Traditionis custodes and the raw data on the Latin Mass

The faithful should have the opportunity to learn whether there may have been errors in the questionnaire process and whether their bishops’ responses accurately have described them and their true attitudes towards the Council and towards Church authority.

Worshippers attend a traditional Latin Mass July 18, 2021, at St. Josaphat Church in the Queens borough of New York City. The parish, located in the Diocese of Brooklyn, celebrates a traditional Latin Mass on Sundays and five other days of the week. The Sunday liturgy has a dedicated following, drawing more than 150 people. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

In Traditionis custodes, his recent apostolic letter on the traditional Latin Mass, Pope Francis repudiates his predecessor’s recognition that the Roman liturgy exists in two forms, the ordinary (the 1970 Mass of Pope St. Paul VI) and the extraordinary (the 1962 Mass of Pope St. John XXIII) [art. 1]. He announces that pastors and individual priests no longer may celebrate the extraordinary form freely, but rather now must obtain (or confirm) the permission of their diocesan bishops [arts. 4 & 5]. Moreover, with few exceptions, these celebrations no longer may take place in parish churches [art. 2]. Finally, the pontiff forbids diocesan bishops to authorize the establishment of any new groups devoted to the traditional Mass [art. 6].

In an explanatory letter, Pope Francis provides his reasons. Those reasons are rooted in the responses to a 2020 questionnaire that he directed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to send to diocesan bishops about their experience with the traditional Mass since Pope Benedict XVI’s 2007 recognition in Summorum Pontificum that that Mass never had been abrogated.

Those responses, Francis says, reveal that his predecessors’ (Pope St. John Paul II’s and Pope Benedict XVI’s) attempts to recover unity have been disregarded and have been “exploited to widen the gaps, reinforce the divergences, and encourage disagreements that injure the Church, block her path, and expose her to the peril of division.” Moreover, he says, use of the 1962 Missal is “often characterized by a rejection not only of the liturgical reform, but of the Vatican Council itself, claiming, with unfounded and unsustainable assertions, that it betrayed the Tradition and the ‘true Church.’”

He concludes:

A final reason for my decision is this: ever more plain in the words and attitudes of many is the close connection between the choice of celebrations according to the liturgical books prior to Vatican Council II and the rejection of the Church and her institutions in the name of what is called the ‘true Church’.

Reactions came quickly. Several U.S. bishops issued letters the very day that the pope’s apostolic letter appeared, either confirming permission for existing celebrations of the traditional Mass or else modifying or limiting it. Individuals and associations—either devoted to the traditional Mass or sympathetic to its adherents—issued statements of shock and disappointment. Some of these statements took issue with the charge of apparent widespread rejection of Vatican II and the promotion of division within the Church.

The style of the explanatory letter leaves some questions open. In particular, the use of the passive voice prevents the reader from knowing whether the apparent fault lies primarily with the priests or with the lay faithful. Indeed, it is not entirely clear whether the seeming problem lies with those taking advantage of the pronouncements of John Paul and Benedict, or with other societies entirely.

Pope Francis says that what is becoming “ever more plain” is a “close connection” between devotion to the traditional Mass and “the rejection of the Church and her institutions.” This no doubt is true to some degree. However, the place where this “connection” is evident is among societies such as those connected with the legacy of Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre that remain in an irregular situation with regard to Church authority. Is the pontiff saying that the questionnaires reveal this same attitude as also characterizing those who have availed themselves of Summorum Pontificum and who are (and, in most cases, always have been) Catholics in good standing?

The answer is not clear from the text of the explanatory letter, and a number of the faithful who have responded have said that they do not reject Vatican II and that they do not recognize this attitude among their fellow worshipers.

A partial measure to resolve these questions (and perhaps even to ease the disappointment of these faithful to some degree) may lie in Vatican II itself, namely, in the Council’s teaching on the right to information. That is, a way to promote the goals of clarification and of further actualizing the Council’s teachings would be to disclose (in some form at least) the diocesan bishops’ responses to the 2020 CDF questionnaire.

Three considerations in particular support such a step. First, Pope Francis’s Traditionis custodes represents such a profound reversal of his immediate—and still living—predecessor that it is a matter of intense public interest, both for those who welcomed the apostolic letter and for those who did not.

Second, the incongruence between, on the one hand, the charges of denying Vatican II and sowing division, and, on the other hand, the experience of those Catholics in good standing who attend Mass in the extraordinary form, suggests that it would promote justice to allow these faithful the opportunity to discover whether they may have been misunderstood or mischaracterized in their bishops’ questionnaire responses.

Finally, such a step would find support in the Second Vatican Council’s own teaching.

