December 14, 2013

Pope’s crackdown on order alarms traditionalists

A religion order under investigation for taking on an “overly traditionalist bent” with the old Latin Mass is at the center of the growing controversy.

By Nicole Winfield
The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Pope Francis waves as he arrives for his weekly general audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican, Wednesday.

The Associated Press

Traditionalists have charged that a double standard is at play, with a conservative, tradition-minded order being targeted for particular sanction on ideological grounds by a pope with a progressive bent.

“I hope that I am not being intemperate in describing this as rather harsh,” the Rev. Timothy Finigan, a British priest whose “The Hermeneutic of Continuity” blog is much-read in traditionalist circles, wrote last week of the sanctions.

Francis has called Benedict’s 2007 decree allowing wider use of the Latin Mass “prudent,” but has warned that it risks being exploited on ideological grounds by factions in the church; Francis has made clear his disdain for traditionalist Catholics, saying they are self-absorbed retrogrades who aren’t helping the church’s mission to evangelize.

For some, the issue is purely ideological. Christopher Ferrara, a columnist for The Remant, a traditionalist biweekly newspaper in the United States, said Volpi’s aim was to make the order conform to the more progressive ideology of other religious orders like Volpi’s own Capuchins, which he noted are dwindling in numbers while more conservative, tradition-minded orders like the Franciscan Friars are growing.

“Traditionalism isn’t an ideology, it’s holding fast to everything that has been handed down,” Ferrara said in a telephone interview.

A group of tradition-minded lay Catholics has launched an online petition seeking Volpi’s ouster, but it’s not clear how many signatories have signed on; an email seeking figures wasn’t returned Saturday.

The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, defended Volpi as a sage, esteemed and experienced administrator and dismissed calls for his removal.

“He knows religious life well, was for many years head of the Italian conference of religious superiors and I think his nomination was a wise choice,” Lombardi said in an email to The Associated Press. “While the situation seems difficult and painful, it appears the letter is yet another demonstration that the naming of a commissioner was necessary and that he knows what to do with the powers he has.

“I don’t have any reason to doubt it,” Lombardi concluded.

The Rev. Robert Gahl, a moral theologian at the Opus Dei-run Pontifical Holy Cross University, said he was certain that the pope wasn’t opposed to the old Latin Mass and was not aiming to combat it by restricting its celebration with the Friars. He said Francis appeared to be taking the measures to quell the internal conflicts that arose over its celebration, and then took other measures after financial irregularities occurred.

“Liturgy is always a surprisingly sensitive topic,” he said. “It can be extremely controversial and can upset communities even when the substance of the disagreement is minuscule. So, I think Francis is pushing for community peace and unity which may entail a temporary reduction in some use” of the old Latin Mass.

“I’m certain that Francis wants unity in Christ and to put a stop to the back-biting between ideological groups in the church, also by those who ideologize the liturgy,” he said.

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