Traditional Catholics’ Fears Lessened With Papal Decree, But Questions Remain

The superior general of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter says he is ‘happy and relieved’ by Pope Francis’ decision to allow them to continue celebrating the sacraments according to the liturgical books of 1962.

Priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter offer Mass at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the FSSP parish in Rome.
Priests of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter offer Mass at Santissima Trinità dei Pellegrini, the FSSP parish in Rome. (photo: Edward Pentin / National Catholic Register / EWTN)

VATICAN CITY — The announcement on Monday that Pope Francis has allowed the traditional Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) to continue celebrating the sacraments according to the liturgical books of 1962 has naturally been welcomed by the institute but at the same time provoked a number of questions. 

When Francis promulgated Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition) last July, he imposed sweeping restrictions — seemingly without distinction — on traditional priests and communities who celebrate the sacraments according to the liturgical books in use before the 1970 reforms of Pope St. Paul VI. 

Since that time, traditional institutes that exclusively celebrate the sacraments according to the old rite have been left in the dark wondering whether the restrictions, which include giving bishops and the Holy See significant authority over celebration of the old rite and a stated desire to make the reformed liturgy the “unique expression” of the Roman rite, would apply to them.

As well as the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), the largest of these societies of apostolic life include the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) and the Institut du Bon Pasteur (IBP).

About the only certainty they had was that the Vatican office charged with dealing with them was to be switched, from the former Ecclesia Dei commission in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to a new department in the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. 

But the ambiguities and concerns didn’t end there. As a consequence of the motu proprio, both traditional priests and institutes in the Diocese of Rome were obliged to follow an Oct. 7 pastoral instruction from the Vicariate of Rome that forbade six of the seven sacraments celebrated in the old rite.

The institutes’ concerns deepened when, on Dec. 18, the prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Archbishop Arthur Roche, tightened the controls even further through a papally-approved document on applying Traditionis Custodes called a Responsa ad dubia. 

The document, whose legal force has been questioned by canonists, banned celebration of traditional rites for marriages, baptisms, confessions, last rites and burials, except in “canonically erected personal parishes.” 

Most concerning for the institutes was that the document prohibited confirmations and ordinations according to the older form of the Roman rite, potentially causing grave consequences for their seminaries and the institutes’ ability to attract vocations.

Adding to their anxiety was an interview Archbishop Roche gave the Register days after publishing the Responsa, in which he said that although his congregation had not made any statement about the institutes, they were bound to use the new rite of ordination approved by Paul VI. 

 

“Happy and Relieved”

But with his Feb. 11 decree, Francis has significantly allayed some of those fears, at least for the FSSP. 

He told the priestly fraternity that Traditionis Custodes does not apply to them, and that “each and every” member of that institute has “the faculty to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass, and to carry out the sacraments and other sacred rites, as well as to fulfill the Divine Office, according to the typical editions of the liturgical books, namely the Missal, the Ritual, the Pontifical and the Roman Breviary, in force in the year 1962.”

Francis added that they may use this faculty “in their own churches or oratories; otherwise it may only be used with the consent of the Ordinary of the place, except for the celebration of private Masses,” and that “as far as possible, the provisions of the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes [are to] be taken into account as well.”

“We are all happy and relieved,” the superior general of the FSSP, Father Andrzej Komorowski, told the Register Feb. 22. “I don’t know how it’s going to work out in practice yet. In my opinion many bishops are very surprised.” 

“We will see how they [bishops] read and understand this document,” he added. “I don’t expect a revolution.” He also said that apart from the reference to Traditionis Custodes, the Pope’s new decree “is basically the same that we had from the Ecclesia Dei commission in 1988.” 

But other questions remain, including: Why, seven months on since the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes, did it take so long for the Holy Father to give the FSSP this clarification? Could this decree apply to the other institutes? And will the FSSP, despite this decree, be prevented from establishing new personal parishes (those created to better serve a particular community with their own rite, language, nationality etc.), as stipulated by Traditionis Custodes, thereby thwarting their ability to grow?

Regarding the erection of new personal parishes, Father Komorowski said bishops “are still responsible for new apostolates” and so he did not think “the provisions of this decree change anything. 

“It is just a confirmation for us (in discussions with the bishops) that we have the right to remain who we are (celebrating only the traditional Latin Mass),” he said. “The pastoral aspects are all in bishops’ hands.”

Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society in the U.K., told the Register that the ban on new personal parishes continues but Article 3.2 of the motu proprio “encouraged bishops to find locations and regular celebrants so shrines and chaplaincies can be established” and so alternatives can be found.

Further questions are why news of this decree has yet to be officially announced by the Holy See (the Register asked the Holy See Press Office about this on Tuesday, but it has so far not responded), and whether the FSSP in Rome will still be bound by the Vicariate of Rome’s pastoral instruction. 

Time will tell if the Diocese of Rome lifts its restrictions on the FSSP to celebrate all the traditional sacraments. As for whether the Pope’s decree might apply to the other traditional institutes, the FSSP implied that it does, saying in its statement that the Pope had “made it clear that institutes such as the Fraternity of St. Peter are not affected” by Traditionis Custodes. The Pope’s decree, however, only mentions the FSSP.

Still, concerns remain, the main one being what might be in store for the institutes, especially those other than the FSSP, when the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life publishes an expected instruction pertaining to them.

The Register asked the Congregation’s prefect, Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, if he would share any details about this document, but he said on Feb. 9 that he had “no statement to make on the subject.” Sources have told the Register the document is expected sometime during Lent. 

 

Courage to Bishops

News of this decree will nevertheless have given the institutes some solace. Shaw told the Register that he believed Francis’ decree published on Monday “will give courage to the bishops, in whose dioceses the institutes are present, to offer [traditional] confirmations there.” 

Also encouraging will have been how well a recent meeting went with Pope Francis that paved the way for this decree.

Two FSSP priests, Father Benoît Paul-Joseph and Father Vincent Ribeton, met the Pope at his Santa Marta residence on Feb. 4 to present many of the above concerns — a meeting that sources say was brokered by Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, the former archbishop of Lyon. The two French priests asked the Pope to put his clarification in writing, which he did with the decree he signed on the Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes. 

In a Feb. 21 interview with the French publication Quotidien Présent, Father Paul-Joseph said the Pope told them the institutes were deliberately left out of the motu proprio because they were to be “placed under a new jurisdiction,” namely the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life. The Pope also told them that “since our institute has the specificity to use the ancient liturgical books, this document [Traditionis Custodes] was not intended for us.” 

Father Paul-Joseph recounted that “throughout the meeting,” which lasted “almost an hour,” Francis “was very kind, expressing real concern.” 

“The Pope was truly touched by the history of our Fraternity,” Father Paul-Joseph said, a reference to how, in 1988, priests left the Society of St. Pius X to establish the FSSP because of their desire to remain faithful to the pope and because of their trust in the Church. 

He said that the Holy Father “found it an act of faith that deserves to be honored and encouraged.”

Jan van Eyck, “God Almighty” (Ghent Altarpiece), 1426-1427

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