ROME, December 22, 2021 (The Remnant)—In his first print interview since the release of the Responsa ad dubia (“Response to doubts”) on certain provisions of Pope Francis’ Traditionis Custodes by the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, Bishop Athanasius Schneider has said the new document “needlessly reopens” old wounds in the Church, “borders on mockery,” and betrays a “hostile inflexibility” towards Catholics attached to the traditional liturgy of the Roman Rite.
“Remarkably, we are witnessing an intransigent Inquisition-like method being employed in a pontificate that has styled itself as one of “tenderness” and pastoral sensitivity,” the bishop says. “In a cold bureaucratic manner, these new guidelines impose such merciless and discriminatory norms on the lives of so many young Catholics—both priests and faithful lay men and women—that it would not be surprising if they felt like they were being spiritually tortured, in slow motion.”
In this exclusive interview, Bishop Schneider, auxiliary of Astana, Kazakhstan, discusses his general impressions of the document, the question of its legitimacy, and the bishops’ right to “reverently and prudently resist” the new measures.
Bishop Schneider urges Cardinals to voice their concerns to the Pope, “alerting him” to the “great harm” and “glaring injustice” being committed against a “considerable group of good Catholics.” He encourages bishop to extend “creative charity” to the faithful, applying the principle of “epikeia,” whereby “a law is not observed, in whole or in part, for the sake of a greater good.” And he offers counsel to seminarians and priests who fear they may now be prohibited from offering the traditional Mass and other sacraments.
Bishop Schneider also recommends that the lay faithful, some of whom he says “will now be forced into a life of Catacomb Masses,” imitate the importunate widow of whom Our Lord spoke in the Gospel, in her persistence with the unjust judge (see Luke 18:1-8), by “bothering” their shepherds.
Lastly, he maintains that, for the sake of transparency, it is time for the detailed report on the application of Benedict XVI’s Summorum Pontificum, prepared for Pope by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith based on their survey of the world’s bishops, be published.
Here is our full interview with Bishop Athanasius Schneider.
(Diane Montagna) Your Excellency, on December 18, Archbishop Arthur Roche, Prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship (CDW), issued new guidelines to further restrict the traditional Mass and Sacraments, in the form of responses to 11 ‘dubia’ (doubts), which the Vatican said are “the most recurrent questions” they have received to Pope Francis’ apostolic letter, Traditionis Custodes (TC). What were your general impressions of the document?
(Bishop Athanasius Schneider) My initial impression was that old wounds within the life of the Church have needlessly been reopened under the pretext of achieving greater unity. Such measures, justified in this manner, border on mockery, since they glaringly contradict Pope Francis’ general policy of healing the wounds within the life of the Church of our day, as he expressed, for instance, with the following words: “The thing the Church needs most today is the ability to heal wounds and to warm the hearts of the faithful; it needs nearness, proximity. I see the church as a field hospital after battle. It is useless to ask a seriously injured person if he has high cholesterol and about the level of his blood sugars! You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else. Heal the wounds, heal the wounds…” (Interview with Pope Francis by Fr Antonio Spadaro, L’Osservatore Romano, 21 September 2013).
The new guidelines betray a “hostile inflexibility”. These new guidelines impose such merciless and discriminatory norms on the lives of so many young Catholics—both priests and faithful lay men and women
The new guidelines betray a “hostile inflexibility,” to use a phrase Pope Francis has sometimes employed in warning bishops (see e.g. Address for the Conclusion of the Third Extraordinary General Assembly of the Synod of bishops, October 18, 2014). We are dealing with a text of an unheard-of inflexibility and rigid uniformity reminiscent of certain Inquisition verdicts or ‘dubia’ responses of times past, that were characterized by a bloated liturgical legalism. In a cold bureaucratic manner, these new guidelines impose such merciless and discriminatory norms on the lives of so many young Catholics—both priests and faithful lay men and women—that it would not be surprising if they felt like they were being spiritually tortured, in slow motion.
To any objective observer, the clear message these new guidelines send to Catholics attached to the traditional liturgy is: “With your religious experience you are not welcome in the Church! Your experience of the traditional liturgy is fake and inauthentic, you are living in self-deception! There is no liturgical plurality in the Church today, for there is only one unique expression of the lex orandi, and this is the reformed liturgy. There is only one law, and according to this law you must die, that is, you must cut yourself off from the liturgy of your forefathers and of the Saints!”
