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(LifeSiteNews) — On Wednesday, November 15, 2023, I gathered with faithful Catholics from around North America to pray the Rosary with Bishop Joseph Strickland outside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront hotel where the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) hold their annual assembly. Having been unjustly removed by Pope Francis from his office as Bishop of Tyler, Bishop Strickland no longer has voting rights as a member of the USCCB, and he was uninvited from this meeting with fellow bishops.  

The posture of this faithful shepherd who knelt in prayer outside the hotel grounds among the sheep shows the disposition of his heart and the attitude that every bishop in America should try to emulate. 

I made the almost two-hour drive along with my four small children for two reasons: one, to show solidarity with Bishop Strickland, and two, to gain support for my petitions to Pope Francis and Archbishop William Lori regarding the preservation of the Traditional Latin Mass. 

Bishop Strickland blesses the author, her unborn child, and her born children

In 2018, I lived in central Maryland, which is part of the Archdiocese of Washington. I watched in disbelief as the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report exposed then-archbishop Cardinal Donald Wuerl as complicit in covering up clergy sex abuse. As a faithful daughter of the Church, I started a petition to Pope Francis to remove Cardinal Wuerl as Archbishop of Washington. The petition garnered over 142,00 signatures and contributed to the great public outcry that led to the removal of this bad bishop.  

Bishop Strickland with the author and her children

Fast forward to 2021: my husband and I decided to move our family to Western Maryland, to a rural part of the state. The Traditional Latin Mass had been operational here at St. Mary Catholic Church in Hagerstown, Maryland, for many decades without restrictions. (Western Maryland is administered by Archbishop William Lori of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.)

We left the Archdiocese of Washington to seek the peace and respite of the countryside only to find that in the Era of Francis one cannot simply move away from the problems plaguing the Church. These problems are like a viper spreading its venom everywhere – dare I caution that in this era of the Church, nowhere and no one is safe.  

On July 16, 2021, Pope Francis issued Traditionis Custodes, which dictated that the Traditional Latin Mass was to be phased out of parochial life. In other words, the document informed bishops of the world that they were to relegate the Mass of the Ages to second-class status and kick the faithful adherents of this Mass to the curb. No longer was the Tridentine Mass to be celebrated inside the parish setting but rather it was to be sequestered to a chapel, a gymnasium, a tent under the open sky, or anywhere else but the structure of the church which was built precisely to host this Mass.  

Given the history of my Western Maryland parish as a center for Latin Mass Catholics in the tri-state region (Maryland, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia), our pastor promptly applied for an indult – permission to avoid observing the dictats of Traditionis Custodes. The indult was granted for two years with the hope of renewal. And so my friends and I gladly continued to attend our Latin Mass foolishly thinking that it was secure because, even though the indult expires in August 2024, there was the hope of renewing it.  

My heart breaks for my small children 

Well, on July 1, 2023, Archbishop Lori abruptly destabilized the life of the Latin Mass at St. Mary’s by assigning a new pastor with what seem like marching orders to shut down the Traditional Latin Mass. No more was there hope of renewing the indult. This new priest promptly informed us that there was no hope of ever getting Rome to issue a renewal of the indult and that we, the faithful, should resign ourselves to the Latin Mass leaving St. Mary’s for good.  

I was shocked and bewildered. After having moved my family many miles away from our extended family to seek the Tridentine Mass, I was now being informed that even my heroic move was not enough and I now needed to “go elsewhere” in search of the Latin Mass.   

In preparation for a total shutdown of the Latin Mass at St. Mary’s, my family tried to go elsewhere. We attended the Latin Mass at the Immaculate Heart of Mary SSPX chapel in Linden, Virginia, a two-hour drive away. We attended the Latin Mass at the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem in Charlestown, West Virginia, a 45-minute drive away. And we attended the Latin Mass at the Carmel of Jesus and Mary in Fairfield, Pennsylvania, another 45-minute drive away. The common denominator in all these movements were my tired and hungry children. Since we were trading a two-minute drive (or a 10-minute walk) to Mass for an hour-long drive, they were lost and confused about why we had to travel so far to attend Mass.  

That led this mother’s heart to break for my small children. I can stomach these injustices and “go elsewhere” in search of tradition, but my children are too little to begin their faith journey as scavengers in search of sustenance. At seven, six, four, and one, they are simply too young to begin life as martyrs for the Traditional Latin Mass. I clearly have a black family, but this is not a white or a black issue – this is a Catholic issue. My four black children are just as impacted by the abuses of Traditionis Custodes as any other race of persons in the Church today.   

On October 7, 2023, I decided that I would not allow my parochial Latin Mass to go without a fight. I have hired a canon lawyer to defend my canonical right to the Tridentine Mass. Using the history of the Church as a precedent and the words of Pope Benedict in Summorum Pontificum among other defenses, my canon lawyer will represent me before the bishop and his canonist in the Archdiocese of Baltimore to ask pointedly why the Traditional Latin Mass is being denied to the faithful at St. Mary Catholic Church. 

Furthermore, I started two petitions. The first is to Pope Francis, asking him to uncancel the Traditional Latin Mass worldwide. 

The second implores Archbishop Lori to preserve the Traditional Latin Mass at St. Mary Catholic Church in Hagerstown, Maryland. 

I ask that you sign both petitions and that you also do your best to push back against the abuses of Traditionis Custodes. Write to your bishop, form a prayer group, or hire a canon lawyer to represent you, if possible.   

In the Era of Francis, there is no running away from the problems facing the Church. We must stand bravely and demand that our bishops rise up to the occasion by defending the lay faithful against unjust abuses of the Latin liturgy. I applaud Bishop Strickland, who has done just that. He refused to enforce Traditionis Custodes in the Diocese of Tyler stating that, “I can’t starve out part of my flock,” and for this, he has been unjustly punished. May Our Lady console him and May Our Lord reward him.  

It is my prayer that our effort to protect the Traditional Latin Mass will yield success and that future generations of Catholics will look back with comfort at the thought that we put up a good fight for tradition.  

Dr. Winnie Heartstrong is an author, wife, mother, and educator. She researches extensively about abortion, fertility, and the impact of birth control on conjugal love. Her book Holy Fertility: The Christian Case Against Contraception explores some of these themes. She resides in the Archdiocese of Baltimore with her husband and four children.