The Vatican Congregation for Religious, with the approval of Pope Francis, has appointed a commissioner to oversee the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate and has restricted their celebration of the traditional Latin Mass, touching off a storm of speculation about the reasons and broader implications.
The news of the decree was first reported by the veteran Vatican journalist Sandro Magister, who described the move as the first time that Pope Francis has contradicted his predecessor Benedict XVI.
“But what is most astonishing are the last five lines of the decree of July 11,” writes Magister.
The declaration’s final paragraph reads:
“In addition to the above, the Holy Father Francis has directed that every religious of the congregation of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate is required to celebrate the liturgy according to the ordinary rite and that, if the occasion should arise, the use of the extraordinary form (Vetus Ordo) must be explicitly authorized by the competent authorities, for every religious and/or community that makes the request.”
“The astonishment stems from the fact that what is decreed contradicts the dispositions given by Benedict XVI, which for the celebration of the Mass in the ancient rite ‘sine populo’ demand no previous request for authorization whatsoever,” Magister explains.
The decree was signed by the Vatican congregation’s prefect, Cardinal Joao Braz de Viz, and its secretary, Archbishop José Rodrìguez Carballo. Capuchin Father Fidenzio Volpi was named in the declaration as the commissioner and he will be required to submit a written report every six months to the Vatican dicastery.
The reaction in the Catholic traditionalist blogosphere to the decree has been strong.
The blog Rorate Caeli, which focuses on the sacred liturgy, said in a four-point response that referenced Benedict XVI’s “Summorum Pontificum,” the papal document that allowed the pre-1962 Mass in Latin to be celebrated widely, that the new decree will impact one of the largest religious communities that celebrates the traditional Latin Mass.
“One justification now being raised,” the July 29 post says, “is that the FFI's application of Summorum Pontificum had caused discord in many communities and that the Traditional Latin Mass was ‘imposed’ brutally on priests who did not want it. On the contrary, we in Rorate, who have been closely observing the FFI since 2008, can affirm that the opposite is the case: Summorum was applied in a very gradual manner … .”
But the Assistant General for Apostolate, Missions and Media of the Franciscan Friars of the Immaculate, Father Alfonso Bruno, told CNA July 29 that “more than 80 percent of the friars appreciate the intervention of the Church.”
In his estimation, the “problem is not the Holy Mass usus antiquior,” which he described as “only the tip of the iceberg.”
Fr. Bruno pointed to a “small group in power” within the religious congregation that is being influenced by Mother Francesca Perillo, who is “very close” with Lefebvrist groups. He is worried that Mother Perillo, who is in charge of the congregation's contemplative sisters, and her followers could fall into “heresy and disobedience.”
Mother Perillo could not be reached for comment before publication time.
Father Angelo M. Geiger, who was the chaplain of the contemplative sisters until recently and is now based in Newquay, England, said in a July 29 post on his Mary Victrix blog that Magister’s piece “is an unfortunate instance of an overeager journalist sensationalizing something he can only speculate about.”
“The restrictions on our community are specific to us and have been put in place for reasons specific to us,” Fr. Geiger remarked.
He also directly addressed the question of whether Pope Francis had contradicted his predecessor.
“Pope Francis has not contradicted Pope Benedict. The visitation of our community began under Pope Benedict and the Commission was recommended by Cardinal João Braz de Aviz who was appointed to the Congregation by Pope Benedict,” he wrote.
Fr. Geiger said that “what is being reported in the press and what has actually transpired within our community over the course of a number of years are two different things.”
Fathers Geiger and Bruno both finished their remarks by emphasizing their trust in the Church and in Pope Francis.
“We are in peace because we are in the hands of our mother Church, by a Pope that we love and appreciate so much,” Fr. Bruno said.
Corrected at on August 2 at 6:12 p.m. European Central Time. Changes include giving specificity to Fr. Bruno's title in paragraph 11 and correcting Fr. Greiger's title in paragraph 15 from U.S. Delegate to his current location in Newquay, England.