Without knowing every detail of the internal life the Franciscans of the Immaculate, it is impossible to make a complete judgement about the justice of the canonical sanctions being imposed upon them. I confess, however, that the effort to imagine a scenario which would justify what is happening has defeated me, given the publicly-known facts about their work up to the time of the current crisis. Furthermore, some aspects of what is happening seem simply incomprehensible.
Thanks to Rorate Caeli for putting together various relevant documents. This is part of what the 'Commissioner', Fr Volpi, has said and done (Fr Volpi is a Capuchin who has been imposed on the order to sort them out by Rome):
'Diaconal and priestly ordinations are suspended for one year. In addition, candidates for Orders who are presently in formation must personally subscribe to a formal acceptance of the Novus Ordo as an authentic expression of the liturgical tradition of the Church and therefore of Franciscan tradition (without prejudice to what is permitted by the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, once the current disciplinary decree of veto, ad hoc and ad tempus, is revoked for the Institute), ...'
There is a particular problem with this phrase 'authentic expression of the liturgical tradition of the Church' which goes beyond the circumstances of the FFIs, and which we can discuss objectively.
In short: what does it mean? As Fr Tim Finigan has pointed out, it seems to be ambiguous, between something weak and practically incontrovertible - that the Novus Ordo was properly promulgated and is sacramentally valid - and something denied by liturgical scholars on both sides of the debate, including Pope Benedict XVI writing as a private theologian, that the Novus Ordo is a true organic development of the preceding tradition.
The different interpretations are possible by varying one's understanding of the two keys words, 'authentic' and 'tradition', which are both terms with a wide range of possible meanings. If we understand 'authentic' in a narrow, legal sense, and 'tradition' in a broad sense, you get the first interpretation: the NO is legally related to the Church's tradition of having a liturgy, say. The Church has a tradition of having a liturgy, and by legal fiat the NO became an example of this tradition.
Taking 'authentic' in a sense broader than just legal, to mean 'proper', 'fitting', 'in accordance with the relevant principles' (liturgical, historical, aesthetic), and taking 'tradition' in a narrow sense of the specifically Roman liturgical tradition as it had developed up to 1962, then it becomes a very open question as to whether the NO is an authentic expression of this tradition. It is pretty clearly denied in this passage by Joseph, Cardinal Ratzinger:
The liturgical reform, in its concrete realization, has distanced itself even more from its origin. The result has not been a reanimation, but devastation. In place of the liturgy, fruit of a continual development, they have placed a fabricated liturgy. They have deserted a vital process of growth and becoming in order to substitute a fabrication. They did not want to continue the development, the organic maturing of something living through the centuries, and they replaced it, in the manner of technical production, by a fabrication, a banal product of the moment. (Ratzinger in Revue Theologisches, Vol. 20, Feb. 1990, pgs. 103-104)
Even more clearly, the scholar Klaus Gamber said that the Novus Ordo can't be regarded as the Roman Rite. He was well aware that it called itself the Roman Rite - as opposed to the Ambrosian or Byzantine Rite. He wasn't talking of its legal status, as being a rite which could be said by priests of the Roman Rite: and this is at issue when Summorum Pontificum says that the NO and the Traditional Mass are both 'forms' of the Roman Rite. He was making a different point: that as scholars have to judge whether, in form and in historical development, the Ambrosian, Gallican, and Sarum Mass should be called forms of the Roman Rite or separate Rites, we have to judge whether the NO is sufficiently similar to the classical form of the Roman Rite, and connected by organic development to that form, to be considered the same Rite. And it isn't: it obviously isn't. It lacks features which are so centrally characteristic of the Roman Rite that anything lacking them has to be categorised as something else. To deny this would be like saying that a vertebrate doesn't have to have a spine.
The book of essays in which Gamber said this has a Prface by Cardinal Ratzinger, incidentally. It is not heresy. It doesn't even, on its own, imply a decisive criticism of the NO: maybe the reformers were right to make the changes, and came up with something better. Many, many liberal liturgical scholars have said exactly this, while insisting that there was a decisive break in the (narrowly understood) liturgical tradition.
Furthermore, Summorum Pontificum actually implies the same thing. The Traditional Mass is called the 'former [earlier, older] liturgical tradition': ' 'traditio liturgica antecedens' (from Article 5). This tradition is not 'expressed' by the Novus Ordo; if it were, people attached to it would be attached to the Novus Ordo, which is not the sense of the passage. On the contrary, it seems this is a different liturgical tradition: there are two, in fact, an older and a newer one.
The fact that there is some important difference between the older tradition and the Novus Ordo is implied in an even more important way by the claim in Summorum Pontificum that the 1962 Missal has never been abrogated ('numquam abrogatam', Article 1). Normally, each edition of the Roman Missal is replaced by the next; that this happened to the 1962 Missal was a very common argument made by canonists before 2007, and this was the reason it was supposed that celebrations of it required an indult or special permission. Summorum Pontificum says that this did not happen. The explanation is not made explicit in the document, but is clear enough. The 1970 Missal is not simply a new edition of the Missale Romanum like all the earlier (and, indeed, later) ones. Something different happened: it was a new Missal in the sense of being a new start, a new tradition, and therefore it did not replace and exclude ('derogate') the earlier Missal.
Again, this doesn't imply that the NO is worse than the Traditional Mass. It just recognises the facts.
It is difficult to seek to interpret 'authentic expression of the liturgical tradition' by reference to the intention of the writer, because it is hard to escape the impression that the ambiguity is deliberate. This has, after all, been done before. The locus classicus is wording the first world-wide Indult, Quattuor Abhinc Annos (1984), which demanded:
'That it be made publicly clear beyond all ambiguity that such priests and their respective faithful in no way share the positions of those who call in question the legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude of the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970. '
What does this mean? What does it exclude? Isn't every theological discussion about the liturgy rendered impossible by this demand? How lucky, then, that it is applied only to people who go to the Traditional Mass! Everyone else can continue to debate the 'legitimacy and doctrinal exactitude' of the 1970 Missal. Or - on the other hand - perhaps this is an almost tautological demand referring to the legal promulgation of the 1970 Missal, and the compatibility with the perennial teaching of the Church of its texts. After all, wouldn't it be odd to question the 'theological exactitude' of the 1962 Missal? And that doesn't imply that it couldn't be improved.
The reality is that the 1984 formulation served the purposes of people who wanted to have it both ways. It could be used, in its strong interpretation, as a handy excuse to stop priests saying the Mass and the Faithful attending it, safe in the knowledge that appeals to Rome would almost certainly get nowhere. When challenged publicly, the bishop or superior could say airily that no reasonable person could object to the weak interpretation, and that this was all he had in mind.
This, I fear, may be what is happening to the Franciscans of the Immaculate. They need our prayers.