How to write to the Holy See about liturgical abuses or anything else

Damian Thompson over at Holy Smoke has a post about how to write to the Holy See.   You can go to Damian’s place to read the many comments.

An anonymous post that orthodox Catholics should read

An anonymous Holy Smoke reader describing himself as "a person of some influence" in the Catholic Church has written a fascinating post offering advice on how the faithful should respond to the liturgical atrocity planned to mark "Youth Sunday" next month. I am fairly sure that the author is a senior cleric with direct experience of the Vatican and that he is indeed writing from a position of authority. So here is his post, which urges caution but also points the way towards victory over the fanatical liberals who have hijacked Church agencies.

[Here is the post Damian received.]

I wish I could tell you who I am, but I am a person of some influence and a regular Holy Smoke reader. It is rare that I post on a site but I feel I should add some comments to urge caution in how we tackle this matter.

"Youth Sunday" resources are seen by very few people. If we whip up a storm they will be seen by thousands more. The agency of the Bishops’ Conference responsible for youth work was disbanded this year, largely in response to an assessment that it was ineffectual, especially in its communications. If we make this issue very visible, we will do their publicity work for them, and that is no good thing. The success of Weaving the Web was as much on the back of the publicity generated by attacks against it, as by the efficacy of its publisher.

Writing to the CDW [Congregation for Divine Worship] is worthwhile. Keep letters simple and to the point. Do not make assumptions and accusations you cannot substantiate. Tell them why you are upset but try to avoid campaigning. And PLEASE DON’T tell them how to do their job. Including evidence can be helpful, but they will check everything anyway once pointed in the right direction so don’t worry too much[Does this advice sound familiar?  Go HERE.]
Don’t worry if only a few people appear to be complaining. Many more will complain without noting the fact on Holy Smoke. In any case, the Vatican do not care about numbers. An issue is an issue and they will take notice. Petitions and perceived shows of strength just annoy them.

In structuring a letter, my advice would be to stick to the liturgical abuse factor. Don’t quote Church documents at them. They know what the rules are. I would also avoid trying to link the issues we have with this event to every single other cause that is dear to us. So maybe criticising every organisation that has any link to the material in question is a fight to be had another day. The liturgy fight is the big one. If we win that, the others will start to fall like dominos.

Once you have complained, you shouldn’t necessarily expect a reply and you definitely shouldn’t expect the Bishops of England & Wales to be publicly told off. If there is a fight to be had between Rome and Eccleston Square over this issue, it will be played out very privately. Your best measure of success will be this time next year when a very different set of resources is published.

One final word to the wise. I would counsel very very strongly against any kind of direct action. Clearly the pace of change is troublesome to many, but we are making headway in a manner that we could only have dreamed about five years ago and we are building a position far stronger than the Bishops realise. Fr. Z’s saying "brick by brick" is very apt. As each new brick is laid, the pace will only pick up.

Direct action however will set us in direct and open opposition to the hierarchy and we are not strong enough to handle that at present. It will set the work back by years, if not decades. I cannot make this point clearly enough. Indeed it is my reason for posting.

I do not intend on publishing more posts, but I will read replies.


I have written about writing on several occasions.

Here is some of my previously posted advice:

Here are good tips for writing to the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" (or any other office of the Vatican) and an address:

  • BE BRIEF. Make your letter no longer than one side of one sheet of paper.
  • Avoid writing long-hand.  Make it easy to read.
  • 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 relevent 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.

Remember: if you tell a story, it is hearsay.  It really helps to have proofs.  If something happens to you personally, it would help your cause if other people also wrote letters in which they describe what they saw and heard.  These would then be included with your own letter. 

Vatican offices generally can’t do much more than make a simple inquiry unless they are presented with some sort of evidence.  This also goes for writing to bishops, though in that case bishops can more easily make inquiries.   This is why it is always good to work your way UP the chain of authority: pastor first, then bishop, and finally the Holy See, remember that every Catholic always and at any time has the right to go directly to the Holy See.  But if you work your way up the chain, you have more of a paper trail and, perhaps, more proofs to offer that the Holy See should take interest.  This is common sense.

Therefore, always keep copies of everything.

For matters having to do strictly with the the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite, write to:

His Eminence
Dario Card. Castrillon Hoyos
President of the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei"
Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio

If you want to know why I think these are good tips, I worked at the P.C. "Ecclesia Dei" for some time. 

This is personal experience.

For more general liturgical abuses or matters dealing strictly with the Ordinary Forum of the Roman Rite, write to:

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

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    I agree with these guidelines, unless by “direct action” the author meant that recourse should be avoided. In cases where the problem is a violation of the rights of the faithful in the context of the liturgy recourse is appropriate and important in keeping justice in the Church; faithful being denied communion based on licit posture, faithful being required to be of a certain age above the age of reason to receive confirmation, etc. should be handled as recourses and swiftly.

