Was the suppression of the Traditional Mass a result of manipulation? The consultative process leading to the issuing of Traditionis custodes, Pope Francis’ July 16, 2021 motu proprio suppressing the Traditional Latin Mass, was presented by the Vatican as fair and above board. But this research shows that the process was, in fact, not fair, transparent or above board. The process, this research shows, was tendentious, opaque and unfair
By Diane Montagna
Editor’s note: This text was delivered as a talk by Diane Montagna at the Catholic Identity Conference in Pittsburgh on October 3, 2021. It was published on October 7, 2021, in The Remnant, with slight editorial changes for print. It is reprinted here with permission of the author, Diane Montagna, and The Remnant’s editor, Michael Matt.
“Nothing is hidden that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light” (Luke 8:17).
Sometimes things are not as they seem. And sometimes, there are two “realities”: one that is officially given by those in power, and one that we then discover to be the truth.
When, on July 16, 2021, Pope Francis promulgated Traditionis Custodes, restricting the traditional Latin Mass, he said that according to the results of a recent Vatican consultation of bishops, the norms of his predecessors Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI, had been exploited by some who attend the traditional Latin Mass to sow dissent from the Second Vatican Council.
In the apostolic letter, Pope Francis writes in regard to the survey of bishops: “In line with the initiative of my Venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI to invite the bishops to assess the application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum three years after its publication, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith carried out a detailed consultation of the bishops in 2020. The results have been carefully considered in the light of experience that has matured during these years.”
He continues: “Having considered the wishes expressed by the episcopate and having heard the opinion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, I now desire, with this Apostolic Letter, to press on ever more in the constant search for ecclesial communion. Therefore, I have considered it appropriate to establish the following…”
Pope Francis then proceeds to outline the new restrictions to the Traditional Latin Mass.
Along with the decree, Pope Francis also issued an accompanying letter, addressed to the bishops of the world. He introduced it by noting that, as Benedict XVI had done with Summorum Pontificum in 2007, he too wished to explain the “motives that prompted [his] decision” to restrict the Traditional Latin Mass.
First among them, he says, are the results of the survey sent to bishops worldwide by the CDF. Pope Francis explains: “I instructed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to circulate a questionnaire to the Bishops regarding the implementation of the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum. The responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me and persuades me of the need to intervene. Regrettably, the pastoral objective of my Predecessors, who had intended ‘to do everything possible to ensure that all those who truly possessed the desire for unity would find it possible to remain in this unity or to rediscover it anew’, has often been seriously disregarded. An opportunity offered by St. John Paul II and, with even greater magnanimity, by Benedict XVI, intended to recover the unity of an ecclesial body with diverse liturgical sensibilities, was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”
Based on these results, Pope Francis concludes that: “In defense of the unity of the Body of Christ, I am constrained to revoke the faculty granted by my Predecessors. The distorted use that has been made of this faculty is contrary to the intentions that led to granting the freedom to celebrate the Mass with the Missale Romanum of 1962.”
Further on in the accompanying letter, yet another reference is made to the results of the questionnaire, Pope Francis says: “Responding to your requests, I take the firm decision to abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede the present Motu proprio, and declare that the liturgical books promulgated by the saintly Pontiffs Paul VI and John Paul II, in conformity with the decrees of Vatican Council II, constitute the unique [unica] expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”
According to Pope Francis, then, the consultation of bishops played a fundamental role in his decision to severely restrict the traditional Mass. As he said himself, the results so “preoccupied and saddened” him, that they “persuaded” him to “intervene.” And he ordered that the decree take immediate effect.
Following the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes, considerable speculation was therefore swirling about the survey, but the Vatican has not published its results.
A CDF superior speaks out
Four days later, on July 20, 2021, a Catholic News Service interview appeared in the National Catholic Reporter and America Magazine, in which CDF superior, Archbishop Augustine DiNoia, who serves an adjunct secretary in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, voiced his support for the official narrative set forth by Pope Francis. DiNoia insisted that the Pope’s accompanying letter “fearlessly hits the nail on the head: the traditional Latin Mass movement has hijacked the initiatives of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI to its own ends.”
