A Traditional Latin Mass./ Andrew Gardner via Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0).
The leaders of traditional Catholic institutes appealed this week to the French bishops for a “mediator” to address the challenges presented by Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis custodes.
In a joint statement dated Aug. 31, the heads of institutes that exclusively celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass called for “a human, personal dialogue, full of trust, far from ideologies or the coldness of administrative decrees.”
“With confidence, we turn first of all to the bishops of France so that a true dialogue may be opened and that a mediator be designated who is for us the human face of this dialogue,” they said.
France is one of the world’s leading centers of Catholic traditionalism. The day after Pope Francis announced sweeping changes to his predecessor Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which acknowledged the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962, French bishops expressed their “esteem” for Traditional Latin Mass communities.
The bishops said they wished “to express to the faithful who habitually celebrate according to the Missal of St. John XXIII, and to their pastors, their care, the esteem they have for the spiritual zeal of these faithful, and their determination to continue the mission together, in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force.”
The new motu proprio, issued on July 16 with immediate effect, placed tight restrictions on Mass using the 1962 Roman Missal, known variously as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Tridentine Mass, and the Traditional Latin Mass.
In a letter to the world’s bishops explaining his decision, the pope said he felt compelled to act because the use of the 1962 Missal was “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”
The heads of the traditional institutes, known collectively as the “Ecclesia Dei” communities, said that their members were not marked by such attitudes.
“The signatory institutes want above all to reiterate their love for the Church and their fidelity to the Holy Father,” they wrote.
“This filial love is tinged today with great suffering. We feel suspected, marginalized, banished. However, we do not recognize ourselves in the description given by the Letter accompanying the motu proprio Traditionis custodes of July 16, 2021.”
They continued: “We do not consider ourselves to be the ‘true Church’ at all. On the contrary, we see in the Catholic Church our Mother in whom we find salvation and faith. We are loyally subject to the jurisdiction of the Supreme Pontiff and to that of the diocesan bishops, as the good relations in the dioceses have shown.”
They noted that in his 1988 motu proprio Ecclesia Dei, Pope John Paul II established a commission to help individuals and religious communities previously linked to the breakaway Society of St. Pius X “to remain united to the Successor Peter in the Catholic Church, while preserving their spiritual and liturgical traditions.”
“They were promised that ‘all measures would be taken to guarantee the identity of their institutes in the full communion of the Catholic Church,’” the leaders noted.
“The first institutes gratefully accepted the canonical recognition offered by the Holy See in full attachment to the traditional pedagogies of the faith, especially in the liturgical field…”
“This solemn commitment was expressed in the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei of July 2, 1988, and then in various ways for each institute, in their decrees of erection and in their definitively approved constitutions.”
They underlined that their members “had taken vows or made commitments according to this specification.”
“In this way, trusting in the word of the Supreme Pontiff, they have given their lives to Christ to serve the Church,” they said.
“These priests and religious have served the Church with dedication and abnegation. Can we deprive them today of what they have committed themselves to? Can we deprive them of what the Church promised them through the mouths of the popes?”
The heads of institutes noted that there were rumors that the Vatican intended to launch apostolic visitations of their communities in the wake of Traditionis custodes.
“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 desire a truly human and merciful dialogue,” they wrote.
The letter was signed following a meeting at Courtalain, in northern France, by Fr. Andrzej Komorowski, superior general of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter; Msgr. Gilles Wach, prior general of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest; Fr. Luis Gabriel Barrero Zabaleta, superior general of the Institute of the Good Shepherd; Fr. Louis-Marie de Blignières, superior general of the Fraternity of Saint Vincent Ferrer; Fr. Gerald Goesche, General Provost of the Institute of St. Philip Neri; Fr. Antonius Maria Mamsery, superior general of the Missionaries of the Holy Cross; Dom Louis-Marie de Geyer d’Orth, abbot of Le Barroux Abbey; Fr. Emmanuel-Marie Le Fébure du Bus, abbot of Lagrasse Abbey; Dom Marc Guillot, abbot of the monastery of Sainte Marie de Lagarde; Mother Placide Devillers, Mother Abbess of Our Lady of the Annunciation Abbey, Le Barroux; and Mother Madeleine-Marie, superior of Sisters Adorers of the Royal Heart of Jesus.
The letter was given to representatives of the French bishops on Sept. 1, reported the Catholic weekly magazine Famille Chrétienne.
Pope Francis discussed the motu proprio publicly for the first time, in an interview with the Spanish radio station COPE aired on the same day.
He described Summorum Pontificum as “one of the most beautiful and human pastoral things of Benedict XVI, who is a man of exquisite humanity.”
He noted that the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith undertook a survey of the world’s bishops in 2020.
“Then the subject was studied and based on that, 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. That is, from a pastoral thing to ideology,” he explained.
He added: “After this motu proprio, a priest who wants to celebrate that is not in the same condition as before — that it was for nostalgia, for desire, etc. — and so he has to ask permission from Rome. A kind of permission for bi-ritualism, which is given only by Rome. [Like] a priest who celebrates in the Eastern Rite and the Latin Rite, he is bi-ritual but with the permission of Rome.”
“That is to say, until today, the previous ones continue but a little bit organized. Moreover, asking that there be a priest who is in charge not only of the liturgy but also of the spiritual life of that community. If you read the letter well and read the decree well, you will see that it is simply a constructive reordering, with pastoral care and avoiding an excess by those who are not…”
The leaders concluded their letter with a quotation from Pope Francis’ 2016 apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia.
They wrote: “We must ‘avoid judgements which do not take into account the complexity of 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.’”