ROME, January 19, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – As had been anticipated for several weeks, Pope Francis has formally suppressed the pontifical commission charged with keeping traditional Catholics united with the Successor of Peter, and has transferred its duties to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).
In a “motu proprio” signed on Jan. 17 and released today (see full text below), the Pope decreed that the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei be abolished, but that all of its work “of vigilance, promotion and protection” continue in a new special section of the CDF.
In a separate decree, the Vatican announced that Pope Francis has appointed the outgoing secretary of Ecclesia Dei, Archbishop Guido Pozzo, as finance chief for the Pontifical Musical Choir. The choir, which has been hit by claims of financial mismanagement in recent months, is being absorbed into the office of pontifical liturgical celebrations, under the direction of papal master of ceremonies, Monsignor Guido Marini.
Pope St. John Paul II set up the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei in 1988 in response to Archbishop Lefebvre’s decision that year to consecrate four bishops without papal permission, a decision deemed schismatic by the Vatican which led to Archbishop Lefebvre’s excommunication along with those of the four bishops.
What does the “motu proprio” say?
In his “motu proprio,” Pope Francis praised the work of Ecclesia Dei over its thirty-year history.
He said the pontifical commission has carried out “with sincere solicitude and praiseworthy concern” the task of “facilitating the full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, communities or individual men and women religious” linked to the SSPX, “who wished to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church, preserving their own spiritual and liturgical traditions.”
The Pope also noted important developments in Ecclesia Dei since its founding in 1988.
He pointed specifically to the commission’s work in supervising the implementation of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter, Summorum Pontificum, which permitted any priest in the Latin Rite to celebrate Holy Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal, particularly in religious communities that maintained the traditional liturgy and observance.
He also noted Pope Benedict’s restructuring of Ecclesia Dei after he lifted the excommunications of the four SSPX bishops in 2009, and his linking the commission more closely to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Francis said he came to the present decision after “ample reflection” and following a request by CDF officials in Nov. 2017 “that dialogue between the Holy See and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X” be conducted directly by the CDF. The Pope said he consented to the request soon thereafter, and the proposal was accepted during the congregation’s plenary meeting in January 2018.
He explained that the decision is based on a three-fold consideration:
· today the conditions which led the saintly Pontiff John Paul II to institute the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei have changed;
· the Institutes and Religious Communities which habitually celebrate in the extraordinary form have today found their own stability of number and of life;
· the aims and questions dealt with by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei are of a predominantly doctrinal order.
He said the transfer of Ecclesia Dei’s work into the CDF is intended to make these aims “ever more evident to the conscience of the ecclesial communities.”
In view of these considerations, he has therefore decreed that “the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, instituted on 2 July 1988 with the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, be suppressed.”
He has also ordered the duties of the Commission to be “entirely assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, within which a special Section will be established that is committed to continue the work of vigilance, promotion and protection conducted so far by the suppressed Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.”
Lastly, he has mandated that “the budget of the Pontifical Commission returns to being part of the ordinary accounting” of the CDF.
The new motu proprio comes “into immediate force” and is to be promulgated in the semi-official Vatican newspaper, the Osservatore Romano.
Additional commentary from the Vatican
In an article published in the Jan. 19 edition of the Osservatore Romano, and sent to journalists by the Holy See press office today, author Nicola Gori said that “conditions and circumstances change, but the dialogue continues” with the SSPX and followers of Msgr. Marcel Lefebvre.
Gori explained that “the main core of this dialogue is made up of predominantly doctrinal questions” and this is what led Pope Francis to suppress Ecclesia Dei and transfer its duties to a new special section on the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
This new section, he said, will be responsible for “supervising, promoting and protecting the work carried out up to now by the Pontifical Commission.”
“It is therefore not a question of a wholesale suppression,” Gori added, “but of a transfer of competencies, given that the main axis on which the activity will be based has been restricted to the doctrinal sphere.”
