Have media talking points been worked out about the PCED?

Keep your eyes peeled for a particular interpretation of the Pope’s intention expressed in his Letter of 12 March to bishops about the SSPX excommunications.

An assumption will now be advanced that the Pope is checking the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" with which His Holiness is displeased.

For example, John Thavis in his CNS piece writes:  "Third, [the Pope] put the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" on a shorter leash. By placing it under the control of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the pope effectively limited the commission’s ability to freelance agreements with traditionalist groups without proper attention to doctrinal differences."

Now I read that George Wiegel has predictably chimed in saying: "…there will be no more free-lancing from Ecclesia Dei, which had become a loose cannon careening around the ecclesial deck.  The reining in of Ecclesia Dei and its subordination to the Catholic Church’s principal doctrinal office also sends an important signal to the Levebvrist leadership,…"

It looks as if the talking points have been distributed.

I am not convinced that this is an accurate picture of what is happening, coordinated through it may seem to be.

Remember that the Pontifical Commission "Ecclesia Dei" was set up as an "ad hoc" commission, with a task and faculties.  The task and faculties must be modified according as exigencies require. Changing the task or structure of the PCED is not necessary a check or a reining-back.  The PCED exists at the pleasure of the Roman Pontiff for whatever purpose the Roman Pontiff aims it at.

The next step in the process with the SSPX is to set up a framework for discussion of the doctrine expressed in the Council’s documents.

Putting the PCED in closer alignment with the CDF would signal that the Holy See is serious about doctrinal talks, not necessarily that the Holy Father is displeased with the PCED.

Once Summorum Pontificum was in force in Sept. 2007 it seemed sensible to incorporate the PCED into the Congregation for Divine Worship.  I even had some conversation about that when not long ago I revisited the offices of the PCED where I once worked, lo those many years ago.

However, PCED no longer needs to issue faculties for the older Mass.  Summorum Pontificum took care of that.  If there are liturgical questions, I suppose the PCED could still respond or a new desk could be created in the CDWDS.  Summorum Pontificum designated the PCED as the reference point in disputes when priests don’t make the TLM available.  Let us keep in mind that in Sept. 2010, the three year period Pope Benedict mentioned to access Summorum Pontificum will come.  That may be the time for more restructuring.  It is the right time of year also, given the Curia’s annual ebb and flow.

I see the Holy Father’s comments about the PCED as being practical and purposeful rather than punitive.  The next step must be doctrinal talks.  The Holy Father stressed doctrine not discipline as the distinct obstacle.  It is entirely reasonable that the PCED should now work even more closely than it has in the past with the CDF, especially when Pope Benedict was still its Prefect.  They are even housed in the same building, the Palazzo del Sant’Uffizio.

Furthermore, it is hard to say that a Cardinal retiring at 80 would be because of the Pope’s displeasure for what he did or didn’t do.  All the Presidents of the PCED stepped down at 80 years old.  That is the way things work.  They lose their vote in the conclave and they don’t hold offices.

It is popular right now to scapegoat Cardinal Castrillon.  Whatever his role in the mishandling of the steps leading to the lifting of the excommunications may be, he was not as lonely a wolf as he is portrayed by many.  I understand that there was, in fact, some consultation of a group of curial heads before the lifting of the excommunication.  If something went wrong, and a target was needed, it is not hard to imagine that someone such as, say, the sostituto might work to keep the blame focused on a single point to be burned.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Well said Fr. Zuhsldorf.

    It is easy to find a scapegoat, but difficult to refrain from uncharitable analysis and commentary. You certainly are a fine example of how to be balanced and charitable in your posts.

  2. Athelstane says:

    I’m curious what “free-lancing” Weigel has in mind.

  3. “Let us keep in mind that in Sept. 2010, the three year period Pope Benedict mentioned to access Summorum Pontificum will come”

    I plead ignorance please explain the above, what happens after Sept 2010, does the Summorum Pontificum expire or what?

  4. Brian Mershon says:

    Weigel is really wrapped up in his own mistaken worldview and just can’t seem to get out of it.

