ASK FATHER: Considering the chaos surrounding ‘Traditionis custodes” could we say that, in effect, it is no law at all?

From a reader…


Some years ago I studied for graduate theology with several distinguished theologians, one of whom was chancellor for Card. Burke in Lacrosse. In those Canon Law classes, he made the point over and again that the law is specific, defined and unambiguous and that when one interprets the law you should never add, nor subtract from what is explicitly stated.

Couldn’t it be reasoned then that because so many bishops have made such wide ranging rules, or no rules, based on Traditionis custodes that effectively there is no law at all? It is one thing to have some reasonable variations of implementation of law, but there isn’t just variation, there are outright different worlds being forged. I contend that the chaos is desired, but that will be the downfall, for in chaos there is no law leaving the faithful to appeal to higher laws than ecclesiastical ones.

Thank you for all you do Father.

The chaos is an opportunity.  I’ll get to that.

Let me come at this from two directions.  First, there are the differences between Summorum Pontificum and Traditionis custodes, including the problem of the lack of a vacatio.   Then, there is the issue of “reception” of Tradionis, for which Francis will ever be remembered as quite simply cruel.

“Wide ranging rules”?

When Summorum Pontificum was issued, Cardinal Darmaatmadja, S.J., the Archbishop of Jakarta, simply said “it does not apply here.” And that was that.

No one ever seems to have gone after him for that. He served out his time as archbishop and retired.

I assume he must have somehow invoked can. 87 §1.

Will bishops who refuse to implement TC eventually be targeted by Rome for torture?  It would not surprise me.  As a matter of fact, someone recently intimated to me that Rome was contacting bishops to tell them to get on it – or else – rather more than bishops were contacting Rome to obtain cover for their plans.

Traditionis custodes (TC or “Taurina cacata“) is disciplinary law.  You could argue that a bishop is supposed to comply, but if conditions on the ground warrant, if in the bishop’s estimation the application of the disciplinary law would be counterproductive or disruptive, etc., then a bishop could do what Card. Darmaatmadja did.

There are subtle differences between the “legal aspects” of Summorum Pontificum (SP) and TC , but they are crafted in an similar way. They are both Apostolic Letters given motu proprio, SP has a paragraph before the Articles with DECERNIMUS [sic, full caps] (“WE DECREE … the following”) and TC’s paragraph before Articles has decernere (“…it seemed to Us opportune to decree the following”).

SP: Instantibus precibus horum fidelium iam a Praedecessore Nostro Ioanne Paulo II diu perpensis, auditis etiam a Nobis Patribus Cardinalibus in Concistorio die XXIII mensis martii anni 2006 habito, omnibus mature perpensis, invocato Spiritu Sancto et Dei freti auxilio, praesentibus Litteris Apostolicis DECERNIMUS quae sequuntur:

TC: Nunc igitur, examinatis votis ab Episcopatu expressis et iudicio Congregationis pro Doctrina Fidei audito, cupimus, praesentibus Litteris Apostolicis, magis magisque in communione ecclesiali assidue conquirenda perseverare. Qua de causa, opportunum nobis visum est quae sequuntur decernere:

The big question is the “Qua de causa” — having examined the votes/opinions expressed by the bishops and heard the judgment of the CDF”.

I and others have called B as in B, S as in S.  I don’t even for an instant believe that the poll of bishops laid adequate grounds for TC.  We should be able to for ourselves what the votes/opinions were and to read the judgment of the CDF.

Gonna happen?  Not so much.

This reminds me of the “annulment reform” legislation that Francis issued in 2015. Mitis Iudex abolished the automatic appeal of an affirmative sentence in favor of nullity. Francis stated that he ended the automatic “2nd Instance” review of annulments because, he said:

“This was called for by the majority of the synod fathers in the synod last year [2014]: streamline the process because there are cases that last 10-15 years, no? There’s one sentence, then another sentence, and after there’s an appeal, there’s the appeal then another appeal. It never ends. The double sentence, when it was valid that there was an appeal, was introduced by Pope Lambertini, Benedict XIV, because in central Europe, I won’t say which country [Poland], there were some abuses, and to stop it he introduced this but it’s not something essential to the process.”

I might have missed it, please correct me if I’m wrong, but I didn’t see anything from the 2014 synod indicating that a “majority of the synod fathers” wanted this.