The authors of these new guidelines have clearly forgotten the following principle laid down by the Second Vatican Council: “Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity.”
The authors of these new guidelines have clearly forgotten the following principle laid down by the Second Vatican Council: “Even in the liturgy, the Church has no wish to impose a rigid uniformity in matters which do not implicate the faith or the good of the whole community” (Sacrosanctum Concilium, 37). The new guidelines nullify what Pope Francis has said: “Discernment… is a creative process that is not limited to applying schemas. It is an antidote to rigidity because the same solutions are not valid everywhere.” (Address to the Bishops ordained over the past year, 14 September 2017).
(DM) Many Catholic Bishops gave a loose and relaxed interpretation to Traditionis Custodes. The new guidelines strongly suggest that the Holy See is now tightening the screws to ensure that bishops comply with the “direction” indicated by the Congregation for Divine Worship. What is your message to your brother bishops?
(BAS) I would encourage my brother bishops to truly be shepherds and to extend “creative charity” towards their faithful, who have grown up in the ancient Roman rite or who have had a decisive grace-filled encounter with God thanks to this form of the Church’s liturgy. Indeed, Pope Francis has often asked bishops to apply pastoral creativity to those people who are marginalized and whose religious aspirations are misjudged. Many faithful, who are attached to the older Roman liturgical form, especially younger people, are far from engaging in ecclesiastic and liturgical polemics regarding Vatican II and the Novus Ordo. Therefore, as true shepherds, the bishops should creatively find solutions so that these faithful are not ghettoized and treated as second-class Catholics. Here the bishops could apply the moral principle of epikeia, whereby a law is not observed, in whole or in part, for the sake of a greater good.
The bishops could apply the moral principle of epikeia, whereby a law is not observed, in whole or in part, for the sake of a greater good.
(DM) In his accompanying letter to Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis told the world’s bishops that he took the “firm decision” to “abrogate all the norms, instructions, permissions and customs that precede” his motu proprio, in response to their requests. And yet, as has been detailed in a trilogy of well-sourced reports—which contain the collection of quotations from the bishops that were included in the detailed report prepared for Pope Francis by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF)—the message sent by bishops was “basically to leave Summorum Pontificum alone, and to continue with a prudent and careful application.” Is it time for the bishops to call upon the Holy See to release the CDF’s main, detailed report?
(BAS) Pope Francis has repeatedly called for absolute transparency within the life of the Church, and especially within the Roman Curia, as the following statement attests: “The goal to be reached is always that of fostering greater harmony in the work of the various Dicasteries and Offices, in order to establish more effective cooperation in the absolute transparency which edifies authentic synodality and collegiality” (Greeting to Cardinals gathered for the Consistory,12 February 2015). The publishing of the detailed report prepared by the CDF based on its survey of the world’s bishops is therefore greatly needed. Even if this is not done in the immediate future, we know that “nothing is hidden that shall not be made manifest, nor anything secret that shall not be known and come to light” (Lk. 8:17).
Those who currently hold authority in Rome—who have a relatively short term of office in comparison with the Church’s two-thousand-year history—cannot behave as though they are the exclusive owners of a millennium old liturgical treasury of the Church.
(DM) The Italian Jesuit and Doctor of the Church, St. Robert Bellarmine (1542–1621), has said: “As it is lawful to resist the pope, if he assaulted a man’s person, so it is lawful to resist him, if he assaulted souls, or troubled the state, and much more if he strove to destroy the Church. It is lawful, I say, to resist him, by not doing what he commands, and hindering the execution of his will.” As successors to the Apostles, do the bishops have a duty to resist these measures?
(BAS) The bishops have the right to reverently and prudently resist these measures, since they clearly harm the good of the entire Church, by almost entirely abolishing a millennium old liturgical experience that has proven to be fruitful. To simply expunge the great treasure of liturgical rites contained in the Pontificale Romanum, including the theologically and liturgically rich rites of the Major and Minor Orders, the rite of Confirmation and the various consecrations (such as altars, churches, and virgins), stored up by the Roman Church not over just fifty years, as it is the case of the reformed liturgical rites, but over a millennium, is harmful to the entire Church. Those who currently hold authority in Rome—who have a relatively short term of office in comparison with the Church’s two-thousand-year history—cannot behave as though they are the exclusive owners of a millennium old liturgical treasury of the Church. Furthermore, a considerable majority of exemplary Catholics, who are attached to the traditional liturgy, and who are in no way lacking in fidelity to the current Pope and to their own bishops, are being openly slandered and discriminated. The bishops—and first and foremost the members of the Sacred College of Cardinals—should express their concerns to the Pope, alerting him to the great harm and glaring injustice being committed against a considerable group of good Catholics.
