QUAERITUR: Why won’t the bishop let a priest come to say the TLM?

From a reader:

Can my Bishop refuse to allow a priest from another diocese to say the TLM in our parish? Our priest needs someone to cover the Latin Mass during the summer and a priest from an another diocese volunteered to assist. Quite generous and magnanimous!

However, apparently the bishop denied permission. Can he do that and if so why would he? Are some clerics that intimidated by the TLM? If so, why???

Are some clerics “intimidated” by the Traditional Latin Mass?  Of course they are!  What a question.  And you know why.

But that is not of the essence here.

The blunt answer is, yes, the bishop can in fact refuse to allow a priest from outside the diocese to come in and take over regular celebrations of Mass in a parish of the diocese.

Now I shall put on my stern face and warn you – whether you need it or not  – not to stick your nose too far into this because, frankly, it isn’t your business and too much speculation can be harmful to the priest, call him Fr. X, indeed the whole situation in the parish.

Some people love to bzzz bzzz bzzz about priests and bishops and they can do a lot of harm to them even when they don’t mean to.

That said, this is a chance to clarify some things about priests and faculties to say Mass, and visiting parishes, and so forth.

You must understand is that if a bishop determines that Fr. X is not to say Mass in the diocese, that is not to be automatically assumed to be punitive.  It might look like it is (and it may be, in fact), but, on the face of it, withholding of a permission or faculties is not automatically to be assumed as punitive.

But this is not really a matter of Fr. X having faculties.

The travelling/visiting priest, Fr. X, would already have faculties to offer Mass through his institute or diocese.  According to canon 903, a priest who has faculties should be presumed to be able to celebrate Mass in any diocese.  If the local pastor doesn’t know the priest already, he should ascertain whether he has faculties to say Mass, preach, hear sacramental confessions, etc.

In this situation, however, we are not just talking about a visiting priest saying Mass, a one time or occasional event, but rather a priest assuming responsibility regularly to say Mass in a place on a steady basis.  This is where the local diocesan bishop has a role of oversight.

The bishop has the obligation and the right to oversee the liturgy in his diocese. There may be good reasons for a bishop not to want a particular priest (or any priest for that matter) to come in from outside to take over a regular Mass in his diocese at a particular place.

Why would a bishop not want that?  Only that bishop can answer that.   And this is where my warning at the top comes into play.

Idle speculation as to the bishop’s motives would be contrary to Christian charity, unless there are other public reasons which give insight about his actions.   It may be that the bishop know things about the priest, or about the situation in that parish, which would make his decision not only reasonable, but justifiable.  Maybe the bishop has some positive plan of his own.

Do not leap to assume ill will or bad motives when it comes to these complicated cases.

The situation on the ground for priests who visit or travel can be pretty complicated in light of the clerical sexual abuse crisis of a few years back.  Lawyers, et al., and basic prudence, now require loads of paperwork and background checks and so forth for every priest who so much as sneezes in a diocese.  It is all rather unjust and tedious and humiliating, but it is what it is and we all have to bear with it for now.  Sometimes it take a while to get everything worked out.

The bottom line is: don’t leap to bad conclusions about what is going on and don’t go tattling and gossiping about this either.  Let the parish priest and the visiting priest and the local bishop work things out.

Generally they do work out over time and in a positive way.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Priests and Priesthood, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Giuseppe says:

    Your pastor cannot find a sub from within the diocese? That says a lot. Granted, summer is a tough time, but there should be more than one priest able to say the TLM.

    You might use this as an opportunity to ask your bishop to support the training of other diocesan priests in the TLM.

  2. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    FrZ: “Do not leap to assume ill will or bad motives when it comes to these complicated cases.”

    Amen, Amen, and I say again, Amen.

  3. iPadre says:

    Well said Fr. Z. People fail to realize various aspects of a situation. One Mass celebrated by a priest can undo the hard work of installing a reverent attitude in a parish. I had one who joked throughout the Mass. The people loved him. I love to joke around, but the Mass was not the place for his antics. Trust your pastor and your bishop. They know what you don’t about the situation. And you bishop may know more about the priest, than your pastor does, but its just no one’s business to know.

