The celebration this morning, Saturday, July 31, 2021, at 7 a.m. of a Mass or prayer for Pope Francis according to the old Tridentine rite, in the Church of St. John the Baptist Church in Front Royal, Virginia, USA, at the head of the Shenandoah Valley. The Mass was attended by about 70 people.
“In this case, the major lobby group in the Italian bishops’ conference was set against Summorum Pontificum, mainly because in Italy, rather later than in France, young priests were beginning to celebrate the traditional Mass and to adopt more traditional ideas. They noticed a “traditionalization” of the seminaries, which worried them greatly. In the Curia as well, people like Cardinal Parolin, Cardinal Stella in the Congregation for Clergy, etc., were also very concerned.” —Fr. Claude Barthe, a French priest who has been a leading proponent of the old Mass in France, in a recent interview in the French journal Présent, translated into English by Rorate Caeli here. His point is that Pope Francis did not decide to publish his decree just on his own, but was urged to do so by these Italians prelates in his inner circle
“The Virginian? He may not realize it yet, but he is the last hope of the Third Revolution. The First Revolution was won at Yorktown. The Second Revolution was lost at Appomattox. The Third Revolution will begin there, in the Shenandoah Valley.” —The late Walker Percy, a Catholic convert who won the National Book Award in 1962 for his novel The Moviegoer, in his later novel, Lancelot (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1977), p. 220. Christendom College was founded in the Shenandoah Valley in 1977
Interview with Fr. Claude Barthe
“Traditionis custodes: A New Liturgical War”
With the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes published on July 16, Pope Francis “unravels” his predecessor Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of July 7, 2007 by drastically limiting the celebration of the traditional Mass.
Father, rumors about this motu proprio, which practically cancels Benedict XVI’s motu proprio of July 7, 2007, have been floating around for some time. Did you expect it to be published so soon, on July 16?
Fr. Claude Barthe: None of us were quite sure. There had been various rumors. In Rome there was talk of an August publication, while others warned of an imminent publication. The latter version turned out to be true. The Secretariat of State, which led all this, was extremely discreet, it must be admitted.
Recent events seemed to point towards the possibility of an appeasement — such as the words of Cardinal Gambetti, archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, who appealed to Summorum Pontificum in a recent interview on Vatican News. Were these hopes unfounded?
Fr. Barthe: I don’t know what Cardinal Gambetti did or said to the Pope, but it is certain that requests were made to postpone this document so as not to start a new liturgical war in the Church. Notably, some say that Cardinal Ladaria, president of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, held it back as long as he could, as did others. In the end, the decision was made by the Pope and by those who lobbied him to take it, especially the Secretary of State, Cardinal Parolin, the substitute, Cardinal Peña Parra, Cardinal Versaldi, and others who were involved, that is, who participated in these inter-dicastery meetings (meetings between the prefects of the congregations concerned: Divine Worship, Clergy, Bishops, and the Secretariat of State) and who have been working on this document for a long time.
How did the supporters of Francis’ motu proprio win through?
Fr. Barthe:It was enough to convince the Pope! He has the power to go against anyone… In this case, the major lobby group in the Italian bishops’ conference was set against Summorum Pontificum, mainly because in Italy, rather later than in France, young priests were beginning to celebrate the traditional Mass and to adopt more traditional ideas. They noticed a “traditionalization” of the seminaries, which worried them greatly. In the Curia as well, people like Cardinal Parolin, Cardinal Stella in the Congregation for Clergy, etc., were also very concerned.
What are their arguments for questioning Benedict XVI’s document?
Fr. Barthe: They are laid out clearly in the accompanying letter. They can also be found on the blog of Andrea Grillo, a lay professor of liturgy at St. Anselm’s who has been extremely hostile to Summorum Pontificum. His idea, taken up by the Pope and the crafters of the recent motu proprio, is that the traditional Mass represents a state of doctrine prior to Vatican II while the new Mass represents the doctrine of Vatican II – something we all already knew. Therefore, it was no longer necessary for the traditional Mass to be a right, but only a tolerance, and even then a tolerance only granted to faithful and priests to help them gradually transition to the new Mass.
So the main reason is doctrinal?
Fr. Barthe: Yes, and it is very important to say this and to be aware of it because, paradoxically, this is all very providential. It is of course very painful. It will hinder the diffusion of the traditional Mass. It will start new persecutions. But, on the other hand, it puts the finger on what hurts, namely the doctrinal status of Vatican II, which has never been settled.
How does this motu proprio affect the Ecclesia Dei communities — if we can still call them that?
Fr. Barthe: It will affect them. They are also in the crosshairs, that’s for sure. The document says it clearly, the Pope’s letter indicates it in a cynical way. It is a question of destroying the traditional celebration of the Mass by ensuring there will be no more priests to celebrate it. These communities are particularly targeted because they are “factories” for such priests, as is the Society of St. Pius X, which was alone at the beginning. Henceforth, these institutes are no longer under the jurisdiction of Ecclesia Dei, which no longer exists, nor under the Congregation of the Faith, which is relatively protective, but under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Religious. They’ve been reduced from their status of pontifical right. The Congregation for Religious, presided by Cardinal Braz de Aviz, is very much aligned with Francis and is going to get work to put things in order. For example, they will make canonical visits to the seminaries to verify that the teaching given there is in conformity with Vatican II, and to ensure they study and celebrate the new liturgy there. In short: the goal will be to discourage vocations. When we object: “But you are going to cause these institutes’ vocations to dry up”, they answer, “But we don’t need these people, they are useless.” (That was the actual response of a certain person I shall not name!).
