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April 24, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – An leaked letter allegedly sent by the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to the presidents of bishops' conferences inquiring about the experience with Pope Benedict XVI's allowance of the traditional Latin Mass (Summorum Pontificum) has caused a stir in some traditionally-minded Catholic circles. Fears abound that the result of the survey could be a restriction of the Latin Mass. 

The traditional Catholic website Rorate Caeli published yesterday a letter dated March 7, 2020, with the name of Cardinal Luis Ladaria Ferrer, the head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), on it. The letter addresses the presidents of the bishops' conferences and includes a set of questions to bishops whose due date for a reply is July 31, 2020. 

The letter relates to the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum which, in July of 2007, gave wide permission for the traditional Latin Mass, which every priest was now allowed to celebrate without explicit permission by his bishop and which was to be offered in every diocese where there was a sufficient amount of faithful requesting it. Since 2007, the number of faithful, especially young families, attending that form of the Roman Rite has increased in large numbers.

LifeSite has reached out to the U.S. Bishops' Conference (USCCB) and to the Vatican Press Office, as well as different other sources in the Vatican and the world, in order to receive confirmation of the authenticity of this letter. No response has been provided. 

The letter states that “thirteen years after the publication of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum issued by Pope Benedict XVI, His Holiness Pope Francis wishes to be informed about the current application of the aforementioned document.” Since the CDF has now been “entrusted” with the matters relating to the Ecclesia Dei commission (dealing with communities who are celebrating the traditional Latin Mass), the letter continues, it is now asking the presidents of the bishops' conferences to distribute a questionnaire to all of their bishops. 

The attached questionnaire is asking the bishops to say how the situation is with regard to the traditional Latin Mass in their diocese; whether the practice of it “corresponds to a true pastoral need” or whether “it is promoted by a single priest.” 

The questionnaire also wants to know whether there are “positive or negative aspects” of the “extraordinary form” of the Mass, as the traditional Latin Mass has been called by Pope Benedict XVI. The CDF also wants to know whether other Sacraments are being administered in the traditional form, whether the seminarians are being influenced by it, and whether the Roman Missal of the year 1962 has been in use in this rite. The ninth question reads: “Thirteen years after the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, what is your advice about the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite?”

Rorate Caeli, which is being read widely by traditional Catholics, comments on this letter and questionnaire: “It could be ominous. The questions seem neutral, but, once one reads them carefully, they may indicate serious consequences.”

Speculations abound now as to what the purpose of this CDF inquiry is.

The British Catholic journalist and commentator Damian Thompson, who is not an explicitly traditional Catholic, states about this new letter on twitter: “If Francis tries to revoke or weaken Summorum Pontificum, then there will be war. A holy war. And he won’t win it.”

Dr. Peter Kwasniewski, a traditional Catholic and expert in liturgical questions, told LifeSite that the survey is a “veiled attack on Summorum Pontificum.” 

“All you have to do is look at the nature and tone of the questions. It’s as if the memo were drafted by the Bishop of Boise and then revised by a committee from the USCCB, all exercising maximum self-control,” he said. 

Kwasniewski expects that “there will be a strong minority of very favorable responses to the questionnaire, and this could put the brakes on an extreme 'crackdown.' The largest number of positive responses will come from the USA, which, unfortunately, will not be an advantage in the sight of the present anti-American Vatican regime.”

Dr. Kwasniewski expects that there will also be a “minority of extremely negative responses,” and that “the pope, if he wanted, could side with that faction, as he has sided with minority progressive factions at recent synods.”

The majority of bishops, the scholar thinks, will be more or less “anemic” in their response, such as “we don’t have much of a pastoral need for it” and “it exists in one small place at 2pm on alternating Sundays and no one has complained about it” and “the three seminarians (possibly two; it depends) currently studying for the diocese are more interested in providing pastoral care for a diverse People of God than in spending time on a cultural hobby.”