It’s not unlike the bizzare claim that, before the Council, “everyone” wanted a vernacular liturgy.  It’s not unlike that claim in that weird appendix to Sacrosanctum Concilium that “everyone” was clamoring for a fixed date for Easter.  The only people who wanted these things were pointy-headed “experts” in rarely dusted university offices bored during their office hours and, like the infamous Good Idea Fairy who spreads chaos and wasted time, thinking up stuff.

Make stuff up as an excuse to impose your personal desire.   There are a lot of ways to squander moral capital.  This is one of them.

NB: TC had no vacatio, that is, a period of time before it was to go into effect.  SP did.  TC didn’t.  A vacatio allows for planning on how to implement it.  That means that if a priest were to rise in the morning and gone straight to say Mass without having perused the Vatican Bolletino, he would have been, technically, in violation of the law.  Big deal, right?  Well, if you are interested in charity, yes.  It isn’t charitable to drop bombs in such a way that you – by your haste- cause problems for others.

The wisdom of including a vacatio is proven by the fact of the confusion, chaos and irregular application over the year after TC was issued.  A lot of bishops just arbitrarily created for themselves a pseudo-vacatio.  Fair to the bishops to do it that way?  Nope.

Also, the lack of a vacatio suggests that TC  was a long time in the making, but when Francis needed surgery, it could not be put off any longer. Hence, it was hastily sprung on everyone without a vacatio.  It smacks of panic, under the circumstances (of his impending surgery) as well as total disdain for the people it would effect, including the bishops.

Continuing with similarities, SP has a clear “servari iubemus” at the end, while TC has more convoluted language.

The alarming lack of knowledge of Francis about, as above, canon law and matrimonial nullity procedures was on full display in his statements.  Maybe the situation in Argentina was so bad that he heard about endless cases and appeal.   But to impose something on the whole world because in some places reform is needed?

Regarding liturgy, let’s not forget the virtually iron-clad adage about the essentially clueless: As lost as a Jesuit in Holy Week. To impose something truly draconian on the whole world because in a few trads are jerks?   That smacks of despotism and lack of competence driven by personal animus egged on by sycophantic ideologues.

Shifting gears, I predict is that TC is not going to be received in the long run.  It will prove to be no law at all. 

Reception theory states that a law, in order to be a law, a binding law, must be received by the community for which it is intended.  If they community does not receive it, that is, they reject it outright or it fails to have any effect on how they live, the presumed law is non-binding and is really no law at all.

This doesn’t apply to moral law, because it flows from above reception or rejection by mere human beings.   In the late 1960’s and after, dissidents from Humanae vitae infamously tried to apply “reception theory” to the Church’s teaching on contraception.  Fail.

Reception theory does not apply to moral teaching, but it can apply to certain of the Church’s disciplinary law, which includes liturgical law.

BTW… did you all see that the… I am not making this up… Pontifical Academy for Life tweeted that Paul VI didn’t intend that the Church’s teaching about contraception was infallible?  HERE

Let’s have a mind exercise and think about reception theory in view of Traditionis custodes, 

Popes make mistakes.  The faithful can see that they make mistakes.  The faithful have the right to express themselves about those mistakes, even when they have to do with disciplinary laws.  Sometimes the faithful respectfully and quietly vote with their feet.  Sometimes they organize and take action.  Sometimes they organize and quietly resist.

Sure, there will be some zealous bishops who turn on the faithful who want Tradition.  It is inevitable, considering.  However, my sense is that there are so many young priests and young people who now know and love the TLM that they will find a way simply to keep going.  It might be as simple as Father leaving the doors open when he says Mass privately (that is, not on the schedule) and people happen to wander in for some time in church.   It might be that the bishop will strike down that young priest.  A couple others will spring up.

In the chaos, there is opportunity.

I don’t think this can be stopped.

Mind you, there are going to be a lot of tears and anguish because of these bishops.  But in the end, they are only bishops.

This not like the earlier attempts to crush tradition.  Now, we have the internet, access to materials for Mass, many thousands have been exposed to it and want it.  These days are very different from the 70s-90s.