So for them, the good of souls is of little importance?
Fr. Barthe: In fact, yes. For them, the good of souls is Vatican II. They prefer not to have priests than to have those they think are bad priests. It’s appalling – even diabolical. It has to be said: this pontificate is attacking every place where there is priestly renewal. The Franciscans of the Immaculate was one example, but there are many others.
In fact, Benedict XVI’s motu proprio was never fully applied, but it did permit the application of John Paul II’s 1988 motu proprio. With Francis, are we now returning to the situation of the 1970s, the period right after the Council?
Fr. Barthe: We have forgotten how terrible those times were to live through. It is different in the sense that 50 years have passed and the persecutors are much less strong than they were at that time. The conciliar Church is very sick, in some places it is dying, like in many French dioceses. It has no more troops, especially no more priests.
For example, are we going back to the atrocious situation of the 1970s, when requests for a traditional funeral mass were systematically denied?
Fr. Barthe: Theoretically, yes. The last motu proprio does not speak of this, but it speaks of things that are permitted, and this is not one of them. I shall celebrate a traditional funeral in Provence in a few days. Theoretically I could be forbidden. For a wedding planned for September, it’s the same thing.
Even if you ask permission?
Fr. Barthe:We ask permission for group Masses. In general, it is better not to ask for clarification, and just to do it…
What will become of the authorization granted by Francis himself to the priests of the Society of St. Pius X to celebrate marriages and funerals in parishes? Isn’t there a contradiction there?
Fr. Barthe: That hasn’t changed! Yes, there is a contradiction there… But will they still have the right to celebrate publicly in a parish? I repeat: it is better not to dig too deep for the moment. Each should interpret himself or leave it to the bishop to interpret, rather than getting into details.
What do you think the bishops’ reactions will be? I am thinking of the Archbishop of Ferrara, not at all a conservative, who erected a personal parish for the extraordinary form 15 days before the Pope announced his document. Do you expect this kind of reaction?
Fr. Barthe: The case of Ferrara is very interesting in many ways. It shows this “left-wing” bishop’s independence from Pope Francis. In Italy, and in the Curia, people are distancing themselves from the pontiff. They feel that he is at the end of his career and are thinking about the future. They find the present government chaotic, and they want something more serious, and more true liberalism. As for the Bishop of Ferrara, it is clear: aware of the document and knowing that personal parishes would no longer be allowed to be erected, he erected one immediately: it’s great!
How do you imagine the French bishops will react?
Fr. Barthe: Their reactions will vary. Some will use the Pope’s text to repress as much as possible. Others will simply be realistic, they will not want to light fires in their own homes. I am thinking of the bishop of Versailles, who has just published a communiqué that is a little difficult to interpret but which seems to say that nothing will happen for the moment. There are still others who are in favor, there is no doubt, of this traditional life in their dioceses, even if they do not share the ideas. They will circle the wagons, play for time…
If they wanted to resist, they could do so, even canonically: Canon 87 paragraph 1 of Canon Law says that “A diocesan bishop, whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the Church.” This opens up many possibilities. The bishop still has to want to act. Now, contrary to what we are told about synodality, it really only works one way, in favor of bishops who think like the pope. But when this is not the case… I’m reminded of the words of Archbishop Roche, the new prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, who recently said expressly – with a laugh: “We are going to destroy Summorum Pontificum. Liturgical power will be given to the bishops… but not to the conservative bishops!”
St. Pius V specifying that this Mass cannot be abrogated, Paul VI forbidding it, Benedict XVI re-establishing it, Francis again seeking to make it disappear: how can the Church’s decisions be taken seriously under these conditions?
Fr. Barthe: You are right. We must review the text of Quo Primum and what exactly St. Pius V says: he is saying that no one can prevent a priest from celebrating this Mass, no matter where he is in the Church, in order to oblige him to say it in one of the particular rites (Lyon, etc.)…
Aren’t we there in a certain way?
Fr. Barthe: In a certain way, we are there, indeed. The Mass of Saint Pius V, when it was abrogated by Paul VI (because it was abrogated, it must be said, Jean Madiran rightly pointed it out), was identical, almost in detail, to what it was in the eleventh century. Benedict XVI, in Summorum Pontificum, said that it had never been abrogated. Then Francis again abrogates it… That doesn’t sound very serious.
We come back to the fact that all experiments are permitted, including blessings of homosexual couples (forbidden by the Church), except “the experiment of Tradition”, according to the expression of Archbishop Lefebvre…
Fr. Barthe: Everything is allowed, any heresy can be professed by men of the Church , who still get to keep their Catholic “identity card” – except those who celebrate or attend the traditional Mass. No, they are accused by the Pope himself of tearing apart the unity of the Church.
So, the bottom line is that this hatred of the traditional Mass has a doctrinal basis?
Fr. Barthe: Absolutely. It is the hatred of the Tridentine ecclesiology, of all that this Mass represents from the point of view of Eucharistic doctrine as well as the doctrine of the Church.
Father, as chaplain of the Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage, often mentioned in our pages, you are well placed to answer us. Does this pilgrimage have a bright future ahead of it?
Fr. Barthe: Who knows? Let’s wait and see!
[Original publication in French by Présent; translation by Zachary Thomas.]