Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

Enemies of the Motu Proprio

by Alberto Carosa


Alberto Carosa examines the resistance and even open rebellion against Pope Benedict XVI's apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum issued motu proprio, in which the Holy Father lifted restrictions on the celebration of the older "extraordinary" form of the Roman Rite that was promulgated by John XXIII in 1962.

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The Rockford Institute, Rockford, IL, February 2008

In a private conversation before the release of the motu proprio "Summorum Pontificum," a leading personality of U.K. Catholicism predicted that the reinstatement of the Traditional Latin Mass would grant again such an abundant flow of graces that it would even effect the restoration of society on sound Christian principles. While that outcome remains to be seen, the release of the motu proprio has certainly sparked a series of controversies and debates — especially in Italy, the heart of Catholicism, and that goes a long way in showing how sensitive the issue is among faithful and non-faithful alike.

The news, which occupied a full page in La Stampa (November 26), that three priests went on an unprecedented "Mass strike" over the issue is still sending shock waves. The priests were not striking in protest of the motu proprio, as one might presume; instead, diocesan priests in the area of Domodossola (in northwestern Italy's Piedmont region) who were already celebrating the older (or "extraordinary," as termed in the motu proprio) form of the Roman Rite on a daily basis were protesting against their bishops, who would like them to celebrate the Novus Ordo (the "ordinary" form of the Roman Rite, as described in the motu proprio) and to say the Old Mass only once on Sundays and other feast days. Other Italian bishops have been even more defiant, plainly and openly criticizing the motu proprio and prohibiting the Traditional Latin Mass from being celebrated in their dioceses at all.

Each of these three priests may be overreacting to his bishop's decision to limit the number of Masses (a restriction that is not justified by the provisions of the motu proprio), but the recalcitrant bishops are directly resisting the will of Benedict XVI. This subversion was aptly described as "disobedient and proud" by Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The senior archbishop, a close aide to Benedict in the implementation of the motu proprio, told the Catholic News Agency (November 23, 2007) that he decried the action "and even rebellion" of many bishops who are trying to limit access to the Old Mass. "On the part of some dioceses, there have been interpretive documents that inexplicably aim to limit the Motu Proprio of the pope," he noted. His comments come in response to "interpretations" of the motu proprio supported by the bishops of England and Wales that priests still needed to ask permission from their bishops to celebrate the Tridentine Mass. Archbishop Ranjith said that, in these dissents, "there hide, on the one hand, ideological prejudices and, on the other hand, pride, which is one of the most serious sins." He reminded the bishops that they, "in particular, have sworn fidelity to the pontiff . . ."

In contrast to the pontificate of Pope John Paul II, Benedict has not given in to such intimidation and promises to stay the course, so much so that the Vatican, through the secretary of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei," Msgr. Camille Perl., has announced that an additional document is being prepared and will be published by the commission explaining some specific points of Summorum Pontificum, including what criteria may be used to identify a stably existing group of the faithful (whose request for the older form of the Mass is supposed to be granted) and clarifications regarding the differences between the calendars of the two forms of the Roman Rite. This follow-up document, said Monsignor Perl, is in sharp response to "Too many disobedient bishops and priests."

"You'd have to ask them," was the senior prelate's diplomatic answer when asked why so many bishops and priests are opposing the motu proprio. "Personally, I believe that the problem is of a more general nature," he opined. "Today, in many spheres of society, the sense of obedience and respect of authority has been lost. Few truly are, so to say, able to obey." The Second Vatican Council never abolished the previous missal, he pointed out. "I hold that Pope Benedict XVI has done well to lift its restrictions, thus underscoring the value of a patrimony, a jewel of the Church."

In an interview in the Holy See's daily L'Osservatore Romano (November 19-20), Archbishop Ranjith did not hesitate to say that the liturgical abuses and lack of respect for the norms of the ordinary rite of the Mass help explain why Pope Benedict XVI decided to lift the restrictions on the celebration of the rite of St. Pius V. "[T]hroughout the years, the liturgy suffered too many abuses that were ignored by the bishops," he said, so "Benedict XVI could not remain silent." This was compounded by the fact that requests for the ancient rite "were increasing over time" in direct proportion to the "lack of fidelity and the loss of the sense of beauty" in the liturgy. So it was not only traditionalist groups who were asking for the Old Mass but those who were scandalized by the priests' lack of respect for the rubrics of the Novus Ordo.

In a speech entitled "Geloof, gehoorzaamheid en theologie" ("Faith, Obedience, and Theology"), delivered at the annual meeting of the Dutch Latin Liturgy Association (Vereniging voor Latijnse Liturgie) on October 6, 2007, Archbishop Ranjith went even further. "What the Holy Father says, has to be obeyed in the Church," he contended.

