Rorate Caeli

Important Op-Ed by Fr Pio Pace: "Restricting Summorum Pontificum: What the Pope Said, the Credible Information, and the Risk of a War within the Church."

Rorate Note: It has been a while since that great connoisseur of the deepest secrets of ecclesiastical life in Rome, Father Pio Pace, last sent us a report.

The repeated discreet reports on the draft of a papal document restricting the application of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (the document by Benedict XVI that recognized the impossibility of the abrogation of the Traditional Roman Liturgy) prompted him to write to us again on this urgent matter:

Restricting Summorum Pontificum: What the Pope Said, the Credible Information, and the Risk of a War within the Church
by Father Pio Pace

A text weakening the scope of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, of Benedict XVI, could be about to be published: that information, that followed the announcement made "confidentially" by the Pope to the Italian bishops of the CEI [Italian Bishops' Conference], assembled at Via Aurelia, in Rome, on May 24, has been largely commented upon, notably by the major Italian press.


 The essential norms of the text, as the Pope informed them, are the following: from now on, the priests of the communities specialized in the Traditional Mass (the "Ecclesia Dei" communities) could continue to celebrate, as well as the diocesan priests that already celebrate it; on the contrary, if additional diocesan priests wish to celebrate it, they must first obtain a permission of the bishop.


Some supplementary information has been added, but this time in the shape of credible off-the-record comments: the Congregation for Divine Worship would now be in charge of the operation of the Traditional Mass and the Ecclesia Dei communities. Within this Congregation, that has just received its new Prefect, Abp. Roche, and a new Secretary, Abp. Viola, a new Under-Secretary of episcopal level, Bp. Aurelio García Macías -- former rector of the seminary of Valladolid, Spain -- would be the direct responsible man for the traditional world, as Abp. Pozzo was in the past. This ensemble of curial personnel being, in principle, hostile to the ancient Mass.


 At this stage, and without yet knowing the exact content of the new text (if it is finally published), we can make several comments:

(1) This decision has been considered for quite a long time, with a certain number of national episcopates, especially the Italian episcopate, putting pressure for placing Summorum Pontificum in some sort of "parentheses" -- bishops with important connections to the Curia, especially the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin. Let us add that the old Canadian Cardinal Ouellet has showed himself to be very hostile, in this context, to Summorum Pontificum. The announcements on the matter have been made in this succession:

(a) Several declarations of the pope on the "irreversible" character of the liturgical reform and about his "concern" regarding the traditionalist ("rigid") spirit that grows in the young clerics;

(b) The motu proprio of January 19, 2019, suppressing the Ecclesia Dei commission and transferring all its powers to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith;

(c) The questionnaire, dated March 7, 2020, sent by the CDF to the bishops of the world with the intent of reaching an appraisal of the application of Summorum Pontificum.


(2) The foreseen objective, as Andrea Grillo (a very influential professor at the Pontifical University of St. Anselm) has often affirmed, is that the liturgy from before Vatican II is not allowed to enjoy a right that should only be claimed by the Vatican II liturgy: the ancient liturgy must be considered within a very limited scope of mere toleration, essentially governed by each diocesan bishop.

(3) Despite all the effort, if the text comes out, the concrete result might not be as overreaching as its proponents may wish: in most of the world, in practice, the norms of 2007 (according to which each priests can decide to accept a request for the Traditional Mass, without referring to the bishop) have never been fully received, and, with some exceptions, it has been usually the bishop who has taken the decision.

(4) However, the important psychological liberating effect of Summorum Pontificum was quite considerable: one could observe that, in the ten years between 2007 and 2017, the number of Traditional liturgical celebrations in the world had more than doubled. On the contrary, the psychological effect of a document in an opposing sense could be very unfavorable to Tradition.


If the text is published, it will be very interesting to analyze the justifications that will be offered. One can think that it will mention that, now, the people who were attached to the ancient form have found peace, and that the candidates to priestly orders who wished to celebrate it have found stability in the specialized Institutes. It will probably mention that the doctrinal questions considered regarding relations with the Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX / SSPX), which had made this celebration subject to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, are not as relevant now as these relations have reached a dead end, so that the celebration of the Ancient Rite can now be placed under the ordinary jurisdiction of the Congregation for Divine Worship. A reaffirmation of the "permanent" or "definitive" character of the post-Vatican II liturgical revolution should be made in the text, logically followed by direct or indirect invitations to traditionalist priests and lay faithful to join a kind of "bi-formalism" (or bi-ritualism).

Except that...before the universal Catholic opinion, this attack on the liberty of a little number of faithful when, elsewhere, everything seems to be permitted and allowed, would seem incomprehensible. And, above all, this event would trigger a severe and considerable liturgical war and cause the greatest possible concerns both to diocesan bishops and Roman authorities. A war with unforeseen consequences in a Church in an advanced state of doctrinal and disciplinary decomposition. Does the pope have today the interest of taking this dangerous risk?