    Per Weigel, nearly everyone is a schismatic–formal or informal–except for himself. And his criticisms of the Pope on the lifting of the excommunications were an obvious example of what the Pope criticized and pleaded against in his letter.


    Weigel’s column needs to be FISKED. He is out of line!

  5. Brian: Weigel’s column needs to be FISKED.

    Working on it.

  6. Dear Fr. Zuhlsdorf,

    I think the idea of a shorter leash is not entirely incorrect – though the shorter leash is not meant as a punishment. If the HF had wanted to punish Card. Castrillon, he would have fired him, or disbanded the PCED, or reorganized it more radically.

    I think we ought to take the Pope at his word: SP foreclosed the question of liturgical discipline; the issues outstanding are essentially doctrinal, and so the move to CDF makes perfect sense. [Pretty much what I said, right?]

    I would add that the HF’s letter leaves an awful lot of breathing room for resolving the doctrinal differences. His statement to the effect that the Conciliar teaching not only presupposes, but contains the constant teaching of the Church, if it falls on open ears connected to sufficiently softened hearts, will go a long way.


  7. Yeah, we’re on the same page. I was commenting on John’s essay, rather than on your comments. [ins. adjective here] minds think alike? :-)


  8. GordonBOPS says:

    Weigel goes from the biographer of one Pope to a harsh critic of the next. . . he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

  9. Dear Brian Mershon and GordonBOPS,

    I think George’s remarks on NRO miss the mark – uncharacteristically – vis a vis the PCED. I simply do not know what “free-lancing” he has in mind. That said, his honesty and good will are unassailable. Good people make mistakes sometimes.


  10. Jordanes says:

    Okay, I think Weigel’s take on the alignment of Ecclesia Dei with the CDF is all wrong, but having read his column, I can’t see any evidence of harsh criticism of Pope Benedict in it. There’s a little bit of quite mild and gentle criticism, but nothing harsh. I’ve never read anything of Weigel’s that could be described as harsh criticism of Pope Benedict. He doesn’t seem to have too many disagreements with the Holy Father’s papacy, though on the liturgy and the SSPX his opinions are a bit out of step with the Pope’s.

  11. Ottaviani says:

    … though on the liturgy and the SSPX his [Weigel] opinions are a bit out of step with the Pope’s.

    An understatement?

  12. Jordanes says:

    Not that I can see. Neither the Holy Father nor Weigel think what Msgr. Lefebvre did in 1988 was right, and both agree that the Church is right to apply a harsh medicine in such cases. But Weigel thinks the SSPX is formally schismatic, which is understandable given what the Vatican has said on that subject in the past, whereas the Holy Father does not go quite that far. Both understand that the matter of the Vatican II and post-conciliar magisterium is central to the question of whether or not the SSPX and its members can ever be recognised by the Church and their ministry approved. Both disagree theologically if not doctrinally with the SSPX, and on that score Weigel and Pope Benedict do not seem to disagree much if at all (particularly in matters of religious liberty and ecumenism). On the question of the liturgy, I think Weigel is somewhat less interested in the pre-Vatican II liturgy than the Pope is, but even there the Pope’s approach and preferences in matters of liturgy are apparently much closer to Weigel’s than to the SSPX. So no, I don’t think my words were an understatement.

  13. caleb1x says:

    As easily as one could say that the PED is being “reigned in,” one could also say that the CDF is receiving an influx of orthodoxy. Spin, spin, spin.

  14. Athelstane says:

    1. Liturgy is not on Weigel’s radar screen in the way it is, say, here, to be sure. He has made his share of criticism of progressive liturgical abuses, and he seems to “get” most of Summorum Pontificum’s purposes, as Fr. Z has noted (notwithstanding the occasional cracks about nostalgia for lace). But a reasonably reverently celebrated novus ordo is adequate for him.

    2. Unfortunately, Weigel does not go into any detail about what “free-lancing” the PCED has been up to, and so it’s hard to unpack his analysis of what this move really means and whether it has any substance to it – versus the interpretation of Fr. Z, which seems more likely to me at this moment.

