecclesia Dei communities has always been at risk. Their survival is linked to their at least implicit acceptance of the conciliar doctrine and liturgical reform.
Those who do not conform, by criticizing Vatican II or refusing to celebrate or attend the reformed rite, ipso facto put themselves in a position of being expelled.”
“The superiors of these societies of apostolic life themselves end up being the overseers of their clerics, who are strongly advised to refrain from criticism and to give tangible signs of alignment from time to time, for example, by taking part in celebrations in the ‘Ordinary Form.’”
“Paradoxically, a diocesan parish priest has greater freedom of speech in doctrinal matters than a member of one of these institutes.”
And the Roman prelate goes on to provide these details: “according to the mindset of those in power in the Vatican today, the liturgical eccentricities of some communities [Ecclesia Dei], far from encouraging the rediscovery of the traditional rite, give it an elitist aspect and confine it to the ‘small ancient world’ to which the proponents of the Bergoglian church have every interest in relegating it.”
“Making the celebration of the Catholic Mass ‘normal’—according to the dictates of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum— without “liturgical reservations’ and dedicated spaces, would give the impression that it is really possible for any faithful to attend Mass without any other title of belonging than being a Catholic.”
“On the contrary, this Kafkaesque bureaucratic castle forces all conservatives into an enclosure, obliging them to follow the rules of confinement and to demand nothing more than what the sovereign grace deigns to grant them, almost always with the ill-concealed opposition of the diocesan bishop.”
The Ecclesia Dei Communities Are Asking for a Mediator
On August 31, at a meeting in Courtalain, 12 Ecclesia Dei community superiors issued a statement that contained the statement, “We feel suspected, marginalized, banished.”
“However, we do not recognize ourselves in the description given in the accompanying letter of the Motu proprio Traditionis custodes of July 16, 2021.”
“We reaffirm our adherence to the magisterium (including that of Vatican II and what follows), according to the Catholic doctrine of the assent due to it (cf. in particular Lumen Gentium, no. 25, and the Catechism of the Church Catholic, no. 891 and 892), as evidenced by the numerous studies and doctoral theses carried out by several of us over the past 33 years.”
In asking for a mediator, they drew on the merciful solicitude expressed in Amoris Lætitia: “We beg for a humane, personal, trusting dialogue, far from ideologies or the coldness of administrative decrees. We would like to be able to meet a person who will for us be the face of Motherhood of the Church.”
“We would like to be able to tell him about the suffering, the tragedies, the sadness of so many lay faithful around the world, but also of priests, men and women religious who gave their lives trusting on the word of Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.”
“They had been promised that ‘all measures would be taken to guarantee the identity of their Institutes in the full communion of the Catholic Church.’”
“Pope Francis, ‘encourages the Church’s pastors to listen to them with sensitivity and serenity, with a sincere desire understand their plight and their point of view, in order to help them live better lives and to recognize their proper place in the Church,” (Amoris Lætitia, 312).
“Today we hear of disciplinary apostolic visits to our Institutes. We ask for fraternal meetings where we can explain who we are and the reasons for our attachment to certain liturgical forms. Above all, we want a truly human and merciful dialogue: ‘Have patience with me!’”
“With confidence, we turn first to the bishops of France so that a true dialogue be opened and that a mediator be appointed who will be for us the human face of this dialogue.”
“We must avoid judgments which do not take into account the complexity of the various situations… It is a matter of reaching out to everyone, of needing to help each person find his or her proper way of participating in the ecclesial community and thus to experience being touched by an ‘unmerited, unconditional and gratuitous’ mercy.” (Amoris lætitia, 296-297).
On September 3, on the La Porte Latine website, Fr. Jean-Michel Gleize, professor of ecclesiology at Ecône, commented on this statement:
“Worried at the idea that their Institutes be subject to disciplinary apostolic visits, which could lead to depriving them of the possibility of celebrating Mass according to the rite of St. Pius V, these signatories protest their adhesion to the magisterium of Vatican II and what follows, and turn to the bishops of France, in order to implore their patience and their listening, their understanding, and their mercy - in a truly human dialogue.”
“Not a word on the fundamental harmfulness of Paul VI's New Mass. Not a word on the bitter fruits of the Council. Not a word about the appalling acceleration of the crisis in the Church under Pope Francis.”
“What about communion for remarried divorcees? And the Pachamama scandal? Diplomacy, if it exists, borders here on naiveté or recklessness, if not with hypocrisy. What will the poor and brave faithful say who attend these Institutes?”
“What are all these major superiors asking for? They ask for freedom, the freedom to continue to celebrate the rite of the old Mass, in the midst of all those who celebrate the rite of the New Mass.”
“However, this freedom is impossible. And what is striking, on reading this letter, is the absence of any reference to the truth which delivers: the truth of the fundamental opposition which prohibits the new rite of the Mass of Paul VI from cohabiting peacefully with the rite of the Mass of all time.”
“Why such an opposition? Let us repeat the evidence: the law of prayer is the expression of the law of belief. However, the new rite of the Mass of Paul VI is the expression of a new belief, in opposition to the old one.”
“Archbishop Lefebvre repeated it on several occasions, notably in his homily during the priestly ordinations of June 29, 1976: ‘We have the precise conviction that this new rite of the Mass expresses a new faith, a faith which is not ours, a faith which is not the Catholic faith.’”
“This new mass is a symbol, an expression, an image of a new faith, of a modernist faith….the new rite, if I may say so, supposes another conception of the Catholic religion, another religion.”
Applying the Motu Proprio
On September 6, the ad limina visits of the bishops of France began and will continue in the coming weeks. There is no doubt that the motu proprio is on the agenda of the conversations that the prelates will have with the Pope and the presidents of the various Roman dicasteries.
An opportunity to see how Traditionis Custodes will be applied concretely in Rome itself will be the pilgrimage of the Summorum Pontificum movement scheduled from October 29 to 31, where Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, California, is to celebrate a pontifical Mass on Saturday, October 30 at 11:30 a.m. at the altar of the Chair, in St. Peter's Basilica.
On August 5, on the Catholic News Agency (CNA), this American prelate said he was “grieved” by the criticisms addressed to the Pope after the publication of Traditionis Custodes.
Admittedly, he has authorized a monthly celebration of the Traditional Mass in his cathedral, but he made it clear that he supported “Pope Francis, and his concern that those who are drawn to more traditional forms of Catholic worship also affirm the validity of the Novus Ordo form of the Mass and, indeed, of the Second Vatican Council itself.”