Tuesday 9 February 2021

Statment on the Report of the French Bishops' Conference

 Foederatio Internationalis Una Voce:
Statement on the Report of the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) 
on the Implementation of Summorum Pontificum

The FIUV has become aware of a document, in the public domain, containing a summary of the responses made by French bishops to the questionnaire sent to them by the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, on the subject of the implementation of the Apostolic Letter Summorum Pontificum. Although this document does not appear to have been intended for publication, its authenticity has not been denied, and a reaction to it seems necessary.

We note first that the document adopts a consistently hostile tone towards the ancient Latin liturgical tradition, to the priests who celebrate it, and to the faithful who attend it. This has understandably caused considerable hurt among French Catholics attached to this tradition. The document does not speak, on behalf of the bishops of France, about these sons and daughters of the Church with the words of a shepherd and father. In the words of Una Voce France, we do not find

… the slightest trace of empathy, cordiality, or ‘heart’ in them as they say in one place. Instead, we find contempt, at best indifference, towards those narrow-minded beings, without theology, without charity, that are the faithful to the ancient Latin Mass. A Mass that so many generations followed, and from which they nourished their faith ... which is ours today.[1]

Nevertheless, the impression of hostility made by this document masks many positive features of the reception of Summorum Pontificum in France. The document acknowledges these phenomena with a singular lack of grace, or without noting even that they are good things. It refers, for example, to ‘large families’ requesting the EF; to ‘weak’ young people seeking out celebrations and finding in them a supportive spiritual environment; of seminarians learning to celebrate the EF in their own time, without the assistance of their formators; and to this younger, more traditionally-inclined generation of priests, celebrating the Ordinary Form with greater reverence and fidelity.

In this context the words of Fr Claude Barthe, Chaplain of the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage in Rome, are apposite:

One is left speechless by the conclusion that the EF is not missionary when we know that the parish Masses are always more deserted, while traditional Masses are full of young people and a not insignificant number of converts.[2]

We should like to observe that the authority of the bishops of France, like bishops all over the world, remains unimpaired by Summorum Pontificum, as Pope Benedict XVI emphasised in the Letter to Bishops which accompanied the Apostolic Letter:

Nothing is taken away, then, from the authority of the Bishop, whose role remains that of being watchful that all is done in peace and serenity.

Indeed, while this document of the CEF makes harsh criticisms of those priests who celebrate the EF, it was the bishops themselves, or their immediate predecessors, who in nearly all cases invited them into their dioceses, and presumably did so for good reasons.

In a different way, the document laments the small number of diocesan clergy who celebrate the EF, in relation to the number of priests of the Traditional Institutes, while it is entirely in the power of the bishops to ensure that their seminarians are proficient in Latin, and to encourage them to learn how to celebrate the EF.

Taking the document as a whole, despite its many harsh, and sometimes inaccurate and unjust, statements, it reflects the fact that the ancient Mass is now an indisputably permanent feature of the French Church. To quote Fr Barth again:

it is clear that the public existence of the traditional Mass is now a given [un fait acquis] in France. It is a given that many bishops would like to confine or reduce, but that they no longer dispute.

The FIUV would like to appeal to the bishops of France, and to those functionaries of the CEF responsible for this document, to consider the consequences of even the appearance of an unwelcoming attitude towards Catholics who feel the attraction of the ancient liturgical tradition. As we have already quoted Pope Benedict, it is the munus of the bishops to ensure that the Apostolic Letter is implemented with ‘peace and serenity’. Peace and serenity are maximised by an open and welcoming attitude, and this is also what is necessary to building up the trust and mutual understanding which this document claims are currently lacking. If traditional Catholics are feeling marginalised, it is in large part because of the contrary attitude, displayed by this document, which appears to see them as a nuisance rather than as sons and daughters of their bishops.

To quote again Pope Benedict’s Letter to Bishops: ‘Let us generously open our hearts and make room for everything that the faith itself allows.’

Other reactions to this document:

The reaction of Paix Liturgique (in English) is here.

The reaction of Una Voce France is here (in French) and here (French and English).

A LifeSiteNews article quoting and translating a statement of the FSSPX can be seen here.

A Church Militant article quoting Abbe Claude Barthe of the Summorum Pontificum Pilgrimage is here.

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