Papal chess praxis: position play

A few people have written asking me about some Vatican appointments they noticed in the Bolletino.  I also saw this subject on a blog or another site. 

Just to mention two appointments, some have noticed that the Fr. Michael Zielinski, OSB Oliv., Abbot of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Pecos (NM, USA) will now be Vice President of the Pontifical Commission for the Cultural Heritage of the Church and also Vice President of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archeology.

While the positions are not in the very highest level dicasteries of the Holy See, they are nevertheless positions.  The man will have input.

Fr. Zielinski has attended events of the FSSP, at least one conference of SiSiNoNo and even the large church of the SSPX in Paris.  That is

Moreover, Fr. Michael Lang of the Oratory in London has been called to serve in the Pontifical Council for Culture.  Again, not as important a dicastery as, say, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, but it still brings him to an important environment where, when he is not just smiling and nodding, he will be friendly and positive about certain traditional matters.

These are both English speakers.  They are not diocesan.  They are publicly favorable toward the older form of Mass and not unimportant things like ad orientem altars.  They know about these things and can speak about them intelligently.

In Congregations there are some who favor traditional things. 

If there is to be some hope for success in the implementation of legislation to derestrict the older form of Mass, and therefore handle questions about the role of the older Mass in the cultures of many peoples, the nexus of the liturgy with architecture, how it is to be celebrated, how it fits in a liturgical dialogue, a cross-pollination with the new Mass, friends of the vision must seeded into offices of the Curia.  They will help to shift the tone.  They will be available when questions arise. 

People might gripe about the Pope (or Cardinal X, or Bishop Y, or Father…. well… never Fr. Z) not moving fast enough on our pet projects. 

Think about the consequences of implementing something and then… it fails. 

This might come as a surprise to some of you, but not everyone in the Curia is actually on the same wave length with Pope Benedict.  Not all bishops and priests out there like what Pope Benedict means to the Church or what he has broadcast he will do.

In order to tackle a project, you have to have the people to carry it out.  In the case of anything having to do with the older form of liturgy, His Holiness must have people friendly to his views in the home office at different levels and places.

No matter what some might think or hope: reform cannot be imposed solely by fiat today.

Attempt to implement a project (of which the Motu Proprio is only one part) before having the right pieces on the correct squares by the middle game, to use chess terms, and the end game will be disaster. 

It would be far better to keep things the way we have them now than to try to implement an initiative and see it fail.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in SESSIUNCULA. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Edmund Campion says:

    Fr. Z.,

    I see you have depicted the Papal chessboard in two dimensions. Why do I believe instead that this Pontiff plays chess in three dimensions? I believe, as do you I think, that he is seeing things at a level beyond any of us.


  2. Diane says:

    I too have posted on this subject and along with what you say – about getting people into various dicastries who will be favorable to his efforts on liturgy, I see something else…

    Very simply: Lex orandi, lex credendi – in action. The liturgy and the world are so interconnected that it makes sense to have people in these dicastries who grasp that connection.

  3. Andrew says:

    “No matter what some might think or hope: reform cannot be imposed solely by fiat today.”

    “Veterum Sapientia” comes to mind.

  4. danphunter1 says:

    Or the Preparatory Commision of the second Vatican Council which was completely discarded when Cardinal Leinart seized the microphone on that fateful day in 1962.
    God bless you

  5. “No matter what some might think or hope: reform cannot be imposed solely by fiat today.”

    This quote is probably true, although most of us which that it could still be so. The Pope commands, and everyone obeys. That would be wonderful.

    But remember 1969, and the implementation of the Novus Ordo. It was tested on some bishops who were very much against it at the 1967 Synod of Bishops….and yet Paul VI and the infamous Archbishop Bugnini pushed it through anyway. The absolutely disasterous results of the last 40 years are history.

    I doubt that if Pope Benedict XVI simply imposed the Tridentine Latin Mass there would be the tremendous disaster of 40 years ago. I think it would rather be the opposite reaction.

    But we have to trust in the Pope’s slow moves, and hope He has the time to complete and implement the task ( and that no future Pope can dismantle).

  6. swmichigancatholic says:

    I hate to think that what the pope is dealing with is analogous to what goes on in the machinations of corporate America, but I’m afraid it sounds like it is, only with higher stakes. Much higher, the ultimate.

    When push comes to shove, the traditional side will become ascendant because nothing else can happen, and Pope Benedict has that straight, but it’s soooo painful getting there, isn’t it?

    Bravo for Pope Benedict. Pray for him and the church.

  7. swmichigancatholic says:

    Vatican II was nothing, more or less, than disaster–if not the documents, then the goings-on that surrounded them and followed them. What a tragedy of biblical proportions we’ve seen. These things are interesting on the ecclesial front, but they’ve been disastrous on the home front. Many people are no longer Catholic over this, you know.

  8. Athanasius says:

    Fr. Z,

    Why doesn’t Pope Benedict simply remove some of the prelates who are giving them problems? Perhaps the Holy Father could fill up some vacancies at less important dicastries or perhaps give them bishoprics in Iran, following the role model for their hero?