    3. Says Weigel: “The unmistakable implication is that there will be no reconciliation or restoration of full communion until the Lefebvrist leadership acknowledges Vatican II as an authentic expression of Catholic faith.” Unfortunately this begs the question of just what “acknowledges” means. To be sure some SSPXers seem to disavow the Council altogether but their official line stops short of that, and recent comments suggest that some nominal recognition of the Council as a valid one is on the table. How much more will the Pope seek? Weigel doesn’t explore that. Neither does Thavis.

    There are some stern words for SSPX in this letter, but there are also some warm ones as well, and neither Thavis or Weigel draw that out. I think that is important, because it’s important to realize why the Pope believes reconciliation is so important.

    4. Finally, some random slips from Weigel: For the moment, however, the Rottweiler Brigade has been put in its place – I doubt that, alas – a major flaw in the Roman bureaucracy has been fixed; – it’s not quite clear to me this was a “major flaw” or that much has really been fixed – the Church has been reminded of the dynamic relationship between tradition and development in Catholic self-understanding; – I think that relationship is more dynamic in Weigel’s eyes than it is in those of some here, but either way it will be central to the doctrinal discussions about to take place – Catholics living in both formal and informal schism have been told, politely but firmly, that they are impeding the Church’s mission – Could he mean progressive dissenters when he says “informal” schism? Because I think that’s a plausible reading of the Pope’s letter, which is (I think) tougher on his progressive (dare I say modernist) critics than on the SSPX.

    I’ll leave the rest to the more capable hands of Fr. Z.

  15. Lauren F. says:

    Comment by Athelstane:

    “4. Finally, some random slips from Weigel: ‘For the moment, however, the Rottweiler Brigade has been put in its place…’

    Is Weigel referring to the Pope’s supporters as “the Rottweiler Brigade”? It would seem not by the quote (and I would hope not), but I am scratching my head at the use of the phrase “Rottweiler Brigade.” The claim can go both ways; the Pope’s supporters have been put in their place by the uproar. The Pope’s opponents have been put in their place by the Pope. But why call the Pope’s opponents “the Rottweiler Brigade”? I don’t know, it just stuck out to me as name which has been used to insult the Pope quite often. Anyone know?

  16. Rellis says:

    I had the opportunity to interview Weigel for a student newspaper at CUA, and have since emailed him every few years. In an interview on C-SPAN about a year ago, he said that the job of re-sanctifying the liturgy has been accomplished, and implied that we should move onto other things.

    I emailed him, and remarked that he was “remarkably sanguine” about the sanctity of the modern liturgy. It’s really his blind spot. He has no clue.

    That being said, he’s a great defender of mainstream, orthodox, Catholic theology. For that, he has few equals. It’s just that the readers of this blog (myself included) can’t count on him as a reliable ally on our “vote-moving issue.”

  17. Merriweather says:


    He’s referring to trads and I think he completely misreads the pope on that point. It was the libs who were being rebuked for the most part, Weigel included.

  18. Fr Paul McDonald says:

    But Father, but Father !
    Isn’t criticising George Weigel tantamount to criticizing John Paul the Great, which is like criticizing the Lord himself ?

  19. Basil says:

    What has happened to Cardinal Castrillon-Hoyos? Has he said or written anything following the ‘Williamson affair’?

  20. Ottaviani says:

    Which one is to be Jordanes?

    First you say that liturgically speaking his, “opinions are a bit out of step with the Pope’s” and then say, “… the Pope’s approach and preferences in matters of liturgy are apparently much closer to Weigel’s than to the SSPX” ??

    Anyone who has read Msgr. Gamber’s Reform of the Roman Liturgy will know the glowing introduction that Pope Benedict wrote for it, as the then Cardinal Ratzinger. Weigel would never ever agree, let alone come to the same conclusions, as Msgr. Gamber on the liturgy as well as the church at large after Vatican II. For him, Vatican II is like the new-Pentecost and John Paul II is the best thing that has ever happened to the church.