  4. wolfeken says:

    Interestingly the ecclesiastical oversight of non-diocesan priests never seems to apply to Jesuit parishes or colleges.

    Perhaps the reader could find a member of the Society of Jesus to offer the TLM to avoid the bishop’s concern about having a traditional priest step into his diocese.

    [Ahhhh sarcasm!]

  5. MichaelJ says:

    Would it be proper, in this case, to (politely, of course) ask the Bishop why he chose to deny permission? Do the faithful even have the right to know?

    [I would stay out of it.]

  6. jflare says:

    I would suggest that if the intended visiting priest would be coming to a parish that didn’t already offer the traditional Mass, the bishop might well have ample cause for concern.
    I’d like to see the EF spread too, but I’d point out that my interest HAS been rather an acquired taste, not something that I eagerly sought on my own originally. Pope Benedict really threw me when Summorum Pontificum arrived in 2007.

    Odd though it may sound, allowing a visiting priest to offer Mass at a parish that’s not acquainted with the traditional Mass..might manage to have the ironic impact of inflicting scandal.

    Weird, isn’t it?

  7. Kathleen10 says:

    It is unfair and rotten, that any priest should have to pass muster by being approved of fifty ways and provide enough information to prove to everyone that he is not a homosexual predator just waiting to get children alone. Horrible, and I pine for they old days when, to our minds, every priest and Bishop was as pure as the driven snow. I said, to our minds. They had their faults, like we did, but, they were clergy and just by being clergy they deserved and got tremendous respect and appreciation. Then, we all found out what was going on, not only with young boys but in seminaries. Not an true anomaly, unfortunately, it was a disease and too many had it.
    Now, poor clergy who have devoted their lives to God’s service for love of Him have to practically be frisked at the door of the church, and it must be upsetting. Has to be, at times.
    But I would much prefer that to one child being touched one time by one priest. All these ill effects are thanks to men who had no right to be priests in the first place, and the people who put them there and kept them there. Thanks to all of you!
    Hopefully seminaries are now concerned more with admittance to seminary of men who are healthy and rightly-ordered in self-development and orientation, and not with torturing good men by forcing upon them feminism and a wink to homosexuality, or a cheer!
    Mary, help all our good priests and guide seminaries.

  8. DavidR says:

    Thanks for the timely warning, Fr. Z. It behooves us all to mind our own business, doesn’t it?

  9. frjim4321 says:


    I have a wedding in Cleveland this summer and the paperwork is RIDICULOUS!

    A priest needs a “Suitability to Minister Letter” to act as presider in another diocese.

    My impression is that said letter is NOT require to concelebrate, but it would be necessary to receive vows at a word service.

    With regard to the unreformed liturgy I could see a bishop turning it down if the priest was not suitably trained, or if he thought the liturgy could cause some kind of pastoral harm. Also possible, the priest could be disallowed because of the religious order he belongs to, for example we don’t allow Legionaires to function in this diocese.

  10. frjim4321 says:

    PS: Having to get a suitability letter is very demeaning.

  11. Austin Catholics says:

    Very sensible response, Father Z.

  12. Random Friar says:

    My province sends out a Letter of Good Standing, complete with, yes, a whole section on completing abuse prevention/recognition training and certification, moral reputation, etc. This is even though I regularly visit back home, and the priest knows me. One copy to the ordinary of the diocese, one copy to the parish where I will help at/reside, and one copy for my person. If I need or wish to celebrate at another parish in the same diocese, it seems enough for the pastor where I reside to vouch for me (and they can always call the chancery).

    Some places require that you be fingerprinted by -their- system, others that you complete -their- sexual abuse certification program. It’s easier to get a Top Secret security clearance sometimes.

    But it does confirm what many have suspected all along: I am, indeed, certifiable.

  13. jflare says:

    “Lawyers, et al., and basic prudence, now require loads of paperwork and background checks and so forth for every priest who so much as sneezes in a diocese.”

