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Dutch Catholic bishop: Traditionis custodes appears to be a ‘declaration of war’

By CNA Staff

Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands. / Danny Gerrits - via Wikimedia (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

’s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands, Jul 27, 2021 / 06:00 am (CNA).

A Dutch Catholic bishop has launched a strongly worded attack on Pope Francis’ motu proprio restricting Traditional Latin Masses, saying that the document seemed to be a “declaration of war.”

In an essay posted on his blog on July 22, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts described the pope’s intervention as “dictatorial,” “unpastoral,” and “unmerciful,” and argued that it would benefit the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a breakaway traditionalist group.

The comments by the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch, in the southern Netherlands, contrast with those of other European bishops who have broadly welcomed the motu proprio, such as Bishop Jean-Pierre Batut of Blois and Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras in France.

The motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which entered into force on July 16, the day it was released, said that it is a bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize Traditional Latin Masses in his diocese.

The document made sweeping changes to Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which had acknowledged the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962 without having to seek their bishop’s permission.

Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal is referred to variously as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Tridentine Mass, and the Traditional Latin Mass.

The Dutch bishop’s essay was entitled “A malicious ukase from Pope Francis.” An “ukase” was a proclamation with the force of law issued by the czar of Russia.

“Pope Francis promotes synodality: everyone should be able to have their say, everyone should be heard,” Mutsaerts wrote.

“There was little question of this in his recently published motu proprio Traditionis custodes, a ukase that should put an immediate end to the Traditional Latin Mass.”

“In doing so, Francis strikes Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict’s motu proprio which gave ample space to the old Mass.”

Mutsaerts, 63, suggested that the pope’s decision indicated that he was “losing authority.”

“This was already evident earlier when the German bishops’ conference took no notice of the pope’s advice regarding the synodality process,” he wrote, referring to clashes between the Vatican and German Church officials over the “Synodal Way.”

“The same occurred in the United States when Pope Francis called on the bishops’ conference not to prepare a document on receiving Holy Communion in a dignified way,” he said, alluding to the dispute over “Eucharistic coherence” within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He continued: “The pope must have thought that it would be better not to give advice, but an injunction, now that we are talking about the traditional Mass.”

“The language used looks very much like a declaration of war.”

Mutsaerts, who was named a bishop by Benedict XVI in 2010, confirmed his authorship of the blog post in a July 26 email to CNA.

Asked if he was concerned about the Vatican’s response to his essay, he told CNA: “No, I am not concerned. I don’t think Rome worries about the opinion of an unknown auxiliary bishop in this tiny country. They have other matters to worry about.”

He added that he had never celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass himself.

“And I am not old enough to know it from my youth, so my comments have nothing to do with nostalgia or anything of that kind,” he said.

Mutsaerts has published outspoken posts on his blog, “Paarse Pepers” (Purple Peppers), since 2019. Previous posts have included sharp criticism of the Amazon synod, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, and “cancel culture.”

The number of Catholics in the Netherlands, a country of 17 million people bordering Germany and Belgium, has fallen sharply in recent decades. But Catholics remain the nation’s biggest religious group.

The diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch has the largest number of Catholics of any diocese in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch Catholic blog In Caelo et in Terra.

In his essay, the bishop argued that Pope Francis took a radically different approach to the Traditional Latin Mass to his predecessors.

“Pope Francis slams the door hard by means of Traditionis custodes. It feels like treason and is a slap in the face of his predecessors,” he wrote.

Mutsaerts argued that Sacrosanctum concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was a “conservative document” that did not sanction many liturgical changes that followed.

“Only 17% of the prayers of the old missal (Trent) are found in the new missal (Paul VI). It is then difficult to speak of continuity of an organic development,” he wrote.

He continued: “Pope Francis is now pretending that his motu proprio stands in the organic development of the Church, which utterly contradicts reality. By making the Latin Mass practically impossible, he is finally breaking with the centuries-old liturgical tradition of the R.C. Church. Liturgy is not a toy of popes, but is the heritage of the Church.”

He argued that the small number of places where the Traditional Latin Masses are celebrated attract large, devout families.

He said: “Why does the pope want to deny people this? I come back to what I said earlier: it is ideology. It is Vatican II, including its implementation with all its aberrations, or nothing!”

“The relatively small number of believers (which is growing, by the way, as the Novus Ordo collapses) who feel at home with the traditional Mass must and will be eradicated. That is ideology and evil.”

He said that if the goal was to evangelize, then Tridentine Masses should be maintained.

He wrote: “From this day on, the Old Mass may not be celebrated in parish churches (where then?), you need explicit permission from your bishop, who may only allow it on certain days, and for those who will be ordained in the future and want to celebrate the Old Mass, the bishop needs permission from Rome. How dictatorial, how unpastoral, how unmerciful do you want it to be!”