But does Traditionis Custodes truly reflect what the real situation is? Was the survey on which Pope Francis said he based his decision a fair consultation of the world’s bishops? Would this consultation be considered fair if some of the content of Traditionis Custodes had already been suggested during a plenary meeting of the CDF, at the end of January 2020, that gave way to a consultation that was meant to justify the decisions reached in Traditionis Custodes? Could it be called fair if it came to light that there was a second, parallel report created within the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, which was completed before all the responses from bishops had been received by the CDF? And could it be called fair if Traditionis Custodes did not accurately represent the main, detailed report prepared for Pope Francis by the CDF’s fourth section, i.e. the former Ecclesia Dei? Many people, in fact, knew that this report was being prepared.
Let’s examine what has now come to light about each of these three questions.
The 2020 Plenary Session
To our first question: Would it make sense to think that Traditionis Custodes was just the result of the consultation with the world’s bishops, when we now know that in late January 2020, a plenary session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith took place, where three cardinals were already laying the groundwork for the July 16, 2021 Motu Proprio?
On the afternoon of January 29, 2020, a plenary session meeting was held to discuss the fourth section of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, what was formerly known as the Pontifical Ecclesia Dei Commission, at which the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria, SJ, was not present due to illness.
Before going on, I should say that it is widely thought that Cardinal Ladaria was “reluctant” to publish Traditionis Custodes. He is said to be a good man, is extremely discreet, but will not ultimately go against the Holy Father’s wishes.
In Cardinal Ladaria’s absence, the assembly was chaired by CDF secretary, Archbishop Giacomo Morandi. Morandi, some of you may remember, was appointed to the CDF as undersecretary in 2015 before three officials were removed under Cardinal Müller. When Cardinal Müller was “ousted” in 2017, and Cardinal Ladaria was appointed Prefect, Morandi was promoted to secretary.
Also present at the January 29, 2020 plenary session were other members of the CDF, including Vatican Secretary of State, Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin; Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, Prefect of the Congregation for the Bishops; Italian Cardinal Giuseppe Versaldi, Prefect of the Congregation for Catholic Education; Cardinal Beniamino Stella, then-Prefect of
the Congregation for Clergy, American Cardinals Sean Patrick O’Malley and Donald Wuerl; Italian Archbishop Rino Fisichella, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of the New Evangelization; Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta, who serves as an adjunct secretary for the CDF; French Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard; French Archbishop Roland Minnerath; and others. The Pope would not have been at this sort of meeting.
According to reliable sources, Cardinal Parolin, Cardinal Ouellet and Cardinal Versaldi were leading the discussion and piloting it in a definite direction.
To give you a taste of what was said, one cardinal — who is considered more of an “acolyte” than a gang leader — expressed some alarm that close to 13,000 young people had registered for the Chartres pilgrimage.
He said we need to get to the bottom of why these young people are attracted to the traditional Mass and explained to the others present that many of these young people have “psychological and sociological problems.”
The cardinal in question has a background in canon law and psychology, so his remarks about “psychological problems” would have carried more weight, especially with bishops and cardinals who are not familiar with the traditional Latin Mass or Latin Mass circles.
Another cardinal said that from the little experience he had, “these groups don’t accept change” and they “participate without concelebrating.”
The CDF should therefore ask for a “concrete sign of communion, of the recognition of the validity of the Mass of Paul VI,” he insisted, adding that “we can’t go on like this.”
He seconded the concern that these groups attract young people and asked that concrete ways be found to demonstrate that these people are in the Church.
An Italian archbishop said he agreed the CDF shouldn’t resume discussions with the SSPX, because “there’s no dialogue with the deaf.” He lamented that Pope Francis had given concessions to the SSPX (Society of St. Pius X) in the Year of Mercy but was getting nothing in return.
The hour and a half meeting wrapped up with the following quote: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”
Despite the variety of observations offered at this plenary session — which again, lasted an hour and a half — there was only one conclusion that came out in the final proposals offered to the Holy Father. What was it?
To carefully study the eventual transfer of competence over the Ecclesia Dei Institutes and the other matters handled by the Fourth Section, to other Vatican dicasteries who deal with related matters: the Congregation for Divine Worship, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life (also known as the Congregation for Religious), and the Congregation for Clergy. In articles 6 and 7 of Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis sets forth these norms:
Art. 6: Institutes of consecrated life and Societies of apostolic life, erected by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, fall under the competence of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies for Apostolic Life.
Art. 7: The Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, for matters of their particular competence, exercise the authority of the Holy See with respect to the observance of these provisions.
