ROME (AP) — Pope Francis has intervened for the third time to crack down on the celebration of the Old Latin Mass, a sign of continued friction with Catholic traditionalists.
Francis argued in a new legal decree published Tuesday that the Holy See must approve new celebrations of the old rite by signing bishops’ decisions to designate more parish churches for the Latin Mass or to allow newly ordained priests to celebrate it.
The decree states that the Vatican’s Liturgical Office, headed by British Cardinal Arthur Roche, is responsible for evaluating such requests on behalf of the Holy See and that all requests from bishops must go there.
For weeks, Catholic traditionalist blogs and websites have reported that a further crackdown on the Old Latin Mass was in the works, following Francis’ remarkable decision in 2021 to reinstate restrictions at the celebration which was relaxed in 2007 by the then Pope Benedict XVI.
Francis said at the time that he was acting to preserve the church’s unity, saying the spread of the Tridentine Mass had become a source of division and been exploited by Catholics in opposition to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.
Roche’s office followed up a few months later to double the Vatican’s position with a series of questions and answers which made it clear that it was forbidden to celebrate any sacraments according to the old rite.
The new decree does not further restrict the celebration, but merely reiterates what was previously declared. Its insistence on Roche’s authority in the process seemed primarily aimed at debunking traditionalist claims that the cardinal had overstepped his mandate. Francis signed the decree on Monday during a private audience with Roche.
Francis’ dismantling of the old Mass angered his conservative and traditionalist critics, many of whom have also attacked him for his focus on the environment, social justice and migrants.
Saying he preaches the gospel and what Jesus taught, Francis has defended the restrictions by saying they actually reflect Benedict’s original goals while limiting the way his 2007 concession was exploited for ideological purposes.
Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society in Britain, which promotes the old Mass, called the new document “serious” since it confirmed that bishops need explicit permission from Roche’s office to use parish churches for Tridentine Masses.
In a series of tweets, Shaw noted that when the office has been asked for such permits to date, the office has “typically limited the number of locations and granted the permit for only two years.”
He said it would lead to uneven access to the old fair, where it would be easy to find alternative sites in some places but impossible in others.