This document will go down in history as a tragic example of the Holy See resolving a delicate pastoral problem with violence.
(DM) What canonical issues does the ‘Responsa ad dubia’ raise? Is this document legitimate?
(BAS) From a formal point of view, the document is legitimate, since it was issued by a legitimate authority of the Holy See, i.e., the Congregation for Divine Worship, with the approval of the Roman Pontiff. The “Responsa ad dubia” represent a striking example of the well-known maxim “summum ius, summa iniuria,” i.e., that a law that is formally correct can become a huge injustice. This document will go down in history as a tragic example of the Holy See resolving a delicate pastoral problem with violence.
The new guidelines from the Congregation for Divine Worship have not solved anything but have instead created a pastoral deadlock and serious problems of conscience for many priests and faithful. Remarkably, we are witnessing an intransigent Inquisition-like method being employed in a pontificate that has styled itself as one of “tenderness” and pastoral sensitivity, as the following words of Pope Francis attest: “If we do not become this Church of closeness with attitudes of compassion and tender love, we will not be the Lord’s Church. Let us not forget God’s style, which must help us: closeness, compassion and tender love” (Address for the Opening of the Synod,Oct 9, 2021).
(DM) Where does the new document leave the ex-Ecclesia Dei Institutes? Can they continue to ordain priests in the traditional rite?
(BAS) The document issued by the Congregation for Divine Worship does not explicitly mention the ex-Ecclesia Dei Institutes. Yet, it is uncertain whether these Institutes and communities will be able to continue to use the old Pontificale Romanum for Minor and Major ordinations, and for the celebration of the sacrament of the Confirmation according to the same Pontificale, in their personal parishes and other places where they carry out their apostolate. The Holy See must consider the fact that the same Holy See, in erecting these Institutes, gave them a guarantee that they could use all the liturgical books valid before the Vatican II. The neuralgic point in this regard is the question of the Ordination Rites. Were the Holy See to deny these Institutes and communities the old Ordination Rites, it would set a terrible example of breaking one’s solemn word and would diminish the Holy See’s credibility and integrity also in ecumenical relations with non-Catholic communities. Non-Catholic communities are watching and can plainly see that the Holy See is breaking its word with a group of Catholics with whom it had come to a peaceful and reconciling solution. The violent and treacherous treatment of Catholics attached to the old liturgical tradition will surely not inspire Orthodox ecclesial communities to reconcile with the Apostolic See.
The Holy See’s arbitrary “picking and choosing” reveals to any objective observer that “synodality”—with its “listening to all”—is actually a one-sided ideological endeavor.
(DM) Why is it the Vatican will allow New Ways Ministry which promotes the LGBT agenda to participate in the synod on synodality, and yet fails to listen to traditional Catholics or consult with them about any of these new measures? What are the faithful to make of synodality when the hierarchy listens to one group opposed to Church teaching but not Catholics upholding the Tradition and teaching of the Church?
(BAS) The Holy See’s arbitrary “picking and choosing” reveals to any objective observer that “synodality”—with its “listening to all”—is actually a one-sided ideological endeavor. It is not true synodality but a self-centered effort of intolerant, like-minded people with a prefixed agenda to make the Catholic Faith and the Catholic liturgy increasingly vague and nebulous. Whoever constitutes an obstacle to this agenda, such as the many Catholics, including many young people, who are attached to the traditional liturgy, will not be integrated in the decision-making process.
(DM) Father Claude Barthe, an historian, jurist and expert on the traditional liturgy of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in France, told the National Catholic Register after the release of the document that “in the name of the sensus fidelium, we must oppose Traditionis Custodes and its clarification through non-reception, because it is a doctrinally unjust law.” How, in your view, ought the laity respond to the new guidelines?
(BAS) For the sake of the spiritual good of the entire Church and the honor of the Apostolic See, which always vigilantly safeguarded and transmitted the entire liturgical patrimony, the laity should continue to ask the authorities of the Holy See, in first place the Pope himself, to grant full liberty to the traditional liturgy, including the entire liturgical patrimony of the Roman Church, without any humiliating and discriminatory conditions. Such requests could be made through petitions and especially through a world-wide prayer chain. They should imitate the importunate widow of whom Our Lord spoke in the Gospel in her persistence with the unjust judge (see Luke 18:1-8).
