Rorate Caeli

“It is to be hoped that bishops will generously exhaust the legal possibilities of dispensation”—Canon Lawyer Fr. Gero Weishaupt

The following interview was conducted in German by Petra Lorleberg for Dr. Gero P. Weishaupt is a priest and canon lawyer. He was Judicial Vicar/Official of the Diocese of 's-Hertogenbosch (Netherlands) 2008–2013, and is Judge of the Interdiocesan Criminal Court of the Dutch Ecclesiastical Province since 2012, Diocesan Judge at the Archdiocesan Office of the Archdiocese of Cologne since 2013, and Lecturer in Canon Law and Ecclesiastical Documents at the Theological Institute of the Diocese of Roermond since 2015. He has published several books and canonical articles. This translation was prepared for Rorate Caeli. It goes without saying that Rorate does not necessarily agree with all of what he says, but his perspective on canonical dispensation is particularly helpful at this time.—PAK

Traditionis custodes seems like a cannon with which the pope shoots at sparrows”—
Interview with Canon Lawyer Fr. Gero Weishaupt

KATH.NET: Dr. Weishaupt, how urgent would you have considered a motu proprio in the sense of Traditionis custodes in this early summer?

WEISHAUPT: In my opinion, Traditionis custodes oversteps the mark. This motu proprio is disproportionate and seems like a cannon with which the Pope shoots at sparrows.

I do not want to deny that here and there that after Summorum Pontificum there have been undesirable developments that were not the intention of Pope Benedict XVI. For example, Summorum Pontificum was misunderstood when groups of faithful formed in parishes or were joined by faithful who celebrated Mass in the Tridentine form exclusively but avoided Mass in the “Pauline” form. If Summorum Pontificum and the explanatory instruction Universae Ecclesiae had been consistently implemented, such groupings would not have occurred in one parish or another, and Pope Francis’s most recent motu proprio would have been superfluous. But such undesirable developments stayed within limits. The motu proprio Traditionis custodes and its accompanying letter, however, generalize, fail to distinguish, and ignore the many tradition-loving faithful who have found their spiritual home in both forms. Instead of a word of appreciation, the Pope kicks them and drives them back into the ghetto. And the traditional, classical liturgy ends up in the museum.

Pope Francis, through his radical legal restrictions, is indiscriminately sanctioning all the faithful, including the majority of those who hold the traditional liturgy dear without calling the new liturgy into question. And also the majority of priests who celebrate Mass in the Tridentine rite have strictly adhered to the prescriptions of Summorum Pontificum and its implementing provisions in the Instruction Universae Ecclesiae. In both legal texts, the conditions and limits for celebrating according to the classical rite have been clearly indicated.

The divisions that Pope Francis deplores can therefore be avoided in another way—for example, by a supplementary instruction to the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum or by a papal or episcopal decree. For instance, without changes to Summorum Pontificum, it could have been decreed that bishops who have heard of schisms in their dioceses remind the responsible priests and faithful of the strict observance of the prescriptions of Summorum Pontificum and punish violations. This did not require a new legislative act, and certainly not drastic, disproportionate restrictions that are completely incomprehensible with regard to the intended purpose, as in Traditionis custodes.

In any case, the Pope’s latest law remains completely incomprehensible and highly controversial with regard to its purpose, namely reconciliation and unity. I fear that this motu proprio will achieve the opposite of what it seeks precisely to prevent, namely division; it will not reconcile. The reservations that tradition-bound Catholics already have about Pope Francis will even be strengthened by Traditionis custodes. I fear that with this motu proprio, Pope Francis has immensely damaged himself and his office and done a disservice to the [legitimate] intention of Traditionis custodes.

KATH.NET: Critical voices on Traditionis custodes ask the question whether Pope Francis, in his serious pastoral effort for those sheep who stray, has now struck with his shepherd’s crook, of all things, those sheep who, despite some hardships, faithfully rally around him and are not willing to give up communion with him. What is your opinion of this?

