Pope Francis and the Traditionalists

During his two years as pope,  Francis has had a rocky relationship with Catholic traditionalists, both those in full communion with Rome and those who have broken away, such as the Society of St. Pius X.   The traditionalist blog Rorate Caeli continues to bemoan his dismissive attitude towards the Latin mass, and the glimmers of rapproachment with the SSPX during the pontificate of Benedict XVI have faded.  However, today Pope Francis has, with one of his now famous off-hand remarks, created a potentially new situation.

During his homily at his daily mass at Domus Sanctae Marthae, Pope Francis departed from his written notes on today’s readings.  While commenting on the first reading, Isaiah 50:4-9, Pope Francis paused and then remarked,

To set your face like flint is a difficult act, but something you must do when your conscience binds you and directs your actions.  Bishop Williamson and newly ordained Bishop Faure have done exactly this.  They have not shielded themselves from buffets and spitting, or even from the excommunication that falls upon them for their schismatic act.  I extend my congratulations to Bishop Faure on his consecration, and I look forward to meeting with him in a spirit of brotherhood and reconciliation.

As is often the case when Pope Francis speaks spontaneously, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi appeared uncertain at first when asked by journalists to clarify what the pope meant.  However, his office later released the following statement from Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican Secretary of State:

The decree of latae sententiae excommunication against Bishop Williamson and Fr. Faure remains in effect and the comments by Pope Francis today in his daily reflection were not intended to abrogate this penalty, which they both automatically occurred on 19 March, 2015, for Fr. Faure’s illicit ordination as a bishop.  His Holy Father’s remarks were solely intended to illustrate the nature of Christian discipleship during this holy season as we remember the trials and sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ.   Moreover, while this penalty is necessary to preserve Church discipline, Pope Francis does not want to let it become an insurmountable barrier to good relations with Bishop Williamson or with the Society of St. Pius X. 

Though cautious, many traditionalist Catholics are hopeful that this marks a new beginning in their relationship with Pope Francis.  Fr. Z, despite his opposition to the ordination, spoke approvingly of Pope Francis and called for prayers for Bishop Williamson.  (In reading his blog, you need to go through several paragraphs of Fr. Z’s acerbic red ink commentary to find out how he feels.)  Furthermore, conservative Vaticanista Sandro Magister, who has previously faulted Pope Francis for his treatment of traditionalists, is said to be reporting rumors that after the mass, when a prelate from the Congregation for Bishops pressed the pope to say more, the Pope shrugged and said,

Regarding Bishop Williamson and Bishop Faure, who am I to judge?

Surprisingly, neither John Allen at Crux nor the National Catholic Reporter have commented on this story.  I am particularly hopeful that John Allen, with his extensive personal contacts at the Vatican, will be able to confirm or deny this rumor.

Personally, I have found Pope Francis’ previous comments and actions involving various traditionalists, such as the appointment of Cardinal Burke to oversee the Knights of Malta, to be a useful corrective.  Therefore, I am not sure what to make of these latest reports.  I know that we have many traditionalists of various kinds among our loyal readership, so as we start the month of April and reach the midpoint of Holy Week, Spy Wednesday, I hope that they will share their understanding of these latest comments and their hopes for the future.

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  • http://postfuturm.com postfuturum

    uhm. Why is that Pope Francis is nice when he talks about schismatic “trads” like Williamson but not when he talks about trads in general?

  • http://postfuturm.com postfuturum


    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      I have no idea what you are talking about….

      • Regulus

        If this is an April Fool, it’s incredibly cruel and mean spirited and spiteful, Dave.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Well, I admit that I did not think it was any of those things, so I am honestly curious: what do you find offensive?

        • Regulus

          Because the joke involvrd trad-baiting, and also is based on the premise that Francis would never say those things, but it’s almost, like, *sarcastic* about the idea that they were following their conscience and that reconcilliation would still be best. If there’s humor, it’s based on a sort of spiteful schadenfreude that trads are more irrelevant now than under Benedict, that “the tables have turned,” and a sort of “I told you so” about the crazies “showing their true colors.”

        • Mark VA


          I am a “Trad” with genuine “street cred” – so, let’s take a deep breath, it was a harmless and funny joke, I didn’t see anything malicious in it. Let’s not be too “tradie prickly”, but up the ante with our own (harmless) humor. Maybe this will lighten the mood:

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            I will drink to that, come Easter Sunday when fasting is behind us!

        • Regulus

          Mark, I’m sorry, but humor has to have a certain structure. It depends on a type of contrast.

          So explain to me why this is funny.

          It seems to me that without certain pre-assumptions about traditionalists, there is no joke, only a lie (that several people took as totally true).

          A joke has to have a punchline or irony etc. What is the punchline here other than “Eat it, traddies, this ain’t never gonna happen now that Francis is in charge!”

