Cross-posted on Rorate Caeli.
The Superiors General of the Fraternity of St Peter, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the Institute of the Good Shepherd, and a number of other Superiors General of priestly institutes and religious communities attached to the Traditional Mass (including three communities of women), have issued a joint letter in response to Traditionis Custodes. Here it is, on the FSSP website. It is addressed to the Bishops of France, not, as some have assumed, to the Holy See.
As befits such a document, it is carefully worded. In principle, Traditionis Custodes creates an impossible situation for the signatories. They are founded on the charism of the Traditional liturgy, and the Letter accompanying Traditionis Custodes tells us that it is the intention of the document that in the longer term this liturgy should entirely disappear. Furthermore, the justification for this given in the Letter is that the clergy and faithful (who are not distinguished) are detached in some sense from the unity of the Church.
The argument which needs to be made to the Bishops of France at this point is thus a delicate one. Negatively, it should be obvious that to strike a defiant attitude, to threaten disobedience to Traditionis Custodes or the Bishops, or to suggest that they might go over to the Society of Pius X, would serve to confirm the purported justification of Traditionis Custodes. It would be directly counter-productive.
On the other hand, to make a direct argument against Traditionis Custodes, to insist that it should be rescinded, is pointless, because the French Bishops do not have the power to do that. To make such an argument to the Holy See would be pointless in another way, because there is absolutely no chance that an important document such as this would be cancelled, or modified in a significant way, by the very Pope who promulgated it, so soon after its publication.
Instead, the statement approaches the problem in two ways. First, it emphasises the key-hole of concession offered by Traditionis Custodes and the Letter, through which the Traditional Mass can continue to be celebrated: time. Traditionis Custodes gives the French Bishops (like all bishops) the right to permit the Traditional Mass now. It is now that it needs to be permitted if the spiritual life of the Traditional Institutes, and of Traditional laity, is to continue as before. No limit to this time is set by the documents. The first thing to secure, then, is that the Traditional Mass will continue.
The second approach is to draw attention to a very serious problem created by Traditionis Custodes. In confirming the establishment of the Institutes and communities represented by this statement, the Holy See has over the years since 1988 allowed and encouraged men and women to commit themselves by vows to lives of a particular character: as do all priests and religious. A fundamental aspect of this character for these particular religious associations is the Traditional liturgy. If this liturgy is to be abolished, the vows and commitments made to these associations would become impossible to fulfill.
The implications of this fact are not drawn out. It is for the French Bishops to ponder the problem as they apply Traditionis Custodes. They must implement the legislation with regard to the good of souls: as when they apply any aspect of the law of the Church. For those bishops inclined to be sympathetic, this consideration will be a powerful one.
To summarise, what this statement does is to try to create a space in which the French Bishops may, without disobedience, make possible in practice the continuation of the life the of the Priestly Institutes and communities and of lay Catholics attached to the Traditional Mass. The Latin Mass Society did the same thing, in a some different way, when we issued our Canonical Guidance on Traditionis Custodes.
Taylor Marshall, a man I usually ignore, has insulted the signatories of this statement, as lacking the "brave and bold" spirit which, he claims, animated the late Archbishop Lefebvre. He is, in a video far too tedious to link to, claiming that they are cowards.
This is a contemptible accusation, which reveals Marshall to be, as I expressed it on Twitter, an ignorant fool. I stand by that judgement, and I call on Marshall to apologise to these good men and women, who have a fearful responsibility both to their professed members, and also, in most cases, to the lay faithful for whom they have pastoral care.
Marshall appears to imagine that the Superiors General should react to their complex situation with the subtlety of some Hollywood action-hero: an attitude, in fact, completely at odds with the historical reality of Archbishop Lefebvre himself. What, Marshall seems to be asking, would Rambo do? What would be the reaction of some knuckle-headed character played by Mel Gibson? Well, if he wants to base his understanding of ecclesial politics on Braveheart, he should remember the advice given by Argyle (in the 1995 film) to the young William Wallace: "First learn to use this" (pointing to his head), "and then I will teach you to use this" (lifting his sword).
It is an interesting fact about social media that some people who witnessed Marshall's insult of the Superiors General, and my own criticism of Marshall for making this insult, concluded that I was the one to be blamed for dividing Traditional Catholics. This is an attitude completely detached from reality. The restoration of the Church is carried out through the sacraments offered by Traditional priests, and through the lives of prayer and sacrifice represented by the Traditional Institutes and communities, not by monetised social-media clicks. We need to show solidarity, in this moment of crisis, with the Superiors General, not with the man who likes to remind his viewers "I'm just a dad with a webcam".
To the Superiors General, I say: genuine Traditional Catholics have your back. If this separates me from Taylor Marshall and his more deranged fans, so much the better.
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