Jeanne Smits, Paris correspondent


French bishops reopen liturgical wars with report critical of Latin Mass

Many followers of the 'Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite' have voiced their concerns about the future of the traditional Latin Mass in France, when the hostility of so many bishops is becoming so evident.
Fri Feb 5, 2021 - 8:38 pm EST
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Notre Dame Cathedral burning in Paris. Loic Salan /

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February 5, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — After the leaking by “Paix Liturgique” (“Liturgical Peace”) of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF)’s report on the application of Pope Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum in France, many followers of the “Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite” have voiced their concerns about the future of the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) in their country, when the hostility of so many bishops is becoming so evident.

Father Claude Barthe, chaplain of the yearly international Summorum Pontificum pilgrimage in Rome, answered questions from the mainly Catholic news blog “Le Rouge et le Noir.” A longtime observer of the innovations in the Catholic Church, Fr. Barthe is not worried at this point, among others because of Pope Francis’s “lack of interest” in the liturgical issue. But he does underscore that the present goal of the report is clearly to obtain “bi-ritualism,” by which priests refusing to celebrate the New Mass would not be accepted in French dioceses.

He first of all noted that the report, an answer to the questionnaire sent out in July by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to all the bishops’ conferences, was supposed to have been synthesized and written up in Rome. France and Italy, at least, came up with their own, “channeled” reports, at a time when a “powerful pressure group” exists that is hostile to Summorum Pontificum itself.

Here is Claude Barthe’s answer to the following first question.

R&N: Why did the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) commission a report on the results of Benedict XVI’s motu proprio on the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, and why did this report end up in the press?

Fr. Claude Barthe: The report in question is a synthesis in ten pages, produced within an office of the French Bishops’ Conference, of the responses made by these bishops to a questionnaire from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. To understand the context of this survey, it is necessary to know that there exists in the Italian episcopate and in the Roman Curia (at the Secretariat of State among others) a powerful pressure group that is very hostile to the status granted to the traditional liturgy by Benedict XVI’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum (in which this liturgy is qualified as an “extraordinary form of the Roman rite,” EFRR) — a privileged status, according to this group. This group obtained the suppression of the Commission Ecclesia Dei, whose competencies were taken over by an office of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It was probably in an effort to silence these recriminations against the traditional liturgy that Pope Francis asked the CDF to launch an investigation last March (with nine questions: “What is the situation in your diocese with respect to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite?”; “If the extraordinary form is practiced there, does it respond to a true pastoral need or is it promoted by a single priest?”; etc.).

In theory, the bishops were to send their responses to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. But both the Italian and the French Bishops’ Conferences, and perhaps others, decided to gather and synthesize the responses themselves, and then send them to Rome: this seemed to them more “collegial” and allowed them to instill a general direction on the issue. The present synthesis of the CEF, an internal document, was sent to the CDF and to each of the French bishops. It was leaked and published by Paix Liturgique.

LifeSite asked Father Barthe to explain what he meant in saying Pope Francis was trying to “silence these recriminations against the traditional liturgy.” He replied that Pope Francis himself had “without doubt” ordered the questionnaire to be sent out, not to silence the traditional Mass, because he has no wish to “suppress the traditional sphere,” but because he likes disruption and perhaps was aiming to “bury the problem” of hostility toward Summorum Pontificum by creating the equivalent of a commission — a well tested policy.

He also told LifeSite that many of the members of this informal pressure group are well known. At the head of the group, a layman named Andrea has openly asked for the end of the “liturgical exception” made for the TLM. The present secretary of state, Cdl. Pietro Parolin, and a large part of his Secretariat are more or less on the same line, as is the Italian Bishops’ Conference — whose synthesis report to date remains unpublished for the general public.

“The idea that the two forms of the Roman Rite should have equal rights is unthinkable for these people,” Barthe told LifeSite. They are hostile to the Ecclesia Dei Commission that has already been demoted and integrated into the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after having been protected by the then-cardinal Ratzinger and later Pope Benedict XVI. According to Barthe, intercongregational reunions have already taken place including Cardinals Stella (Congregation for the Clergy) and Braz de Aviz (Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life), who would like to see the traditional institutes attached to these congregations rather than to the CDF.

The second question put forth by Le Rouge et le Noir asked for a general assessment of the CEF’s attitude.

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R&N: Is the CEF report an attack on Tradition, or does it recognize some of its qualities?

Fr. Claude Barthe: Its author has produced a synthesis that is on the whole hostile to traditional liturgy, or at least to its being too visible. Admittedly, he listed positive findings concerning Summorum Pontificum stated by the bishops in their responses: pacification, the fulfillment of a pastoral need, a positive influence on respect for rigor in the celebration of the Ordinary Mass, but he systematically downplayed them. If we are to believe the redactor, the bishops are saying that the Extraordinary Form is not missionary, which is quite staggering, considering that parish Masses are increasingly deserted, while traditional celebrations are full to bursting point and are bringing about a significant number of conversions, especially among young people (the synthesis recognizes the appeal of the Extraordinary Form for young people but explains it away by their so-called “fragility,” their desire for a reassuring identity ...).