    Obviously he doesn’t have to do it all at once, or in such a humiliating manner as sending them to Persia. Nevertheless, why is Marini still there? Are you going to suggest the Pope is so powerless that he can’t place Marini in some respectable job in France where he will no doubt be well liked? This business of offering jobs and letting him lurk in the shadows like Dumas’ depiction of Louis XIV’s exiled twin brother to me is absurd. Or, is it that moving these various Cardinals and Congregation members might be construed as attacking the legacy of John Paul II?

    I mean I’m not expecting him to exchange the whole curia overnight with FSSP priests, or a Bruskewitz, however it seems to me he could have gradually been making these changes in the last year and a half, perhaps one every two months?

    God bless you, and thank you for your informative news from Rome.

    Philip Candido
    editor Athanasius Contra Mundum

  9. Andy Lucy says:

    Thank you, Fr Z, for that insightful commentary regarding the pope’s strategy to cause lasting change in our Church. I agree that Pope Benedict, like all good chess players, must measure his moves and align his pieces prior to implementing his plan. The lower level assignments mentioned would seem to be His Holiness arranging his pawns for board control and defense.

    Now, is there a solution to the chess problem you used in the illustration? I have a possible mate-in-two for white, but it is conditional, not forced. :)

  10. catholiclady says:

    “Fr. Zielinski has attended events of the FSSP”

    Evidently he was asked to speak at the sisinono conference – why?I found this interesting because he is the Abbott of the Our Lady of Guadalupe Benedictine Monastery in Pecos, New Mexico. He was not the abbott when I last went to a private retreat there and it seemed to me they were liberal and charismatic at that time. Anyway Fr. Zielinski has an interesting bit to say on the Motu,

    Included in that piece is “The Old Rite becomes a living treasure of the Church and also should provide a standard of worship, of mystery, and of catechesis toward which the celebrations of the Novus Ordo must move. In other words, the Tridentine Mass is the missing link. And unless it be re-discovered in all its faithful truth and beauty, the Novus Ordo will not respond to the organic growth and change that has characterized the liturgy from its beginning. ”

  11. catholiclady says:

    I am not in the habit of listening to or reading what Bishop Fellay has to say but someone referred me to this and I found it raised some interesting questions on this chess game now in play.

  12. Andy: First, perhaps you might describe the overall situation on the board. What do the players have to cope with in that position?

    This is what Benedict is faced with on many fronts. The board shows a real blockaded.

  13. 4 June, the anti-spam word?

  14. Jordan Potter says:

    The anti-spam word is obviously some special date. The release date of the Motu Proprio? Or is it just Father’s birthday or anniversary of his ordination?

  15. Dave DeCleene says:

    Perhaps it will be June 6: Normandy Invasion!

  16. I just listened to the two “You Tube” videos of Bishop fellay’s conference on the Rorate Caeli website that one of the contributors mentioned afew posts up. Needless to say, I was shocked.
    Bishop Fellay says that Cardinal Bertone was made Sec. of Sate last year, but the JP II Secretary of State, Cardinal Sodano refuses to give up his office in the Vatican or his apartment there to the new man. There’s something weird there…verging on sick. Sodano, what ever happened to obedience to the Pope. Move on man, you’re times over.
    Next thing is that Bishop Fellay said that our infamous Archbishop Marini was offered a few new postings, and refused them. How can he refuse the Pope? Apparently they were not Cardinal’s posts. Well, Marini doesn’t deserve a red hat. Bishop Fellay also said that it is well know that Marini “hates” Benedict XVI. Lastly, apparently according to Bishop Fellay, Cardinal Arinze is one of the real backstabbers and saboteurs in the Vatican, and has tried to do as much with the “Motu Proprio”. So much so, that finally Benedict XVI removed him from the group of cardinals advising him on this issue, and He has not had access to the goings on about it since last year. Bishop fellay said that Arinze is very disloyal to the Pope, and tries to stir up anti-Tridentine Latin Mass feelings among German and other Bishops conferences.
    Bishop Fellay said lastly that this Summer, the Pope needs to replace 43 old guard JP II men with new faces in Curial offices. If Benedict XVI is to turn the Church to tradition, Fellay says it must be in the next few months. So far, Benedict XVI has made about 4 excellent appointments over the last month. Let’s pray for more. I feel more sympathy for the Holy Father every day.

  17. FranzJosf says:

    Catholiclady: As I understand it, Abbot Zielinsky was sent to Pecos by the Superiors in Rome to clean the place up and get it back in line with the Rule. If you read some of the Abbot’s letters on the site, he alludes to ‘changes’ and the like. Reading between the lines, it seems as if they are experiencing some ‘growing pains.’

    At any rate, interesting things happening in Rome. I certainly have confidence in the Holy Father. Remember what he said about praying that the wolves don’t get him. He knew whereof he spoke. He’s been working in the Curia for twenty years.

Comments are closed.