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  1. War? What war when the pre-Vatican II masses are only in a tiny small minority of around 1,700 parishes out of the total of around 225,000 worldwide. Of these around 700 are in the U.S. which has a total of around 17,000 parishes in total. This is rather a loud and militant minority like a lost sheep for not fully accepting or antagonistic towards the Vatican II Council and mass which the universal shepherd, Pope Francis, out of pastoral charity has reproached and rescued even leaving the ninety-nine in the process.

    • Oh, yes, of course, the numbers game. But the Church started with only 12 apostles when the world population two thousand years ago was about 170 million.

      And as for ukase and the czar, Russian folk literature offers a proverb that will outlive the malignant dark side of modernity: “One word of truth outweighs the whole world.”

    • “Pope Francis, out of pastoral charity has reproached and rescued…” Oh, so that’s what it is. Reproached for what? Rescued from what? Maybe like Big Brother “rescues” people from crime-thought.

    • The raw number of Latin Masses and people attending them is small compared to the Church as a whole, but at a time when every leading Catholic indicator is in free fall, why crush something that seems to be working (vocations, young families, lots of baptisms), even if it’s not a majority thing? The sad reality is that “most” Catholics don’t prefer the New Mass or the old Mass: the prefer no Mass at all. And of the very small minority of Catholics who do attend Mass at all (Novus Ordo), most do not believe in the Real Presence. So, although Latin Mass raw numbers are still small, what you have to bear in mind is that the RATE of increase of Latin Mass celebration and attendance is growing, and the RATE of the collapse of the mainstream Church (by ANY conceivable metric: church weddings, parish closures, infant baptisms per capita, conversion, etc.) is absolutely catastrophic. We must also grapple with the fact that Pope Francis in his motu proprio also makes several … let’s not call them lies, but … misstatements. For example, he says the 1980s indults and then ‘Summorum pontificum’ were only designed to coax back the SSPX but that since that didn’t work, now is time to scrap all that. But Pope Benedict XVI — the STILL LIVING legislator of SP — has stated not long ago that this is FALSE. “The reauthorization of the Tridentine Mass is often interpreted primarily as a concession to the Society of Saint Pius X. This is just absolutely false! It was important for me that the Church is one with herself inwardly, with her own past; that what was previously holy to her is not somehow wrong now” (‘Last Testament’). Emmanuel, even those who do not choose to worship in the older form still need to understand that the Church does not change in her essence nor reject her past. So the continued existence of the older liturgy is essential for the Church at large to accurately represent her own identity. (Another error Pope Francis makes is that his appeal to the example of Pius V proves exactly the OPPOSITE of what Francis wants it to, (1) since Pius V approved liturgical diversity, unlike the rigid uniformity desired by Francis; and (2) the 52-year-old Novus Ordo would hardly have survived Pius V’s abolition of any liturgy less than 200 years old. It’s actually sort of embarrassing: you’d have hoped Pope Francis would have a friendly editor who could have urged him not to include such howlers.)

    • If those who prefer the Latin Mass are so small in numbers, why is it necessary to come down on them like a meteor wiping out the dinosaurs? If they are a bunch of malcontents, etc., then why do so many bishops say that the Latin Mass people in their dioceses are the ones having large families, supporting Catholic schools, are young, engaged, active supporters of their parish and diocese? You don’t bring in a nuclear bomb to kill an ant. Something is very wrong here.
      In the parable of the shepherd, Jesus did not say that a shepherd goes to ‘reproach and rescue’ one sheep. No ‘reproach’ is mentioned. It might also interest you to know that there is an answer to Jesus’s rhetorical question: What shepherd would leave the 99 to go and rescue one that had got lost?’ The answer is – No shepherd in his right mind would risk 99% of his flock in order to go and bring back just one, while leaving the rest open to the ravages of wolves.
      You completely misunderstand the parable. Even if the shepherd is meant to be a crazy guy who cares so much about each individual shepherd that he will leave the 99 in some kind of safe enclosure while going after one that is lost, he does not then KILL AND SLAUGHTER the one that got lost, but carries it LOVINGLY back to the fold. Harshly and abruptly accusing every single person who attends Mass in Latin of being an apostate (which is what you imply – they are ALL in schism and must be ‘reproached and rescued’ from their apparently idiotic schism by Pope Francis’s harsh rebuke and sudden abrogation of the Mass), is beyond your ability to decide – as well as beyond Pope Francis’s ability to discern. He is NOT talking to the schismatics who deny the Second Vatican Council and have declared that there is no valid pope; he has not authority over those people because they left the Church already. He is saying that faithful Catholics, who attend a particular RITE of the Mass within their OWN Roman Catholic parish, are effectively in schism by attending Mass by a different rite.
      The RITE that you attend does not determine if you are a faithful Catholic or not, if you are in union with Rome or not. If they are in a parish that is duly in union with its bishop and they attend any rite offered with full permission of Pope Benedict (and Vatican II, by the way, which NOWHERE abrogated the use of Latin), then they are not schismatic, not matter what confused opinions they might have.