Keep in mind that the questionnaire was sent out five months later, in May 2020. It is not known who wrote the questions.
So it seems the ball had already been set rolling at the plenary session in late January 2020.
A Second Parallel Report
Now to our second question: Could it be called fair if it came to light that there was a second, parallel report created within the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith’s doctrinal section, which was completed even before all the responses from bishops had been received by the CDF?
Reliable sources have confirmed that while the main report was being prepared, CDF superiors commissioned a second report in order to be sure that the main report reflected the feedback of the bishops.
The Congregation allegedly had to be sure that the main report didn’t just come to the usual conclusions, e.g. that the traditional Mass is a positive element in the life of the Church, etc., etc., etc.
The second report was therefore billed as a sort of second opinion, a check on the main report. CDF superiors therefore commissioned an official within the doctrinal section to write his own report.
It’s important to keep in mind that the responses would have been coming in by post or email, or through the nunciatures or episcopal conferences.
To review the timeline of how things unfolded:
The plenary session referred to above was held in January 2020.
The questionnaire was sent out the following May.
The bishops were given until October 2020 to respond, but as with things Roman, responses continued to come in until January 2021 and all of them were received, reviewed, and considered for the main report.
Concerning the second, parallel report, it is not known if the official assigned the task of writing it was told to come to certain conclusions.
What is certain is that the second parallel report, which to my knowledge was commissioned around November 2020, was handed in before Christmas.
However, at this point, the CDF was still receiving and processing responses to the survey, and did so until January 2021.
So the second report was surely incomplete, and also likely superficial, given how quickly it was completed, the volume of material to be analyzed, and the fact that material was being received in four or five languages.
So two reports were prepared. Was the one that best suited a certain agenda chosen as the basis of Traditionis Custodes? Or did those in charge — realizing that the material coming into the CDF would not reflect or justify what those pushing for restrictions wanted to prove — commission the second report and complete it in a matter of less than one month so that a sort of parallel text could be offered to the Holy Father?
It is unknown if Pope Francis read the second report, or if he received it before or after the main report. It’s been kept very quiet.
But what is coming to light, and we will look at this matter next, is that Traditionis Custodes does not reflect the premises or conclusions of the main detailed report.
So the question is: does it reflect the premises and conclusions of another report? Could this be the second report? Or could it perhaps not reflect the conclusions of any report but have been crafted otherwise?
The Main Report
Now to our third question: Could it be called fair if Traditionis Custodes did not accurately represent the main, detailed report prepared for Pope Francis by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith?
Earlier I referenced an interview that featured CDF adjunct secretary, Archbishop Augustine Di Noia, and was published on July 20, 2021, just four days after the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes.
Insisting that he was speaking “as a theologian,” and not as a CDF official, Archbishop Di Noia appeared to distance himself from the questionnaire, saying he did not have the results.
He also downplayed the importance of the consultation, saying the Pope’s “rationale for the abrogation of all previous provisions in this area is not based on the results of the questionnaire but only occasioned by them.” A rather odd formulation, given Pope Francis’s own explanation of his motives.
The article is presented as the summary of an email correspondence or call, so perhaps Archbishop Di Noia didn’t have the report on his desk when he was holding the phone or responding by email. But as a superior of the CDF, it’s impossible, it’s inconceivable that he didn’t at least have access to that report, which was drafted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure this out.
Could a person say, “As a theologian, I don’t have the results” when, as a CDF superior you would have received an advance copy and been present when the draft report was reviewed? The executive summary was seen in draft form by some in the CDF.
As an aside, the article also claims that Pope Francis “likely either consulted with or at least gave advance copies of the document to retired Pope Benedict.”
I have been told that the article I published in The Remnant on June 1, 2021, six weeks before Traditionis Custodes was promulgated, and which described what was in the first and third drafts, was given to Pope Benedict XVI. One reliable source told me afterward that the Pope Emeritus was “shocked.” It is therefore difficult to believe that he was consulted in any meaningful way.
Was Pope Francis given the main report?
Sources say that during an audience with CDF Prefect Cardinal Ladaria, Pope Francis literally snatched the working copy of the report from his hands, saying he wanted it immediately because he was curious about it.
Whether Pope Francis actually read the main report is unknown.
Contents of the Main Report in Light of the Consultation
To my knowledge, the main report was very thorough and was broken down into several sections.
