52 months after the publication of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum, and the denial of the Traditional Mass is still common throughout the world - but it can reach levels of cruelty when it is denied to the families of deceased traditional Catholics. We reported such an occasion in September, when the Mass was denied to a family in France, who simply wished to fulfill the last wish of a dear mother. Now, a well-known Italian Catholic writer, Alessandro Gnocchi (whose book with Alessadro Palmaro was recently reviewed by Roberto de Mattei, in an article also published here), describes how the diocese of Bergamo (Lombardy, Italy) denied a funeral Traditional Mass to his family on the occasion of the death of his own father. Please, read the following report carefully.
HOLY MASS DENIED
Alessandro Gnocchi e Mario PalmaroThe diocese of Bergamo forbids the celebration of Holy Mass in the Gregorian Rite for the funeral of Alessandro Gnocchi’s father.
What we present here is of a personal nature, but the reader need not fear waves of emotion. The advantage of writing with a partner is that one of us tells what happened and the other gives his opinion on the matter, so that necessary professional detachment is maintained.
If Guareschi’s Peppone had been here, my father would have completed his last journey with his Mass, the one in Latin embellished by the age-old and splendid Oremus, Dominus vobiscum and Kyrie eleison. Peppone was exactly what was needed here, when, ignoring the entire town-hall council, at the very beginning of the Republic, and, as leader of the communists, ordered that the old “maestra”of the town be taken to the cemetery in a coffin covered by the flag which was embroidered with the King’s coat of arms (her last wishes).
Unfortunately, my father was not so lucky to die under the communist administration of Giuseppe Bottazzi. My father died in the “white”1. and Catholic territory of Bergamo in the parish of Sant’Andrea in Villa’Adda. And so he met up with a certain Don Diego, who had no idea what to do when faced with the last wishes of a deceased (parishioner) and his family. That the deceased’s last wishes were legitimate and sustained by a Motu Proprio from the Holy Father counted for less than nothing. Yet, the Motu Proprio “Summorum Pontificum” which is now as well-known as its non-application, in article 5, paragraph 3, is very clear:
“For faithful and priests who request it, the pastor should also allow celebrations in this extraordinary form for special circumstances such as marriages, funerals or occasional celebrations, e.g. pilgrimages.”To be honest, it should be said, that the parish priest could not have been touched by the Holy Father’s document, given that he candidly confessed that he had no knowledge of it. Furthermore, he was not only unaware of the applicatory text of the Motu Proprio, but also of the instructions in “Universae Ecclesiae” which states that in similar cases the parish priest is invited to let himself be “motivated by pastoral zeal and a spirit of generous welcome.”
It was all in vain: “They told me in the curia…” was the recurring theme of the discussions with Don Diego. These priests fill their heads and mouths with words such as “freedom” and “autonomy”, and they are not even capable of opposing the manifest abuse of power coming from the top, because: “they told me in the curia.” They fill their heads and mouths with words like “freedom” and “autonomy”, disparaging a past, according to them, which was too domineering and clerical. They, then, lend themselves to trampling on the last wishes of a dead man and his family which are also those of the Church and the Holy Father, all because of: “they told me in the curia…”
For too long in the diocese of Bergamo, as it is in the majority of the dioceses of the Catholic World, it is the nearest authority that commands, despotically, threatening to intervene directly on people and thus scaring them. Rome, which is the ultimate authority, counts for nothing. From Bergamo to St. Peter’s Square it takes an hour by air and half an hour by taxi, but it seems like Rome is on another planet. Bishop Francesco, or whoever, on his behalf, dictates their desires in open contrast to the Holy Father’s and do not fear (any repercussions).
