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Understanding the Vatican crusade against tradition

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Feb 23, 2023

OK, I think I understand now.

  • The Vatican “carried out a detailed consultation of the bishops in 2020” regarding the use of the traditional Latin Mass. Although we’ve never seen the results of that consultation, Pope Francis determined that “the wishes expressed by the episcopate” called for a crackdown on traditionalism. But the bishops who wanted that crackdown can’t be trusted to do it themselves.
  • In a “synodal” Church, the Vatican listens carefully to all the faithful, and serves the needs of the diocesan bishops—in this case, by telling them what to do.
  • In Traditionis Custodes (#4), when the Pope wrote that the diocesan bishop has “exclusive competence to authorize the use of the 1962 Roman Missal in his diocese, according to the guidelines of the Apostolic See,” what he meant was that a diocesan bishop cannot authorize the use of the traditional liturgy without explicit permission from the Holy See.
  • Traditionis Custodes set forth the guidelines for diocesan bishops to follow. Canon Law (#87) gives bishops the authority to offer dispensations from liturgical guidelines, unless the Holy See reserves that authority to itself. Nothing in the language indicates that the Holy See reserved that authority. But it did, and you should have known that.
  • Although it is obvious from the above language that the Pope wanted the Dicastery for Divine Worship to approve any dispensation from the guidelines of Traditionis Custodes “an absurdity” to think otherwise—the Vatican still felt it imperative to issue a new document “confirming” that message.
  • Pope Francis is acting to unify the Church—“to press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion”—so he felt it necessary to take actions that will leave thousands of Catholics frustrated, angry, and dispirited. He wants to “reach out to the marginalized,” so he needs to marginalize traditionalist Catholics.
  • Ecumenism is “not something optional” for this papacy. Yet the Vatican has taken peremptory action to strip diocesan bishops of their normal powers and to suppress an ancient liturgical form. These steps will undoubtedly be noticed by the bishops of the Orthodox churches, who cherish both their own authority and their liturgical traditions.
  • It remains licit (under some circumstances) to celebrate the traditional Mass in a school auditorium, but not in a beautiful parish church. The liturgy may be celebrated by older priests, but not those newly ordained. Because we want to appeal to young people, and to those drawn to the way of beauty.
  • Pope Francis tells us that “the passion for evangelization—that is, apostolic zeal” is “a vital dimension for the Church.” He emphasizes that the Church “is not closed in on itself, but turned outward, a contagious witness of Jesus—the faith is also contagious—reaching out to radiate His light to the ends of the earth.” But this does not apply to traditional Catholicism. You may (for now, in some places, under certain conditions) be comforted, strengthened, and enriched by the traditional Mass. But you cannot promote it. The Eucharistic sacrifice, in any valid form, is the “source and summit” of Catholic spiritual life. But if the Mass is in Latin, don’t tell anyone about it.
  • In order for the Church to grow, it is necessary to prune off some of the fastest-growing branches, so that the dry yellow leaves will get more sunshine.

All perfectly clear now?

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: dover beachcomber - Mar. 05, 2023 5:45 PM ET USA

    The first point is particularly telling. If TC had truly expressed the wishes of most bishops, Rome could have counted on them to take up the suppression of the Extraordinary Form on their own—and enthusiastically. Instead, Rome had to set up an enforcement apparatus. So whoever wrote TC probably lied, and others who lent their names to it took part in the lie.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Feb. 28, 2023 1:57 PM ET USA

    The only problem I see with this well presented article is the title: Understanding the Vatican Vendetta against tradition would be more accurate.

  • Posted by: rfr46 - Feb. 25, 2023 2:28 AM ET USA

    PF's approach to leadership reminds me of the maxim, "The beatings will continue until morale improves." Thank God PF is merciful or we would really be in trouble.

  • Posted by: ewaughok - Feb. 24, 2023 8:54 PM ET USA

    Thank you Mr. Lawler once again for summarizing the crazy, inane actions of our present Holy Father. One theory about what’s happening in the Vatican from the British moral theologian, Fr. Lucie-Smith, is that Francis is in a similar health condition to St John Paul II in his last few years. The sickly Bergoglio has given Curial control to a coterie of liberal clerics who are making it up as they go along. Being against what St John Paul II and Benedict XVI stood for is all that motivates them.

  • Posted by: esalex947010 - Feb. 24, 2023 8:19 PM ET USA

    For those who are able here is my advice: learn about a year's worth of Latin and start to pray the Divine Office according to one of the forms that existed going back from 1962. If you solely rely on the Mass then you are hostage to the whims of priests and to the clerical hierarchy they are bound to follow which in our time is the abode of hostile ideas. The TLM will probably be temporarily taken away soon and so we have to learn to live without it for a time. Just the nature of our times.

  • Posted by: td4207 - Feb. 24, 2023 7:39 PM ET USA

    How sad. I fear the effort to woo the Pius X group back into the fold has now collapsed. Will frustrated traditionalists see a reason to join them? And the fallout from the Synodal way has already begun in Germany.

  • Posted by: Gramps - Feb. 24, 2023 6:17 PM ET USA


  • Posted by: edward.caron2084 - Feb. 24, 2023 7:32 AM ET USA

    Perfectly said. Woe to you Pharisees and Scribes who lead the sheep away.

  • Posted by: mverner1960 - Feb. 24, 2023 6:25 AM ET USA

    Yes. Unfortunately.

  • Posted by: Randal Mandock - Feb. 24, 2023 1:19 AM ET USA

    The spurious "spirit of Vatican II" was under constant assault by the pontificates of Pope's St. JPII and Benedict XVI, and the nearly 2-millennial Church was on the rise. Then along came the Obama/Biden version of the papacy and the exodus of millions of Catholics. The rise of authoritarianism is as destructive within the Catholic Church as it is in Western governments: cf. Canada, New Zealand, Australia, England, the U.S. Gamaliel: "But if it be of God, you cannot overthrow it..." (Acts 5:39).

  • Posted by: kdrotar16365 - Feb. 23, 2023 9:34 PM ET USA

    Yep. You described it well, Mr. Lawler. Makes perfect sense, no?

  • Posted by: chapman18668 - Feb. 23, 2023 4:09 PM ET USA