ROME (AP) — Pope Francis cracked down Friday on the spread of the old Latin Mass, reversing one of Pope Benedict XVI’s signature decisions in a major challenge to traditionalist Catholics who immediately decried it as an attack on them and the ancient liturgy.
Francis reimposed restrictions on celebrating the Latin Mass that Benedict relaxed in 2007, and went further to limit its use. The pontiff said he was taking action because Benedict’s reform had become a source of division in the church and been exploited by Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.
Critics said they had never before witnessed a pope so thoroughly reversing his predecessor. That the reversal concerned something so fundamental as the liturgy, while Benedict is still alive and living in the Vatican as a retired pope, only amplified the extraordinary nature of Francis’ move, which will surely result in more right-wing hostility directed at him.
Francis, 84, issued a new law requiring individual bishops to approve celebrations of the old Mass, also called the Tridentine Mass, and requiring newly ordained priests to receive explicit permission to celebrate it from their bishops, in consultation with the Vatican.
Under the new law, bishops must also determine if the current groups of faithful attached to the old Mass accept Vatican II, which allowed for Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular rather than Latin. These groups cannot use regular churches; instead, bishops must find alternate locations for them without creating new parishes.
In addition, Francis said bishops are no longer allowed to authorize the formation of any new pro-Latin Mass groups in their dioceses.
Francis said he was taking action to promote unity and heal divisions within the church that had grown since Benedict’s 2007 document, Summorum Pontificum. He said he based his decision on a 2020 Vatican survey of all the world’s bishops, whose “responses reveal a situation that preoccupies and saddens me, and persuades me of the need to intervene.”
The pope’s rollback immediately created an uproar among traditionalists already opposed to Francis’ more progressive bent and nostalgic for Benedict’s doctrinaire papacy.
“This is an extremely disappointing document which entirely undoes the legal provisions,” of Benedict’s 2007 document, said Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society of England and Wales.