So, also in this “white” territory of Bergamo, the parish priest receives a request from some of his parishioners, he refers it to the Vicar General, who then confers with who he considers appropriate, then in the name of and on behalf of the Bishop decides what action to take and the parish priest carries it out. And if you point out the evident injustice of what the said executor is doing, the usual explanation surfaces again: “But they told me in the Curia…”
The opposite would have been too much of a miracle. And yet, Don Diego, at our first meeting, had expressed considerations of absolute common sense and natural humanity: “I think that in the case of death and a funeral there shouldn’t be any problems.” But when the problems arose in all their clarity, he attempted to clothe the abuse of power with the theological notions that were put into his head in the seminary, sustaining verbatim the following thesis: “ If it had been the request, for example, for the Byzantine Rite, in virtue of ecumenism, it would have been alright. For in that case, you with your rite, would have encountered my rite which would have been mutually enriching. But you are asking for a rite of the Catholic Church and because it does not concord with the celebrative form in the community, we can say no.” Regarding this it should be said that the “celebrative form” in the community in question, a propos funerals, reaches its highest heights with the execution of “There is a green meadow, where hope is born..” accompanied by guitars.
Naturally, in all of our conversations with the parish priest, the spirit of Vatican II was hovering above us along with the order to defend it to the bitter end, which has been instilled in the souls of poor priests who have been formed in the past decades: “Because you have to know that Vatican II…” “You wouldn’t want to cast doubts on Vatican II…”, “You must understand that the Church since Vatican II…”, etc., etc.,
All that we understood from the rambling speech on Vatican II, was, that my father, in the name of that aforesaid Council, would not have obtained what was his sacred right to have. Poor father was too Catholic to profit from the extenuating generic foresights of ecumenism, of which, at any rate, he would have wanted no part of - and rightly so.
The true pastoral motive for the prohibition was explained very well by Don Diego: “If that Mass is permitted here, we would then need to allow it in other places.” In other words, contagion must be avoided. My father, even if he did not make his last journey with his Mass, continues to be contagious: his name is Vittorino Gnocchi and I am proud of him.
To go against the last wishes of a deceased person is an act that requires very strong arguments. It can be done if the dead person has asked for impossible or odd things, or improper things or things against the law. An objective reason is always required to betray the deceased’s expectations, a reason that is a shield against suspicions of implementing an irreversible and particularly odious abuse of power: that of the living taking advantage of the dead. In fact, the de cuius cannot defend himself, cannot resort to appeal, cannot ask for help. This is enough to explain why usually last wishes are carried out with meticulous faithfulness: they are sacred.
Now, this is about trying to understand if a Catholic who requests a funeral in the Old Rite, is expecting something which is impossible, or odd, or improper or against the law. The answer is very simple: the Pope happily and laboriously reigning, wrote of his own initiative, in total freedom and in full possession of his mental faculties, that a Catholic can indeed, request and obtain a funeral rite that is still fully legitimate in the Church and has been used to accompany millions of the faithful to holy ground for hundreds of years. The Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, leaves no room for any interpretation to the contrary. From the point of view of Catholic canon law, it is difficult to understand how it is possible to refuse such a request, above all, when it is perfectly possible to fulfill it. In this specific case, the priest experienced in offering the Old Rite – and the family members had not expressed even the minimum reserve about the matter, rather they shared in the deceased’s petition.
In this extremely sad story there is a grotesque and paradoxical aspect, which is the contempt shown by the clergy towards the autonomy of the individual. Since 2008, the Italian Episcopal Conference "has opened the door” – through the voice of its president – to the so-called “Dichiarazione Anticipate di Trattamento” now the famous DAT: a written document in which a person says which medical treatment they intend or do not intend to receive should they fall into a state of unconsciousness. Neither we nor the director of this newspaper like DAT, because it offers a comfortable slippery-slope to the culture of euthanasia. However , the “turnabout” of the Cei on DAT aids us in our reasoning here. It shows that in contemporary culture, everyone - including the Church – recognize a very important value in the last wishes expressed by every single person. These last wishes cannot be arbitrary, but if they are in conformity with the good, they have to be complied with.The paradox of the “Gnocchi case” rests in this fact: if a member of the faithful, asks through his son, for a funeral according to the Tridentine Rite, it is not granted. Instead, if he draws up the DAT, perhaps refusing certain medical treatments, he acts in conformity with The Italian Episcopal Conference. What must a Catholic do, then, to obtain what the Pope has established as his (sacred) right? Maybe he has to ask for a funeral in the Old Rite by drafting a DAT and delivering it to the parish priest while he is still able to do so.
