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Cardinal Raymond Burke

VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) – Cardinal Raymond Leo Burke and other canonists have raised serious concerns about a recent Vatican document aimed at sharply restricting the traditional Mass and sacraments, stressing that it is not legally coherent.

In an interview Tuesday with Ed Pentin of the National Catholic Register, Cardinal Burke discussed the December 18 Responsa ad dubia of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments (CDW).

The Responsa are binding “only inasmuch as they are coherent with the doctrine and discipline of the Church, according to the fundamental principle of the regula iuris [rule of law], which, when it is not respected, makes the law an arbitrary tool in the hands of individuals advancing a particular ideology or agenda,” said the cardinal and former prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Vatican’s top court.

The document, signed by CDW prefect Archbishop Arthur Roche and approved by Pope Francis, announced severe restrictions on the traditional sacraments and Traditional Latin Mass (TLM), following Francis’ July 2021 motu proprio Traditionis custodes (TC). But the CDW directive went even further than TC, which rescinded the universal right of priests to celebrate the TLM and purported to remove the old Mass from the Roman Rite altogether.

Among other things, the Responsa prohibit traditional confirmations and ordinations and limit confessions, marriages, baptisms, last rites, and burials in the old rite to “canonically erected personal parishes.” The document also declares that priests must include certain vernacular readings in the Latin Mass, while parishes may not generally celebrate the TLM at all.

According to Cardinal Burke, the CDW guidelines are “confused” and “contradictory” when taken together with TC. Thus, “what the congregation pretends is not only contrary to the good order of the Church but contrary to reason,” he said.

“For instance, it takes to the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments acts which belong properly to the diocesan bishop, even though Traditionis custodes insists that the diocesan bishop knows what is best for the good of souls,” he continued.

The cardinal added that it is the “primary responsibility of the diocesan bishop to provide for the good of souls, in accord with the Church’s constant doctrine and discipline.” The Pope does not have “absolute power” to strip bishops of legitimate powers, he said.

Responsa have ‘no legal force in se’

Responsa ad dubia do not have legislative force in themselves, based on Church law and the rules of the CDW, Pentin noted. He also reported that the Register learned from multiple sources that the December Responsa was written without consulting the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, the agency tasked with interpreting the law of the Church.

And the document has not been published in the Holy See’s official gazette, the the Acta Apostolicae Sedis. The CDW in 1969 indicated that Responsa are not to be recognized as having official weight until published in the official record of the Church, according to Pentin.

The CDW’s policies “explicitly” mean that the recent Responsa “have no legislative force,” said Father Pius Pietrzyk, OP, an adjunct canon law professor at the Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, based at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.

“They merely express the thinking and practice of the congregation on a particular legal issue,” the priest told the Register. “Therefore, unlike the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, these Responsa have no legal force in se.”

Father Pietrzyk emphasized that the Pope has the “right and authority to regulate the liturgy of the universal Church” within the limits of papal power. The Second Vatican Council’s liturgical constitution, Sancrosanctum Concilium, states that “regulation the sacred liturgy depends solely on the authority of the Church,” namely, the Apostolic See and the ordinary.

But a curial prefect by no means has the same powers as the Pope, Father Pietrzyk said. Although Archbishop Roche “exercises vicarious power, which flows from the Supreme Pontiff,” he does not possess “legislative power — that is, he does not establish new, universally binding law.”

The Responsa are “simply an expression of the mind” regarding how the congregation thinks bishops should apply TC, the priest concluded, adding that “bishops and pastors are free, both legally and morally, to arrive at another conclusion, after due consideration of the mind of the congregation, and considering the pastoral circumstances in their local communities.”

The December document raises additional concerns among canonists, according to the Register, including on legal norms of concelebration and the right to celebrate traditional confirmations and ordinations.

The Responsa declares that traditional priests must not refuse to concelebrate Mass, though Canon 902 states that priests are “completely free to celebrate the Eucharist individually.” The guidelines additionally purport to remove bishops’ right to authorize use of the 1962 Pontificale Romanum, which is used for ordinations and confirmations in the older rite.

TC does not mention the Pontificale Romanum, however. “Those permissions were untouched by Traditionis custodes, and therefore diocesan bishops are free to continue to use those pursuant to those norms, despite the statements to the contrary in the Responsa,” Father Pietrzyk told the Register.

British Cardinal Vincent Nichols banned traditional confirmations in the archdiocese of Westminster last month, citing the CDW document.