Traditional Catholics Are Not Welcome on Pope Francis's "Common Road"
Robert Busek | The Daily Knight
Robert Busek is a Catholic homeschooling father of six. He has taught history and Western Civilization in both traditional and online classrooms for twenty years. The views he expresses here are his own.
Traditional Catholics Are Not Welcome on Pope Francis’s “Common Road”
Pope Francis’s irrational animus towards traditional Catholics is at odds with his stated desire for all voices to be heard in Church matters. In May, the Church announced that the Synod of Bishops scheduled for October of 2023 would be preceded by “a broad consultation process” in every diocese on the theme of “For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation and Mission.” Starting in October of 2021, individual bishops will be holding meetings with members of their flocks and preparing documents that will inform the debates to be held first at the continental level and then at the final meeting at Rome.
Over the past few years, Pope Francis has coined a word to describe this new approach to spiritual leadership: synodality. This term, which literally means “common road,” represents the pope’s view that the Church should seek consensus among all its members, including the laity, when addressing matters of importance. Christopher Lamb, Vatican correspondent for the British Catholic weekly The Tablet, explains the term thus: “It’s a church that puts ordinary people at the center. It’s a church in motion, that stops looking inward and looks out. It’s less bound up with its bureaucracies and protocol.” Though one might legitimately question how much a poorly catechized laity should be involved in decisions that affect the entire Church, the ideas behind synodality are certainly attractive, especially to the faithful living in Western democracies where the Church has lost so much of its cultural power. However, there seems to be a group of Catholic clergy and laity whom Francis wants to shut out of his new model entirely: those who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass. Francis vs. Tradition Francis’s motu proprio Traditionis Custodes is simply the most public example of the long-standing friction between the Holy Father and his traditionalist sheep. For years, traditional Catholics have suspected the pope of being far too comfortable with the blandishments of the world and the “principles” of the Second Vatican Council; for many, his motu proprio simply confirmed what they already knew.
Not surprisingly, Pope Francis offered no clear explanation as to why he felt that the Latin Mass needed to be limited. He gave no details about the answers he received to the questionnaire that he sent to the bishops in 2020. He simply claimed (with no specific evidence) that traditional Catholics had used Benedict’s motu proprio Summorum Pontificum “to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church.” The high-handed authoritarianism that Francis has taken to bring traditionalists to heel is at odds with the more open approach that synodality requires.
So far, the implementation of Francis’s edict has been mixed at best. According to the informal numbers collected by TraditionisCustodes.Info, less than a quarter of the 231 dioceses for which the website has information have either totally or partially suppressed the Traditional Latin Mass. In the United States alone, only eleven out of 81 dioceses have done so. Though these numbers certainly might increase over time, they are an early indication that the pope’s concerns about the injurious effects of the Latin Mass on the Church are not shared by a majority of the diocesan bishops.
The Pope’s Divisive Rhetoric
This point seems to have escaped Pope Francis, who doubled down on his accusations against traditional Catholics in a private meeting with Slovakian Jesuits on September 12th. According to a transcript of this meeting published on Tuesday, September 21st, when asked how he was feeling after his recent intestinal surgery, Pope Francis responded, “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die.”
Francis’s later comments left little doubt about who he considered “some people” to be. Responding to a question about how he dealt with those who viewed him with suspicion, he called newly-ordained priests who ask permission to celebrate the Latin Mass “a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.” He also took a thinly veiled swipe at Eternal Word Television Network, which frequently criticizes him on several issues (including his efforts against the Latin Mass), by calling their concerns “the work of the devil.” While traditionalists are used to these kinds of hyperbolic accusations from other Catholics, such uncharitable and divisive comments are especially surprising from a pope whose most famous statement on the grave sin of homosexuality is “Who am I to judge?”
In a meeting with French bishops on September 24th reported on Rorate Caeli, Pope Francis continued his seeming hypocrisy by admitting that his motu proprio specifically targeted areas where the Latin Mass is flourishing, like the United States, Switzerland, and some dioceses in France. Under the guise of “[restoring] the unity of the Church,” His Holiness has simply torn open old wounds suffered by these communities in the wake of the Second Vatican Council and its innovations.
No Room for Traditionalists on the “Common Road”
As I have noted elsewhere, Francis’s assault on traditionalist communities is even more strange given the spiritual fruits that the Latin Mass continues to produce. At a time when Mass attendance in the United States is at an all-time low, traditional parishes are thriving, especially among young Catholics with families. While a majority of American Catholics reject basic theological doctrines (such as the Real Presence in the Eucharist) and moral dictates (especially on sexual matters), Latin Mass attendees have a much better grasp of Church teaching on a wide range of subjects. Sermons on the “vocations crisis” are common from Novus Ordo pulpits, yet vocations are steadily growing in traditionalist circles. By every metric, it seems that the true future of the Church lies not with the feeble “spirit of Vatican II” but with the robust leavening of the Traditional Latin Mass.
Despite all this evidence, Pope Francis remains far more comfortable with applauding nominally Catholic politicians who support policies that openly defy Church teachings than with listening to the pleas of traditionalists for his support and understanding. It certainly doesn’t help that the media establishment that hates Christ and all He teaches fawns over every innovation Francis introduces and casts those who take Christ’s teachings seriously as black-hearted villains seeking to hold back the “progress” his policies represent.
In the end, Francis’s call for synodality may end up dooming his pontificate in the eyes of both man and God. For all his claims of wanting “real dialogue” with those who disagree with him, he has yet to give traditionalists any sign that they are valued and wanted on the “common road” that he wants the Church to travel. In the end, he is a strange shepherd who seems intent on punishing the good sheep of his flock without cause while coddling the bad without merit.
\In the end, the pope’s unwarranted and unjust attacks on those who celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass will continue to foster distrust in synodality and the transformation it promises. Luckily, traditional Catholics can use the synodal process that Francis initiated to appeal to their bishops to implore the Holy Father to cease these misguided efforts and act as a true shepherd to his entire flock. Should Francis continue to bar us from the “common road,” then I fear that he will find that his sham of synodality will bear only bad fruit.