There is a new article in Rorate Caeli about Pope Francis’ determination to force the traditionalist institutes to conform to the new liturgy or face canonical sanctions forcing them to close. Maybe I should take a nihilistic attitude and say that I don’t care. After all, I left that world in the mid 1990’s and joined the Continuing Anglican world by a long route.
Here is the article.
- Father Claude Barthe: We Must Resist the Illegitimate Norms on the Traditional Rite – “Vatican hardliners have started a war they can only lose.” Resisting an unjust liturgical law
This article refers to Responses to certain provisions of the Apostolic Letter in the form of a “Motu Proprio” Traditionis Custodes issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship. This piece of writing provoked one of our own priests to suggest on Facebook that we could petition our Anglican Catholic Church bishops to prepare for the corporate reception for groups of Romans attached to traditional Roman Rite to enter the Anglican Catholic Church as a body of Roman Rite Anglicans. Perhaps to be called the Roman Ordinariate of St. Augustine of Canterbury. Someone good at Latin could write Romanorum coetibus. The idea sounds like a joke, but I am not sure that it was intended as one.
I know the conservative and traditionalist Roman Catholic world. For them, the delict of schism – leaving the RC Church to join another – is the very worst thing you can do. Say heretical things like denying the Trinity or the divinity of Christ is much less serious. You just recant and everything is made right. Commit a delict of schism – and you are finished. It brings perpetual irregularity to the reception or exercise of Orders. So you have to be rather sure. Normally some form of resistance is possible if canon law is not violated. This is the kind of stuff they taught us at Gricigliano.
Obviously, those institutes are not going to crawl and start using the Novus Ordo. There have been compromise situations involving Institute priests in France in parish ministry. Inevitably the priests suffered inner conflict and ended up by leaving the Institute and joining the diocese they were serving for the sake of their pastoral responsibilities. This kind of situation certainly has its parallel in the Church of England but with a little less rigidity. Join an Anglican jurisdiction? To French and other traditionalists, Anglicanism is Protestantism and they would not recognise our Orders.
There would be two possibilities for those for whom an act of schism would be absolute taboo. One is the solution of the Society of St Pius X: consecrate bishops and ordain priests outside canonical norms but without claiming to be a separate ecclesial entity. You claim a situation of necessity and emergency, and then you can invoke the principle of ἐπιείκεια, a canonical principle that a law can be broken to achieve a greater good. It is a concept in canon law that one would have difficulty finding in civil and penal law. On account of this reasoning, the Society of St Pius X has not been considered as formally schismatic like the Old Catholics of the Netherlands, Switzerland and Germany. Two possibilities? Yes, join the Society of St Pius X in the same way as several religious communities (Benedictines, Dominicans, Franciscans, etc.) have solidarised with them. That or do the same thing by finding a Roman Catholic bishop prepared to act exactly like Archbishop Lefebvre did – set up a quasi-canonical entity, one or several seminaries, mass-centres, schools, periodicals, etc. and ordain priests and consecrate bishops as needed to continue indefinitely independently from Rome.
Less scrupulous elements roped in bishops having suffered persecution or exile like Archbishop Pierre-Martin Ngô Đình Thục. This Archbishop was immediately discredited by his involvement with the sect of Palmar de Troya in 1976 and then with various groups of radical sedevacantists in France and the USA. A similar thing seems to be happening with Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò in a confusing story involving radical traditionalist elements in Italy. The Archbishop denies such influence, yet he expresses himself in a way that no Curial of diplomatic cleric would speak or write, including wild conspiracy theories and all kinds of other cranky stuff. Would any other Roman Catholic bishop consider taking such a gamble?
In the years before the Institute of Christ the King was established (1990), there were priests acting as “scarlet pimpernels” in Rome. The two most active were Fr Gilles Wach who was doing his doctorate and living at the Irish College and Fr Gregor Hesse, an Austrian priest working for Cardinal Alfons Stickler. The “ratline” was simple. Former SSPX seminarians or lay candidates for entering a seminary went to Rome to complete their studies at the Angelicum and live in one of the many pontifical colleges. They would keep quiet about their intentions, and at the right time, Fr Hesse or Fr Wach would find a diocesan bishop in Italy or some other part of the world willing to sign the proper papers to incardinate the cleric in question. Once the legality was satisfied, it was a simple matter to get the man ordained in Rome by a retired bishop or Cardinal. Many went through this route to the priesthood. They would then go on to independent ministries for traditionalist associations willing to pay their stipends. The 1980’s were a different time, because the Pope was John Paul II who was progressively favouring the traditionalists. Such arrangements would be rooted out in short order these days.
Remember, anything but commit the delict of schism or an ordination without some kind of canonical title. In my present state of life, I would imagine them setting up some kind of Old Roman Catholic church, except that Archbishop Arnold Harris Mathew made a complete mess of it because he trusted some very questionable elements who ruined the entire movement. The same thing would happen in the sedevacantist world and also in Continuing Anglicanism culminating in the conflicts between bishops in late 1997. With the passage of time, most of the main traditionalist groups stabilised and became quite institutionalised. What would now happen if the Fraternity of St Peter, the Institute of Christ the King and the various religious and monastic communities lost their canonical basis? Which Cardinal or bishop is ready to lay his reputation on the line to ensure their perennity? Which superior would be prepared to get an illicit consecration?
It all looks quite hopeless. Maybe Rome is going to lose its gamble, but they usually don’t. Pope Francis is obviously determined to finish off the “traditionalist problem”. As in our secular world, money and power trump law. Fr Barthe is a good canonist, but canonical arguments cannot take on such a formidable foe. Resist the unjust law? How?
The balance of power today is much more favourable to the traditional world than it seems, especially in France, where it will not let itself be taken over.
There is the possibility that diocesan bishops might resist and continue to ordain, confirm and to protect the communities under his oversight. To what extent can a local Bishop resist Rome and the national episcopal conference bureaucracy? It seems a tall order. Without bishops, the traditionalist institutes will go the way of the Petite Eglise or the Безпоповцы Old Believers in Russia – communities of laity without priests or Sacraments other than Baptism and Marriage.
What is going to happen? I would be happy to receive comments with suggestions.