    Regrettably, much of the same regimen also applies to lay volunteers who might conceivably need to interact with a youngster for even five minutes.
    I suspect it does put rather a damper on the degree that people are willing to get involved in anything approaching an official capacity. [D’ya think? There is something so endearing about those criminal background checks.]

  14. Hank Igitur says:

    Clearly someone has hit a nerve here. [What ever this is, it isn’t “clear”. That is why a lot of speculation is a bad idea.]

  15. billy says:

    Father z is spot on! MYOB!

  16. frjim4321 says:

    Wow that concerns me. Do you think I could be denied a letter because I am not up to date on the Virtus updates?

    What a pain. I guess this is what happens when we put the insurance companies in charge.

    [And don’t forget lawyers… lots of lawyers. Yes, it is possible. That is a check box that should be ticked. But it also should be possible to arrange something at the chancery and get it done quickly if need be. Bring strong coffee.]

  17. robtbrown says:


    With regard to the unreformed liturgy I could see a bishop turning it down if the priest was not suitably trained, or if he thought the liturgy could cause some kind of pastoral harm.

    Too bad that the possibility of “pastoral harm” wasn’t considered 50 years ago when it was decided that mass was to be said in the vernacular, facing the people.

    Well, better late than never.

  18. Cafea Fruor says:

    Yes, yes, yes. Speculation and jumping to conclusions, as well as the ensuing gossip, have to stop. I’m a chancery employee, and I can see how much damage to a bishop’s or a priest’s reputation that speculation and gossip can do. And it seriously annoys me how often people ask me our bishop’s motives , as if it were their right to know, and as if I’d break confientiality to tell them! All gossip does it pit the bishop against the people in their minds, as if he were their enemy, and decrease the amount of trust people are willing to put in him, which, as I see it, is an affront to his spiritual fatherhood over his diocese.

    For instance, one of the big ones is, after clergy assignments come out following ordinations: “Why did Bishop transfer Fr. So-and-So from St. Someone Church to Our Lady of Somewhere Parish when everything seemed to be going so well? How unjust!” People always want to assume the worst intentions of the bishop, but don’t assume that Father So-and-So is involved in some scandal or that the bishop thinks he’s too orthodox/heterodox/whatever. Really, it can be something as simple as Fr. So-and-So just being deathly allergic to mold in the rectory or to the pastor’s cat, or something else that’s really not the business of the entire diocese to know.

    Granted, bishops can have their faults, but I think people need to be a little more benevolent toward them and realize that your disagreement/disappointment with a bishop’s decision does equal the existence of something hinky going on. It’s best just to believe that your bishop has a good reason to deny permission to this priest from outside the diocese.

  19. Eric says:

    This isn’t anything new.

    I remember reading a Father Finn book in which someone asks a priest to hear his confession on a train. The priest says they will have to wait until after such and such stop because he does not have faculties in the diocese they are travelling through. The priest then tells the man to sit down next to him and talk until they get there.

    Father Finn wrote around the turn of the century, into the twentieth that is.

  20. Chris Garton-Zavesky says:

    Our rector has recently been preaching on the evil nature of gossip. Reading the initial inquiry here and the subsequent comments serves as another reminder.

    How many of us, even assuming we were eligible, would make good priests or bishops? Perhaps we should pray for them, instead of reading the rulings we don’t like through some jade-colored lens.

  21. APX says:

    Frjim4321 says:

    PS: Having to get a suitability letter is very demeaning.

    What I think is really demeaning for priests is (at least where I live) the whole installing windows in sacristies thing, requiring at least two other adults present when the priest is around children,etc. They’re practically saying they don’t trust their priests aren’t sex offenders and that they aren’t to be trusted. Meanwhile, some kid is more likely to be molested by a close family member.

  22. Deacon Nathan Allen says:

    Well stated; we should assume the best of both the priest and the bishop unless we know otherwise. A few years ago, I was planning a trip to an archdiocese on the West Coast for my niece’s first Holy Communion. I had to go through the full background check and everything that a cleric seeking regular ministry in that archdiocese would have to go through, just to serve as deacon of the Mass on that one occasion. It shouldn’t, therefore, be surprising that the bishop would want some oversight of a priest (rather than just a deacon), who (assuming it’s a low Mass) will be the only cleric present and who will likely be preaching as well. And as a (recovering) lawyer, I can tell you I’d want my client (the diocese in this case) to exercise prudence and to have set procedures in place just in case.

