Pope Francis Appoints French Patristics Scholar to Handle SSPX Talks

Msgr. Patrick Descourtieux, a former official at the now abolished Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei,’ is a distinguished patristics scholar who is said to be sympathetic to the SSPX and traditional communities.

Msgr. Patrick Descourtieux
Msgr. Patrick Descourtieux (photo: La Salon Beige)

Pope Francis appointed on Saturday a French Vatican official to oversee the care of religious communities of a traditional nature, and to assist with the regularization of the Society of St. Pius X. 

Msgr. Patrick Descourtieux becomes head of the section within the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith dealing with such communities. 

He effectively takes over the responsibilities of Archbishop Guido Pozzo who was Secretary of the Pontifical Commission ‘Ecclesia Dei’ which the Pope abolished through a motu proprio (papal decree) in January. 

A distinguished expert in patristics at the Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum in Rome, Msgr. Descourtieux worked for ten years as an official at the pontifical commission. 

Vatican insiders told the Register March 30 that his appointment shows that the abolition of Ecclesia Dei did not mean an end to its duties as some had feared, but rather amounted to an administrative change. 

They therefore said that the work of caring for traditionalist communities in communion with Rome, and seeking reconciliation with the Society of St. Pius X, are expected to continue as before. 

In a March 30 article, the French traditional Catholic periodical L’Homme Nouveau described Msgr. Descourtieux as a man of “exquisite kindness and great discretion” who is “said to have direct access to Pope Francis.” 

It also pointed out that the appointment means the SSPX will be able to deal directly with the CDF, something they had requested. 

Msgr. Descourtieux has “always had the desire to help all traditional groups,” the article continued, but especially with the various representatives of the SSPX. 

“His appointment has all the appearances of being a positive sign,” it added. 

One source told the Register that the French prelate is “very sympathetic to traditional communities and the SSPX and has good relationships with them all.” He is a “good and clever man,” the source added, “has very good scholarship, and can manage the conversations about doctrine.” 

In January, the Holy Father said he had decided to abolish Ecclesia Dei after “ample reflection” and having considered what he called the “changed conditions” today compared to those that led Pope St. John Paul II creating the body in 1988.

In his Jan. 17 motu proprio, he wrote that the tasks of the commission would be “entirely assigned” to a “special section” within the CDF that would “continue the work of vigilance, promotion and protection” carried out by Ecclesia Dei.