I also think that the recent apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes [Custodians of the Tradition], which attempts to repeal Pope Benedict XVI’s generous permission for easier use of the Traditional Latin Mass in the 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, was theologically incoherent, pastorally divisive, unnecessary, cruel—and a sorry example of the liberal bullying that has become all too familiar in Rome recently.
Pope Francis during the Holy Mass celebrated in St. Peter’s Basilica on the Feast of Corpus Christi, 14 June 2020
The most important question still remains to be answered: did Francis have the right to do so? Contrary to many traditionalists, I do not regard this issue to be obvious. To see a full picture we must go back a few centuries to the times of the Council of Trent and the promulgation of the Missal thereafter; pope Bergoglio referred to this event in a perverse way – in the letter accompanying the motu proprio he compared himself to Pius V. He can’t have seen how absurd it was: the Dominican pope preserved all the rites except for those younger than 200 years. Meanwhile, the Bishop of Rome from the Society of Jesus desires to abolish an ancient rite preserving only the one invented nearly half a century ago. It does not change the fact, however, that pope Ghisleri did ban some local rites among which there might have been fully orthodox ones. Thus, Francis’ act is not completely illogical, as he refers to a precedent and also bases upon the decisive and explicit statement of Paul VI. When issuing the new Missal, he clearly expressed that despite numerous changes, that was the same rite and Missal as before. Following this logic, there is no place for the TLM, as it was not abrogated but only reformed. The Jesuit pope referred to it directly, explaining that the Missal of Paul VI is equated with the Missal of Pius V which was “not only preserved but renewed”. From this perspective, Francis’ statement that the new Missal should be regarded as “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite” makes more sense.
However, both John Paul II and later Benedict XVI stated that pope Montini, contrary to his own words, did not replace the old Missal with the new one and that every priest could freely celebrate the liturgy according to the old Missal and no bishop is able to forbid that. Francis simply ignored this fact altogether, presenting the decisions of his predecessors only as signs of good will which traditionalists, allegedly, did not appreciate; hence the decision of abrogating the previous regulations. We may observe other discrepancies in Francis’ discourse, e.g. if the new Missal is the expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite, the expression of what is the old one? Furthermore, the papal letter confirms that earlier it was “the principal expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite”, which poses two more issues: has the pre-reform Missal lost its Romanity and thus cannot be an expression of the mentioned law of prayer? If it is the case, how did it happen? Moreover, if it was “the principal expression” of this norm, therefore not the only one, why cannot it be now, apart from the Novus Ordo Missae? Thus, one should not be astonished that Traditionis Custodes was described as a document theologically incoherent, as even pope Bergoglio did not try to address the statement that the TLM not only was not abolished by the Apostolic Constitution Missale Romanum of Paul VI but it cannot be forbidden. Because of this shortcoming, we do not know if Francis believes that the statements of both commissions appointed by John Paul II as well as the will of Benedict XVI himself, expressed in the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum and an accompanying letter, to be null and void or maybe he decided that he can limit and afterwards abolish the use of the old Missal with his papal powers, despite the awareness of the gravity of the actions of his predecessors. If the latter is true, Francis not only denies the two previous popes but the Vaticanum II itself. In the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy, it states: “Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity, (…) wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.” It appears that the author of Traditionis Custodes, who requires all traditional communities to completely acknowledge the last council, does not accept it fully, which indeed may apply to practically all the bishops in the world who have never brought into force the first constitution of the council.
