Priests in France: “traditionalists” in communion with Francis are growing

A news gave great annoyance to the friends of the “anti-Papist resistance”. In France, one of the Western countries with the greatest crisis of priestly ordinations, 20% of ordained priests would be a “traditionalist”.

One of the exultant comments was the following: «an important sign, in consideration of the open disfavour that the reigning Pontiff showed on several occasions towards the young priests who prefer the tradition of the Church». There is a malignant and purposeful confusion between the adhesion to Tradition and with the celebration of Mass in Latin, so as to induce to think that only priests using the Vetus Ordo would be in line with the Catholic doctrine. Unjustly involving Francis, additionally, is the confirmation that in certain environments any news is used to attack the Pope: the most fecund ordination groups would be those unfavoured by Bergoglio. This is the bad message that someone wants to transmit.

False is also the affirmation that Francis would unfavourably look on the ancient rite; it is an erroneous belief born at the time when the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate were put under the administration of an external commissioner, and the Holy See induced them to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite. But – as has already been clarified – only to respond «to specific problems and tensions created in that congregation», in particular because the majority of the friars wanted to celebrate according to the Novus Ordo. On this specific topic, instead, Pope Bergoglio appreciated the possibility conceded by his predecessor of celebrating Mass with the ancient rite, but rightly considers as «worrying the risk of ideologisation of the Vetus Ordo, its instrumentalisation». Many traditionalists, indeed, consider nothing other than heretics those those who use the modern rite, as a result of having turned the Tridentine Mass into an existential obsession, whereas it is to be judged as an extraordinary form and not as an ordinary one, as was provided for by Benedict XVI.

Harkening back to the French “traditionalist” groups with the highest number priestly priestly ordinations, we have discovered that the news is not entirely true. Amongst these congregations there is the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP), which – beside being in perfect communion with Pope Francis – legitimately prefers the old liturgy in Latin (even though Scriptures are read in the local language), but does not want at all to «reintroduce it in parishes and somehow impose it on people. Both forms of the rite may enrich each other». If we trust the words of Father Bernhard Gerstle, member of the Fraternity, we infer that we are dealing with a community spiritually fine, not at all “traditionalist”, sedevacantist, or pharisaic, not ideologically anchored in the past. Indeed, the prelate specified: «I do not like at all the term “traditionalist”. We are not “traditionalists”, but simply Catholics. And, as Catholics, we appreciate Tradition. But not so much as to be totally contrary to changes and organic adaptations».

The Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter recognises «the new liturgy as valid and legitimate», even though it criticises many developments of the liturgical reform, like the celebration no more ad orientem and Communion given in the hand to the faithful. The priest recognises that these are «changes of the external form», but he fears that «they have led not few priests and faithful to a quite Protestant conception of the Mass». His fears, albeit exaggerated, are understandable and in part acceptable, although the real problem remains the education to the faith: one may receive Communion on the tongue and while kneeling but without understanding its meaning, only out of a formal obedience to a “We have always done so”. There is nothing automatic, and it is not the form that changes man’s heart. Besides, on this point, Benedict XVI has already clarified: «Communion on the tongue is not an imposition: I have always practiced both forms» (Ultime conversazioni, Garzanti 2016, p. 175).

Father Gerstle also distanced himself from the intransigent wing of the Fraternity of St. Pius X, a community – this, yes – being strongly traditionalist. The latter – warned the priest: «has to recognise that there is no alternative to the reconciliation with Rome». On the contrary, «the Fraternity of Saint Peter has undertaken an unbiased study of the conciliar texts and came to the conclusion that in them no break with the precedent doctrinal statements. There are, however, various texts which are formulated in such a way as to give rise to misunderstandings. On the part of Rome, there have been clarifications that even the Fraternity of Saint Pius X should recognise. For us, no pre- and post- conciliar Church. There is only one Church, which dates back to Christ».

Finally, in the French Fraternity full of vocations, there is no enmity at all against the Holy Father. Quite the opposite! «Our main worry must be the care for the salvation of souls, as continuously highlights Pope Francis» – explained again the priest of the Fraternity of Saint Peter. On the 30th of March 2014, in the Parish of the Most Holy Trinity of Pilgrims, entrusted to the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter itself, the then Auxiliary Bishop of Rome (future “Bergoglian” Archbishop of Bologna) Msgr. Matteo Zuppi  celebrated the Holy Mass in the “ancient” rite. Without any problem or “disfavour”.

The Editorial Staff

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