Inter mirifica, the Vatican II Decree on the Means of Social Communication, recognized the right to information:

There exists therefore in human society a right to information on the subjects that are of concern to men either as individuals or as members of society, according to each man’s circumstances. The proper exercise of this right demands that the content of the communication be true and—within the limits set by justice and charity—complete. [§5]

The context of this Decree was the practice of the media in general (especially the news media) and also more broadly the growing sense that the Church and individual Catholics should make increased use of the means of social communication. In 1964, Pope St. Paul VI transformed an existing commission on cinema, radio, and television into the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications, and in the years following Vatican II, this Commission would develop further the Council’s teaching on the media and on the right to information.

In 1971, the Pontifical Commission issued Communio et Progressio, in which it recalled that John XXIII, Paul VI, and Vatican II all had recognized a right to information [§33]. This right is connected to man’s social nature, and it is important not only for the individual, but also for the public interest [§35]. Moreover, in 1992, the office (now a Pontifical Council) declared in Aetatis novae that this right to information applies not only in secular society, but in the Church as well:

[I]t is necessary constantly to recall the importance of the fundamental right of dialogue and information within the church, as described in Communio et Progressio, and to continue to seek effective means, including a responsible use of media of social communications, for realizing and protecting this right. [§10]

In addition, in a 2000 document on Ethics in Communication, the Pontifical Council warned against the demonization of others [§13] and—specifically in the religious context—noted the need to avoid “practicing unnecessary secrecy and otherwise offending against truth” [§18].

Pope Francis’s explanatory letter contains other reasons as well, but what lies at its heart are the reports that those devoted to the traditional Mass have rejected Vatican II and have exploited this devotion to create division and to injure the Church. These are serious charges, and the faithful should have the opportunity to learn whether there may have been errors in the questionnaire process and whether their bishops’ responses accurately have described them and their true attitudes towards the Council and towards Church authority.

How many diocesan bishops returned the questionnaires? How widespread was the sentiment that so saddened the Holy Father? Was the reporting of these sentiments and attitudes based on real familiarity with these faithful, or was it rather reflective of widespread but often mistaken assumptions about them? Do the faithful have reason to believe that they have been misunderstood, or perhaps that a stray remark from one of their members mistakenly has been taken as representing the views of their entire community?

Some diocesan bishops already have expressed appreciation for the fruits of this devotion and have announced that they will take steps to ensure that the faithful attached to it continue to receive pastoral care. If nothing prevents it, perhaps some of these bishops might consider making their own questionnaire responses public. However, given the importance of the subject and the possible threat to the reputations of these faithful, the disclosure of the questionnaire responses should be as complete as possible, and it would appear that only the CDF would be empowered to make such a disclosure.

The disappointment of these faithful on the margins likely will endure for a long time, but it may fade to some degree if they at least can verify that this measure has not been based on their bishops’ misunderstanding of them and on a misreporting of their beliefs.

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About R. Michael Dunnigan 9 Articles
R. Michael Dunnigan is a canon lawyer and a civil lawyer, and he lives and works in Indiana.


  1. Pope Francis said on Sept. 25, 2019, in his general audience in St. Peter’s Square, that slander is a “diabolical cancer” that seriously damages the Church. “We know that slander always kills. This ‘diabolical cancer,’ which arises from the desire to destroy a person’s reputation, also attacks the rest of the ecclesial body.”

    The pope warned that slander seriously damages the Church when “there is a coalition to smear someone” due to “petty interests or to cover up their own inadequacies.”

  2. This is truly a travesty to the church. I am so disappointed that Pope Francis does not see the fruit of this form of the Mass. At a time that the Church is losing parishoners and the many who come do not even hold true to the CCC. We have this form that is Devout to its teachings. Let us Pray for all the leaders who are destroying the church.

  3. A major decision based on a survey of Bishops? First, this is weak anecdotal evidence of a problem perceived by some Bishops who already lean to the Left (if not completely Left), who despise anyone in their parishes who are conservative, traditional Catholics that might have voted for Trump. This isn’t about liturgy; it’s about politics. Second, whatever happened to basing decisions like this on actual evidence, like scientifically designed survey of parishioners, both those who attend a TLM and those who don’t? Sad days! This stinks of censorship, not theology. This stinks of politics, not pastoral care of the sheep.

    • Very true. You can tell from his past performance that Francis listened to the complaints of his very liberal favorites like Cupich, McElroy, James Martin (he’s a bishop in Francis’s world, right?) and Farrell. The rest of the bishops he threw in the trash can

    • Do you call the large number of Bishops from Africa and Asia and East Europe left-leaning Catholics? There;’s is the only growing Church, and they are reverant.

