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Thursday, June 27, 2024

How and Why Do Traditional Priestly Institutes Fit Within Francis’s Synodal Church?

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How and Why Do Traditional Priestly Institutes Fit Within Francis’s Synodal Church?

By prohibiting Traditional Latin Masses other than those offered by the ex-Ecclesia Dei communities (e.g., the FSSP and ICKSP), the new document would dramatically reduce the number of Traditional Latin Masses, harming souls in various ways.

 

On June 13, 2024, the Dicastery for Promoting Christian Unity published a “study report” entitled The Bishop of Rome. Primacy and Synodality in the Ecumenical Dialogues and in the Responses to the Encyclical Ut unum sint, which helpfully outlines how the various pieces of Vatican II’s ecumenical movement fit together to form a Synodal Church. The first paragraph of the document’s introduction functions both as a high-level history lesson about the ecumenical movement, as well as a thorough repudiation of those who have argued that Vatican II’s novelties are consistent with what the Church taught prior to the Council:

“The understanding and exercise of the ministry of the Bishop of Rome entered a new phase with the Second Vatican Council. The very act of calling a Council with Christian unity as one of its primary goals and with the participation of other Christians already indicated Saint John XXIII’s approach to the role of the Bishop of Rome in the Church. Complementing the definitions of the First Vatican Council on papal primacy, the Constitution Lumen gentium strengthened the office of bishops who govern their particular churches as ‘vicars and ambassadors of Christ [...] and not as vicars of the Roman Pontiffs’ (LG 27) and emphasized the significance of episcopal collegiality (LG 23). The Decree Unitatis redintegratio marked the official entry of the Catholic Church into the ecumenical movement and opened the way to the establishment of theological dialogues, many of which would address the question of primacy.”

As we know, the pre-Vatican II popes consistently taught that “Christian unity” could occur only through a process of non-Christians accepting the unadulterated Catholic Faith. John XXIII explicitly changed course with the Council; and for the past sixty years we have seen two primary initiatives aimed at accomplishing the goals he announced: modifying Catholic belief and practice to remove elements that non-Catholics reject; and, more subtly, restructuring the Catholic Church to allow non-Christian denominations to be “in union with the Bishop of Rome.”

The growth of the Traditional Latin Mass outside of the SSPX and the ex-Ecclesia Dei communities would seem to be potentially more problematic for those in the Vatican who oppose Tradition because that growth has been rapid and far less predictable than the the growth of the formally established priestly institutes (e.g., the SSPX, FSSP, and ICKSP).

These ecumenical initiatives converge in the new Synodal Church, which is meant to be the “church” that unifies all Christians. The new document on the Bishop of Rome emphasizes this relationship between the Synodal Church and the ecumenical movement:

“The synodal shaping of the Catholic Church is crucial for her ecumenical commitment. It is a duty that the Catholic Church owes to its dialogue partners to demonstrate in its own ecclesial life a convincing and attractive model of synodality. As Pope Francis states, ‘the commitment to build a synodal church – a mission to which we are all called, each with the role entrusted him by the Lord – has significant ecumenical implications.’ Indeed, ‘it is clear that the way in which the Catholic Church experiences synodality is important for its relations with other Christians. This is a challenge for ecumenism.’”

This paragraph appears to hold a vital key to understanding how Francis treats the traditional priestly institutes, including the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP), and even the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX). If the Synodal Church needs to offer a “convincing and attractive model of synodality” to its “dialogue partners” (i.e., non-Catholics such as Baptists, Methodists, Anglicans, etc.), then it must demonstrate that the Synodal Church can accommodate a wide range of religious beliefs and practices.

In this light, we can consider two news items from June 25, 2024. In the first, Diane Montagna reported additional information on the rumored restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass:

“Well-informed sources have confirmed that the new document, if published, would prohibit all priests other than those belonging to approved ex-Ecclesia Dei institutes from offering the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the Vetus Ordo, or old rite as it is commonly called.”

By prohibiting Traditional Latin Masses other than those offered by the ex-Ecclesia Dei communities (e.g., the FSSP and ICKSP), the new document would dramatically reduce the number of Traditional Latin Masses, harming souls in various ways. Montagna also noted that the restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass correspond with the Vatican’s desire to eliminate or silence those who refuse to accept changes (such as the changes necessary to fully establish the Synodal Church):

“[A]t a January 2020 meeting at the then-Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Parolin claimed that traditional priestly institutes refuse to accept change and are unwilling to concelebrate. Parolin also said he shared the concern of other prelates assembled that these groups are popular with young people.”

