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Newly created Cardinal Arthur Roche greets Pope Francis at the August 2022 Consistory of Cardinals. Mazur/

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — Cardinal Arthur Roche, the Prefect of the Vatican’s Congregation (Dicastery) for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW), is reportedly strong-arming bishops into enforcing the Vatican’s restrictions on the traditional Mass, in a manner described as being an abuse of the Church’s Canon Law.

Prominent liturgist and theologian Dr. Peter Kwasniewski revealed recently that Cardinal Arthur Roche, who leads the Vatican Congregation (now Dicastery) overseeing the Church’s liturgy, is contacting bishops in an attempt to further implement the restrictions on the traditional Mass.

Writing online last week, Kwasniewski stated that he had been sent two letters, though for the subject of the report the sender must remain anonymous. Dr. Kwasniewski additionally privately confirmed the authenticity of the letters to LifeSiteNews. The Pillar has also confirmed existence of the letters.

The letters document that Roche is stipulating that diocesan bishops cannot exempt their priests from certain conditions of the Pope’s July 2021 Traditionis Custodes (TC) nor from Roche’s own December 2021 Responsa ad dubia which gave further restrictions.

The CDW did not respond to LifeSite’s queries regarding Cardinal Roche’s letters.

Cardinal Roche exerts his power

The first letter, from Roche to a U.S. bishop, contained a rebuke from the English cardinal. Roche noted the bishop’s invoking of Canon 87 §1 – a canon by which a bishop can dispense from “universal and particular disciplinary laws” for the faithful in his diocese when he deems that “it contributes to their spiritual good.”  

A number of U.S. bishops had invoked this clause in response to Traditionis Custodes, thus dispensing with the restrictions and allowing a parish priest to continue saying the traditional Mass in a parish church – something that TC banned.

READ: Vatican announces harsh restrictions on traditional Mass, sacraments

However, Roche claimed that both TC and his own Responsa removed this permission from the bishop by reserving such a dispensation only to the Holy See. Citing both documents, the cardinal writes thus: 

Again, it is clear that can. 87 § 1 cannot be invoked to dispense from a law which is reserved to the Apostolic See.

Continuing, Roche – who is known for his opposition to the traditional liturgy – wrote that the entirety of Pope Francis’ TC was reserved to the Holy See, meaning that bishops would be stripped of their power to dispense from the document:

Not only did the Holy Father issue Traditionis custodes he approved the Responsa ad dubia, so there can be no doubt about his wishes in this regard given that it is stated in such a clear way in both documents.”

 It is worth underlining that, as the name Motu proprio indicates, the nature of this document arises from the personal decision of the Holy Father. Furthermore, he concludes Traditionis custodes by clearly stating: “Everything that I have declared in this Apostolic Letter in the form of Motu Proprio, I order to be observed in all its parts, anything else to the contrary notwithstanding, even if worthy of particular mention.”

Roche requests certain conditions

Roche’s letter is not limited simply to claiming that bishops do not have the authority which Canon Law states. He also stipulates that in order to “ensure that the Holy Father’s wishes are respected” about TC, “we request that you petition this Dicastery for a dispensation for the Mass according to the Missale Romanum of 1962 to be celebrated in the parish churches in question.”

READ: Vatican liturgy chief: Latin Mass just a ‘pastoral concession’ not aligned with post-Vatican II Church

This petition “should include,” writes Roche, details of even the number of people attending the Mass. Revealingly, Roche stated that it should outline “the steps being taken to lead the faithful who are attached to the antecedent liturgy [traditional Mass] towards the celebration of the liturgy according to the liturgical books reformed by the decree of the Second Vatican Council [Novus Ordo], and which form the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite.”

Such details would “assist us in making a decision on which dispensation should be granted and whether the clear direction traced by Pope Francis in his Motu proprio is being accepted and followed,” added Roche.

Roche ‘violates Canon Law’ in his letter

Emerging at the same time as Roche’s most recent letter is a recently published book – “Does ‘Traditionis Custodes’ Pass the Juridical Rationality Test?” – written by an eminent canon lawyer, which examines the canonical legality of Traditionis Custodes. 

Fr. Réginald-Marie Rivoire’s book highlights the attacks on the bishops’ authority which TC and the Responsa both make – attacks that include demanding the bishop request permission from the Vatican for a newly ordained priest to say the traditional Mass and for allowing the traditional Mass to be celebrated in a parish church. In response, Rivoire states that on such issues, “[i]t would therefore seem that the principle of legality is not respected.”

READ: Scholars refute Cdl. Roche’s claim that devotion to Latin Mass is ‘more Protestant than Catholic’

Pointing to the CDW’s decision to prohibit bishops from allowing the traditional Mass in parish churches, Fr. Rivoire writes that it “not only unduly restricts local Ordinaries’ faculties, substituting itself for the latter in discerning what is a just cause and what is not, but also shows little regard for the fundamental right of the faithful to follow their own rite and spirituality.”

Citing Rivoire’s text, Kwasniewski argued that Roche actually “violates Canon Law.”

Speaking to LifeSiteNews, Dr. Kwasniewski stated that the Rivoire demonstrates how “the Responses to the Dubia were not approved in forma specifica, which is what would have been necessary to reserve the dispensation to the Holy See. Nevertheless, Card. Roche is proceeding as if the Responses had been so approved, and therefore that his dicastery alone can grant the dispensations.”

“Moreover,” continued Kwasniewski, “he [Roche] can request information from bishops (such as how many faithful are attending TLMs in their dioceses), but he cannot REQUIRE them to respond. He has no authority to perform a census on the dioceses.”

READ: Bp. Schneider: Pope’s ‘persecution’ of the Latin Mass an ‘abuse of power’ which must be resisted

The widely-published liturgist stated that, when faced with Roche’s demands, “a bishop would be well within his rights to reply: ‘Thank you for your suggestions; I will take them into advisement with my presbyteral council. Oremus pro invicem’.”

Canon lawyer: Bishops’ rights actually remain intact

LifeSiteNews spoke with a canon lawyer about the questionable legality of Cardinal Roche’s letter to bishops, asking whether Roche’s claimed power was defended in law.

Speaking under condition of anonymity, the canonist noted:

In terms of Canon Law, because the Responsa ad dubia were not approved in forma specifica, they are not legislation and can only have authority insofar as they interpret the provisions of Traditionis custodes (TC). The points referred to in Roche’s recent letter are that TC states the [traditional] Mass should not be offered in parishes and that it names the CDW and CICLSA [Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life] exercise authority of Holy See with regards to provisions of TC. But neither statement asserts that dispensations from point of UA [traditional Mass] celebrated in parish churches is reserved to the Holy See and therefore reserved to CDW or CICLSA.

Continuing, he stated that a diocesan bishop’s right to dispense his faithful from laws, as outlined in Canon 18, remained unaffected:

Hence, in light of canon 18, it is clear that diocesan bishops retain the right to dispense from the relevant provision of TC so that the UA may continue to be offered in designated parish churches. Canon 18 provides that “Laws which establish a penalty, restrict the free exercise of rights, or contain an exception from the law are subject to strict interpretation,” meaning that they should be interpreted so as to preserve as much as possible the freedom of those they affect. Here, that clearly means that diocesan bishops retain their right to dispense from the relevant provision.