Sunday 15 December 2013

A disquieting scheme of deeds in the pope's name. #FFI

A scheme most disquieting is quietly a foot. Words like 'house arrest' and quieting of dissent have been uttered by some. There are serious questions asked by media honestly stating: does this represent a massive switch of Catholicism towards an ideological left wing? Media have portrayed a skirmish between left and right, with the pope's man clamping down extensively on conservative Catholics, but the Vatican giving a slap on the wrist to the left wing. Usually Catholics might lash out at media for such allegations, but when asked on the matter by SACNS, Rorate Caeli stated that allegations were 'very fair. We can't blame the media for our Church's faults!' With such a murky topic, with such a minefield of issues, an expert hand is required to ink a extensively versed response to these alleged goings on. I approached Stephen Korsman for just this purpose, his op/ed which I believe is balanced and expert, for the SACNS, follows.

Stephen Korsman is an expert on issues pertaining to the Extraordinary Form / Latin Mass, and has a good knowledge of the disputes involving traditionalist versus ideologically liberal extremes, as well as the approaches the Vatican has taken on both. He is considered to be an orthodox Roman Catholic, and to be knowledgeable about Catholicism. The SACNS believes him expertly versed in this matter at hand.

Op/Ed by Stephen Korsman

The Pope, the Latin Mass, and the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate

Over the past few months there has been a lot in the traditional / conservative Catholic news about the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate (FFI), and Rome's handling of their internal crisis. Opinions have covered a wide spectrum, from accusations of persecution of the FFI for their growing attachment to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass, to condemnation of the FFI for "crypto-lefebvrian" anti-Vatican II tendencies, and, on the liberal side, to hope that Pope Francis will clamp down more universally on the celebration of the traditional Latin Mass.

The problem with working out where the blame lies is that Rome has not published all the documentation so that we, around the world, can all make up our own minds pending a democratic vote on the subject - this is not how internal investigations work. What clearly has happened is that Pope Francis became involved, the Prefect of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life appointed someone he deemed competent to sort out the problem (Father Fidenzio Volpi), and action was taken in order to prevent the problem from worsening.

What was the problem? The FFI was established in 1970, and, from its inception, used the Missal of 1970 (the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite Mass). (Note: the ancient and original order of Franciscans, the Order of Friars Minor, formed in 1209 AD, is not involved in this situation.) Over time, several FFI friars came to prefer the Missal of 1962. Tension arose between the two groups. Why this happened is uncertain. Some have accused some of those using the 1970 Missal of liberal antagonism towards the 1962 Missal. Some have accused those who prefer the 1962 Missal of a growing anti-Vatican II outlook, as well as attempts to snuff out the use of the 1970 Missal, and a personality cult surrounding their founder. It remains unclear who was in the majority, and how widespread any antagonism was. It does seem certain that their founder, Father Stefano Manelli, preferred the 1962 Missal, and that initially the problem came to light when a petition was sent to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei requesting the establishment of a new institute using only the 1962 Missal. This movement apparently goes back as far as at least January 2012.

What action was taken? Apparently Fr Manelli was removed from active supervision of the friars, and contact with the outside world was forbidden. Several friars were relocated to other areas of the world. The celebration of the Extraordinary Form Mass was prohibited, unless permission was granted for pastoral reasons (and I believe that it has been granted in certain instances). At least one, but not all, of their websites have been taken down. More recently, their seminary has been suspended, with priestly and diaconal ordinations suspended for one year. Their missions in Italy and their Third Order have been suspended. And they will be required to take an oath formally acknowledging that the Ordinary Form is an authentic expression of the Catholic Church's liturgical tradition, and that they accept the documents of Vatican II.

Is this action justified? It's hard to tell. It all depends on who is in the wrong, and what the actual facts behind the situation are - and these are unclear. If there is theological strife within an order, temporarily closing a seminary is justified. If extremist views incompatible with the Catholic faith are held by some, similar action is justified. The oath - well, it is not unreasonable for Catholic orders to be expected to accept the normative liturgy of the Catholic Church has authentic, or for them to acknowledge an ecumenical council. And is it only allegedly "traditionalist" groups that are being supervised in this way? A similar process has been instituted for the liberal nuns in the USA. And the speed at which action has been taken? A single order with a well-defined crisis is far easier to act on than a large and more complex collection of orders and dissenting nuns.

Who is to blame? I don't know. It is clear that there are clergy who are antagonistic towards the Extraordinary Form of the Mass, and those who prefer it. A group of Italian bishops approached Pope Francis and complained that the Extraordinary Form was divisive, and Pope Francis' response was that the old and the new both have their place. It is also clear that some who prefer the Extraordinary Form are antagonistic towards the Ordinary Form, and towards Vatican II. Whether one or both of these factions is the problem here is not clear. And how much Pope Francis knows is unclear - in the words of Fr Hunwicke, "I simply do not believe that our beloved Holy Father knows the half of what is being done in his name."

What does this mean for the Extraordinary Form's future? Cardinal Raymond Burke, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, and a previous Prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, see no indication from Pope Francis that he opposes the Latin Mass - in fact, they have both heard his support for it. It is highly unlikely that Pope Francis would reverse decisions made by his two predecessors. He would gain nothing, and alienate many. He may not be as interested in the Extraordinary Form as Pope Benedict XVI was, but he's also not interested in restricting it. The situation with the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is a limited dispute within a single order, and not a universal attack on the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

FFI websites: (taken down, old material available via the Internet Archive here - (not taken down)

Opinion pieces:

Rorate Caeli opinion and traditionally biased information:

Fr Volpi's recent decisions: [Fr Volpi, Dec 2013]

Interview with FFI Procurator General, Fr Alessandro Apollonio:

That the Latin Mass will not be suppressed:

Editor's note: On the Extraordinary Form in South Africa a good resource, according to Stephen Korsman who is affiliated to such resource: is Una Voce Cape Town, available at:

Page: Discussions:

Thank you very much Stephen Korsman for sharing your informed opinion with the SACNS. We very much appreciate your time and effort in bringing our readers an accurate picture of such a complex minefield of issues.

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