QUAERITUR: writing to the CDWDS and remaining anonymous

A question has come:

Dear Father Z,

I had a call from a young priest friend of mine this morning.  He was wondering whether there was any way for a PRIEST, to write to the Congregation for Divine worship and report the many abuses going on in the diocese, that the bishop is ignoring, and remain anonymous.

For obvious reasons the anonymity would have to be guaranteed.

Once again thank you for all that you are doing for the TLM and the Church.


First, I remind you of the clear statement in Redemptionis Sacramentum.

6. Complaints Regarding Abuses in Liturgical Matters

[183.] In an altogether particular manner, let everyone do all that is in their power to ensure that the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist will be protected from any and every irreverence or distortion and that all abuses be thoroughly corrected. This is a most serious duty incumbent upon each and every one, and all are bound to carry it out without any favouritism.

[184.] Any Catholic, whether Priest or Deacon or lay member of Christ’s faithful, has the right to lodge a complaint regarding a liturgical abuse to the diocesan Bishop or the competent Ordinary equivalent to him in law, or to the Apostolic See on account of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff. It is fitting, however, insofar as possible, that the report or complaint be submitted first to the diocesan Bishop. This is naturally to be done in truth and charity.


So, if the bishop has been informed, and the bishop has done nothing, then it is necessary to write to the Congregation.

Remember that when writing to the Congregation, or any Vatican office such as the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei or the CDF, you need to send evidence of what you claim is going on. 

Your letter is itself a kind of evidence, but if you send photos, video, printed matter which prove the abuse took place, is taking place, is scheduled to take place, that is better.   The Congregation can more quickly act when there is concrete evidence beyond someone’s mere report.

Here are some tips for writing:

  • BE BRIEF. Make your cover letter no longer than one side of one sheet of paper.
  • Avoid writing long-hand.  Make it easy to read.  Type or use your computer.
  • Include relevant documents: Vatican dicasteries can’t act solely on the basis of Mrs. Joe Bagofdonuts’s description of events.  The best thing you can do is send concrete evidence, printed.  If someone wrote and distributed something, send a copy.
  • If you have relevant past correspondence, such as previous responses from priests or bishops, send copies.
  • Do not tell them their job!  Don’t quote canons, blah blah, as if they didn’t know them already.  Leave the incredibly obvious unsaid.
  • Do not engage in character assassination.  State FACTS with as little editorializing as possible.  Blathering on and on about how "disobedient" priests or bishops are will not strengthen your case.  State facts. They will know if they are disobedient.
  • If you must talk about your feelings, keep it incredibly short, and do not be mean-spirited. If something made you sad or angry, okay, say it, but don’t DWELL on it.  The nastier you are, the weaker your letter will be.
  • At the end thank the one you are writing to for his service, and promise your prayers.  And mean it.

In summary, be brief, send evidence, leave out the obvious, don’t vent.

The address:

His Eminence
Francis Card. Arinze
Prefect of the Congregation
   for Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments
Palazzo delle Congregazioni
P.za Pio XII

Can you write anonymously?

I suppose you can, but that itself presents some problems.  You should be willing to put your name to something.  However, if you have amassed enough concrete evidence,  and you do not require any direct reply, then take a shot.

I do understand that priests must be careful when writing.  Bishops and priests inclined to liturgical abuses will not thank you for writing to the Congregation.  Priests have every reason to believe that there will be reprisals.   So, exercise extreme caution.  This is one of the reasons why letters to Vatican dicasteries should be as clear and objective as possible, without harsh language or personal attacks, etc.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Raymundus says:

    Actually, the right to know the identity of one’s accuser is enshrined in Canon Law. If you report someone and request anonymity, it would seem that the CDWDS would not be able to honor that request.

  2. Thomasso says:

    The problems a priest might have in writing openly to the Congregation are very real and would invariably bring some form of recrimination. Because of such problems, I wonder if it might be possible for the priest to ask a lay person to write the letter, effectively on his behalf but coming from the lay person – obviously in such a way that the facts are stated clearly and that they come from the lay person, but without mentioning the priest. If it were my priest, I’d be happy to take on the responsibility from him, as long as I could be honest about the issues. Just a thought.

  3. Dob says:

    I wonder whether it would be advisable for an other to submit the report. Get a member of the laity who has witnessed and accepts the duty to document and submit. The issue is not about personalities anyway but abuse. The abuse has to stop and if there is a way to avoid abuse of power as well then this seems sensible. Furthermore, this young priest is really needed in this diocese. It would be unwise to expose him to possible persecution and/or expulsion. Some good lay people need to step up to the plate here. Failing that, he will have to bite the bullet and pray for a good outcome.