In the “Gnocchi case” there was an abuse of power. But, for what reason? Nothing personal: there was no intention of harming the person deceased and his family. The point is another: resisting the Motu Proprio, Summorum Pontificum, obstructing the Old Rite in every way. In this, as in many other cases, you hit one, to teach a hundred. What frightens many in a certain Catholic environment, is not the sporadic celebration of the Mass of Pius V. In the end, it could be tolerated as a folkloristic manifestation of slightly snobbish impoverished nobles and old ladies veiled in black. The concern is of a different nature: by allowing one individual case, the practice would spread. And at that point, not Signor Vittorino Gnocchi from Villa d’Adda, but tens, hundreds, would put their wishes down in clear letters in their "DAF" ("Dichiariazione Anticipate di Funerali" - Declaration of Funeral Wishes), and parishes and dioceses, out of respect for the faithful departed and to pay homage to the present Pontiff, would be forced to allow the celebration. At this point the contagion would be uncontrollable: other faithful participating at funerals both beautiful and dignified would be struck favourably and would say “I want this too”. Other faithful, curious about the original liturgical style, would discover the Mass of Pius V and some, perhaps, would begin to attend it. It would be the fulfillment on a planetary scale, of that “democracy of the dead” which G.K. Chesterton referred to, on the grounds that, they, the dead, have also the right to vote when something extremely important must be decided. In other words: a real disaster. A disaster, we mean, from the point of view of those who want to bury the Old Rite forever.
What we have just written does not belong to the literary genre of conspiracy hunting and plots, but springs from the contestations that exist in the Catholic Church from a wide front that has never digested the decisions made by Pope Benedict XVI on the Liturgy. And he does not make a mystery out of it. The Pope always celebrates the New Rite with a Crucifix and a row of candles. He distributes Holy Communion on the tongue to the faithful kneeling, assisted by altar-servers holding the paten. Well, in almost all of the churches in the world the clergy do exactly the opposite, altars (and churches) without Crucifixes, hosts in the hands of the faithful, kneelers sent to the stake and patens closed away in cupboards. And goodbye to the Supremacy of Peter.
On the Old Mass front, the barricades are even higher and “the friendly fire”- so to speak- is intense and merciless. So much so, that, not a few dioceses feel authorized to act with contempt towards the indications that come from Rome. In the “Gnocchi case” the parish priest received a phone call in good time from Ecclesia Dei, an organism in the Vatican which deals with thorny issues. Once upon a time, they use to say: Roma locuta, causa soluta. But instead, the telephone call from the Vatican was not sufficient to clear away the field of obstacles opposing the celebration of the funeral in the old style: the pastoral reasons, the will of the Episcopal vicar, and on and on with the nit-picking reaching a crescendo much more intricate than the latinorum of Don Abbondio.2. This is where you can see another paradox in the post –conciliar Church: the dioceses act in a sort of doctrinal and hierarchal semi-federalism where Rome no longer commands and where any priest from the provinces counts more than the Papal Commission Ecclesia Dei.
Consequently it can happen, as it did in Naples a few days before the “Gnocchi case”, that a member of the faithful requested a funeral in the Old Rite and was told that they could not have it because they did not frequent that parish. With that you could deduce that now the Church is about to exclude all the Catholics from funerals, who in Her unquestionable judgment, She retains to be tepid and non-practicing: in reality, thanks be to God, this is not the case. Rather, today, the door which welcomes anyone who requests religious funeral rites is opened very wide, in the name of dialogue and tolerance. The only Catholics who appear not to merit such attention are “the Catholics of Pacelli”, those, in short, who love Tradition and would like a funeral in the Mass of All Time. That is it in a nutshell.
From: Riscossa Cristiana – 17th November 2011 [Contribution and translation: Francesca Romana]
1. “white” here refers to the “white whale” (“balena Bianca” – Christian Democrats)
2. Don Abbondio – character from Manzoni’s “The Bethrothed”