Rorate Caeli

An Ordinariate for Traditional Catholics? An interview with Father de Blignières

Considering the new situation created by the motu proprio Traditionis custodes and the documents of the Dicastery for Divine Worship in 2021, Father Louis-Marie de Blignières proposes the establishment of a "traditional ordinariate", i.e., in canonical terms, an ecclesiastical circumscription dedicated to the ancient Latin rite. This type of structure (like military ordinariates, ex-Anglican ordinariates or Eastern Catholic eparchies) consists of a group of faithful served by a clergy, headed by a prelate appointed by the Holy See. The "traditional ordinariate" would offer a stable structure for Catholic faithful wishing to receive the sacraments according to traditional forms.

The former prior of the Fraternity of Saint Vincent Ferrer is interviewed on this subject in the FSSP magazine Tu es Petrus :

Why are you proposing the creation of an ecclesiastical circumscription for the Ancient Latin Rite?

Because a completely new situation has been created by the publication of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes on July 16, 2021, and by that of the documents of the Dicastery for Divine Worship in December 2021. These texts led to a blocked situation for those Catholics faithful to hierarchical communion and also attached to the "earlier forms of the Latin tradition". Pope Francis has ended the period of relative calm that followed the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (2007-2021). This aimed to give the "extraordinary form" its rightful place in the very structures of dioceses.

Rather than mourning what might have been, we must now offer something stable to Catholics faithful to the Holy See and to traditional pedagogies of the faith. This group, instead of having to constantly negotiate its status with prelates, bishops or parish priests, who often find it hard to understand (or who fear for the peace of their dioceses by showing favoritism towards it), should in our opinion be represented in the hierarchy itself.

What is this ecclesiastical circumscription?

"Ecclesiastical circumscription" is a generic term used by canonists to cover very different realities. Ecclesiastical circumscriptions are hierarchically structured communities of the faithful that are either dioceses (particular Churches), or entities created for special reasons and legally assimilated to dioceses. These include military ordinariates and personal apostolic administrations.  They could serve as models for the case we are presenting. Vatican II encouraged the development of these formulas, which had been around for a long time. "The adaptability of ecclesiastical organization to the pastoral realities of the faithful is one of the essential aspects of the last ecumenical assembly [the last Council]".

Who can decide to set up such an ecclesiastical circumscription?

The Code of Canon Law makes it clear: "It belongs to the supreme authority alone to erect particular Churches; once legitimately erected, they enjoy juridical personality by right" (canon 373 § 1). This erection is therefore the responsibility of the Holy See, through the Dicastery for Bishops or, in mission lands, the Dicastery for Evangelization. This is how the Congregation for Bishops, in a Decree dated January 18, 2002, erected the Personal Apostolic Administration of St. John Mary Vianney, in the diocese of Campos, Brazil. Paragraph II of the Decree states:

To the Apostolic Administration is assigned the faculty of celebrating the Holy Eucharist, the other sacraments, the Liturgy of the Hours and other liturgical actions according to the Roman Rite and liturgical discipline prescribed by St. Pius V, with the modifications introduced by his successors up to Blessed John XXIII.

Who can ask for it? I explain in my article that, over the past thirty-five years, requests for this have been made by superiors of communities, individually or in groups, and by lay presidents of associations such as Una Voce, and that suggestions have come from the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei. The Church is not a free-for-all, where anyone can claim whatever they like. But since time immemorial, lay people and priests have presented the hierarchy with the right intuitions they have, according to their own charisma, for the common good of the Church... and the Church has often taken them into account. In this case, it would be a proposal to resolve a serious problem, pending since the close of the Council, and to contribute to a genuine renewal in a crisis that is increasingly recognized. It would obviously be desirable for this renewed request to be supported by bishops.


Who would be in charge, and by whom would they be appointed? If it were a bishop chosen from among the priests of ex-Ecclesia Dei communities, wouldn't the choice of one rather than another pose problems?

The Holy See also appoints the Prelate of ecclesiastical circumscriptions. This is the case for military ordinariates: 

At the head of the Military Ordinariate is placed, as Ordinary proper, an Ordinary who is normally clothed with the episcopal dignity, who enjoys all the rights and is bound to all the obligations of diocesan bishops, unless this appears otherwise by the nature of things or particular statutes. The Supreme Pontiff freely appoints the Military Ordinary, or institutes or confirms the legitimately designated candidate.

The Ordinary of this structure could be a religious or a diocesan priest, or even an available bishop, who would have all the aptitudes required for this task, notably a love of doctrine, a good knowledge of traditional rites, and the confidence of his faithful. In our opinion, there is no shortage of such people. If the Ordinary is a priest from an ex-Ecclesia Dei Institute, his appointment will benefit everyone. It will be appropriate to mute personal preferences, however legitimate, and look towards the common good of the Church. As we saw in February 2022, the Decree obtained in favor of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter changed the atmosphere and, through the application of the principle of canonical analogy, benefited all Institutes.

How would its prerogatives fit in with those of diocesan bishops?

In military ordinariates and personal apostolic administrations, the faithful do not cease to belong to their diocese of origin, according to their domicile. There is what is known as a cumulative jurisdiction of the local bishop and the Prelate of the circumscription, the conditions of which are specified by the circumscription's statutes.

How do you become a member? Is it possible to belong to both an ecclesiastical district and its diocese?

Yes, because of cumulative jurisdiction, the faithful belong to both structures. In the case of personal apostolic administration, "membership is determined by inscription on an ad hoc register of the faithful who request to belong".

How can the faithful attached to the ancient rite obtain places of worship?

Existing places of worship would have no reason to disappear. They would continue as at present, if the local Ordinary prefers this solution. They would be taken over by the circumscription, if the Ordinary so wishes. In this case, the priests who serve them, if they are diocesan, could be attached to the circumscription by being incardinated into it. If they are members of an Institute, agreements would be signed between the circumscription and the Institute, as is currently the case with the local Ordinaries. 

For the opening of new places of worship, the Prelate of the circumscription, being a bishop, will have more leverage to negotiate with the local Ordinaries. And the latter will be all the more inclined to give the green light as they will not then have the heavy burden of serving and managing these places.

[Source: FSSP French periodical "Tu Es Petrus", via Le Salon Beige]