“This,” he said, “means that progress has been made in communion and therefore the currentmotu proprio offers implicit recognition to the Pontifical Commission which, with its efforts and activity, has fulfilled its duties.”
What led to the decision was “the observation that the issues dealt with were now of a purely doctrinal nature,” he continued. “Over the years, the institutes and religious communities that celebrate in the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite have also reached a certain stability of both people and life. And this evolution has also gradually led to a reduction in the work of the Pontifical Commission.”
Gori concluded that this “further step taken by Pope Francis” is “part of this specific need to continue dialogue on doctrinal issues, whose competency lies with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.”
In separate comments, the new editorial director of Vatican communications, Andrea Tornielli, said the motu proprio has a two-fold meaning.
First the suppression of Ecclesia Dei signals the end of the exceptional character that led Pope John Paul II to establish it in 1988.
“The emergency no longer exists, thanks also to the decision of Benedict XVI to permit the use of the 1962 Roman Missal (promulgated by Pope St. John XXIII before the beginning of the Second Vatican Council),” he said.
Second, the transfer of Ecclesia Dei’s duties to the CDF indicates that the doctrinal discussions will continue.
“With the revocation of the excommunications of the bishops ordained illegitimately in 1988, the free use of the Roman Missal of 1962, and the faculties granted to the priests of the FSSPX by Pope Francis, the doctrinal issue remains the only issue still open, though it is also the most important – especially since the FSSPX has changed its superiors,” Tornielli said.
“In fact,” he added, “its new leaders have announced their desire for further discussions with the Holy See regarding the texts of the Second Vatican Council: a delicate issue which will be addressed by the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal Luis Ladaria.”
The SSPX welcomed today’s news, but signaled that significant challenges lie ahead, including in their own relations with religious communities Ecclesia Dei has
“No reason to panic”
Overall, informed sources in Rome and abroad downplayed today’s news, with one source telling LifeSite: “it’s just a redistribution of responsibility, and a streamlining of the Roman Curia.”
“It’s not an attack on tradition,” the source said. “Everything will be handled by the same people, probably in the same office, only with different letterhead. There’s no reason to panic.”
“The motu proprio speaks of a special section to be established in the CDF, so no one will be clearing their desk other than Pozzo,” the source added, noting that the real “news” is that “Pozzo is removed.”
Indded, the outgoing Ecclesia Dei secretary’s reassignment as finance chief of the papal choir is being commonly viewed as a “demotion.”
What are the implications of Pozzo’s departure? “People in the traditionalist world might regret that Archbishop Pozzo, who has a good knowledge of traditional communities, will no longer be a liaison,” one source told LifeSite. “He had a good working knowledge and good relations with traditional communities. It’s a pity they will no longer have the benefit of this relationship.”
Other informed sources see today’s developement as positive, with one informed Vatican source telling Edward Pentin the motu proprio is “essentially” a good development towards helping the SSPX return to full communion.
According to Pentin, the source said it “represents a normalization of the ecclesiastical status of traditionalist communities in the Pius X ambit which many years ago were reconciled with the See of Peter, as well as those celebrating the extraordinary form.”
But in addition to overseeing efforts to regularize the SSPX, and find solutions for canonical situations of religious communities of a traditionalist nature, Ecclesia Dei was also responsible for working with local bishops to facilitate the celebration of the Mass in the Extraordinary Form.
With Ecclesia Dei’s insertion into a more bureaucratic apparatus, one source questioned how the newly established section in the CDF will deal with bishops like La Plata Archbishop Víctor Manuel Fernández, of Argentina who seek to limit the celebration of the Extraordinary Form of Mass in their diocese.
Yet one source suggested the CDF might be more “procedural” and effective in such matters, “going by the book.”
Much therefore remains to be seen.