          The only humorous interpretation is one where the trads are made to look absurd, and “obviously” undeserving of any such gesture from Francis.

          Truth is, I got my hopes up when I read this…only to be disappointed when I realized it was a joke, like, “Suckers! How foolish to think you people are ever going to receive any sort of nod of legitimation from our Beloved Progressive Pope!”

        • Mark VA

          Regulus, I understand your concern, but for me it is a matter of trust.

          I’ve blogged here long enough to trust Mr. Cruz-Uribe. I don’t believe he would use such methods. Also, when sometimes I haven’t been an exemplar of Christian blogging charity, he never responded in kind – which is not to say we never had “frank exchanges of views”.

          If you need to let out some steam in a fun and charitable way, let me suggest this (I hope David won’t mind):

          See if you can coax David, in a gesture of good will towards the Trads, to write four lines of doggerel.

        • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com dismasdolben

          Maybe you’d have a bit more tolerance for the ire of “liberal” Catholics directed against so-called “traditionalists,” Regulus if you knew that That there are a whole group of folks claiming to belong to your sect who dispute the legitimacy of Pope Francis’s election.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            In fairness: I don’t like it when all liberal/progressive Catholics are tarred by the actions of a few wackos, and so I don’t think we should allow these particular folk to be normative for traditionalists. As I said to someone else, there are many kinds of traditionalists.

  • Tanco

    I am a traditionalist who supports and admires Pope Francis. Yes, we don’t see eye to eye liturgically. However, this situation is not unlike an Anglo-Catholic who is (in title) governed by an evangelical Archbishop of Canterbury. Pope Benedict was a fellow-traveler with liturgical traditionalism, but it is unrealistic to expect every subsequent pope to be enthusiastic about your cause. Pope Francis is liturgically modern, and I feel fine.

    Pope Francis has the tact and skill of a wise governor. He is entirely in the right when he has ordered bi-ritual communities to use the ordinary form until further notice to heal the wounds of a community divided in liturgical use. Also, he is wise to not take the SSPX’s bait and resume talks with them, when the SSPX’s acceptance of conciliar documents is likely never to happen. The Lefebvrists are also anti-Semitic, and they have been known to taunt LGBT people (eg a recent Christopher Street parade in Germany.) Pope Francis has wisely balanced the recognition of schism with the reality that the SSPX cannot enter the Church with its current attitudes and agenda.

    I think it’s time that liturgically traditional prelates, clergy, and laypersons in union with Rome have a meeting with Pope Francis and curial officials, and especially the head of the CDW. This meeting should also include clergy and laypersons of a wide spectrum of liturgical persuasions. There are many questions on this table. Is Roman traditionalism foremost a liturgical movement, or a comprehensive cultural movement? If so, what is “traditionalist culture”? Can traditionalism reach a level of understanding with other movements in the Church, such as progressive liturgical theory or even feminist positions, without traditionalists throwing an adult temper tantrum and walking out? Pope Francis, I suspect, is waiting for the maturation of traditionalism. We traditionalists must meet his challenge.

    Blessed Holy Week and Happy Easter to Vox Nova!

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Tanco, thanks for this thoughtful comment to a post that was not intended to be serious: in case you have not figured it out, yesterday was April fool’s day. I think your final question about Roman traditionalism is a good one, since I think there are many different kinds of traditionalists, and to treat them as a monolithic block is a mistake. Thinking about your comment (and Mark VAs as well) has really clarified this in my mind. I guess there is a spectrum but it sometimes seems to go off in several different directions, liturgically, theologically and culturally. I guess liberals and progressives in the Church slide out along similar scales as well.

    • Agellius

      “Can traditionalism reach a level of understanding with other movements in the Church, such as progressive liturgical theory or even feminist positions, without traditionalists throwing an adult temper tantrum and walking out?”

      I’m perfectly willing to tolerate “progressive liturgical theory” on an equal basis with “traditional liturgical theory”. My main beef is that they aren’t.

    • Jordan

      Agellius ( April 2, 2015 3:36 pm): “I’m perfectly willing to tolerate “progressive liturgical theory” on an equal basis with ‘traditional liturgical theory’. My main beef is that they aren’t.”

      I’d say that traditionalists in union with Rome must make the first reconciliatory overture to liturgical progressives. Some in the traditionalist camp spurn the ordinary form; some progressives can’t bring themselves to speak about the extraordinary form. However, I know there are participants in the middle ground who are willing to find understanding without agreement. Progressive Catholicism no longer has the legal ability to suppress Tridentine liturgy as it did for two decades. At one point progressives will have to talk to traditionalists, simply because of Tridentine liturgy re-legalization and growth.

      I am confident that levelheaded members of both camps can eventually create a synopsis of the two theoretical differences.

  • Agellius

    It’s just weird, to me. I can understand that he doesn’t want the illicit ordinations to “become an insurmountable barrier to good relations with Bishop Williamson or with the Society of St. Pius X”. But congratulating him?