      If he wanted to ‘rescue’ or even ‘reproach’ people who attend the Latin Mass and have mistaken ideas about who is Pope and whether the Second Vatican Council is legitimate, then the PASTORAL thing to do would have been to address in a gentle, thoughtful and and FULLY INFORMED way any concerns that local bishops have reported to him about such ideas. Find out what the wrong ideas are, very carefully consider them and gently but firmly correct the errors and tell every bishop or every priest celebrating the Latin Mass to read the letter aloud at Mass.

      If a sheep wanders, you don’t draw a bead on him and shoot him down. You draw him back. And you don’t draw sheep back by being harsh and heartless toward them.

      Please read canon lawyer Cathy Caridi’s post ‘The Enormous Loophole in Traditionis Custodes’ on the blog, ‘Canon Law Made Easy.’ This is clearly a rushed document that doesn’t make much sense internally, and CANNOT be enforced canonically.

  2. As Bishop Mutsaerts complains of pre-Vatican II mass prayers lost in the Vatican II mass, I rejoice in the “treasure of revelation” (Dei Verbum 26), the Bible, mined much deeper and bigger in the Vatican II mass. In the pre-Vatican II mass lectionary, the selection of readings cover only 1% of the Old Testament and 14% of the New Testament whereas in the Vatican II mass lectionary this has significantly increased to 17% of the Old Testament and 71% of the New Testament.

    • To each his own. I’ve made icing for a birthday cake. The same ingredients can be made to cover more area by adding water.

      Does a greater number of lectionary readings lead to greater understanding, knowledge, wisdom, or holiness? Is the essence of scripture diluted or intensified by increasing their variety? Increasing the number of readings in the lectionary cycle does not necessarily enhance the focus of the most important themes.

      If I lecture to my students for a day, repeating the same idea twenty different ways, I KNOW THEY PREFER that I make the main point, then set them free. I could go on and on. Or I could keep it brief. I’d prefer to keep it brief, intense, and focused. So would my students.

      Remember how short my time is! (Psalm 89:47)

    • So you would prefer to hear more of Scripture, but less frequently? Would you also prefer a three-year cycle for saints’ days?

    • Angelo, that sounds reasonable in theory but in practice the newer, more expansive lectionary is not necessarily more pedagogical. Human nature being what it is, the yearly cycle of readings in the old missal can enter into one’s soul more easily over the years than the new three-year cycle. And although the new lectionary is bigger, it is not necessarily more representative. For that matter, some passages that WERE present in the readings of the old missal were CUT from the new lectionary, especially many of the “hard” sayings. For example, the warning against unworthy communion from 1 Cor 11 is found integrally in the traditional missal on Holy Thursday and Corpus Christi, but it is not found in the new rite. If it was already there, then why remove it, especially if the goal is “more” Scripture? The Old Testament features prominently in the Roman Rite (I use this title descriptively to designate the actual Roman Rite passed on through history, and not juridically, as Pope Francis does, to designate the rite compiled after Vatican II), especially at certainly times of the year, and the very “unusualness” of the fact is an important aspect of the liturgy at those times: Ember days (5 O.T. readings), ferias of Lent, Easter Vigil (12 O.T. readings!) and Pentecost Vigil (6 O.T. readings). Also, it is certainly true that the Mass is the most important part of the Catholic liturgy, but (1) the Mass is not mainly a Bible study, and (2) Mass is not the only liturgical service. The Divine Office, and especially Matins, is a privileged liturgical “locus” for the reading of Scripture. Attending the old Mass year in and year out and reading the Scripture lessons (on an app if necessary!) from the First Nocturn of Matins each day will give you already a great foundation, which can be complimented by any additional study and lectio divina you may wish to do.

  3. What a Pope! He feels pressed to condemn not only traditions in the Church but also everything on the day for which he can fashion a dislike. I am possessed with trying to get a feel for what this Pope has for the Church. I am mystified. For a Church based on Love, I only see loving-to-assert.

    • I doubt that even the most rabid traditionalist would have complained if, for example, readings from the Old Testament had been added to the Latin Mass.