One part was very analytical, offering analysis diocese by diocese, country by country, region by region, continent by continent, with pie charts and graphs.
Another part was a summary where all the argumentation was presented, along with recommendations and trends.
And to my knowledge, one part of the report contained quotations taken from the responses that came from the individual dioceses. This collection of quotations would have been included to give the Holy Father a well-rounded sampling of what the bishops said.
I had reported in June that only a third of the world’s bishops responded to the survey. One might argue that this is not a bad representation, given that one would not necessarily expect a response from many countries, e.g., where the Byzantine or other Eastern liturgies are celebrated.
In those regions where the traditional Mass is more widespread (i.e., France, the US, and England) the situation is very favorable. The CDF received a 65-75 percent response from these countries, and of that percentage more than 50 percent were favorable. This would have been reflected in the main report.
The executive summary would have also reflected that there is a lot of fruit being born from the traditional Mass.
What would a reasonable person have taken away from the main report? That a reasonable majority of bishops, using different words and in different ways, basically were sending the message: “Summorum Pontificum is fine. Don’t touch it.”
It would certainly not have been 80 percent who said this in this way. But over 35 percent of the bishops would have said, “Don’t touch anything, leave everything as it is.”
On top of this, another percentage of bishops would have said: “Basically don’t touch it, but there would be one or two things I’d suggest, like a bishop having a bit more control.”
Even some of the bishops who gave the most positive responses to the questionnaire made these sorts of comments or suggestions.
All told, then, more than 60 percent to two-thirds of bishops would have been on board with staying the course, perhaps with some slight modifications. The message was basically to leave Summorum Pontificum alone, and to continue with a prudent and careful application.
The main report spoke of areas where there’s room for improvement, such as more training in seminaries. Some bishops spoke of the need for more training in Extraordinary Form, and for the need for good liturgy in general. Some bishops would have spoken of a need for more Latin. Instead, as we see in Traditionis Custodes, the opposite is being decreed.
To my knowledge, what really happened is that all that was ancillary in the main report has been projected as a major problem and has been expanded, magnified and hugely taken out of proportion.
Take the problem of unity. This lack of unity, from what the bishops said, came from both directions, not just from traditional groups.
Some bishops — although they do not celebrate the traditional Mass themselves — said they are happy that the faithful have somewhere to go. They say that apart from the crazies that one can find in traditional circles — and equally, if not more, elsewhere — usually these groups are made up of young married couples with many children. They pray, they help the parish and diocese financially, they are involved in the parish and diocesan life very actively. They are well formed and appreciate good music. Very positive comments.
Again, regarding seminary formation, some bishops said they wished they had a greater presence of the Extraordinary Form of the Mass in their seminary and among younger priests, but they cannot do more than they are currently doing, because the older priests, especially those who lived the transition from before to after Vatican II, would create havoc in the diocese.
These older priests would see something in which they have been highly involved, and which was presented to them as a kind of victory, swept away by the younger priests and a supportive bishop, who is more supportive of tradition than of the object of their victory.
This sort of response, though a small percent, was not confined to one geographical location.
Interestingly, in Asia, some bishops said they have a problem with the Latin language, because it comes from a different region, which is completely understandable.
They effectively told the CDF: We would be very happy if someone from Rome would come and teach our priests, so that they could offer the Extraordinary Form. In our seminary, we don’t have it because the priests don’t know Latin and don’t know how to offer it. We would be happy to have it because it increases prayer and devotion. But all of this vanished and received no mention at all in Traditionis Custodes.
Obviously some bishops had negative comments, but reliable sources say that neither the responses, nor the main report, were predominantly negative.
The truly tragic situation, I am told, is in Italy. In many dioceses apart from places like Rome, Milan, Naples and Genoa, and perhaps a few others, Summorum Pontificum has barely, if at all, been implemented. And yet many bishops, who have no practical knowledge of Summorum Pontificum’s implementation, responded in ideological terms, saying (and I paraphrase): “This cannot be. It does not reflect Vatican II.”
There is even reason to believe that some of the Italian bishops were coached in their responses.
Italy has nearly 200 bishops representing very different backgrounds. They come from different geographical locations, seminaries and universities, and experiences of priestly formation.
Yet many of them in their response used the same phrase, “return to the preSummorum Pontificum” regime. In Italian, the phrase is: “Tornare al regime precedente di Summorum Pontificum.”