The figures given with respect to traditional Masses are typically “police figures” (they are said to attract an average of between 20 and 70 people ...). And yet, it is clear that the public existence of the traditional Mass is now an established fact in France. It is a fact that many bishops would like to limit or reduce, but they no longer dispute it.

Speaking with LifeSite, Fr. Barthe added that to his belief, in France, “pressure from the base” is so heavily in favor of Summorum Ponticum that the “summit” of the hierarchy will not be able to counter it. “And this pressure will always exist,” he added. “They are taking the risk of reopening the post-conciliar war, but now with the threat of losing people to the traditional institutes, of emptying diocesan parishes.”

The third and fourth questions of R&N were worded as follows:

R&N: On reading the document, you get the impression that the CEF is settling certain scores with the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP). What do you think of this?

Fr. Claude Barthe: It is opposed to all the traditional institutes. Against the FSSP, because its priests refuse to concelebrate on Holy Thursday with the diocesan presbyterate; against the ICKSP, as it reports that a bishop was surprised that this institute organized a trip with young people under 18 to attend ordinations in Gricigliano (corruption of minors?); against all the communities, because of the  “poor” formation of their priests — read this as meaning that is not sufficiently in line with Vatican II — with these suspicions being clearly formulated with regard to the teaching given by the Fraternity of St. Peter and the Institute of Christ the King.

R&N: The report reveals a profound misunderstanding of Tradition. Is this ignorance or bad faith (the document criticizes in particular the mediocrity of the sermons of the traditionalist abbots)?

Fr. Claude Barthe: There is at times an astonishing ignorance of facts: for example, the synthesis claims that celebrations of weddings, funerals, baptisms are exceptional! As for the lack of familiarity with the preaching of the traditional ministers, which is considered to be “mediocre” (which makes one smile, at the very least, when one thinks of many parish preachings…), it is ideological: their sermons are considered too old-fashioned, based on an outdated catechism, not “conciliar” enough. How should we qualify the kind of misconception that allows the CEF to assert that the Society of Saint Pius X is “outside the Church”? After all, the CEF knows that Pope Francis gave its priests the power to [absolve] and the ability to receive a delegation to celebrate marriages.

Barthe commented for LifeSite that Pope Francis “likes” the SSPX and might even want to put the whole traditional world in its sphere so as not to have it in the parishes. “This would be impossible juridically and from the psychological point of view, both sides would find it unthinkable,” he said. This solution would allow to create a “red line,” with the SSPX and those who are “against” the Second Vatican Council forming a “world apart.”

Finally, R&N asked:

R&N: Does the CEF have the objective of imposing bi-ritualism and total and unconditional adherence to all the contents of the Second Vatican Council, even though it is presented as a pastoral council, on priests who celebrate the Extraordinary Form?

Fr. Claude Barthe: The CEF has merely collected — and channeled — the wishes that the bishops of France are presenting to Rome. These wishes, in fact, apart from the one not to let the traditional celebrations proliferate (“be careful not to extend the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite”), boil down to this one: to lead the priests and the faithful of the FERR towards bi-formalism (your slip of the tongue — “bi-ritualism” — would be considered as revealing by the CEF!).

It is doubtful that Pope Francis would follow them on these grounds, simply because the subject does not interest him. On the other hand, in the long run, there could be pressure on the Ecclesia Dei Institutes for bi-formalism: it could happen that they are reduced to common law, that is to say, like all religious institutes, placed under the jurisdiction of the Congregation for Religious and no longer under that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. If this were to happen, as a result of complaints from some members of these communities, canonical visitations and other means, these institutes could be destabilized. But we have not reached that point yet.

On the subject of adhesion to Vatican II, the CEF document points out — and rightly so — that attachment to the traditional liturgy has doctrinal foundations. To sum up, one could say that the fluidity of the doctrine underlying the ordinary rite (a slip of the tongue!), especially with regard to the expression of the Eucharistic sacrifice, has to do with the fluidity of certain Vatican II texts, which say gray in order not to say black and white. “A world apart, a parallel Church is taking shape,” writes the spokesman for the episcopate in his synthesis. Now, Summorum Pontificum was trying to establish, through a kind of brilliant tinkering, a peaceful coexistence between the two “forms.” This is largely unbearable, says the CEF, which would like Rome to trim the sails of the traditional liturgy. But does the Church of France, which has fewer and fewer faithful, priests and money, have the capacity to go back to war, as it did in the years following the Council?

(The Rouge et le Noir interview was translated from French by LifeSite.)

  ecumenism, france, new springtime, summorum pontificum, traditional latin mass, vatican ii

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