WEISHAUPT: In any case, I see neither in the motu proprio nor in the accompanying letter to the bishops the signature of a mild, gracious, and merciful father, let alone that of a shepherd who has taken on the “scent of the sheep.” Rather, I recognize a shepherd who uses his shepherd’s crook as a cudgel. Pope Francis, who like no other pope before him constantly preaches mildness and mercy, who rightly castigates clericalism and talks about the “smell of the sheep” that shepherds are supposed to take on, proves exactly the opposite of all this with the motu proprio Traditionis custodes. I see the Pope’s credibility and authenticity damaged.

KATH.NET: Can bishops dispense or exempt from the motu proprio Traditionis custodes?

WEISHAUPT: Of course they can. In the meantime, there are also bishops, especially in the USA, who have already dispensed from some of its norms. That is gratifying. And it is to be hoped that the bishops in the German-speaking countries will do the same. It is also gratifying to see that the younger generation of bishops is more likely than their predecessors to have a change of heart and an open mind about the old liturgy. This gives hope for a generous dispensational practice in this matter.

Thank God for this legal institution of dispensation, i.e., exemption from a law in a concrete case for the good of the faithful. However, it applies only to purely ecclesiastical laws, to which Traditionis custodes belongs. From laws that formulate divine law—that is, from law derived from revelation or from natural law—the pope, let alone any other bishop, can never dispense. Thus, for example, the law that only men can validly receive ordination (= truth intrinsically connected with revelation) can never be dispensed with, just as little as the married can be from the indissolubility of marriage (=truth of the natural law).

The purpose of a dispensation from a purely ecclesiastical law is to avert the harshness of the law—and Traditionis custodes is undoubtedly unexpectedly harsh—in a concrete case or in several cases of the same kind among those subject to the law. Although the law as such remains, the enormous force of Traditionis custodes can thus still be cushioned in individual cases, since the person or persons affected are exempted from it by the dispensation.

It is to be hoped that the bishops, as mild and merciful shepherds who have taken on the “smell of the sheep” and use their shepherd’s crook not as a cudgel but to lead, gather, and unify, will generously exhaust the legal possibilities of a dispensation. Indeed, if they did not do so, they would irresponsibly destroy in one fell swoop the good fruits for the Church that the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum has demonstrably produced so far. Unfortunately, Pope Francis’s ill-fated law has the potential to do just that. Pastoral-mindedness and benevolence look different. Recognition of the good fruits of Summorum Pontificum, appreciation for Catholics who are faithful to the papacy and bound by tradition, and (not least) respect for Pope Benedict XVI, are not at all evident in Pope Francis’s latest legislative act.

KATH.NET: What happens now on the ground for the priests, faithful, and communities affected?

WEISHAUPT: In any case, one should not refrain from trying to ask the Pope to withdraw the controversial law altogether or to amend it in such a way that the breach with Summorum Pontificum is reversed, because the purpose of Traditionis custodes can legally be achieved in another, more respectful way. Moreover, if one considers that some bishops have not received at all the questions from the survey initiated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on the implementation of Summorum Pontificum in their dioceses, then it becomes clear that this law is already highly doubtful in its genesis. However, as long as Traditionis custodes has legal force, legally there is nothing left to do but to seek from the respective diocesan bishop the already-mentioned possibility of dispensations from the hard norms and to hope for his pastoral and benevolent spirit.

KATH.NET: If you were allowed to give the Pope some advice—let’s just play this out as a fantasy—would you advise him to have a Traditionis custodes II, which then tries to take other [problematic] currents in the Church by the reins? Where do you currently see “processes,” especially in the German-speaking world, which you consider to be extremely dangerous for church unity?

WEISHAUPT: Clearly in the Synodal Way and the actions accompanying it, which are indeed directed against the Pope, the doctrine, and the unity of the Church. But also in the liturgical abuses in the post-conciliar liturgy, which are partly to blame for the present disintegration of the Church. Here it would be urgent for the Pope to remind the bishops that they are, in fact “traditionis custodes” and to take a firm stand against schismatic tendencies in their particular Churches in order to avert a schism. However, I am convinced that a schism has already occurred, but has not yet been formally established. The danger to the unity of the Church does not come from the old liturgy and those who value it, quite the contrary. The danger threatens from a world of thought that has made the Synodal Way what it is now.