Even if we assume that the Holy Father, by the power of his office, can annul any legal act of his predecessors, including those concerning an acknowledged and orthodox rite of the Mass, the primary question is: should he do so? At this juncture, the words of St. Paul should come to everyone’s mind: All things are lawful for me: but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful for me: but all things do not edify (1 Cor 10, 23-24). In our situation, the actions of Francis, even if lawful, should be deemed detrimental to the Church. The Pontifex Maximus, which may be translated as the Supreme Constructor of Bridges, does not edify the bridges connecting the man to God, and also one person to another, but rather destroys them. This is completely contrary to what was done by his predecessors who not only, to preserve a full communion, demanded “respect for their [traditionalists’] rightful aspirations”, as John Paul II wrote in his motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, but indeed saw the old Missal as the richness of the Church that cannot be forbidden. Suddenly, a new pope once again alienates some faithful from the rest of the Church only because they dare contest the work of his youth which is not at all infallible. At the same time, he is completely apathetic towards truly important problems of the Church, increasingly growing in numbers all around the world. The authoritarian resident of the Domus Sanctæ Marthæ uses almost a sectarian narrative that views the last council as a superdogma whose criticism is the gravest of sins. Simultaneously, he does nothing to combat idolatrous cults within the Vatican and the house of cards which is the so-called, Post-conciliar Church is collapsing, with rampant secularisation not only of the Western countries and a deplorable state of faith of Catholics. Many of them not only do not acknowledge the moral teachings of the Church but even do not believe in basic dogmas of the Faith. The attitude of the pope seems to be even worse in the current circumstances, as he undermines the trust to the institution of the Church and to the papacy in the times of a dramatic weakening of their authority linked mainly to the sexual scandals and covering them up by the hierarchy. This found its reflection in critical comments of a great part of Catholics who deemed the regulations included in Traditionis Custodes inexplicable and harmful to the unity of the Church. Of course, one may hope that it is only a problem of one man and that the next pope will be guided by true care for his flock instead of a youthful ideology, but there is no guarantee. Can Catholics be sure that Francis’ successor will not abrogate something else that his predecessors saw as grand and sacred, and which should remain so for the next generations of the faithful?
Traditionis Custodes and the accompanying letter are dire documents, doubtful in premises, soulless in form, unjust in content, authoritarian in tone, ruthless to the living predecessor, diminishing the trust to the pope and the Church, opening up old wounds and intensifying old conflicts. They confirm what I have been writing from the very beginning about the current pontificate and about the sense of the “reform of the reform” based on setting an example instead of imposing severe regulations. With this one decision, Francis gave arguments to batter traditionalists loyal to Rome both to ecclesiastical liberals as well as to the FSSPX communities. The latter now can truthfully call us “indultists” and boast that they have not made any deals with the Vatican. People attached to Roman Catholicism which until recently was the only model in force once again have been hit like a dog that always comes back to the knees of its master to defend the house, no matter how many times it is kicked and humiliated. Once again we became pawns in the hands of bishops who do not know us, usually do not understand us and limit contacts with us, assuming there are any, to an absolute minimum. Over the years we have been the black sheep of the flock which the shepherds have not cared about at all and which could be left to their fate, for the peace and quiet’s sake. All of this because we did not lose our reason during the insane optimism of the, so-called, Spring of the Church and dared criticise the new reality, with its new phenomena and trends, or even specific decisions and events. It appears that one can do whatever they please in the Church of today as long as they do not challenge infallible reforms and perfect popes or point out errors and tragic effects of the work which many hierarchs still regard as the fruit of their youthful years and treat like a child no one is allowed to scold.
Now we can only hope that this experience will only strengthen and solidify traditional communities all around the world. Francis has shown his true face, so different to the one of a merciful father he himself created. This, in turn, opened the eyes of some people; the traditionalists are now seen more favourably even in those circles of the Church which have few or no common points with them. It has sparked hopes that at the next conclave the cardinals will desire to avoid mistakes, such as the current pontificate, and will turn to a person who will be a shepherd to all, not only to his favourites. At this juncture, we cannot help but to express once again a deep sorrow for the inexplicable decision of Benedict XVI which has pushed the traditionalists and the whole Church to this dismal position. Now we must wait, pray and act – perhaps the decision of Francis and his retinue will turn against them. It is the matter of the next few months: if the decision was accelerated by the poor health condition of the current Bishop of Rome, connected with the last surgery and extended hospitalisation, some bishops might prefer to postpone any decisive moves to see what the future holds. Despite unfavourable times, I am confident that the Traditional Latin Mass, which I believe is a work of God, will survive any trial in the future. I am also certain that when Jorge Bergoglio is in this world no more and the idea that drove him to push the Tridentine Mass into oblivion will be fading, the whole world will celebrate the Mass only the old way.