Pope Francis just took a hard line against conservative Catholics, rescinding inclusive measures by his predecessors Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI and placing additional limits on the traditional Latin Mass. Pope Francis’ unexpected crackdown enraged many conservatives, who warned that it could push many Catholics out of the church.

What happened?

The pope, in his apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes (“Guardians of Tradition”), has banned the traditional Latin Mass—sometimes referred to as the “Tridentine” Mass after the 16th-century Council of Trent—from Catholic parishes. He also lifted existing accommodations for priests who wish to use the extraordinary form of the Catholic liturgy, Breitbart reported.

Local bishops may designate one or more venues for loyal adherents of traditional groupings to congregate for the eucharistic celebration, but “not however in the parochial churches,” he declares.

Bishops are to develop several additional strictures and refrain from permitting “the establishment of new groups” while catering for the spiritual needs of groups that “celebrate according to the Missal antecedent to the reform of 1970,” the Pope adds.

The current letter opposes Pope Benedict XVI’s efforts to loosen limits on the use of the traditional form, noting in 2007 that many of the faithful had remained devoted to “earlier liturgical forms which had deeply shaped their culture and spirit.”

In acknowledging this variety, Pope John Paul II tried to increase inclusivity by providing bishops the authority to use the older form and “exhorted bishops to make broad and generous use of this faculty on behalf of all the faithful who sought it,” according to Benedict.

Benedict went on to say that the Roman Missal promulgated by Pope Paul VI is “is the ordinary expression of the lex orandi (rule of prayer) of the Catholic Church of the Latin rite.” But, he added the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint Pius V is “is nonetheless to be considered an extraordinary expression of the same lex orandi of the Church and duly honoured for its venerable and ancient usage.”

Pope Francis, for one, has stated that the Roman Missal of 1970 is not the “ordinary expression,” but rather “the unique expression of the lex orandi of the Roman Rite” (emphasis added). Thus, despite its long history, the new, exclusive ruling appears to rule out the older version of the Mass as a genuine manifestation of the Church’s lex orandi.

Pope Benedict had granted Catholic priests broad rights to say Masses in private using the 1962 Roman Missal, proclaiming that “the priest needs no permission from the Apostolic See or from his own Ordinary” to do so.

Priests who want to use the 1962 Roman Missal must submit a formal request to the diocesan Bishop. He will consult the Apostolic See before giving this authority, according to Francis’ new regulations.

“Previous norms, instructions, permissions, and customs that do not conform to the provisions of the present Motu Proprio are abrogated,” Francis decrees.

In his era, Pope John Paul II advocated for the ongoing use of Latin in the Church to retain linkages with the Church’s history and traditions.

He argued that “The Roman Church has special obligations towards Latin, the splendid language of ancient Rome,” and that “she must manifest them whenever the occasion presents itself.”

Pope Francis defends his predecessors’ more inclusive attitude by claiming that their pastoral generosity “was exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.”

Backlashes

“This is a grave disappointment,” said Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society, in a statement obtained by Newsmax.

The dismal tone of Francis’ pronouncement was highlighted by Cardinal Raymond Burke, emeritus prefect of the Apostolic Signatura, the Catholic Church’s highest judicial authority outside the pontiff himself.

“I pray that the faithful will not give way to the discouragement which such harshness necessarily engenders but will, with the help of divine grace, persevere in their love of the Church and of her pastors,” Burke told the National Catholic Register.

Burke emphasized that the Latin Mass is “a living form of the Roman Rite and has never ceased to be so”—and that he had not personally witnessed the “gravely negative situation” described by Francis in his letter.

Francis’ surprising move is seen as a big slap in the face to church conservatives and traditionalists by a Pope who has made it his mission to liberalize the Church while silencing detractors.

According to Bill Donohue, head of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the action was intended to undermine Francis’ conservative detractors.

“The fear is that too many who prefer the Latin Mass are growing in number and may not be in sync with the [Pope’s] reforms,” Donohue said, noting that the Latin Mass is particularly popular among young Catholics.

In his letter, Pope Francis also expressed his sadness that the use of the old Mass “is often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform but of the Vatican Council II itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.”’

Francis has traditionally been regarded as the most liberal of the Catholic Church’s 266 popes, beginning with Saint Peter.

Francis’ liberal comments have frequently sparked schisms within the church.

  • He claims that climate change is a top moral issue for the Church, and the world has approximately “fewer than 30″ years to reduce carbon emissions and avert the worst effects of climate change.
  • He refers to capitalism as an “idolatrous system which excludes, debases and kills” and has advocated for socialism to aid the poor by reducing income inequality.
  • He argues that same-sex couples should be permitted to form “civil unions.”
  • He claims that atheists can enter heaven.
  • He had a private meeting with a lady who had transitioned into a transgender man and his fiancee.
  • Due to a dearth of priests, he believes celibacy laws may be relaxed.
  • He breaches procedure by calling Joe Biden to congratulate him on his presidential election victory in 2020.

Since he was elected Pope in 2013, he has been no stranger to controversy.

“Is Pope Francis Leading the Church to a Schism?” asks a recent Wall Street Journal article, which points to a growing movement of Francis-friendly bishops advocating for same-sex marriage and women priests.

At 84 and in poor health (Francis recently left the hospital after having half his colon removed), the Pope may discover that the College of Cardinals is his most important legacy.

To date, Francis has appointed 57% of the Cardinals who will vote in the next Conclave to elect his successor, with many of his picks being Church liberals.