  4. Will Francis ever reveal the contents of the questionnaire? I think it will be like the Dubia. He will never let us know those answers. I think the answers were not what he was expecting. Those Bishops who responded positively about the TLM just may get a dose of Francis’s mercy.

  5. Why do people attend TLMs? When you ask them they tell you it is because of the liturgical abuses they experience in the NO. I put it to any person to try and find a NO Mass that has not been affected by modernism. Where I live, in Melbourne Australia, it is difficult to find a NO Mass where the priest does not reject the teachings of the Church in some way, shape or, form. My local parish the former priest told the congregation that Angels do not exist. He ended Mass with; In the name of the creator, the redeemer and, the sanctifier. He insisted parishioners not to call hi Father. The new priest insists on telling a joke before the Mass has ended. The songs are atrocious! There is no silence or reverence and people scatter as soon as the Mass ends. Is it any wonder why more and more people are becoming dissatisfied with the modern NO Mass? This move is certainly a blow for people who seek Our Lord.

    • The Novus Ordo can be made a travesty, and in places like Australia, from what I hear, a travesty is the norm for the mass. Other places are able to have a very reverent, very fine Novus Ordo. It all depends on the priest (Which is a weak point for the Novus Ordo, and a strong point for the TLM where the priest can’t screw it up). As Father Longenecker says, make use of the ability of the priest to alter the Novus Ordo – do it in LATIN. Do it AD ORIENTUM, use Gregorian Chant. Those who object to Pope Francis’s attempt to crush tradition should do all those things. Make the Novus Ordo as close to the TLM as you can.
      In the end, it is not about the form of the mass. It is about the disposition of the heart of the person attending mass, combined with the reverence of the priest. God help you if you don’t have a reverent priest. But that problem goes much deeper than the TLM.

      • I have been thinking the same thing myself since this issue came to light. Why not “adapt” and merge, meld, whatever significant parts of the TLM reverently with the current mass. this may have to occur now that this decision has come down. If folks going to TLM want to experience some of that in future they need to discuss with the pastor the wish to see more of it at Mass where they are going to be participating. Reading many articles on this I’m convinced the TLM is being attended by “Orthodox” Catholics. That is a name given by some to them. I agree. But seriously there needs to be one Mass and it certainly can be the best of both.

        • Many folks such as myself have tried this ad nauseum, for many years. You need to realize that the liturgy at most parishes are planned out by the liturgy committee, not the pastor. Therefore, it becomes a mediocre (at best) liturgy, filled with the trendiest nuisances and music. At some point, people simply take refuge where it was not a constant fight and constant disappointment. For me, if the option of the TLM is no longer there, then I will not return back to the NO as it would be simply too painful to do so. I simply will not return back at all.

      • Search for a video of a 1970 Novus Ordo Mass (they are out there). It basically is the TLM in English. It is beautiful. So, it’s not a matter of adapting the NO to match the TLM, it is a matter of going back and following the 1970 missal as it was written. It is the fault of priests and bishops (throw in a bunch of listening to well-meaning layity) that the NO has become what it is – different everywhere, irreverent, confused, and sad.

    • I don’t represent the Church, but I am one of Her faithful. I suggest that you consider very carefully Q. & A. 537 of the Baltimore Catechism #3. It can be found online.

      Not every person who has called himself a pope in history has been recognized as such by the Church. Anyone with even the most cursory knowledge of Church history knows that at one point there were three people who claimed to be the pope. That mess was eventually sorted out and the true pope was determined.

    • The only account that needs to be made can be answered with a few items, and none of them has anything to do with the date 1962. By that you mean to call into question a Council of the Church, Vatican II. The failures since the 60’s all have to do with homosexuals in the priesthood, the fact that ALL religions have declined since that date, not just Catholicism, and general secularism among the people. Schismatic types like to blame Vatican II, but that is such a lazy and inaccurate answer. It is, of course, the answer that the excommunicated Lefebvre gave when he tried to justify his rebellion against the church.

    • The Church was going bad for a long time before 1962. Modernism – movies, women’s lib, fashion, drink, drugs and so on were beginning to play havoc. The humble and holy Pope John XXIII knew that it was time to face the new challenges being presented by the world. Hence, Vatican 2. Besides these challenges, the Church was becoming increasingly Catholic, meaning universal. And so, the Roman rite allowed the Holy Mass to be said in the local languages and in accordance with local culture. Jesus, not Romanism or westernism, was being taken to the world.
      I was in Mumbai many years ago when I heard the priest say to his Indian parishioners during his sermon, that they have not been converted to westernism but to Christianity. Vatican 2 was clearly needed.

  6. There is a lot of trying to understand and explain why Francis has done this. That’s all fine as far as it goes. But that commentary can only be understood in the light of the fact that this is an unjust act. To make an unjust act even if there are understandable reasons (which is highly doubtful in this case) doesn’t excuse the injustice.