Almost all of these concerns about the Traditional Latin Mass have been known for decades, as they were the same arguments made in connection with Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre’s work to preserve and promote the Traditional Latin Mass. However, the growth of the Traditional Latin Mass outside of the SSPX and the ex-Ecclesia Dei communities would seem to be potentially more problematic for those in the Vatican who oppose Tradition because that growth has been rapid and far less predictable than the the growth of the formally established priestly institutes (e.g., the SSPX, FSSP, and ICKSP).

To see the issue from another angle, even though Francis and company detest Traditional Catholicism, they would undermine their ecumenical and synodal objectives if they completely suppressed the traditional priestly institutes.

Why, then, would the Vatican allow the FSSP and ICKSP Traditional Latin Masses to continue? As always, it seems that there is some desire to preserve an “approved” alternative to the historically more problematic SSPX, which would presumably absorb many of the FSSP and ICKSP priests, religious, and laity if the Vatican banned all Traditional Latin Masses in those communities. Beyond this, permitting these ex-Ecclesia Dei communities to exist helps fulfill the objective noted above from the new document on the Bishop of Rome:

“The synodal shaping of the Catholic Church is crucial for her ecumenical commitment. It is a duty that the Catholic Church owes to its dialogue partners to demonstrate in its own ecclesial life a convincing and attractive model of synodality.”

As discussed in previous articles, the Synodal Church already embraces all baptized people, many of whom belong to Protestant denominations that both reject the papacy and fundamentally oppose Church teaching. And so allowing the continued existence of these traditional priestly institutes — even though they fundamentally oppose Synodal Church teaching — helps demonstrate “a convincing and attractive model of synodality.” To see the issue from another angle, even though Francis and company detest Traditional Catholicism, they would undermine their ecumenical and synodal objectives if they completely suppressed the traditional priestly institutes.

The other news story from June 25, 2024 to consider in connection with the Synodal Church highlights a related aspect of the Vatican’s willingness to permit the traditional priestly institutes to continue: the public relations value of genuinely Catholic priests on cordial terms with Francis and the Synodal Church. As reported by the Catholic News Agency, Francis met with leaders of the ICKSP on June 24th:

“Pope Francis on Monday met with three leaders of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest (ICKSP) — an institute whose priests celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass and live according to the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. The June 24 meeting comes at a time when celebrations of the Traditional Latin Mass are restricted by the pontiff’s motu proprio Traditionis Custodes. Although the ICKSP’s news release following the meeting did not reference any discussion of the Traditional Latin Mass, the institute said ‘the pope insisted that we continue to serve the Church according to our own, proper charism, in the spirit of unity and communion which the harmony and balance of the Salesian spirituality allow.’”

At least from the Vatican’s public relations standpoint, this meeting resembles the February 2024 meeting between Francis and leaders of the FSSP. In a real sense, the FSSP and ICKSP would be betraying their missions if they were to refuse to meet with Francis, so there is no apparent “capitulation” involved with these meetings. And yet these meetings do allow Francis and the Vatican to demonstrate that there is room for a large amount of theological difference within the Synodal Church, so long as those who dissent from the Vatican’s positions remain respectful to the “Bishop of Rome.”

Granting that God can intervene at any moment to stop the Synodal process, we nonetheless cannot but notice that real damage is being done through the largely unopposed continuation of the Synod. The fact that the Synodal train wreck may be going in slow motion is of little comfort for those who see no way to stop it.

All of this recalls one of the conditions of the document that Cardinal Ratzinger presented to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in attempt to avoid the unauthorized episcopal consecrations that led to the 1988 excommunications. The Protocol of Agreement dated May 5, 1988 would have granted the SSPX at least one bishop (approved by John Paul II), and included the following condition among others:

“Regarding certain points taught by Vatican Council II or concerning later reforms of the liturgy and law, and which do not appear to us easily reconcilable with Tradition, we pledge that we will have a positive attitude of study and communication with the Apostolic See, avoiding all polemics.”