Here below is a LifeSite translation of today’s motu proprio on the suppression of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
issued Motu Proprio
on the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei
For over thirty years the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, established with the Motu proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta of 2 July 1988, has carried out with sincere solicitude and praiseworthy concern the task of collaborating with Bishops and the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia, in facilitating the full ecclesial communion of priests, seminarians, communities or individual men and women religious, linked to the Fraternity founded by Bishop Marcel Lefebvre, who wished to remain united to the Successor of Peter in the Catholic Church, preserving their own spiritual and liturgical traditions.
In this way, it was able to exercise its authority and competence in the name of the Holy See over these societies and associations, until otherwise provided.Subsequently, by virtue of the Motu proprio Summorum Pontificum of 7 July 2007, the Pontifical Commission extended the authority of the Holy See to those Institutes and Religious Communities which had adhered to the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite and had assumed the precedent traditions of religious life, supervising the observance and application of the provisions established.
Two years later, my Venerable Predecessor Benedict XVI, with the Motu Proprio Ecclesiae unitatem, of 2 July 2009, reorganized the structure of the Pontifical Commission, in order to make it more suited to the new situation created by the remission of the excommunication of the four Bishops consecrated without pontifical mandate. And, furthermore, considering that after this act of grace, the questions dealt with by the same Pontifical Commission were of a primarily doctrinal nature, he more organically linked it to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while maintaining its initial aims, but modifying its structure.
Now, since the Feria IV of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on 15 November 2017 formulated the request that dialogue between the Holy See and the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X be conducted directly by the aforementioned Congregation, as the questions being dealt with are of a doctrinal nature, to which I gave my approval in an audience with the Prefect on 24 November 2017, and this proposal was accepted by the Plenary Session of the same Congregation celebrated from 23-26 January 2018, I have arrived, after ample reflection, at the following decision.
Considering that today the conditions which led the Holy Pontiff John Paul II to institute the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei have changed; noting that the Institutes and Religious Communities which habitually celebrate in the extraordinary form have today found their own stability of number and of life; recognizing that the aims and questions dealt with by the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei are of a predominantly doctrinal order; and wishing that these aims be made ever more evident to the conscience of the ecclesial communities, with this Apostolic Letter ‘Motu proprio data’,
I decree that
1. The Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, instituted on 2 July 1988 with the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei adflicta, is suppressed.
2. The duties of the Commission in question are entirely assigned to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, within which a special Section will be established that is committed to continue the work of vigilance, promotion and protection conducted thus far by the suppressed Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei.
3. The budget of the Pontifical Commission returns to being part of the ordinary accounting of aforementioned Congregation.
I also establish that this Motu proprio, to be observed notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even should it merit particular mention, be promulgated by publication in L’Osservatore Romano in its 19 January 2019 edition, coming into immediate force, and that subsequently it be inserted into the official Commentary of the Holy See, the Acta Apostolicae Sedis.
Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s, on 17 January 2019, Sixth Year of Our Pontificate.
Working translation by Diane Montagna, Rome correspondent for LifeSite.
Cf. JOANNES PAULUS PP. II, Litterae Apostolicae ‘Motu proprio datae’, Ecclesia Dei adflicta’, 2 Iulii 1988, AAS, LXXX (1988), 12 (15 Nov. 1988), 1495-1498, 6a.
Cf. Rescriptum ex Audientia Sanctissimi, 18 Oct. 1988, AAS, LXXXII (1990), 5 (3 Maii 1990), 533-534, 6.
Cf. BENEDICTUS PP. XVI, Litterae Apostolicae ‘Motu proprio datae’, Summorum Pontificum, 7 Iulii 2007, AAS, XCIX (2007), 9 (7 Sept. 2007), 777-781, 12.
Cf. BENEDICTUS PP. XVI, Litterae Apostolicae ‘Motu proprio datae’, Ecclesiae unitatem, 2 Iulii 2009, AAS, CI (2009), 8 (7 Aug. 2009), 710-711, 5.