    The very fact that Weigel offers helpful comments such as the PCED being a “loose cannon” (despite the fact that we know that Cardinal Hoyos informs the Pope of every single minute detail, of what happens between him and the SSPX) show his attitude to the whole process. Weigel would rather have the SSPX out because of their potential to remind him that not everything was great and jolly-hockey sticks in the pontificate of John Paul II.

  21. Brian Mershon says:

    Chris, George Weigel and some his closer priest friends have been making Cardinal Castrillon out to be a troublemaker and loose cannon for quite some time.

    His snide remarks about the PCED and Cardinal Castrillon in this article and his previous article and interviews in the NY Times after the lifting of the excommunications are all I need to know about him. He is stuck in the John Paul the Great days and cannot get out of them.

    And when has he ever done any serious theology. He writes lots of columns that are syndicated and appear in lots of outlets, but where’s the beef?

    No. George Weigel is no friend of Tradition.

  22. CDN Canonist says:

    I’m not sure what to make of the PCED being attached to the CDF. This is not merely a case of the Holy See becoming aware that doctrinal issues are at the core of the SSPX issue. Recall that it was Ratzinger, as prefect of the CDF, that coordinated relations with Lefebvre before the excommunications.

    The task of the PCED was not merely to issue “faculties” or resolve minor liturgical isses. Rather, it was charged with facilitating full ecclesiastical communion (See Ecclesia Dei, 6a). It seems that the Holy Father has recognized that the congregation most capable of achieving full communion is the CDF, not the PCED.

  23. CDN Canonist says:

    It is also important to point out that the Holy Father has merely indicated his intent to reconfigure the PCED. We’ll have to wait and see how this will be juridically configured. Will it be an identifiable commission under the direction of the CDF, much like the Pontifical Biblical Commission, or will it be entirely supressed? It isn’t clear at this point. One thing seems certain, however: it will no longer function with the same decree of autonomy that it now enjoys.

    It was pointed out that the PCED exists at the pleasure of the Roman Pontiff. Yes, that is true, but this is also the case for ALL agencies of the Roman Curia. The intended reconfiguration may not be punative, but it doesn’t seem to be a vote of confidence.

  24. Boston Architect says:

    [I posted the following questions in an earlier post.
    The following questions are perhaps more germaine here.]

    I do have some questions about the complexity of rolling
    the PCED into the CDF. What of us folks who were never
    part of the SSPX, but whose spirituality has been
    nurtured by the availability of the ancient Roman Mass
    under the 1988 Indult? Many many people young and old
    have been profoundly formed by this. This letter
    addresses an understanding that the existance of the
    Indult was primarily directed to those who identify with
    the SSPX.

    What of others? Could this undermine our work where the
    SSPX as little effective presence? Could this renew
    excuses to limit the EF in places where this is the case?
    Is it possible former PCED folks will be tasked to
    continue their wider pastoral mission under the banner
    of the CDF?

    I thought I would throw these questions out there. I
    suspect it may be a bit premature to get clear answers
    and perhaps a clarification will address this at a
    later date.

  25. Jordanes says:

    Ottaviani said: First you say that liturgically speaking his, “opinions are a bit out of step with the Pope’s” and then say, “… the Pope’s approach and preferences in matters of liturgy are apparently much closer to Weigel’s than to the SSPX” ??

    Yes. I fail to see how my statements are in conflict, nor in error. The Pope can be closer to Weigel liturgically than he is to the SSPX and yet Weigel could still be a bit out of step with the Pope.

  26. Sal says:

    “On the question of the liturgy, I think Weigel is somewhat less interested in the pre-Vatican II liturgy than the Pope is, but even there the Pope’s approach and preferences in matters of liturgy are apparently much closer to Weigel’s than to the SSPX.”

    Jordanes, you’re making an assumption here. Given the firestorm that broke out after Pope Benedict lifted the SSPX excommunications, I think you might be able to understand why the Holy Father might have been holding off on celebrating the Gregorian Rite.

    There’s no evidence to suggest that Benedict and Weigel are remotely close in their understandings of the importance of the liturgy and the sanctification of the NO.

  27. GordonBOPS says:

    Here’s another article/data point regarding Weigle– it is from The Remnant, but you can see a little more on Weigle’s point of view.

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