    Consult a canonist, but the standard format of facts, law, argument, and conclusion with request (the great acronym PQM in Italian, per questi motivi) should be followed. Even with a recourse, however, stick to the basics and inject no emotion. But by all means you have to ask for something or you won’t get anything.

  2. The only problem I have with this advice (and it’s a small problem), is that some parenthetical reference to an abuse is often useful in pinpointing matters for officials who, while knowledgeable, have to plow through a ton of correspondence every day. Simply to mention the abuse, followed by, as an example…

    (Inaestimabile donum, 99)

    …keeps the issue focused, and certainly does not insult the reader’s intelligence. It is also very much to the point, I should think. It also makes sure the sender has his own facts straight.

  3. Matt Q says:

    Does it really matter to write? I understand one will get a pious form letter in reply with a stamped name at the bottom but no action is ever taken. As we can see from the numerous posts on this blog the abuses, silliness and false religion continue on in the parishes and elsewhere. The right of having the Tridentine Mass made available to the Faithful is still denied with no plausible explanation. So, what’s the point?

    Bottom line, failure to act is negligent and getting their cassocks in bunch because someone wrote them a very strong letter is rather vein. Yes, granted, we are dealing with a group of old men whom deal mainly with concepts rather real-world experiences, but in the end it’s their souls and the souls of others which are at stake by their inaction. If they don’t take that seriously, nothing else we can do about it.

  4. Jeff Pinyan says:

    Here’s the letter I wrote back in August to the CDWDS:

    Greetings, Your Eminence. I have a question in two parts concerning a custom found in various parishes and dioceses of the United States of America: the blessing of non-communicants during the Communion procession. Briefly stated, this custom consists of a non-communicant presenting himself (often with his arms crossed over his chest with his hands on his shoulders) before a minister of Holy Communion and receiving a blessing of some sort, e.g.: “May God bless you” or a gesuture such as the Sign of the Cross on the his forehead.

    1. Is this a custom that is within the faculty of a pastor, the local Ordinary, or a Bishops’ Conference to establish? That is, is this custom something that can be regulated without recourse to this Congregation?

    2. Are there particular guidelines or restrictions, from the Congregation, as to a) which ministers of Holy Communion may give these blessings, and b) what forms these blessings may take?

    I remain faithfully your brother in Christ our Lord.

    Jeffrey Pinyan

  5. Scott says:

    I recently wrote to the CDW about problems in my Diocese and I received a very warm response and was assured the matters would be investigated. Surprisingly, the reply came within a matter of days. It is well worth the time and effort to write. I kept my letter short and to the point and let the facts speak for themselves.

  6. Animadversor says:

    Gosh, Jeff, “Greetings, Your Eminence” sounds like the start of a letter from His Eminence’s draft board! How about simply “Your Eminence” or maybe “Most Eminent and Most Reverend Lord” or “My Lord Cardinal.” For the closing, you really can’t lose with “I have the honour to kiss the Sacred Purple and to be Your Eminence’s most humble and devoted servant.” It worked for Newman.

  7. Matt Q says:

    Scott wrote:

    “I recently wrote to the CDW about problems in my Diocese and I received a very warm response and was assured the matters would be investigated. Surprisingly, the reply came within a matter of days. It is well worth the time and effort to write. I kept my letter short and to the point and let the facts speak for themselves.”


    Great you got a reply, Scott, but that’s not the point. Keep in mind, when they say an “investigation,” that’s just a buzz word to make you feel better, not that anything is really happening. Were you told they would keep you apprised of the results? Have you seen any results? In reality, your reply letter is just a souvenir.

  8. Kradcliffe says:

    So, Matt… what would your constructive advice be?

    Two people who seem to be in a position to know (the anonymous poster at Holy Smoke and Fr Z *who used to work at the PCED*) have said that writing polite, to-the-point letters can be effective, even if you don’t see the results immediately on the surface.

  9. Flabellum says:

    As Fr Z has remarked, don’t expect public denunciations from the curia; the letter of enquiry that lands on the bishop’s desk with its curial headed notepaper will let him know that his actions (OR OMISSIONS) do not go unobserved.

  10. Jordanes says:

    Matt Q claimed: Does it really matter to write? I understand one will get a pious form letter in reply with a stamped name at the bottom but no action is ever taken.

    Really? No action ever taken? Tell that to the family who wanted their child to receive confirmed at a younger age than the diocesan policy, even though the child was properly disposed to receive the sacrament and canon law demands that the faithful never be denied the sacraments when they ask for them and are properly disposed. They wrote to the CDW, who wrote a nice letter to the bishop, ordering him to comply with the canons. Thanks to that family, now everyone who wants a child confirmed when he is ready instead of waiting until 8th grade or high school can just pull out that letter if the parish staff or bishop tries to give them grief.

