LAST week, obscured by a smokescreen of distractions, a hugely significant step was taken by the Vatican authorities that has the potential to plunge the Catholic Church into strife so convulsive as to eclipse even the turmoil of the past half-century.
The distractions that preoccupied the media last week were the Pope’s impromptu remarks
On the aircraft returning to Rome from Brazil, when he was seen as “softening” the Church’s line on homosexuality. In fact he reiterated traditional doctrine (homosexual tendency is not sinful, but homosexual acts are) and, less palatably to his audience, confirmed John Paul II’s declaration that the Church could never ordain women was definitive and infallible.
His apparently irenic remarks about homosexuals were a reflection of the Pope’s embarrassment over the scandal engulfing Monsignor Battista Ricca, appointed by Francis as a new broom to clean out the scandal-hit Vatican Bank. Unfortunately Sandro Magister, a respected Vatican observer, exposed Ricca’s homosexual activities in Latin America, in a picaresque career that included being trapped in a lift with a rent boy. The Vatican, unwisely, tried to discredit Magister’s exposé and retained Ricca in post. Yet as recently as 6 June the Pope was supposedly rolling up his sleeves to tackle the homosexual lobby in the Vatican; that drive for reform did not last long.
All of that, though scandalous, was secondary to the incredible folly committed by the Roman authorities in launching the first serious attack on Summorum Pontificum, the document signed by Benedict XVI freeing the traditional Latin Tridentine Mass for all Catholics. A decree issued by the Vatican forbade the Order of Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI) to continue celebrating the Tridentine Mass, in complete contradiction of Summorum Pontificum, after an American-led group of dissidents had complained about the use of the traditional liturgy. The FFI is one of the few success stories in the decaying Catholic Church: it is rich in vocations and attracts the young, as is increasingly the case with religious congregations that have returned to tradition. One would have thought a Pope devoted to St Francis would have particularly favoured these friars.
Instead, on the same day that the Pope asked “Who am I to judge?” in the context of homosexual priests, a decree issued in his name passed severe judgement on Franciscans untouched by scandal and flourishing in their religious life. The FFI is the second largest mainstream religious congregation around the world to offer the Tridentine Mass. Banning its use of that liturgy is a declaration of war on all traditional Catholics. It is also an appalling insult to the still living Benedict XVI.
The fury that has erupted among Catholics around the globe at this aggression, into which the Vatican old guard has apparently conscripted the inexperienced pontiff, is a portent of serious conflict to come. The simultaneous posting on the internet of a video of all the Brazilian bishops, in cassocks and sashes, dancing under the direction of youthful choreographers highlighted the contrast with traditionalist gravitas and the extent to which the Catholic hierarchy around the world has lost credibility.
The alleged pretext for banning the Tridentine Mass was that it was accompanied by criticism of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s. Criticism? These prelates cannot get out much. The world and his dog knows that the Second Vatican Catastrophe was the worst disaster ever to afflict the Church. It led to the abandonment of their vocations by half a million priests, monks, nuns and religious, the apostasy of countless millions of laymen, the loss of any familiarity with basic doctrine and, due to the rejection of all moral discipline, a massive sexual scandal. This they called “Renewal”. Vatican II renewed the Church in the way that the atomic bomb improved the environment of Hiroshima.
Mainstream theologians are now openly challenging Vatican II. Benedict XVI, while still Cardinal Ratzinger, described it as “a merely pastoral council; and yet many treat it as though it had made itself into a sort of ‘superdogma’ which takes away the importance of all the rest”. More recently, Monsignor Bruno Gherardini, dean of the theologians of the Lateran University, wrote that “none of its doctrines, unless ascribable to previous conciliar definitions, are infallible or unchangeable, nor are they even binding…”
After half a century the skids are finally under Vatican II. That is why the surviving flower-power clique from the 1960s is trying to re-ban the Tridentine Mass. It is a doomed project: if the cruel proscriptions of Paul VI and the Stalinist rigour of bishops whose authority was then unchallenged could not crush the Old Mass, today flourishing and expanding, does a discredited and scandal-ridden hierarchy whose credibility has evaporated imagine it can win this fight? The modernists will rue the day they provoked this war. «