However, whatever the intentions of this CDF letter, according to Kwasniewski, there is no reason to be “nervous” about it. “If Summorum were negated,” he writes, “it would not change one bit the logic of Benedict XVI’s argument, which is based on natural and divine law, not on ecclesiastical law: 'What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.' Nota bene: not 'SHOULD not be forbidden,' but 'CANNOT be forbidden.'”

In case of an interdict of the traditional Latin Mass on the part of Rome, Dr. Kwasniewski would expect that some clergy would “continue celebrating it – perhaps, in some cases, going underground – as they would recognize that the Holy See had overstepped its competence.” 

Professor Brian McCall, the Editor-in-Chief of the traditional Catholic newspaper Catholic Family News, told LifeSite that, “given the recent tinkering with the Traditional Latin Mass (addition of New Mass Saints and Prefaces) I cannot help but be suspicious that there may be a nefarious motive behind these questions [as sent out by the CDF].” 

He compares the methods of Pope Francis with that of a “revolutionary dictatorship.” 

“A common technique of revolutionary dictatorships,” McCall explains, “is to gather data and then selectively use it to justify repression. It is therefore possible that this survey will be revealed to be a prelude to rescinding or severely restricting the legal guarantees of Summorum Pontificum. We know from public statements that Pope Francis bears no love for the Traditional Mass and the millions of laity and clergy attached to it.”

Giuseppe Nardi, the editor-in-chief of the traditional Catholic website, told LifeSite that the questions of the questionnaire seem to him “neutral.” “It is about a verification,” he explains and add that “Rome is making an assessment of the situation concerning the Motu Proprio, in a systematic, comparable manner on a world-wide scale.” 

The results of this questionnaire, according to Nardi, could be used either in a positive or negative manner. Looking at question five – which asks whether elements of the traditional rite have been included into the ordinary form of the Roman Rite but which finally also remains “neutral” – he would be worried because it is this aspect of “mutual enrichment” that shines through. He hopes for more clarification in the future days, thus forestalling too much speculation.

A senior source in the Vatican also told LifeSite that he does not consider the CDF letter to be “dangerous.”

It is known that Pope Francis has not much sympathy for the traditional Latin Mass. 

Already in 2017, LifeSite reported on different sources indicating that Pope Francis was considering to do away with Summorum Pontificum, but that he was perhaps to wait until Pope Benedict XVI had died. LifeSite then reported that Andrea Grillo, a lay professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum of St Anselmo in Rome, characterized by the French newspaper La Croix as “close to the Pope,” told La Croix that Francis is considering abolishing Summorum Pontificum. “But [Francis] will not do this as long as Benedict XVI is alive,” he added.

Two different sources, a bishop and a priest – both of whom spoke on condition of anonymity – told LifeSite that they are not too much alarmed by this new March 7 CDF letter.

The bishop who has experience with the traditional Mass and with the communities who celebrate this rite says that this questionnaire from the CDF “does not need to be necessarily alarming.” He considers it to be “reasonable” to make such an assessment of the current situation. “Since the traditional Mass has been spreading considerably since 2007, the result [of this questionnaire] can also be impressive for the responsible people in the Vatican,” the prelate adds. At the least, “it could show them that one cannot easily limit or abrogate Summorum Pontificum.” He also sees it positive, that one question is about whether or not the norms of Summorum Pontificum are being respected. “Indeed,” the bishop explains, “some bishops openly ignore them.”

“In itself, I do not see a danger here, let us hope that this questionnaire finally will be of help for the growth of the traditional Mass,” he concludes.

A priest who regularly celebrates the traditional Mass told LifeSite that he sees a link between this March 7 letter and the decrees Quo magis and Cum sanctissima of March 25 which have been dealing with the traditional rite “in detail” by adding new feast days to its calendar and by adding five new prefaces. This decision on the part of the Vatican, the priestly source explains, had caused among “Modernists, such as Andrea Grillo, strong indignation, because it made clear that the Holy See does not consider the old rite as being outdated.” 

If one truly intended to limit the use of the traditional rite, this priest states, then it would seem “notable” that they make such decrees. 

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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.