  4. Raymundus: On the other hand, if the CDW receives, for example, a printed parish bulletin, in which a regular abusive practice is described and defended, or even, in the case of general absolution, regularly scheduled… the thing is its own accuser.

  5. I’m wondering, with this marvelous technological age we live in, and the fact that so many of the dissident parishes are hanging themselves with their own extensive use of modern media (their websites which often contain not only the bulletin, but parishioner diatribes about Holy Church, video of “Masses”, recordings of pro-abort speakers) why it’s even necessary for anyone to actually have to write to the CDF. It’s all there.

    I’m sure it’s because the CDF is busy and I’m probably being unreasonable, but it doesn’t take one person too long browsing around on the web to find “trouble”

  6. LCB says:

    Off topic:

    On the iTunes podcast (Ehhem, PODCAzT) page, no podcasts are actually listed. Am I doing something wrong?

  7. Tom says:

    It does work as Fr. Z suggests.

    I had an elderly priest deny me communion for not extending my hand.

    He doesn’t do it any longer.

  8. TJB says:

    I wrote my Bishop and told him of some abuses taking place in my Parish. He met with me and said some stuff about choosing his battles wisely and these abuses not being too big a deal… basically I took it to mean he had no intentions of doing anything about the abuses. That was about 8 or 9 months ago and it turns out I was right, he did nothing. I don’t know if I should speak to him again before I write the CDWDS, you know, tell him that if nothing is done I’ll be forced to report it to them… I don’t want to sound like Im threatening him. I also don’t want to seem like I went behind his back and reported the abuses instead of discussing it with him further… any advice?

  9. Rudy of CC says:

    The art of people managment is a difficult one. Could be that the Ordinary may not want to do anything about it because you may be implicating his buddy. The other item for thought is the Ordinary may want you to go above his head, therby relieving him of the harsh duty of reprimanding and imposing a plan of correction. Could be other things, but these two come to mind when ‘bosses’ are put on the spot. Good Luck Father Anonymous. We will pray for you. St. Michael the Archangel is very helpful for intercessions such as these.

  10. magdalen says:

    I know that anonymous letters are often ignored but for a priest to have a complaint on his bishop and sign his name may very well bring severe persecution. I know someone who wrote to Rome and signed their name and it was just sent back to the bishop who asked the pastor of the person’s parish to remove them from any activity in the parish. Repercussions…

  11. David2 says:

    TJB, for what its worth, I would have tactfully attempted to have him clarify his position when you met with him. But the facts are 1) he has implied that he would do nothing and the abuses were no big deal 2) the events that transpired have borne this out.

    At this site:


    you will find a number of letters from the CDWDS dealing with the liturgical abuse of refusing Communion on the basis that a person wishes to receive kneeling. The letter of 1 July 2002 is particularly instructive. “It is troubling that you seem to express some reservations about both the propriety and the usefulness of addressing the Holy See regarding this matter.[…] Accordingly, in consideration of the nature of the problem and the relative likelihood that it might or might not be resolved on the local level, every member of the faithful has the right of recourse to the Roman Pontiff either personally or by means of the Dicasteries or Tribunals of the Roman Curia.”

    I do not see how recourse to the Curia could, in this instance, and conducted in accordance with Fr Z guidelines, be perceived as “going behind the bishop’s back”. Of course, you know your bishop and I do not, so you will have a better idea of his attitude to your complaint and his likely response to a) a letter to the Holy See or b) a further approach to him. I have seen published instances of repeated and ongoing correspondence with a bishop acheiving nothing whatsoever – se for example: http://www.ad2000.com.au/articles/2007/oct2007p8_2646.html. I don’t think Dr Althorp’s solution is warranted, however, the obvious solution is to have recourse to the CDWDS.

    Accordingly, unless you have reason to believe that approaching the bishop again would be helpful, or that your bishop will be enraged by an approach to the CDWDS, I’d tend to come down on the side of going straight to Rome. Your bishop has shown his hand. That’s just my personal view as a somewhat informed layman. Make of it what you will.

  12. Virgil says:

    My advice to the priest in question is to use his energy to build his own liturgical ministry, rather than pointing out the faults of other priests.

    There are many priests who delight in puppet shows, bongo drums, and creative ways of addressing the Most Holy Trinity “inclusively.” But they are doing this in response to the wealthy aging hippies in their congregations. If the bishop would “crack down” on liturgical buse, there would be no money left, once our parents found their way to the United Church of Christ.

    Meanwhile, these liturgical abuses do little harm in and of themselves. The harm is that they are distracting us from the REAL CHALLENGE: building a solid alternative.

    The priest in question should write to Cardinal Arinze. But he should write him to thank him for his work on behalf of providing the resources to build solid liturgy in parishes, and to ask for advice and resources.