  23. MikeM says:

    I had to go through the training for working around kids in order to volunteer at a Catholic nursing home. Obviously the Church is just trying to do what it can to protect children, volunteers, and Catholic institutions, so I try not to complain. But… it does put up an irritating barrier for people trying to “get involved.”

  24. MichaelJ says:

    I agree that we should assume the best of the Bishop’s motives, but what seems to be forgotten is that this is a two way street. If a request by the laity is denied its only natural to want to know why.
    Whether just or unjust, the Bishop, and only the Bishop, has the power to combat the distrust that has built up between the laity and their Shepherds.
    There are any number of good reasons whay a Bishop would decline to allow non-dioscean Priest to offer a Mass in his diocese. If he responds to polite inquiries with accusations of being gossip or indignation(!) that the laity would dare question him (as some here seem to be suggesting) , he’s got nobody to blame but himself if people think the worst.

  25. Mary Jane says:

    Everyone at our parish who works in a volunteer capacity has to be trained and cleared and the clearance must be renewed every year. The training was completely ridiculous and the clearance process was totally offensive. The questions the clearance interviewer asked me were questions I imagine CPS asks people suspected of child abuse. I was completely offended and upset and to be honest the whole thing almost made me not want to volunteer at my parish. My volunteer position? I sing in the women’s schola, the polyphony schola, and the choir. I have to be trained and cleared so I can sing. Incredible.

  26. jflare says:

    “I sing in the women’s schola, the polyphony schola, and the choir. I have to be trained and cleared so I can sing. Incredible.”

    Wow! OUCH!
    If I’ve learned any one thing about organizational behavior since these scandals broke both in the Church and in relation to the Boy Scouts, I’ve learned that people can be prodded into a great number of idiot things. Some lawyer might argue that, well, they MIGHT cross paths with a kid in a darkened hallway sometime. You know, it only takes a few moments…..

    Jeez Louieez!!

  27. As well, it just depends on the diocese and the situation.

    I know of at least 1 diocese that just flatly refuses all permissions for non-resident religious priests. Not because they have something against them but because numerous non-resident priests caused problems in recent history.

    Or at times a bishop has to choose between annoying a bunch of his diocesan priests, or denying a permission like this.

  28. APX says:

    Mary Jane,

    What kind of questions were they asking?

    For me, it was just a hassle to get a police check done. Normally someone in the parish office sends a signed form to the diocesan office who requests the police check from the police. Apparently because I don’t have the correct province’s drivers licence with my actual address (I’m a student living away from home), I had to get my own police check from the RCMP rather than the municipal police. Drive across the city to the RCMP detachment only to get told they can’t do it because that particular detachment was strictly administrative and couldn’t check the national sex offender registry and that I would have to go to a different detachment outside the city. Okay, drive to the next nearest detachment in the neighboring small city only to get told they can’t do it because I don’t live there and they’re “not allowed to process police checks from outside of their boundaries” and that I would have to request it from the RCMP detachment at the address listed on my DL in person (6.5 hrs away). Frustrated, I drove back into the city to one of the municipal police stations and pleaded my case to the Staff Sergeant and borderlined begged him to process a police check for me (it’s not that they can’t, it’s a funding thing. All police officers can access CPIC and ask them to run so-and-so’s name through the system. They do this all the time when they pull you over anywhere in Canada and at the border.). The Staff Sergeant called the station downtown to ask permission from his Inspector, who approved processing it. (I luv bureaucracies)

    When I’m home, it literally takes the lady at the RCMP detachment 5 minutes to run my name through the databases and confirm that, I indeed have no criminal record that they are aware of and based on that information, have been cleared to work with vulnerable people, but they can’t say for certain unless fingerprints are taken. (CYA –> It’s the RCMP’s Way.) They don’t even charge for Record Checks. Everyone else charges between $25-30.

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