They could follow the advice of Pope Francis himself, who asked the laity to “bother” their shepherds, quoting Saint Caesarius of Arles (+542). Pope Francis said:
“Once I read something very beautiful on how the People of God help the bishops and priests to be good shepherds. It is a writing of St Caesarius of Arles, a Father of the first centuries of the Church. He explained how the People of God must help the pastor, and he gave this example: when a calf is hungry it goes to the cow, its mother, to get milk. The cow, however, does not give it right away: it seems that she withholds it. And what does the calf do? It knocks with its nose at the cow’s udder, so that the milk will come. It is a beautiful image! ‘So also you must be with your pastors’, this saint said: always knock at their door, at their hearts, that they may give you the milk of doctrine, the milk of grace and the milk of guidance. And I ask you, please, bother the pastors, disturb the pastors, all of us pastors, so that we might give you the milk of grace, doctrine and guidance. Bother them! Think of that beautiful image of the little calf, how it bothers its mother so that she might give it something to eat” (Regina caeli,11 May 2014).
In times of doubt, let us follow and cling to antiquity, which means holding fast to the tradition.
(DM) What seems to emerge from the document is that this is the triumph of magisterial positivism, rather than of a received faith. In other words, we are now being told what to believe about the liturgy, against what we have learned from our Holy Mother Church about what is true, good, beautiful, and holy.
(BAS) I think we would all do well, and first and foremost those in high authority in the Church, to remember the constant attitude of the Roman Church throughout the millennia, i.e., deference to the decisive weight of the tradition in the Church’s faith and liturgy. The principle of the first centuries, formulated by Pope Stephen I (+ 257), remains a shining example: nihil innovetur nisi quod traditum est, i.e. “let nothing be renewed except that which has been handed down.” Applying this principle to a liturgical reform, not only should the substance be kept but also other relevant parts of the liturgical rite. The Novus Ordo Missae is an example of a reform where, in significant parts of the Mass, innovations were introduced that had not been handed down, as, for example, the new Offertory Prayers or the existence of a multiplicity of Eucharistic Prayers. The authentic Second Vatican Council Mass is the Ordo Missae of 1965 with its careful and unrevolutionary changes.
In times of great and generalized doctrinal and liturgical confusion, of experiments and innovations, a Catholic has to follow antiquity, according to Saint Vincent of Lerins (+445):
“What then will a Catholic Christian do, if a small portion of the Church have cut itself off from the communion of the universal faith? What, surely, but prefer the soundness of the whole body to the unsoundness of a pestilent and corrupt member? What, if some novel contagion seeks to infect not merely an insignificant portion of the Church, but the whole? Then it will be his care to cleave to antiquity, which at this day cannot possibly be seduced by any fraud of novelty. But what if in antiquity itself there be found error on the part of two or three men, or at any rate of a city or even of a province? Then it will be his care by all means, to prefer the decrees, if such there be, of an ancient General Council to the rashness and ignorance of a few. But what, if some error should spring up on which no such decree is found to bear? Then he must collate and consult and interrogate the opinions of the ancients, of those, namely, who, though living in various times and places, yet continuing in the communion and faith of the one Catholic Church, stand forth acknowledged and approved authorities: and whatsoever he shall ascertain to have been held, written, taught, not by one or two of these only, but by all, equally, with one consent, openly, frequently, persistently, that he must understand that he himself also is to believe without any doubt or hesitation” (Commonitorium, 3, 7-8).
In times of doubt, let us follow and cling to antiquity, which means holding fast to the tradition that was valid until ambiguous novelties were introduced. This has been the guiding principle of the Roman Church throughout the ages.
A Pope should only undo the decisions of his predecessors when they are clearly novelties and ruptures with the faith and liturgical rites.
(DM) What effect do you believe this document will have on seminaries, and what is your message to priests and seminarians?
(BAS) Priests and seminarians should intensify their study of the documents on the tradition of the Catholic Faith and Catholic liturgy, and thereby increase their love for what our forefathers and the Saints believed, treasured and lived: the traditional liturgy of the Roman Church. They should persistently ask their superiors and bishops to allow celebrations of the traditional liturgy and to apply the principle of epikeia in granting, at least individually, the right to celebrate in the Old Rite. If they are denied such a right, they can, employing the same principle of epikeia—and the emergency situation of the current unprecedented crisis in the Church—celebrate at least privately the traditional rite of the Holy Mass.