Archbishop Lefebvre initially signed the Protocol and then retracted his agreement the following day. Thus we know that for several decades the Vatican has been willing to allow for some degree of dissent so long as it is respectful, “avoiding all polemics.” Naturally, the SSPX’s polemics were especially strident days after John Paul II excommunicated Archbishop Lefebvre, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, and the newly consecrated bishops, as we can see from the July 6, 1988 Open Letter to Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, signed by the district superiors and other leaders of the SSPX:

“You thought it good, by your letter of July 1st, to inform Their Excellencies Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer, and the four Bishops whom they consecrated on June 30, at Ecône, of the excommunication latæ sententiæ. We let you judge for yourself the value of such a declaration, coming from an authority who, in its exercise, breaks with all its predecessors down to Pope Pius XII, in worship, teaching and government of the Church. As for us, we are in full communion with all the Popes and Bishops before the Second Vatican Council, celebrating precisely the Mass which they codified and celebrated, teaching the Catechism which they drew up, standing up against the errors which they have many times condemned in their encyclicals and pastoral letters. We let you judge on which side the rupture is to be found. We are extremely saddened by the blindness of spirit and the hardening of heart of the Roman authorities. On the other hand, we have never wished to belong to this system which calls itself the Conciliar Church, and defines itself with the Novus Ordo Missæ, an ecumenism which leads to indifferentism and the laicization of all society. Yes, we have no part, nullam partem habemus, with the pantheon of the religions of Assisi; our own excommunication by a decree of Your Eminence or of another Roman Congregation would only be the irrefutable proof of this. We ask for nothing better than to be declared out of communion with this adulterous spirit which has been blowing in the Church for the last 25 years; we ask for nothing better than to be declared outside of this impious communion of the ungodly. We believe in the One God, Our Lord Jesus Christ, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, and we will always remain faithful to His unique Spouse, the One Holy Catholic Apostolic and Roman Church. To be publicly associated with this sanction which is inflicted upon the six Catholic Bishops, Defenders of the Faith in its integrity and wholeness, would be for us a mark of honor and a sign of orthodoxy before the faithful. They have indeed a strict right to know that the priests who serve them are not in communion with a counterfeit church, promoting evolution, pentecostalism and syncretism.”

lefebvre mayerArchbishop Lefebvre, Bishop Antonio de Castro Mayer

In recent years, some observers have perceived that the SSPX has “softened” some of the “polemics” in conjunction with friendlier relations with Rome, which perhaps has played some role in Benedict XVI and Francis making various conciliatory overtures to the SSPX. As a result, the SSPX may ironically now be the ideal example of how the Synodal Church would accommodate the churches that have historically been most opposed to the Catholic Church.

You are living in a time when you have to be a hero or nothing at all. You have the choice: either to abandon the fight, or to fight like heroes. -Abp. Lefebvre

What is the proper balance between defending immutable Catholic teaching while maintaining friendly relations with those in Rome who appear to be determined to destroy the Catholic Church? Those of us who are not members of the respective priestly institutions do not have the “grace of state” that God grants to the leaders of those institutions, but many of us do have some concerns. Granting that God can intervene at any moment to stop the Synodal process, we nonetheless cannot but notice that real damage is being done through the largely unopposed continuation of the Synod. The fact that the Synodal train wreck may be going in slow motion is of little comfort for those who see no way to stop it.

God will provide, but it is worth considering the wisdom of Archbishop Lefebvre for our times — although he directed it specifically to SSPX priests, it applies to all priests, religious, and faithful who want to fight on the side of Our Lord:

“We cannot be priests only halfway. We cannot have a hesitant, stumbling vocation. To lead this combat, we need men with profound convictions, men who have the faith, who have charity. We need men who are ready to give everything in order to help bring about the kingdom and the victory of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are living in a time when you have to be a hero or nothing at all. You have the choice: either to abandon the fight, or to fight like heroes. You cannot compromise or you are going to be struck down in the first engagement; you are not going to be able to resist the repeated attacks of the devil. You can see how the devil tries every possible means to divide us, to corrupt us, to diminish our ranks, even within the Society. He is very clever in creating oppositions, divisions, in order to weaken our forces.” (Priestly Holiness, pp. 469-470)

At some point in the near future, fighting like heroes may require taking extraordinarily difficult positions, accepting the condemnation of sinful men in exchange for honoring God and serving the Church. Immaculate Heart of Mary, pray for us!

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Last modified on Wednesday, June 26, 2024
Robert Morrison | Remnant Columnist

Robert Morrison is a Catholic, husband and father. He is the author of A Tale Told Softly: Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale and Hidden Catholic England.