    • Agellius

      No wonder it seemed weird. Well done. : )

  • Mark VA

    I think that before discussing something, it is always good to first clarify the terms, thus:

    SSPX is on a different track than the Traditionalists in communion with the Pope. SSPX has already experienced its own first schism, and if history is any guide, it will continue to do so. For example, Williamson was ousted from the SSPX in 2012:


    As far as my musings about Catholic Traditionalism:

    (a) For Traditionalists in communion with the Pope, Summorum Pontificum was a great boost, since it removed the threat of excommunication for adhering to the TLM;

    (b) My hopes for the future of Traditional Catholicism focus on acquiring a broad and rigorous education for all Traditional Catholics. I hope they will help all Catholics to better re-integrate themselves with the fullness of Church history and Tradition. I also hope that they will learn how to think critically about Tradition, at a higher cognitive level. A good place to start is to study the case of Galileo in detail, using as many original sources as possible, and then draw the necessary conclusions. I hope that they will see Tradition not as if it was an ant caught in amber, but is a living, growing tree, which needs an occasional pruning;

    (c) To me, Pope’s remark quoted above simply means that the Church always welcomes back Her prodigal sons and daughters.

    • Mark VA

      Completely forgot yesterday was Prima Aprilis, and that this question was not meant to be engaged with seriously, but in the spirit of a joke.

      CU-1 VA-0.

      • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

        Thank you. After I read your comment I spent a long time trying to decide if you had fallen for it or were in fact playing me by pretending to take it seriously.

        • Mark VA

          Well David, you give me too much credit, I ain’t that clever, but fell for it completely, unequivocally, irreversibly, flat on my face with egg on top – but, as you may admit:

          April first is a barrel of monkeys,
          Of twists and turns and zigzaggy bunkees;
          So, if its joke sticks to you fast,
          Then grin and don’t sweat the jest.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Mark VA, on a more serious note, I think a better place to start than Galileo would be for traditionalists and progressives to reflect together on two documents: the Syllabus of Errors and the Declaration on Religious Freedom (and perhaps the Constitution of the Church in the Modern World). The disjuncture between these two documents is so sharp, in terms of both concrete ideas and engagement, that their reconciliation is fraught with problems. Benedict XVI suggested the idea of “reform in continuity” as a via media between the “rupture” school and the stress on continuity. I am not sure that this really works, but it was an attempt to move forward.

      I suggest this instead of Galileo since parsing out Galileo is very hard (I have read serious scholarship on the subject and it is thorny) and also since Galileo pretty much won, in the sense that naturalist methodology in science (not to be confused with philosophical naturalism) has carried the day and no one (or very, very few Catholics, anyway) attempt to refute science by reading scripture.

      • Regulus

        Forget reflecting. The existence of both documents means neither is essential. They are, then, two poles on an acceptable spectrum of opinion.

        If Rome and the SSPX would both recognize this, they’d be reconciled tomorrow. But Rome hasn’t been so broad-minded. It’s tried to insist on accepting the more liberal opinion, rather then merely the idea that both are tolerable opinions.

        The SSPX are right to see in this a sort of historical schizophrenia and self-alienation at the heart of the Church.

      • Mark VA


        My selection of Galileo is based on my life experience, specifically, the equation: Belief in God = an irrational mind = incapable of higher education.

        In more ideological terms, this equation transforms itself into a belief in two sets of people: those who are capable of further biological evolution (the “brights”, or “new men” if you will), and the rest;

        I understand that the real life application of these ideas is not within the historical experience of the Western World, and I hope it never will be. Nevertheless, I do hear public opinions which are (unwittingly, in my view) half way there. Many seem to come from an island in the North-West corner of Europe.

        Thus, my suggestion about studying the case of Galileo in detail hopes to show that two seemingly contradictory things are true: the Church was wrong about Galileo, yet, this does not make the Church anti-science (and that the opposite is the case: the Church is pro-science).

        It is not about remedial education about the pitfalls of biblical literalism, or about the well established science of heliocentrism, evolution, stellar distances, age of the universe, etc.

        • http://digbydolben.wordpress.com dismasdolben

          I once read a very serious study of the Galileo controversy by an Italian historian who insisted that what the Church was really worried about were two things: a) rather than Galileo’s heliocentrism, his physics, which seemed to include rejection of the Thomist argument for Transubstantiation; and b) a seemingly personal attack, in his Dialogues, on Pope Urban VIII.

          • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

            I have read about the same argument. The first part, the idea that Galileo was advancing atomism, has not gotten a lot of traction in the mainstream scholarship. There seems to be more support for the idea that Pope Urban felt personally attacked.

  • Melody

    The way I interpret it is; you can believe that someone is wrong but still give them credit for the courage of their convictions.