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St. Peter's Basilica - RomeSteve Jalsevac/LifeSite

Updated March 23, 2021 to indicate Edward Pentin’s new report confirming the Pope’s involvement.

March 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – Multiple reports confirmed on March 16 the rumor that Pope Francis has initiated a sort of investigation at the Congregation for Divine Worship that has been headed until recently by the conservative-minded Cardinal Robert Sarah. In addition, one report claims that it was also Pope Francis who initiated the ban on individual Masses at St. Peter’s. Observers are wondering what is going on in the Vatican.

“Another strange, and as yet unexplained, move inside the Vatican has been reported in recent days,” wrote Dr. Robert Moynihan, U.S. journalist and Vatican expert. He has gathered different reports that confirm the fact that a few days ago, on March 12, bishop of Castellaneta, Claudio Maniago, president of the liturgical commission of the CEI, started a process to interview the members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. Pope Francis himself had requested this process. Although Archbishop Arthur Roche, the secretary of the Dicastery since 2012 and current regent following the retirement of Cardinal Sarah, insists that this investigation is not a “canonical investigation,” it still raises many questions.

According to Roche's March 12 letter, which Dr. Moynihan was able to read, the archbishop wrote:

The Holy Father has decided, before making appointments to the Congregation, that there should be a visit to the Dicastery by one of his representatives. During the visit, His Excellency (Monsignor Maniago) will want to know the work of the Congregation and meet each one individually. I have already expressed to the Holy Father our openness to this visit and our sure and sincere welcome to Monsignor Maniago. There is nothing to be alarmed about in this. As you know, this style of visit is now becoming a regular occurrence at the end of the mandate of the heads of a Dicastery or at the time of a significant change.

Several sources in Rome assured LifeSite that this is not a regular occurrence in the Vatican, in spite of Archbishop Roche's protestations. The Italian newspaper Il Messagero calls it a “decidedly unusual extraordinary act personally ordered by the Pope to ‘straighten out’ the Congregation of Divine Worship.”

As the newspaper states, the Congregation “ended up at the center of an inspection that began a few days ago, quietly, without being accompanied by any official communication,” a fact that is itself already revealing. The bishop in charge is now conducting meetings, interviews, and additionally requesting documents from the Congregation. Maniago, responsible for the new missal in the Italian translation, is an expert in liturgy.

Observers worry that this papal initiative aims at cleansing the Congregation from those members who are more inclined toward the traditional Latin liturgy and its theology, as Cardinal Sarah himself had seemed to be. On February 20, Pope Francis had unexpectedly accepted Sarah’s resignation that he had submitted after he had turned 75 years of age last June. As Dr. Moynihan states: “It is a move some fear is aimed at ‘rolling back’ more traditional positions on the Church’s liturgy, positions which tended to be supported by the highly respected African Cardinal Robert Sarah.”

These reports come to us shortly after the Italian journalist and Vatican expert Marco Tosatti published a report, according to which the recent strange order essentially to ban all individual Masses at St. Peter's Basilica was also initiated by Pope Francis himself. This rumor, according to well-informed sources in Rome, could very well be true, since the history of this unreasonable and unjust order shows the “handwriting” of the Pope. For example, there is no signature on the order, yet it bears the stamp of the Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State, Archbishop Peña Parra, thus showing formal irregularities. Pope Francis’s own methods of operation often include an ignoring of the ordinary ways of operation in the Vatican, as well as a harsh way of implementing his will. This new order has it that from March 22 on, and for an indefinite period, all priests and faithful who come to daily Mass in the Basilica will be required to join “concelebrated” Masses at fixed times between 7:00 and 9:00 a.m. in only two locations. While priests still can celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass, the times to do so have been strongly limited.

LifeSite received one report from a well-placed source in Rome who wished to remain anonymous. According to this source, “there is the rumor that the Pope, at someone’s urging, wants to push the liturgical innovations which did so much harm after the [Second Vatican] Council, as is reflected in the document of the Secretariat of State on this past Friday. The strong rumor is that the document in question was personally ordered by Pope Francis.”

Edward Pentin now confirms, with his own sources, that Pope Francis is behind the order to ban essentially individual Masses at St. Peter: “It is still not clear who was behind the directive which has been discussed for many years but has coincided with the departure in February of the previous archpriest, Cardinal Angelo Comastri, who was known to be resistant to such a change. Reliable sources have told the Register Pope Francis authorized it himself with the help of one of his close confidants, Cardinal Beniamino Stella, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and a number of other cardinals close to the Holy Father.”

Cardinal Raymond Burke issued on March 13 a statement in protest, saying that “for the sake of the Catholic faith and for the good order of the Sacred Liturgy, the highest and most perfect expression of the Church’s life in Christ, the [12 March] document in question should be rescinded immediately.” The U.S. cardinal not only sees formal irregularities in the decree itself, but also points out that it infringes upon individual priests who wish to celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s without concelebration and are now forced to do so.

“In what church more than in the Basilica of Saint Peter would a priest desire to offer the Holy Mass, which is the most perfect and fullest way in which he carries out his priestly mission? If an individual priest wishes to offer the Holy Mass in the Basilica, once the directives in question are in force, he will be constrained to concelebrate, in violation of his freedom to offer the Holy Mass individually,” Burke wrote.

So both new initiatives pertaining to the holy liturgy do not only seem to be opposed to traditional liturgical practices, they also seem to stem from Pope Francis himself.

In this context, both apparent leaders of these new initiatives seem to have problems with their own reputation. Il Messangero points out that 10 years ago, Bishop Maniago was accused of covering up the abuse committed by a pedophile and now-laicized priest in Florence. In a similar vein, also the prelate involved in the ban of most individual Masses at St. Peter's, Archbishop Parra, has been accused of being himself a homosexual active prelate who has seduced young seminarians. Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò has reported in the past about these allegations that had come to him in his position as the Delegate for the Papal Representations.

Il Messagero also reminds us that, in light of these disturbing news concerning the holy liturgy of the Catholic Church, the Pope himself presided over pagan worship ceremonies in the Vatican Gardens in the October 2019, during the Amazon Synod, something that outraged many prominent Catholics around the world.

As LifeSite reported, not long after that event, the Pope ceased to celebrate public Masses at the Papal Altar which is situated on top of the tomb of St. Peter himself (now using another altar in St. Peter's), which is at least a symbolic fact in itself.

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Dr. Maike Hickson was born and raised in Germany. She holds a PhD from the University of Hannover, Germany, after having written in Switzerland her doctoral dissertation on the history of Swiss intellectuals before and during World War II. She now lives in the U.S. and is married to Dr. Robert Hickson, and they have been blessed with two beautiful children. She is a happy housewife who likes to write articles when time permits.

Dr. Hickson published in 2014 a Festschrift, a collection of some thirty essays written by thoughtful authors in honor of her husband upon his 70th birthday, which is entitled A Catholic Witness in Our Time.

Hickson has closely followed the papacy of Pope Francis and the developments in the Catholic Church in Germany, and she has been writing articles on religion and politics for U.S. and European publications and websites such as LifeSiteNews, OnePeterFive, The Wanderer, Rorate Caeli,, Catholic Family News, Christian Order, Notizie Pro-Vita, Corrispondenza Romana,, Der Dreizehnte,  Zeit-Fragen, and Westfalen-Blatt.