(DM) If Pope Francis can undo Pope Benedict XVI’s legacy (i.e. Summorum Pontificum) and directly contradict Benedict’s teaching on a matter as important as the sacred liturgy (and Pope St. Pius V’s teaching in Quo Primum), does this mean any teaching of a pope can be easily undone by his successor, and if so, where does this leave the authority of Peter? What precedent does this set for the authority of future papal teaching and for the Church’s authority in general?
(BAS) Here, tradition and antiquity should always have primacy. The more a pope faithfully keeps and transmits the living treasures of the faith and liturgy of the Roman Church—which are in no wise a “museum piece” but rather a living reality, as there were for so many great saints—the better he fulfills his proper task and exercises his proper authority as the successor of Peter. A Pope should only undo the decisions of his predecessors when they are clearly novelties and ruptures with the faith and liturgical rites. We have sseveral examples from history. The letters of Pope Honorius I (+638), which were highly ambiguous from a doctrinal point of view, were undone by his successors; for example, by Saint Leo II, who stated: “Honorius, instead of purifying this Apostolic Church, permitted the immaculate faith to be stained by a profane treason.” To cite another example: In 1535 Pope Paul III issued a Breviary, which was compiled by Cardinal Quiñones, and had more than 100 editions. However, for its disregard of tradition, Pope Paul IV banned it in 1558.
Traditionis Custodes and the new document from the Congregation for Divine Worship are destroying the patient work of peace, reconciliation, and ecclesial communion accomplished by Pope John Paul II through the Motu Proprio Ecclesia Dei and by Benedict XVI through Summorum Pontificum. They truly built bridges to the Tradition and to a considerable portion of traditional clergy and faithful, showing thereby what it truly means to be a “pontifex.” Whereas Pope Francis has now dismantled the bridge that his two predecessors built.
Such measures from the Holy See, which clearly show contempt for the ancient liturgical tradition, will undoubtedly widen the gap of an already existing mistrust towards the Holy See on the part of the Orthodox churches.
(DM) You have frequent dealings with Orthodox clergy. Orthodox leaders drew closer to the Catholic Church during Benedict’s pontificate primarily because they valued his respect for the sacred liturgy. How do you believe they will view these measures to stamp out the traditional liturgy and sacraments of the Roman Church? What effect do you believe this has on ecumenical relations with the Orthodox?
(BAS) Such measures from the Holy See, which clearly show contempt for the ancient liturgical tradition, will undoubtedly widen the gap of an already existing mistrust towards the Holy See on the part of the Orthodox churches, especially the Russian-Orthodox. I fondly remember when Pope Benedict XVI issued the truly epochal and magnanimous Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum, several Russian-Orthodox priests and bishops congratulated me. One Orthodox Bishop even proposed that a traditional Latin Mass be celebrated regularly on Sunday in our Cathedral.
We must keep in mind that violent acts do not last for long.
(DM) How can this be resolved? What needs to happen for these liturgical wars, which traditional Catholics say have been ignited again by these latest documents, to end?
(BAS) We must keep in mind that violent acts do not last for long. The violence and injustice done to a considerable group of model sons and daughter of the Church, through the Holy See’s recent document, will have a counter-effect. The liturgical tradition will be even more loved and cherished. Some priests and faithful will be forced into a life of “Catacomb Masses.” Yet they should not become discouraged or embittered. Divine Providence has permitted this painful trial, in which we are witnessing the authorities of the Holy See persecute good Catholics who are attached to the millennium old liturgical treasure of the Roman Church. They should continue to love the Pope and their bishops and increase their prayers and acts of reparation and penance, humbly imploring God that He may open the eyes of the Pope and bishops and enkindle in them an esteem and love for the treasure of these ancient liturgical traditions. May Pope Francis and many other bishops remember the joy of the days of their childhood and youth, when they heard, or themselves spoke, these moving and ever-youthful words: “Introibo ad altare Dei, ad Deum qui laetificat iuventutem meam!,” i.e., “I will go to the altar of God: to God who gives the joy to my youth.” We firmly hope that, one day, the Roman Pontiff himself will again pronounce these words at the foot of the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.
Originally appeared in The Remnant Newspaper.