  7. Pope Francis trapped the extremist traditionalists in their own trap. They wanted to glorify excommunicated weirdo bishop Lefebvre. They used the TLM to draw innocent, worthy, good hearted people into their masses and then they gradually introduced them into their propaganda war against the Catholic church. These people were taught to hate Vatican II, to hate Pope Paul VI, Pope John Paul II (because he excommunicated Lefebvre) They taught them weird conspiracy theories about how secret “infiltrations” run by freemasons took over the church.
    The infiltration was done by the Lefebvre people who showed themselves to be wolves covered with sheepskin.
    Pope Francis noticed all this activity against the church itself, and thought “Aha! Here is how I can get rid of tradition, the TLM, etc all at one stroke! These people hate Vatican II as well, and are not shy of saying so! So all I need to do is claim that the TLM invariably leads to hatred for the church and its councils too!
    So the clowns Taylor Marshall, Vigano, Schneider and all the other quasi/crypto schismatics all helped Pope Francis take the TLM away from the rest of us. I hope their moment of internet fame was worth it.

    • “They taught them weird conspiracy theories about how secret “infiltrations” run by freemasons took over the church.”

      It is a demonstrable fact that at least some clergy members have been freemasons.

      Fr. Kerry Costigan of Australia admitted openly back in 2019 that he had been a member for a decade, Father Pascal Vesin joined the Grand Orient of France in 2001 and was suspended by the bishop of Annecy in 2013 for having done so, the Italian priest Father Rosario Francesco Esposito joined the Masons in 2007, recently an Austrian priest was outed as a member of the craft, and historically the Jesuit founder of Costa Rica, Francisco Calvo, SJ, was a known freemason. Surely there are others, but these examples are notorious and admitted.

  8. Englishmen had a word for it, A storm in a teacup, frequently in relation to misplaced priority. Not wishing to suffer a hailstorm over the significance of Traditionis Custodes, the Motu Proprio that guards tradition by eliminating it, that I fully understand as cause for outrage. There is another far more important matter, Eucharistic coherence and the entire practice of Roman Catholicism that is centered on Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, its incomparable grace given Man for salvation suffered on the Cross. Isn’t it uncanny that a serious illness blurs the comparative significance of one issue already wrestled with by bishops with a long expected Motu Proprio suddenly timed for release now? Byzantium of old would be in awe. Bishop Baldacchino Las Cruces refused the Eucharist to a senator who voted for TX prop 10, a safety measure for abortionists if Roe were to be overturned. All the commentary and continued controversy is over saving the TLM. As if the faith itself and its true integrity is secondary. Now is the moment to voice support for Baldacchino, Cordileone, Olmsted, Wall and others who are defending what in the end really matters.

    • Along with Canon Law.

      Can. 249 The Charter of Priestly Formation is to provide that the students are not only taught their native language accurately, but are also well versed in latin, and have a suitable knowledge of other languages which would appear to be necessary or useful for their formation or for the exercise of their pastoral ministry.(emphasis added)

  9. I view this issue on the TLM two ways. Giving Pope Frances the benefit of the doubt as one in which the TLM is, could be, may be a dividing issue in the long term scheme of things for the church and unity. It’s a thin benefit to give but let’s say it is. The TLM to my research is a small but orthodox ritual that has been held for a very long time. It is not as well the end of its practice either so it will remain to some degree and continue to be small.
    On the other hand this could very well be the first step from our progressive Pope in splitting off the conservative wing from the growing liberal wing of the church, and the beginning of the takeover for possibly decades the total will and control of the Catholic Church.
    Is this move on the TLM a truly “unity” issue or not we will see. At this point it does not appear so from the immediate pushback. But we will have to see. The buck stops with the Pope. It also stops with the Bishops. It’s the Catholic Church and it’s not a democracy
    If it were a Protestant religion, there would be a split and immediate. We don’t have that flexibility do we ?
    The next step may well be how the Synod in Germany is handled. It is a very serious issue and deeper and more prolific then TLM issue I feel

  10. Here’s a raw data on the pre-Vatican II mass from another perspective, a truly raw data by the numbers. While U.S. Catholics make up only six percent (6%) of the worldwide Catholics, we have forty percent (40%) of the Tridentine Masses. Worldwide there is a total of around 225,000 parishes. Of these about 1,700 are offering side by side both the the Vatican II and pre-Vatican II Masses. Of these around 1,700 parishes, 700 are in the U.S.. The big picture is that in the U.S. Catholic Church, with around 17,000 parishes in total, only a tiny minority of around 700 have the pre-Vatican II Mass.

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