  4. My issue with this entire ADO is why does this come up now? What possible good can come from curtailing this small minority of worshipers at this time when so much more is serious and needs immediate attention from Rome. The list is long and far more important than whether these “conservative faithful” or “orthodox” Catholics want to attend a TLM? There has to be something more insidious behind the decision.
    Francis should fix the falling numbers. The incredible lack of Catholic catechism being learned. The numbers are staggering and Francis wants to turn this screw ? I don’t get it. Or, maybe I do and that is scarier

  5. God bless the bishop for his courage. No doubt he is reconciled to being an auxiliary for the rest of his life. The “unmerciful” part is spot on. If Francis was severe with the Germans and severe with the Latin American progressives and severe with all the homosexuals in the clergy, it would be easier to accept a tough tone and action towards conservatives, but that is far from the case. Just as when he refused dialogue to Cardinal Burke, it seems he reserves a special approach and sometimes seeming animosity for conservatives and the traditionally devout.

    • I agree with you.I live in South Carolina in an ever growing Catholic Parish which has respectful NO Masses.I have been living in the South for 30 yrs. I am 80 and have been through the bad and the good worship services. I love my parish and am a daily Mass goer. This controvery is bringing out the good Bishops and they are finally speaking out.
      I think this is uniting them and a good thing. I have now at my age a desire to try the TLM but the closest one is in Savannah. I hope this controversy will promote more churches in South Carolina offering the TLC and I hope it catches on like wild fire.

  6. I’m in a weird situation. Just at the same time that Pope Benedict made it easier to attend Mass in Latin, and I started to have the chance to do that in my diocese (not in the US), I was also given the answer to a long-term prayer which resulted in helping to begin Mass in English for foreigners in this country who speak English (from all over the world) but do not speak the (rather difficult) language of this country. So in effect, because we don’t have Mass in Latin anymore, we have to have Mass in English because so many modern people around the world know English. This is the only way most of these foreigners can get sacraments and pastoral care (including teaching for sacraments, preparation for marriage, and catechism to convert to Catholicism – which I now do in English) in this country. I have been assisting in this for 15 years, and am deeply involved to the point that while deep down, I’d much rather attend Mass in Latin, I simply cannot do so, at least not on Sundays. The community and the priests I work with rely on me to be present at Mass in English.
    But I read awhile back that now there is a daily Mass in Latin in my diocese. Even when I lived closer to the church where it is offered, somehow I never went. But Traditionis Custodes makes me want to look up the times, and even if it means travelling nearly half an hour on public transport to get there, start attending daily Mass in Latin, if only in support of the Latin Mass and because who knows if it will be destroyed in this diocese as it surely will in others around the world. Last chance to experience the Mass that shaped the Christian mind, heart and imagination for centuries?
    By the way, when my father came to visit me in this country when he was in his 80s, I took him to Mass in another city, in the language of the country. I had with me a missal in English, and was pointing to the different places in the Mass as we went along, so he could keep up, because he couldn’t understand a word of the Mass in this country’s language. He was not really able to ‘get with it,’ so to speak; just kind of sitting or standing there, dumbly. And then – I don’t know why – certain prayers and responses were said in Latin, and my father perked up and joined in with gusto. It was the first time in my life I ever heard my father say the responses and prayers in Latin; they stopped in my parish probably when I was too young to remember. But no matter what some people may tell you, people who attended the Mass in Latin in the ‘old days’ knew perfectly well what was going on. I have my mother’s daily Missal – Latin on one side and English on the other – to prove it. There was no excuse not to know what to do and say and not to understand – just use your missal, available in the pew or purchased for yourself.
    Another example. I was at daily Mass in a parish here, in the language of the country (not English). After Mass, I was surprised to see a priest come out and prepare the altar in a side chapel – Marian chapel- where people often go for private prayers after Mass. Mostly elderly people over there, at nearly 9AM on a work-day. This was unusual. To my surprise, the priest was celebrating a ‘private Mass’ in Latin – facing east (the altar is fixed). Every single person in those pews stopped their rosaries and participated in that Mass, saying the responses, standing and kneeling, etc., clearly with full understanding of what was going on (I didn’t know what to do, and stayed kneeling on the other side of the church, where I had remained for prayer; I could only look on in sadness at my heritage, which to those older people was so familiar and dear and to me was more or less a closed book.) At the end, one of the participants in this ‘surprise’ Latin Mass went to the priest and thanked him profusely, and they joined in asking him if he was going to be attached to the parish, and offering that Mass every day – would he come again? Turns out he was just passing through.
    Don’t let ANYONE tell you there is not a desire for the Latin Mass. People have just been dictated to for generations that it is no longer available – deal with it. But people loved it, still love it, want to know it and love it, and when they do know it, they eagerly participate in it.
    Why those people must be slapped down, punished and treated like schismatics when their joy and eagerness to participate in the Holy Mass is evident is beyond me.

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