Friends, when your bishops do something good and generous regarding the Traditional Roman Rite, thank them.  When they do something stingy, work on them with spiritual bouquets, fasting, sincere requests.  Be the woman at the door of the judge before you turn to more drastic measures.


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, B as in B. S as in S., Liturgy Science Theatre 3000, Pò sì jiù, SUMMORUM PONTIFICUM, Traditionis custodes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. donato2 says:

    There is a large contingent of Catholics who are pro-life and generally doctrinally sound but are not attached to the traditional Catholic Mass. This contingent is key. I believe that they see that the attack on the TLM is associated with the ongoing effort to subvert Catholic teaching on sexuality morality. They know that if TC were successful in completely supressing the TLM it would leave the field wide open for a frontal assualt on the sexual morality issues. It is therefore, I believe, not a stretch to believe that repeal, or substantial loosening, of TC could be on the table in the next conclave.

    That’s one scenario anyway. There is another one, and it would be that the frontal assualt on Catholic teaching results in schism before TC is mofidied or repealed. There are rumors that an assualt on Humanae Vitae is in the works and that some sort of doozy about homosexuality is going to be pronounced based on the Synods of Synods. How far can things be pushed without breaking the Church in two? Francis himself has been quoted as saying that he may be the Pope who breaks the Church. Were a break induced I could immagine a grouping that included some conservative Cardinals and Bishops plus the FSSP and possibily the SSPX.

  2. JabbaPapa says:

    Beautifully well written Father, thank you.

  3. Fr. Timothy Ferguson says:

    Is the Pontifical Academy for life proposing that Paul VI’s alleged denial of the infallibility of Humane Vitae to Archbishop Lambruschini was an infallible statement?

  4. TonyO says:

    Reception theory states that a law, in order to be a law, a binding law, must be received by the community for which it is intended. If they community does not receive it, that is, they reject it outright or it fails to have any effect on how they live, the presumed law is non-binding and is really no law at all.

    I have heard of this theory before, but have not located a good account that justifies it. The only accounts I have seen were quite implausible. I would dearly like it if Fr. Z could provide a source or link that shows it being held by Fathers or Doctors of the Church, or clearly and unambiguously being used and then later being pointed at explicitly by the Church as the reason for vacating an earlier rule that had not been received.

  5. For a layman, knowing how to practice the Catholic faith should not require an expert knowledge of canon law, the levels of authority among Church documents, or the history of Vatican I, but anyone with any cognitive ability can see that the words and actions of Jorge Bergoglio are contradictory to the Catholic faith as it was known for 2,000 years (remember Thomas Rosica’s declaration–apparently plagiarized, but he must have thought it a true statement–that “with the advent of this first Jesuit pope, it [the Church] is openly ruled by an individual rather than by the authority of Scripture alone or even its own dictates of tradition plus Scripture”?), and that’s all I need to know. Bergoglio therefore, in my simple view, no longer has any credibility. A man who thinks that it is permissible for active adulterers to receive communion but impermissible to use the death penalty, a man who participates in pagan rituals but exterminates the Traditional Latin Mass, is calling evil good and good evil. His judgment is fundamentally untrustworthy, so I’ll continue to ignore what he says.

  6. summorumpontificum777 says:

    We had a guest priest at diocesan TLM this morning. He lamented that the Pontifical Academy for Life has gone wobbly and is now undermining the very ideas that John Paul II founded it to defend. Ultimately, I think it’s pretty clear that, after 9 turbulent years, this pontificate has largely poisoned the well not only with TLM laity but also with faithful priests. Let’s face it. There are tens of thousands of Catholics for whom the TLM has been their regular Mass for years or, in some cases, decades. Even if we had the saintliest, most doctrinally sound, most warm and fuzzy, lovable pope leading the most orthodox Roman curia that ever existed, getting us to abandon the Mass we love would be a very tough sell. But what if it’s coming from *this* pontificate? Fuggedaboutit. I often see the analogy of the abusive stepfather. The child stuck living in a household headed by a cruel stepfather has little choice but to treat his abuser respectfully, but he can’t be forced to love the man. He can’t be forced to believe that his abuser has his best interests at heart. If the stepfather is lying, cheating or stealing, the stepchild can’t be forced to believe that the stepfather is a good man.

  7. Pingback: THVRSDAY EDITION – Big Pulpit

Comments are closed.