I love Pope Francis’ commitment to dialogue, which is why his restrictions on Mass in Latin confuse me.


Editor’s Note: This article is part of The Conversation with America Media, offering diverse perspectives on important and contested issues in the life of the church. Read more views on the Traditional Latin Mass, as well as media coverage on the topic, here.

At the end of 2020, Pope Francis published “Fratelli Tutti,” a beautiful and inspiring encyclical in which the Pope argued that the fragmentation that too often characterizes humanity can only be addressed through genuine dialogue rooted in the love. This exhortation to dialogue was not new to Francis; Since the beginning of his pontificate, he has constantly exhorted Catholics to walk on the path of dialogue in order to achieve a unity which transcends but does not erase difference.

We cannot be closed to others, Pope Francis taught, whether they are political or ideological opponents or people aspiring to find new life as immigrants. A “healthy openness never threatens his identity”, he writes (FT 148). Too often, we deny “the right of others to exist or have an opinion”, and suddenly, “their part of truth and their values ​​are rejected” (n ° 15). Instead, Pope Francis urged us “to give way to dialogical realism on the part of men and women who remain true to their own principles while recognizing that others have a right to do the same as well.” “. This, he continued, “is the true recognition of the other which is made possible by love alone”.

For a long time I have found the vision of Francis’ dialogue attractive. For this reason, I find myself confused by his response to Catholic traditionalism.

For a long time I have found the vision of Francis’ dialogue attractive. This vision has important antecedents in the tradition of the Church, ranging from the first Christian theologians to Saint Francis of Assisi, to Saint Thomas Aquinas and to the documents of the Second Vatican Council. More than that, his vision strikes me as absolutely vital for our time when political and theological polarization seems intractable.

For this reason, I find myself confused by Pope Francis’ response to Catholic traditionalism, both in the publication of the motu proprio “Traditionis Custodes”last August and in the publication of responses to questions regarding the document’s implementation last week.

I am not a traditionalist, liturgically or otherwise. The parish that I attend with my family is about as far away as possible from a traditionalist parish. Liturgical dance? To verify. Felt banners? Absoutely. Guitars and drums? It goes without saying.

There is a lot about traditionalism that I find troubling. Traditionalists are often suspicious of Vatican II, in particular of the implementation of the council, seeing it as a sort of break with tradition. I view the Council through the prism of my study of early Christianity, recognizing that, far from breaking with tradition, Vatican II was a recovery of much of the early Christianity that had been neglected. Traditionalists also place a disproportionate emphasis on the importance of what has been called the “extraordinary form” of the Mass and view the “ordinary form” with thinly veiled (and sometimes fully exposed) disdain. These views make traditionalists understand the traditionalist movement as preserving “true” Catholicism as opposed to “false” Catholicism that followed the implementation of Vatican II.

Such attitudes are a threat to ecclesial unity and must be fought. But Pope Francis’ response strikes me as unusually heavy. While he has long advocated dialogue with adversaries, claiming that unity cannot be achieved by the suppression of one group by another, Francis now seems to be choosing exactly that: suppression. To be clear, the Pope did not eliminate the use of the pre-Vatican II Tridentine Latin Mass, but the steps described in “Traditionis Custodes”and the most recent answers to questions on the motu proprio appear to be aimed at reducing the size and impact of traditionalist communities within the church.

I can’t help but wonder how the Pope’s most recent actions do anything other than alienate our traditionalist brothers and sisters.

During his visit to the United States in 2015, Pope Francis encouraged bishops to “dialogue without fear” and to do so from a position of authentic encounter whereby they “deeply realize that the brother or the sister whom we wish to reach and redeem, with the power and the proximity of love count more than their positions, however distant they may be from what we hold to be true and certain. Everything else is alienating, he argued.

I can’t help but wonder how the Pope’s most recent actions do anything other than alienate our traditionalist brothers and sisters.

Years ago, I was invited to participate in a private discussion group whose Catholic members are predominantly traditionalists. I have met a number of them in person and count them all as friends. Our dialogue with each other has not resulted in a great deal; we agree on very little. Yet we maintain our theological disagreement in creative tension with the oneness we know we have in and through Christ.

Unity without uniformity. This is what the type of dialogue promoted by Pope Francis aims to achieve. I have long appreciated Pope Francis’ willingness to allow seemingly conflicting theological and moral views to be held in a tension that can be brought into harmony by the Holy Spirit. As he said in a homily during a Mass for ecclesial movements at Pentecost in 2013, “only the Spirit can awaken diversity, plurality and multiplicity, while building unity”. Any attempt to force uniformity closes the door to Spirit. Yet in the name of unity, Francis seems to be forcing the kind of uniformity he has consistently warned against.

At a time when we as a church embark on a synodal path, I find it difficult to understand why a more synodal – more dialogical – approach is not taken with traditionalists. While there are many aspects of traditionalism that I have problems with, I have also learned a lot from them, especially about the centrality of the beautiful liturgy and how a global faith can and should transform. his life. The traditionalist voice is one of many voices the church can and should learn from, and as such, traditionalists should have a place at the synod table.

A few years ago, I wrote a defense of Pope Francis’ conception of dialogue against those who saw dialogue as an empty buzzword, a ruse by Francis to achieve certain ends that had already been predetermined regardless of l ‘opposition. In the wake of “Traditionis Custodes”, my traditionalist friends are once again questioning the authenticity of Francis’ call for dialogue. And this time, I can’t figure out what they’re wrong with.

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