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Traditiones Custodes: A response to an American problem?


Shalone Cason

Agnès Pinard Legry - published on 01/05/22

To Europeans, the measures taken by Traditionis Custodes may seem harsh or unfair. Yet Catholics who follow the 1962 missal are most numerous in the United States. According to Hugolin Bergier's testimony, most of them are very critical of the Church's teaching and authority.

The motu proprio Traditionis Custodes is still incomprehensible to French Catholics who are attached to the 1962 missal and who defend themselves against accusations of rejecting the teaching of Vatican II. For Hugolin Bergier, a French scholar living in the United States, American traditionalist Catholics, who are much more numerous, can’t say the same.

Aleteia: How many parishes in the United States practice the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite?

Hugolin Bergier: According to the Latin Mass Directory, a London-based website that lists the locations and times of traditional Masses in the Catholic Church, 43% of the parishes offering this form of liturgy world-wide are located in the United States (which has only 20% of the world’s Catholics). By this statistic we can reasonably estimate the weight they represent and the role they played in the decisions that were made around Traditionis Custodes. My (American) wife and I have had several good experiences with traditional parishes in two major American cities. In both cases, we were able to find one of the few welcoming and supportive places in the U.S. for large families (we just welcomed our sixth child). We were also struck by the friendship of the clergy of a parish practicing the “Extraordinary Form” with the inhabitants of the local poor, predominantly black, and Protestant neighborhood. 

Are these parishes well integrated in their diocese?

While we have always particularly appreciated the beauty of the traditional liturgy, we have seen a disintegration of the ecclesial communion around these communities in the United States. I recall one conversation I had with a young American—the oldest child of family friends and a pillar of the local parish. This young man said with conviction that all popes since John XXIII have been essentially in error. There was in this bright, good-natured boy a profound difficulty in his relationship to magisterial authority. The argument, for him as for many Americans in this case, is that the Council and recent papal texts are pastoral, not dogmatic, and therefore impose no obligation on Catholics to adhere. As I pursued the discussion a little further, I realized that he was unable, despite his great erudition, to give me the name of a theologian, living or recent, whom he considered really reliable. For him, the only authority is tradition as interpreted by those around him.

Perhaps this was just an isolated case?

It is an example, but indicative of a general attitude. Take the systematic phenomenon of homeschooling: with very few exceptions, families in traditional parishes in the United States homeschool. The reason given is that schools, even Catholic ones, are corrupted. (My children are in a Catholic school in the diocese where all the teachers are practicing, the catechesis is solid, weekly Mass is mandatory, and they pray in class five times a day.) But in talking with these families, one realizes that home schooling—which can be an excellent mode of education—is rather a pretext to avoid risking the encounter with the modern world that has corrupted everything, even the Novus Ordo Catholic schools.

Traditionis Custodes reproaches certain faithful who prefer to worship according to the 1962 missal for using the liturgy as a pretext to reject the Second Vatican Council: have you noticed this?

I remember hearing—during a Mass in the Extraordinary Form—a homily that was openly critical of the Council. This is what shocked me the most: This homily directly attacked the declaration of the Second Vatican Council, Nostra Aetate, which affirms the special place of the Jews today, and which was taken up and developed in a letter by Benedict XVI in 2005. “Jews and Mohammedans have no special place today,” the preacher asserted, “they are pagans among others.” These examples are problematic and not mere isolated accidents; they represent a pattern of thought and reasoning that is found among many influential figures and is supported or maintained by prominent American Catholic media. Conversely, the more nuanced views that are more loyal to authority unfortunately do not receive such media coverage. As Bishop Barron of Los Angeles says, “There are two signs that the Catholic debate has become dysfunctional: the denigration of the pope, the successor of Peter, and the questioning of the legitimacy of an ecumenical council.”

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