VATICAN CITY — Superiors general of apostolic institutes that exclusively celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass according to the traditional form of the Roman rite plan to meet next week to discuss Pope Francis’ new decree limiting the older use of the sacred liturgy. The meeting follows the release in July of Traditionis Custodes (Guardians of the Tradition), Francis’ apostolic letter issued motu proprio that limits celebration of the older form of the Latin rite.
Father Andrzej Komorowski, superior general of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), said the superiors were gathering “to exchange points of view and to see what we can do together.” He added that the idea came from the local superiors of traditional institutes in France soon after the publication of Traditionis Custodes.
While there has been speculation over further Vatican restrictions on the institutes, Father Komorowski stressed next week’s planned discussion was not based on the unconfirmed reports, but added that these have made the meeting “more urgent and may have even accelerated it.”
The priestly fraternity is the largest of three international traditional institutes of apostolic life that celebrates Mass in the Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite — the form of the Mass that was universally used before the reforms of Pope St. Paul VI in 1970. The other two institutes are the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) and the Institute of the Good Shepherd (IBP).
Pope Francis issued sweeping restrictions to the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass when he published Traditionis Custodes on July 16, reversing previous papal decrees that had liberalized the Mass celebrated before the liturgical reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council and limiting its practice. In particular, bishops were given “exclusive competence” to authorize the Mass and instructed to find alternate locations for groups practicing it without creating new parishes.
Under Traditionis Custodes, responsibility for traditional institutes has been transferred from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life whose prefect, Brazilian Cardinal João Braz de Aviz, was reportedly considered an “enemy” of the older form of the Mass when he was archbishop of Brasilia.
The Pope said he took the action as he believed the liberalizing reforms of Pope St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI of the older form of the Mass had been exploited to create division. He also said he was “saddened” the use of 1962 Missal has led to abuse, “often characterized” by a rejection of the Council and the liturgical reforms that followed.
Francis’ motu proprio caused dismay among adherents to the traditional Latin Mass who viewed the clampdown on the ancient sacred liturgy as unwarranted and carried out in an unjustifiably swift and harsh manner. But to date only a small minority of bishops have fully or partially suppressed celebration of the traditional Latin rite in their dioceses; most have allowed them to continue without restriction.
According to recent speculation, the Vatican plans to prohibit traditional institutes from receiving candidates for the priesthood until each of them has received a canonical or apostolic visitation from the Vatican.
Critics of Traditionis Custodes allege that the Vatican will produce a document, possibly as early as next month, on the general application of the Traditionis Custodes which could deepen restrictions on the celebration of the old Mass.
In Aug. 25 comments to the Register, Father Komorowski said he assumed a visitation would take place “as it’s a normal procedure” and because the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life “doesn’t know our institutes and probably wants to know us better.”
But on the possible restriction of accepting new candidates, he said these were “so far only rumors on the internet,” not from “an official source,” and so he said it is “very difficult to have a clear strategy on how to respond” at the moment. He also said that, in any case, the motu proprio has had “no immediate effect so far” and he expected no changes under bishops favorable to the traditional Latin Mass.
He added that he and his fellow superiors from the ICKSP and IBP have not been summoned to the Vatican as some have speculated. “We have not been informed about such a meeting in Rome. We have had no official (or informal) contacts with the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life so far.”
The Holy See Press Office and Cardinal Braz de Aviz did not respond to Register requests asking if they could confirm or refute the reports. But a senior Vatican official told the Register he thought such restrictions on candidates for the priesthood were unlikely, that the publication a document addressing that issue would be “too soon,” and ascribed the reports to “unfortunate speculation.”
Concerns over Pope Francis’ possible moves to restrict traditional institutes date back to 2016 when a new Ratio Fundamentalis Institutionis Sacerdotalis — fundamental principles for priestly formation — was published by the Congregation for Clergy.
Then-prefect of the Congregation, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, said the document proposed only one priestly formation which was to apply to all institutes of apostolic life including traditional ones “on the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei” — the commission Pope St. John Paul II founded in 1988 partly to accommodate these institutes.
Further indications emerged in 2019 when Francis suppressed the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. Its Secretary, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, was sent away to become treasurer of the Sistine Chapel Choir and not replaced, while the commission’s duties were subsumed into a “special section” of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Following the publication of Traditionis Custodes, three of the four officials working in that section were dismissed and work began on transferring the section’s responsibilities, files and archives to the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life and the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments — a process to be completed by October.
Bucking the Trend
Pope Francis’ motu proprio came at a time when traditional institutes have shown significant growth over the past two decades, bucking the trend of the wider Church with a steadily increasing number of vocations and growing Mass attendance.
As of November 2020, the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which was founded in 1988, had 330 priests, tripling in number since 2001, and 162 seminarians. As of May 2020, the Institute of Christ the King, founded in 1990, had 120 priests, 100 seminarians and a presence in 12 countries, while last year, the Institute of the Good Shepherd, founded in Rome in 2006, had 48 priests in 10 countries.
“Each institute has a high attendance of young people and young families,” observed a Rome-based traditional priest. “These people of all extractions and ages are immediately attracted by the sheer transparent Catholicity of the Mass in all its simplicity, with a simple aim to praise God and further the interior life, conscious of the need to abandon sin and live in a state of grace and reparation in the company of the saints of God.”
But Pope Francis issued Traditionis Custodes after having “carefully considered” the results of a nine-point survey the CDF sent to bishops last year to assess the implementation of Summorum Pontificum (Of the Supreme Pontiffs), Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio liberalizing the traditional Latin Mass.
That survey, thought to contain some accounts of the abuses and exploitation that Francis mentions in his accompanying letter to the motu proprio, has not been made public and is unlikely to be placed in the public domain. The senior Vatican official told the Register the survey is “in the possession of the Holy Father, it’s sub secreto [under the Pontifical Secret] and we don’t have access to it.”
Father Komorowski called the abuses and misinterpretations Pope Francis mentioned as “alleged,” as he personally had not had much experience of them.
“I can understand there are always and everywhere some faithful and even priests who don’t always speak in a very diplomatic way,” he said, but added that the Fraternity had “not been asked in any way to give our opinion, so it’s a very unfortunate situation.”
Similarly, he said the Vatican should consult the traditional institutes to see if they have ideas on how to implement the motu proprio. “If we’re asked to come and give our opinion on all these things, we would be glad to help,” he said.
In the meantime, Father Komorowski said the priestly fraternity was trying to remain hopeful.
“We have to remain positive,” he said. “We just want to live our charism and remain attached to our Constitutions and remember that our Constitutions were approved by the Holy See, so if there is something coming from there to change our charism and our Constitutions, it should be done in the proper way through a general chapter and respecting the will of the founders and members.”
“We should really try to stay focused on our apostolic activities,” he added, “and pray and hope, as we’ve been doing so far, that divine Providence will help us to get through this crisis.”