    Remember that the CDW handles letters from all over the world. These things take time, and often enough they just can’t be handled publicly. Be patient, and understand that the Church may not solve a problem in a style that you’d prefer. The main thing is that they address the problem.

  11. Calleva says:

    I suggest you guys go to Holy Smoke and see what the anonymous guidance was in aid of. The last three posts will show you.

    What I think is rather sad is that some of the more excitable posters on Holy Smoke think that the anonymous message is a liberal plant. Libs under the bed, anyone?

  12. Matt Q says:

    Folks, if writing letters make you feel good. Go for it. As much as you say what results you’ve gotten or heard of, we have written countless polite letters yada-yada to Rome about the horrid conditions here perpetuated by Fearless Leader Kim Jong Mahony Il. Still no change with Tridentine Masses not being allowed in the parishes, the weird stuff he thinks is Catholicism… I have a list but pointless here.

    I had also heard by word of mouth that as long as the Mahony regime is in power the re-translation of the Mass in English will not be allowed. I asked my pastor this and he stiffened up ( probably came from him ) and gave us that polite brush-off, “Uh well the Cardinal hasn’t said anything one way or the other.” Hello. We’re going on two months now. He was further asked about the ministry teams looking over the new texts to help us get an understanding of the new wording. His reply to that was people can do that on their own. See. The point is subtle but quite clearly there. NO. Forget it. Just as we asked about the EF Masses. We even offered to invite a priest in to say the Mass. If you could have seen his body language, you will know what I am talking about.

    Insofar as what is happening here in Los Angeles and what isn’t, don’t talk to me about anything. You have no clue. Mahony has good friends in the Vatican too and that’s also why things get “overlooked” here. This may come as a shock to people but the Vatican is like liquid, it follows the path of least resistance and truth or falsehood be ****!

    In reply to questions about what I suggest we do, pray and ask for perseverance because the Church is not interested relieving the Faithful. It’s been far too long and far too little is being done about. While others are doing great things now with the issuance of Summorum Pontificum, it’s the refusal, the denial in other areas which roil people. Understandably.

  13. Jordanes says:

    Matt Q. said: I had also heard by word of mouth that as long as the Mahony regime is in power the re-translation of the Mass in English will not be allowed.

    In two years, four months, and a fortnight, there will no longer be Mahony regime that could disobey the Church’s law. That’s probably about how long it will take the re-translation of the Mass in English to be finished, approved by the U.S. bishops, modified by Rome, and finally sent out with the Pope’s recognitio. It will be out with the old and in with the new, and Cardinal Mahony will be able to do nothing to stop it.

    This may come as a shock to people but the Vatican is like liquid, it follows the path of least resistance and truth or falsehood be ****!

    Yes, the prelates and clergy in the Vatican labor under the same residual effects of original sin as the rest of us, but the Holy Spirit is still at work and has not abandoned you. Take courage, Matt!

  14. Paul M says:

    Hey Matt,

    I’m in the LA Archdiocese as well and yeah, nothing seems to be changing. Since things don’t always happen on our schedule but in God’s time, there is essentially 3 ways to deal with it. (1) be angry and frustrated. (I tried that for a while and it hurt how I actually live out my faith.) (2) Do nothing (and that’ exactly what happens), or (3) keep working at it and do what you can do – influence what and who you can influence. (Yeah, that means talking to people, writing letters, etc. without many outward signs of success. But then again, Fr. Z says “brick by brick” not “leap by leap”) Oh. And pray. Alot. Even if our prayers are not answered in our timeframe, we must not cease praying.

    Look, we may not have the big success stories of the kind Fr. Z and the NLM have posted on, but there are rays of light. We have 2 of them here in the south county (SS Peter & Paul & St. Peter Chanel) and I know there will be more within 2.5 years. The more good seeds we plant now, the bigger the harvest in 2011. That year the archbishops of SF and LA turn 75, as well as the bishop of Orange. The bishop of Fresno turn 75 in 2012, with the bishop of SD following a year later. Change is coming (and I fervently pray for the continued good health of the Holy Father and that his guardian angel maintains constant vigilance).

    In short, all is not lost. Keep up your efforts. There are more people here than you think who want the change you want and continue to work to achieve it.

  15. Calleva says:

    Paul, you assume that the episcopal replacements will be sound. I hope this turns out to be the case. So far in the UK, the appointments of B16 have not been encouraging.

    However, there was recent unrest among orthodox Catholics about a Mgr nominated for a Welsh bishopric. It appears that the Vatican has listened as he wasn’t appointed.

    The anonymous letter quoted by Fr Z is from someone with influence and he believes that letters written in the right way can get results.

    I agree that prayer is the only solution, and that it might be answered in the longterm. To misquote the old line: Rome won’t be rebuilt in a day.

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