This is somewhat odd, especially when even bishops who don’t have any real presence of the Extraordinary Form in their diocese incorporate it into their response.
A further point: In the article mentioned earlier, Archbishop Di Noia claimed that “the thing has gotten totally out of control and become a movement, especially in the U.S., France and England.” (Actually, these are not countries where the traditional Latin Mass is “out of control” but simply widespread.) But since Traditionis Custodes provides means to take control of this “out of control” situation, according to Di Noia, one would think that the American, French and English bishops would have immediately applied it with the strongest possible interpretation. Presumably, they would have taken advantage of the fact that it was immediately applicable, but that hasn’t happened, so where’s the “out of control”?
This was reflected in the bishops’ responses after the promulgation of Traditionis Custodes. The first reaction was often to decree that everything would continue as is, until there is time to study, discuss, etc.
Where bishops already opposed the Extraordinary Form, they decided to be more holy than the Pope and to ban it.
But most bishops said they would guarantee the pastoral care of those attached to the traditional Latin Mass.
This was in line with the way bishops expressed themselves in their responses to the survey. In fact, when these decrees came out, they reflected the tone that the bishop had used when he responded.
The key point, as you will have likely gathered by now, is that the premises and conclusions of Traditionis Custodes are not the same as those presented in the detailed main report produced by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Traditionis Custodes was not consistent with what the main report recommended or revealed. As one source said, “What they are really interested in doing is cancelling the Old Mass, because they hate it.”
As I mentioned earlier, to my knowledge, one part of the report contained quotations taken from the responses that came in from the individual dioceses.
These were meant to provide the Holy Father with a representative sampling of responses, and were broken down into various categories.
These included: “negative evaluations about the attitude of certain faithful”; “on the isolation of the community”; a very brief section “on the irrelevance of the EF for the people”; “on the need and/or pastoral fittingness of the EF”; “on those whom the EF attracts”; a considerable section of quotations on “the value of the EF for the peace and unity of the Church”; “on the liturgical theological and catechetical value of the EF”; “on the historic value of the EF”; “on the influence of the EF on the OF”; “on the influence of the EF on seminaries and/or houses of formation”; and a long final section of “proposals for the future.”
One can see from the quotations included that the findings were not sugar-coated.
Let’s consider just a few of them from the various categories (EF=Extraordinary Form; OF=Ordinary Form).
[Editor’s Note: Diane Montagna here gives many quotations from the unpublished text of the surveys of the world’s bishops. For reasons of space, we have excerpted some of these quotations in the boxes on the previous pages.]
What’s next? It’s hard to tell. Some have suggested that an implementing instruction of Traditionis Custodes could be forthcoming, perhaps by Christmas, but this is still unknown.
We have grown used to the Holy See supporting the liturgical peace of the Church, but we can no longer take that for granted.
In conclusion, and by way of advice: Priests, stable groups, and individuals should refrain from any correspondence with the Holy See. Those attached to the traditional Latin Mass should also avoid giving the impression that they are “warriors” in their diocese or parish, who are always protesting or unhappy. The goal must be to not lose the traditional Latin Mass as a normal form of prayer. And, as children of the heavenly Father, we must pray for the hierarchy. This is our duty.
Individual diocesan priests should continue offering private Masses, since the 1962 Missal has not been abrogated.
Bishops whom the Holy Father has entrusted with the task of guarding tradition should truly evaluate whether the implementation of Traditionis Custodes would bring true spiritual benefits to their flock. Bishops might realize that what inspired the Holy Father is totally different from the situation in their own diocese and act accordingly.
Today is the 450th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and commemorates the victory of the Holy League (an alliance of Catholic States commissioned to defeat the Turks) over the fleet of the Ottoman Empire.
It was the largest naval battle in Western history since classical antiquity. St. Pope Pius V (1504-1572), who commissioned the Holy League, put as much emphasis on the power of Rosary as he did on the Holy League.
He is also known for his role in the Council of Trent, for codifying the Rosary, and for promulgating the 1570 Missale Romanum with the papal bull, Quo Primum.
With this bull, the saintly Pope sought to ensure that no one could ever change the Mass.
At the Battle of Lepanto, the only thing standing between Europe and its certain destruction were the men of Christendom willing to answer the call of the Church, and their readiness to pray the Rosary in defense of Catholic Europe.
May such men arise today in defending the traditional Roman liturgy, and may Our Lady have the victory!