    The best way for the priest to voice his concerns is to raise his voice loudly to chant a beautiful preface each day when he celebrates mass.

    Father, if you build it, they will come!

  13. Virgil says:

    I must examine my own conscience, when complaining about other people’s liturgcal abuses. It’s one of the SEVEN DEADLY SINS, namely, ENVY! (cue loud minor chord)

    I look at the parishes of my parents, their friends, and others of that generation. I see millions of dollars spent on ugly church renovations, hyper-active sound systems, and tacky music and dance.

    Then I look at my own parish, with its out-of-tune organ, hundred year old vestments, and leaking ceiling destroying what once were kitsch frescoes.

    Yes, I am sure that the priest in question shares my sin, envious of the energy and money being ploughed into liturgical abuse by his brother priests. It probably complicates matters that his bishop seems constantly supportive of the “abusers” and dismissive of honest attempts at renewal and reform.

    Writing to the Vatican is not going to salve my conscience.

    Soldier on!

  14. Ut videam says:


    Yes, I am sure that the priest in question shares my sin…

    Presumption and rash judgment are also sinful.

  15. Virgil says:

    Au contraire, ut videam! In this case, my presumptions are helpful in making a rash judgement. In the end, I may not be his confessor, but I do pray for our priests and their ministries.

    My presumption (1) is: Father X wants to remain anonymous.

    Rash judgement (1) is: Father X is probably struggling with a pretty lame liturgy at his current assignment. Telling Cardinal Arinze his name would open him (the priest) to ridicule by his bishop. If he is pastor of a place like Saint Agnes in Saint Paul, or the London Oratory, my judgement is wrong.

    My presumption (2) is: Father X’s bishop is ignoring his prior pleas for a reason.

    Rash judgement (2) is: Bishop X is thankful for his big suburban money machine parishes, albeit quietly frustrated with their skirting orthodoxy. The bishop is probably doing his best to keep all his priests happy, including his “celebrity” priests. If he’s gonna be the “bad guy” he needs to pick and choose his battles. Father X’s notes about the slivers in his brother priests’ eyes have been heard. But the bishop has chosen to work in his own way.

    My presumption (3) is: Father X is human, not a superhero.

    Rash judgement (3) is: There are many humans, myself included, who share Father X’s concerns. We all look with jealousy upon the celebrity priests and cantors and architects who seem to get all the choice places at the banquet tables! Only a superhero with our sentiments can smile at the neighboring parish and wish them well with their puppet show.

    Nothing harsh intended. Just some simple advice to make Father X’s life and work a little easier.


  16. Cathy Dawson says:

    Liturgical abuses do little harm? I think they can be gravely harmful. One
    problem is that we endure them for so long we can forget exactly what it is we
    are supposed to be doing at Mass. It becomes a weekly show to attend. That
    seems serious to me – not to mention the offense against God. I would think
    for priests and lay persons to see sacrilege occur and remain silent could be
    sinful. We need to stop seeing the reporting of liturgical abuses as
    “tattle-taling” and instead as the duty that it is. I hope the priest in
    Fr. Zs post gets some help from lay people to report the abuses so that he
    isn’t subjected to reprisal.

  17. “I had an elderly priest deny me communion for not extending my hand.”

    The good Father is wiser than I am. I probably would have — uh, handled it the old-fashioned way right after Mass. Not that I recommend this, of course…

  18. Limbo says:

    Liturgical abuse does immeasurable harm to Jesus and hasn’t He suffered enough ?

    We have a duty to defend the Church – for Christ’s sake.

  19. mike c says:

    any priest foolish enough to make a direct complaint, deserves the retaliation that will eventually come his way. He has a brilliant future in front of him, say as chaplain to the local maximum security prison. A suggestion above is most astute. Write a libellus, but have a close laic friend, whose is acquainted with the abuses sign and submit it.

  20. Paul Haley says:

    If I might suggest a tactic when writing, it would be to simply state at the beginning that you write in strictest confidence according to the applicable provisions of canon law and you have reason to fear reprisals for having written to the Congregation. Then, the onus for maintaining your privacy and/or any reprisals is on the Congregation itself and, if they do not, they are sinning grievously. In the end it matters not what they do to you but what you have done in justice and in truth. Either we have faith in the legitimate authority of the Pope and the bishops or we do not.

