Steubenville Bishop Bans Latin Mass at Franciscan University, Effective Immediately

The Latin Mass will still be offered weekly at St. Peter’s Church in Steubenville, which is a parish church about a mile from campus.

A Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated.
A Traditional Latin Mass is celebrated. (photo: Andrew Gardner, (CC BY 4.0) / via Wikimedia)

Students, faculty, staff and others who attend the traditional Latin Mass at Franciscan University will need to venture off campus to worship in the more ancient form of the Mass following their bishop’s decision to ban the campus’ monthly celebration. 

Bishop Jeffrey Monforton of the Diocese of Steubenville, Ohio, ordered an immediate end to the Latin Mass on Franciscan University’s campus. 

“The Diocese of Steubenville is seeking to meet the pastoral needs of the faithful in accord with the norms, including the recent rescript, issued by the Holy See,” a spokesman for the diocese told CNA. 

“The Mass at Franciscan has been [canceled],” the spokesperson said. “The bishop is seeking a dispensation for the Mass at St. Peter’s, where the weekly Latin Mass has been held for years.”

The Latin Mass will still be offered weekly at St. Peter’s Church in Steubenville, which is a parish church about a mile from campus. The parish offers the Latin Mass weekly, which includes a High Mass usually once per month, on the first Sunday. Even though the campus’ Latin Mass is canceled, the Latin Mass at St. Peter will be allowed to continue while the bishop seeks a formal dispensation from the Vatican for that church.

Although the diocese claims the decision is related to an order issued by the Vatican, the Vatican order only appears to put new restrictions on Latin Masses offered in parish churches and does not appear to force bishops to restrict the Latin Mass in non-parish churches or chapels, such as the chapel used by students at Franciscan University to celebrate the Latin Mass. It’s unclear how the Vatican order is related to the bishop’s new rules.

University tried to save the Latin Mass

The bishop made this decision despite the university’s efforts to retain its ability to offer the Latin Mass. However, the university is currently working to provide shuttles to St. Peter’s Church once per month for students who wish to attend.

“While I would prefer to continue offering the option of a Traditional Latin Mass on campus, I am grateful our students still have relatively convenient access with St. Peter’s Church so close by,” Father Dave Pivonka, the president of Franciscan University, wrote in an email sent to students, staff and faculty at the university on Monday. 

Father Pivonka said in his email that he had spoken with the bishop in an effort to keep a Latin Mass on campus. 

“I spoke with [Bishop Monforton] multiple times hoping we could work out a way to continue offering the Traditional Latin Mass at Franciscan University for the many students, faculty, and staff with a special love for this ancient form of the sacred liturgy,” Father Pivonka wrote in the email. “Bishop Monforton remains convinced, however, that this decision is best for our diocese in light of Pope Francis’ 2021 motu proprio Traditionis Custodes.”

Father Pivonka told students, faculty and staff that he reached out to the Latin Mass club on campus, Juventutem-Franciscan, on March 2 to discuss the bishop’s decision. He said he wanted to “let our students know of the care and concern for them felt by all the friars.” He said he was “extremely edified by this gathering and the time we shared together” and that “everyone there committed to continue to pray for peace as well as for Bishop Monforton and everyone involved.”

The university has not issued an official statement. 

Thomas Crowe, who volunteers to train altar servers for the traditional Latin Mass at the university, told CNA that, when the Vatican order came out, he initially believed “there shouldn’t be any effect on the [traditional Latin Mass] on campus.” Crowe is not an employee of the university, nor is he a spokesperson on behalf of the university. 

The order in question is a Feb. 21 rescript, which is a formal clarification from the Vatican, issued by Cardinal Arthur Roche, who serves as the prefect for the Dicastery for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. 

The rescript clarified Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, which the Pope issued on July 16, 2021. In Traditionis Custodes, the Pontiff ordered bishops to designate one or more locations for the celebration of the Latin Mass but stipulated that those locations not be in parish churches. 

Because many parishes already had thriving Latin Mass communities, numerous bishops offered dispensations, which allowed those parishes to continue offering the Latin Mass. The recent rescript, however, clarified that all dispensations require Vatican approval and ordered bishops who had already offered dispensations to inform the dicastery, which will evaluate each dispensation on an individual basis.

A Popular Mass on Campus

Crowe told CNA that the campus Latin Mass has been very popular, with “easily 250 [people] at each of them this semester.” He said “the chapel’s been packed, and it’s mostly students.” He added that “the university was always supportive” and would “make sure we had what we needed, make sure we had time for practice” when training altar servers for the Latin Mass. 

“The opportunity for the students, especially students who had never attended the [traditional Latin Mass] previously, the opportunity was tremendous,” Crowe said. 

However, Crowe said it is “unfortunate the bishop was in the situation he was in,” adding that “it’s tragic that the Vatican thinks they need to [restrict the Latin Mass].” He said, if the bishop felt he needed to choose one over the other, “choosing St. Peter’s made sense.” 

With the inability to offer their own dispensations, some bishops have sought other workarounds to safeguard the celebration of the Latin Mass within their respective dioceses. 

Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, for example, redesignated a parish church as a non-parish church so it would be exempt from the order. Bishop Robert Barron of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota, designated a new chapel that is not located within a parish church for Latin Mass celebrations. 

Some bishops, such as Bishop Michael Burbidge of the Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, had already appealed to the Vatican prior to Cardinal Roche issuing the rescript. In that diocese, the bishop received a temporary two-year dispensation for three parishes but also designated five other options that are not within parish churches. In a few dioceses, some bishops just banned Latin Masses within parish churches entirely, such as Cardinal Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Washington.