Pilgrims Saddened by Bishop’s Traditional Latin Mass Restrictions at Walsingham Shrine

Although shrines are not subject to the specific restrictions introduced by Pope Francis in 2021, Bishop Peter Collins has not granted permission for traditional Latin Masses to be celebrated in Walsingham, England’s national shrine.

The altar and shrine in the Slipper Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham
The altar and shrine in the Slipper Chapel at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham (photo: Thorvaldsson / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 3.0)

WALSINGHAM, England — Despite shrines being exempt from Pope Francis’ restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass, England’s national shrine is effectively banning pilgrims’ ability to celebrate and attend the ancient rite both in private and in public.

Participants of two recent pilgrimages were expecting to be able to celebrate the traditional Mass at the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham earlier this month, but the organizers of both received notification that the local bishop would not be granting such permission in any of the churches in Walsingham.

The National Association of Catholic Families, which aims to give mutual moral, spiritual and social support in the face of today’s culture which threatens Catholic family values, has led pilgrimages to the shrine for a decade during which it has provided a Traditional Latin Mass. 

They received news in early May that for their May 27-28 pilgrimage, this was no longer to be allowed.

In an email, the acting rector of the shrine, Conventual Franciscan Father James Mary McInerney, told the organizers that Bishop Peter Collins of East Anglia had ordered that “from now on permission will not be given for the Extraordinary Form of the Mass to be offered at the Shrine, either in the Chapel of Reconciliation or in the Slipper Chapel.” The ruling, he added, “applies to all Masses either private or public.”

Father Patrick Pullicino, chaplain to the National Association of Catholic Families, told the Register June 16 that as they were told no traditional Masses were to be celebrated in any of the Walsingham churches, he offered the Mass “on two occasions in the marquee tent of the pilgrimage which was pitched on private land.” They were, however, allowed to have overnight Adoration in a church whose chaplain “facilitated this for us.”

Father Jonathan Routh of St. Thomas More Catholic Church in Bexleyheath, southeast London, also received an identical instruction from the bishop’s office, having planned a three-day pilgrimage to the shrine at the end of May during the half-term school holiday.

“Absolutely no reason was given” for the restriction, he said, adding that he therefore decided to celebrate Mass “at the scheduled time in the novus ordo, for which the shrine provided the Latin Missal.” 

He told the Register that both he and the young families who took part were saddened and disappointed by the ruling having first been told they were welcome to have the TLM celebrated at the shrine. They felt the ban on private traditional Masses seemed “totalitarian in scope” but were grateful to the shrine staff who, Father Routh said, “looked after us superbly.”

The Register asked Bishop Collins’ office on May 29 why the ban had been imposed. After several days, his secretary, Laura Hastings, responded saying that the bishop “is occupied with important matters” and directed us “for clarity” to Father McInerney, the acting rector.

Father McInerney responded June 2 by saying “the established norm of offering the extraordinary form of the Mass once a month here at the shrine is continuing as per usual, while the bishop consults Rome for clarification.” 

The Register contacted Hastings again on June 14 to see if the Vatican had shared that clarification with the bishop, but she has so far not responded. 


Shrines Exempt From Restrictions

Under Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis’ July 2021 motu proprio that imposed sweeping restrictions on the Traditional Mass, the bishop has “exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal [the Traditional Latin Mass] in his diocese.”

He is to “designate one or more locations where the faithful adherents of these groups” may gather for the ancient Mass, but not in “parish churches and without the erection of new personal parishes.” 

The Pope’s decree contains no prohibition of the older Mass in shrines. 

In subsequent Vatican modifications to the motu proprio — a responsa ad dubia document issued in December 2021 and a rescript published in February 2023 — such a ban or limit is also not mentioned with regards to shrines. 

The rescript clarifies that bishops must obtain authorization from the Holy See before granting use of the pre-1970 Mass but specifies this applies only in relation to parish churches. The second part of the rescript confirms that Holy See permission is also required to allow priests ordained after July 2021 to celebrate the traditional Mass. 

“If the bishop is sticking to the letter of the so-called rescript, then the cancelling of a traditional parish family Mass in the Slipper Chapel is not based on the rescript at all,” a source with knowledge of the situation told the Register on condition of anonymity. “In which case, why is he saying no to all requests for the TLM at our National Shrine?”

“It is ironic that these powers claim to be listening to the people and giving them what they want, when in fact they have robbed ‘God’s people’ of the Mass that belonged to them,” the source added. “It does not belong to a pope or a group of liberal bishops and cardinals, but to the Church.”

According to traditional Catholics who spoke with the Register, the messages coming from the bishop and rector are contradictory, and they believed the rector’s advisory that the traditional Mass was still allowed once a month was probably a means to detract from criticism. They said the restriction speaks to what they see as the continuation of "an unjust, non-inclusive and cruel” measure imposed by Rome. 

Cardinal Arthur Roche, the English prefect of the Vatican’s Dicastery for Divine Worship, has been the chief executor of Traditionis Custodes, especially measures to restrict the scope of local bishops to allow the Traditional Latin Mass to be celebrated in dioceses.