Rorate Caeli

Christophe Dickès: "Why take away from traditionalists what John Paul II and Benedict XVI had granted?"

(From Le Figaro, February 22, 2023) -- While Pope Francis drastically reduces the freedom of traditionalists, historian Christophe Dickès recalls the richness and fruitfulness of these minorities within the Catholic Church. Author of numerous works, Christophe Dickès has notably published "Saint Pierre" (Perrin, 2021), which received the François Millepierres prize of the French Academy 2022.

The Lenten season for traditional Catholics begins with sorrow. The one in charge of liturgical matters at the Vatican, Cardinal Roche, who has never hidden his opposition to the work of Benedict XVI, has just published a new text validated by Pope Francis on the practice of the ancient rite. Contrary to the very spirit that the Pope wished to give to his pontificate, it drastically reduces the freedom of the bishops and their autonomy in this matter.

But who are these traditionalist Catholics?

In the Church of France, they are among the rare regular churchgoers. That is, less than 4% of French Catholics. They are therefore a minority of a minority. They catechize their children by teaching them the Ten Commandments and the prayers that Catholics should know. In this regard, they often practice as a family. Some of them, wishing to preserve their children from the "cancel culture" that develops in the school environment, put their children in non-contracted (i.e., private and financially independent) schools. These schools are very expensive, so the families make sacrifices and deprive themselves. They know, however, that education is worth all the treasures in the world, especially religious instruction provided by priests.

These people mostly attend mass offered in Latin. Not because they prefer the universal language of the Church, nor out of snobbery. No. Because there is a verticality and sacredness to the (improperly called) Tridentine rite that is less evident in the "community" rite of the Mass of Paul VI. They also love this rite because it is the least clerical: the priest, in fact, turns his back to them at the moment of the Canon. In the old rite, there is no focus on personality: the faithful pray in a silent face-to-face encounter with God.

Now, for almost two years, these people have had taken away from Rome what the two previous popes had granted after long and benevolent negotiations. Let us recall that these faithful, after the famous "schism" of Archbishop Lefebvre in 1988, had wanted to show the Holy See their fidelity by making known their spiritual needs as permitted by canon law (can. 212 § 2). This act of fidelity was rewarded by the pontifical power. These people also know that, since the origins of Christianity and the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), the Church derives its unity not from the liturgy but from the profession of the same faith (CCC 814). For this reason, they know that there are several types of Roman rite in the Church (Anglican, Zairean) and many other rites recognized by Rome: Alexandrian, Byzantine, Armenian, etc.

Today, these people are being singled out. One might have wondered [instead] why they fill their churches when many others are emptying. One could also have asked if these people are not part of what Benedict XVI called "creative minorities": schools, scout groups, choirs, assistance to the elderly, missionary works, media and especially conversions and vocations. The trads are making their fig tree bloom, but it doesn't seem to matter.

Above all, like Saint Paul called to Jerusalem by the pillars of the Church (Gal 2), we could have tried to receive the leaders of the various institutes and fraternities, concerned to hear them out. We could even have asked them to make an effort to work on certain points, in the way that the Society of St. Pius X or the Anglicans were committed to working with Rome on a reintegration, still under the pontificate of Benedict XVI. In the case of ill will, a fraternal correction, even a reprimand could have been made, and pastoral solicitude shown. This is a work of justice in canon law (can. 1341). Better still, since the floor [after the Council] is now given to the laity, some of the faithful from the grassroots, representative of this very special current in the Church, could have been invited for discussion.

But this did not happen: only a superior from the Fraternity of St. Peter was received. He was successful. As for the laity, the mothers of priests aged between 50 and 65, who walked 1500 km from Paris to Rome to lay a petition at the feet of the Vicar of Peter, were received in barely three minutes. 1500 kilometers for a handful of seconds... In this group, a drop of hope in an ocean of indifference, there was even a faithful member of the Emmanuel community who, moved by compassion, wished to walk a little way with this strange little world. This woman had created a bridge. She was welcomed with tears and loved in the words of Tertullian: "See how they love each other" (Apol., 39 § 7).

Today, these tradis are given names, the better to disqualify them. They are "nihilists," we are told, or "restorationists." One English critic even considers them to be the new "Jansenists"! They are told to recognize the Second Vatican Council, whereas the overwhelming majority of them have not read and will never read the Second Vatican Council. Nor will most of the faithful who attend the Mass of Paul VI. They are criticized for their "ecclesiology" without asking whether the 96% of Catholics who do not practice have any ecclesiology. Basically, they want to re-educate them -- by choice or by force. Synodality seems to be in fashion, but "they," the trads, have only one right: that of suffering in silence.