  21. LCB says:

    “hundred year old vestments…”

    Nothing wrong with that. :)

  22. CarpeNoctem says:

    If I may a bit toungue-in-cheek with Limbo, my guess is that Christ can more than take care of the Church and himself. But seriously, I am not sure that our abuses (and for that matter, our ignorance, our pride, and the other sins of our limited nature) do any actual harm to Jesus. Abuses may be offensive to God and they may harm the supernatural grace in our souls, but, consistent with the notion that the Sacrifice of the Altar is an “unbloody representation”, there is no harm that can be done to our Lord which has not already been suffered and redeemed. (There’s also the very tricky Eucharistic theology distinguishing between “physical presence” vs. “physically present” and the implications that has for ‘harm’ to the Eucharistic elements, but this would be a deep, dark rabbit hole to jump down…)

    Our duty to take care of the Church is a gift of the Spirit… the same Spirit who calls martyrs, prophets, and priests. I don’t know the nature of the abuses alluded to, above, so it is hard to say what the ‘right’ thing is objectively. I do remember a talk from a cardinal that said something to the effect of: we don’t volunteer for martyrdom, we are called to it.

    It would seem that even under persecution, there is a duty to protect life and limb up to the actual point of martyrdom, which I use as a metaphor for this priest. He has a precious gift in his priesthood, and to keep it free and unimpeded from a bishop who is bent on not supporting his ministry, it might be time to hide out in the catecombs for a while—ready to ‘die a martyr’s death’ at any time, but not intemperately ‘volunteering’ for such suffering.

    Anonymous letters are, I think, always worthless. Most priests, myself included, immediately and without reading them send unsigned anonymous letters to “File 13”. Anonymous letters often have no way of cross-checking facts or evaluating the accuser’s motivation… the writer is not willing to take responsibility for his/her words, and it is not worth my very limited psychic energies to deal with it. (As a pastor, I have more than enough problems that I can see and deal with effectively.) That being said, there is a place for pseudonymous correspondence… for instance, I do use a nom-de-blog in a public forum like this to protect my own priestly ministry and my parish. A penitent or other internal-forum correspondent should always write under a pseudonym. Might a big-city P.O. Box and a good pseudonym be a solution (at least at the start fo the process) for the problem at hand?

  23. Michael says:

    Father Z., with due respect I think your advice is of little help, because the Novus Ordo is incurable. The best evidence is the fear of harassment: priests who report abuses to Rome are looking for trouble.

    One can indeed produce an ideal celebration on the basis of what is in the existing legislation (Michael Davies claims in his The Pope Paul’s New Mass, published 1980, that a stream of some 200 legislative documents had poured out from Rome, and that was by the time of writing; so, there is enough to pick and choose), but it would be atypical. Ever since the NO was introduced there has been no shortage of documents complaining against “abuses”, culminating in Pope John Paul’s apology because of them, in his own name and in the name of the episcopate – a dead letter as we all know, even for the papal masses in some situations.

    In my view, the legislative documents, the process by which they were introduced, and the environment into which they were placed constitute an indivisible whole – and this is what the NO is all about – in which an abusive mentality is typical rather than exceptional, essential rather than accidental; and paradoxically in this context, an atypical, “ideal” celebration is considered to be an undesirable nuisance which is tolerated, rather than an ideal to be commended.

    Indeed, what kind of ideal is the Mass ad orientem if that is not how the Pope celebrates it?

    There is no such thing as a Mass in the abstract. The Missal and other documents are not the Mass. The Mass is what is actually celebrated, and it is difficult to find one without one “abuse” or another. That is what the NO is.

    Imagine one TLM each Sunday made mandatory in parishes, and the implementation entrusted to our liturgists. They would contaminate it with the NO elements, and introduce their own enrichments, so that it would soon change beyond recognition.

    It is impossible, in my view, to preserve it in the context of the present establishment. Its sole sanctuary today is the SSPX, exactly because it is a no go area for our liturgists. Regrettably, the SSPX adhere to their own, false notion of tradition, which makes reconciliation impossible.

  24. Tom says:

    David L. Alexander:

    He didn’t want to “discuss it.”

  25. Jordanes says:

    Father Z., with due respect I think your advice is of little help, because the Novus Ordo is incurable. . . .

    Sounds like another nominee for the Sour Grapes Award. . . .

  26. Patrick says:

    Related to the CDWDS,

    I have heard that the regulations for the current Book of Blessings apply to the Rituale Romanum. E.g., reserved blessings in the RR that are not reserved to Bishops in the BOB are also no longer reserved in the RR. Ergo, a Presbyter could consecrate a chalice in the Extraordinary Form, since he is able to do so in the Ordinary Form (it was possible with dispensation before).

    Does anyone have a source that confirms or negates this assessment?

  27. Trey says:

    Aren’t you supposed to kneel during the Eucharistic Prayer. That is rarely done in my diocese and it drives me crazy… I know some priests have told the parishioners NOT to kneel. Isn’t this an abuse?

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