Catholic Culture Overview
Catholic Culture Overview

When the Pope breaks the rules

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Mar 22, 2022

Today on The Catholic Thing, Father Gerald Murray writes about the appearance of Pope Francis earlier this month at the Gesu, the Jesuit church in Rome. The Pontiff was not the principal celebrant at the Mass, nor did he wear vestments. But he did preach and he did concelebrate. He thereby violated several of the Church’s liturgical rules. Father Murray writes:

Is the pope subject to liturgical law? Yes. Can he dispense himself from liturgical laws? Yes, but canon 90 states that there must be “a just and reasonable cause” for a dispensation.

Maybe the Pope did dispense himself from the rules. But he gave no indication that he had done so, nor was there any evidence of a “just a reasonable cause.” So what the world saw—not for the first time—was the Roman Pontiff ignoring the rules of the Church.

Frankly, it isn’t news when a priest violates liturgical rules. It happens fairly routinely, sad to say. In fact just a few months ago, in Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis himself wrote: “I am saddened by abuses of the liturgy on all sides.” Yet here the Pope displayed the same cavalier attitude toward liturgical rules that he deplored last July. Father Murray remarks:

But it is precisely because he is the pope that we should be concerned about his decision to disregard the rules governing the celebration of Mass. The pope is the supreme authority in the Church and as such is called upon to uphold the Church’s laws, lest he scandalize the faithful by giving a bad example. The scandal would consist in giving the impression that, following the example of the pope, any priest is perfectly free to do whatever he wants when it comes to following liturgical law.

If the Pope thinks that the rules are inappropriate, then he—as supreme legislator for the Church—can see that they are changed. If he thinks they are cumbersome in a particular case, he can dispense himself and explain why. But if the Pope simply ignores the rules, what defense do we poor lay people have against the priests (and they are legion) who act as if there are no rules?

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: Cory - Mar. 23, 2022 9:43 AM ET USA

    But seriously, why are we shocked. Isn't this the norm in the current pontificate? Make a mess people.

  • Posted by: dcnmthompson7484 - Mar. 22, 2022 8:54 PM ET USA

    Perhaps the pope and his cohorts are attempting to dissolve the church into the world.

  • Posted by: johnhinshaw8419405 - Mar. 22, 2022 11:09 AM ET USA

    It is so tiresome to have to live in these aged days with the same spectacle, on a world stage, of what I saw when I was a young man in the 1970s in the diocese of my youth. But, of course, there was no correction back then so this festered and grew all the way to the Vatican.