If we do not follow this principle, we will allow ourselves to be used as instruments of the devil, and nobody else. This will lead to discord in the Church, and slows down her mission. We do not have the time to waste on this. Otherwise we behave like emperor Nero, fiddling on his violin while Rome was burning. The churches are emptying, there are no vocations, the seminaries are empty. Priests become older and older, and young priests are scarce.

This Sri Lankan prelate is generally described by acquaintances as a mild and circumspect man, so the use of such pointed language ("instruments of the devil"), as some analysts are arguing, suggests that, he has been encouraged by his superiors to speak boldly. As Archbishop Ranjith's immediate superior at the Congregation for Divine Worship, Francis Cardinal Arinze, has been mostly silent about the motu proprio, one can reasonably conclude that any such encouragement has come from Benedict himself.

The Pope's decision to make Giovanni Maria Vian the editor of L'Osservatore Romano is another indication of his determination to see that his motu proprio is implemented. After Mr. Vian took the helm, the Holy See's paper finally started to cover the "battle on liturgy" — as exemplified by the interview with Archbishop Ranjith. In the past, the subject of the Old Mass was not, addressed in its pages.

According to the Italian news agency Adnkronos (as reported on, the Commission "Ecclesia Dei" will soon publish an admonition to the seminaries "in which it is required that the celebration of the Latin Mass be taught to future priests." It, is not yet clear, though, if the order will be a separate document or part of the above-mentioned clarification of the motu proprio.

Interestingly, Archbishop Ranjith also said that the dissenting bishops and priests are motivated, in part, by "ideological prejudices." As laymen, we are fully entitled to thrash out such "ideological prejudices," since ideology always carries a political dimension. And here, this dimension is not difficult to see: Those who are most active and vociferous in opposing the motu proprio — clergy and laity alike — are the same people who regularly side with and support the most progressive sectors of the Catholic Church: those for whom Church history starts with the Second Vatican Council.

In particular, the members of the "School of Bologna" have been very successful in spreading and imposing this progressive vision, especially through the work of Giuseppe Alberigo and Fr. Giuseppe Dossetti, who were reported by the Catholic News Agency (November 12, 2007) as having gone so far as to claim that Vatican II was "a Copernican revolution, the passing to . . . another Catholicism." Prof Giuseppe Alberigo of the University of Bologna published a five-volume set between 1995 and 2001 on the history of the Church, including a volume on Vatican II. For his part, Father Dossetti (1913-96) was a confidant of Giacomo Cardinal Lercaro, one of the four moderators of Vatican II, and is on record as having bragged that he successfully swayed its outcome by guiding its procedures, even though his faction of progressive cardinals represented the overwhelming minority of the Council's fathers. As recalled by archbishop emeritus of Bologna Giacomo Cardinal Biffi in his newly published memoirs ("Memorie e digressioni di un italiano cardinale"), Father Dossetti was also the founding father of "cattocomunismo" (a combination of catholic and communism), a sort of impossible and utopian synthesis between Christianity and Marxism that forms the backbone of the ideology upheld by the leading progressive factions in the Church. Needless to say, as with all such unnatural hybridizations, the end result is plain communism, with no real semblance of Christianity remaining. Cattocomunismo means the acceptance of virtually all of leftism's "values," from abortion and euthanasia to homosexual unions.

Benedict XVI has made it no mystery as to where he stands on these controversies. Besides flatly restating that Vatican II is in full and strict continuity with the Church's Tradition (which contradicts the interpretation of the Council as a "break with the past"), in his discourse to the Roman Curia on December 22, 2005, he insisted that the Church-promoted culture of life and family is "non-negotiable." Additionally, in his recent encyclical Spe salvi ("Saved by Hope"), released on November 30, 2007, he blasted Marxism as an ideology that has produced terrible cruelty and injustice. He said that the ideologies and revolutions of the 19th and 20th centuries had failed to satisfy humanity's search for justice, and that Christian hope is the answer. Hopes of a just but godless order of things produced atheistic ideologies, which yielded "the greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice." Marxism has blazed a "trail of appalling destruction." Marx's fundamental error, he surmised, "is materialism," which spawns a vision of society that is devoid of traditional morality and directed toward man, not God.

Perhaps this is why the followers of cattocomunismo are crying foul at the motu proprio: Any attempt to restore the Church's tradition and authority threatens their agenda.

Alberto Carosa is an independent journalist who writes from Rome.

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