There have been many comments on and analyses of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes this summer. All place Francis’s decision to limit the celebration of the traditional Mass as much as possible in the context of the crisis which is currently shaking the Church, but with very different perspectives.
Questioning the Hermeneutics of Continuity
In Le Figaro of August 14, Cardinal Robert Sarah, former prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments - without ever citing the name of the Pope - sees in the motu proprio a questioning of what he calls “the credibility of the Church.”
In reality, it is mainly a questioning of the “hermeneutics of continuity” advocated by Benedict XVI and the coexistence of the two rites desired by Summorum Pontificum.
The Guinean prelate writes: “Beyond the quarrel of the rites, it is the credibility of the Church which is at stake. If it affirms the continuity between what is commonly called the Mass of St. Pius V and the mass of Paul VI, then the Church must be able to organize their peaceful coexistence and their mutual enrichment.
“If one were to radically exclude the other, if they were to be declared irreconcilable, then a rupture and a change of direction would be implicitly recognized. But then the Church could no longer offer the world that sacred continuity which alone can bring peace.”
“By maintaining a liturgical war within her, the Church loses her credibility and becomes deaf to the call of men. Liturgical peace is the sign of the peace that the Church can bring to the world.”
“So the issue is much more serious than a simple question of discipline. If she had to demand a reversal of her faith or her liturgy, how would the Church dare to address the world? Her sole legitimacy is her consistency in her continuity.”
“In addition, if the bishops, who are responsible for the coexistence and mutual enrichment of the two liturgical forms, do not exercise their authority in this regard, they risk no longer appearing as shepherds, guardians of the faith that they have received and the sheep entrusted to them, but as political leaders: commissioners of the ideology of the moment rather than guardians of perennial tradition. They risk losing the confidence of men of good will.”
“A father cannot introduce distrust and division among his faithful children. He cannot humiliate some by pitting them against others. He cannot put aside some of his priests. The peace and unity that the Church claims to offer the world must first be experienced within the Church.”
“In liturgical matters, neither pastoral violence nor partisan ideology has ever produced fruits of unity. The suffering of the faithful and the expectations of the world are too great to take these dead end roads. No one is superfluous in the Church of God!”
Paradoxically, Cardinal Sarah pleads for the coexistence of the two rites in the name of the unity that according to him “the hermeneutics of continuity” must be allowed to obtain, while Pope Francis rejects this coexistence in the name of the unity that submission to the conciliar magisterium - and to him alone - is supposed to procure.
A Civil War in the Church
In the Italian newspaper Il Foglio of August 5 appeared a letter from a group of lay people to the Pope. This open letter, using the title of Andrea Riccardi's latest book, La Chiesa brucia, [The Church is Burning. Crisis and the future of Christianity, published in Italian by Tempi nuovi, in April 2021. Editor's note], wants to highlight the deep distress in the Church. Transformed - say the authors of the letter - into a “field hospital” through the many injuries it caused. They denounce the failure of the “exit,” Church, so vaunted by Francis.
This letter recalls various more or less recent situations: from the lack of response to the cardinals who questioned Pope Francis about Amoris lætitia to the story of Enzo Bianchi [founder of the ecumenical community of Bose. Editor's note], who seemed to be one of the Pope’s favorites, including the ousting of many other personalities, such as Cardinals Pell, Sarah, and Burke.
The letter ends with a bitter observation: we are faced with a climate “which has become heavy, almost unbreathable,” and “the mother Church seems more and more as a stepmother who imposes anathemas, excommunications, and [political] police stations, at a continuous pace.”
The authors of the letter ask the Pope to put an end “to this civil war in the Church, as a father who looks after the good of all his children, and not as the head of a clerical current which seems to want to use his monarchical authority, until the end, often beyond the limits of canon law, to achieve a personal ideological agenda.”