Dutch Catholic bishop: Traditionis custodes appears to be a ‘declaration of war’

Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands. Bishop Rob Mutsaerts, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch, in the Netherlands./ Danny Gerrits - wikiportret.nl via Wikimedia (CC-BY-SA 4.0).

A Dutch Catholic bishop has launched a strongly worded attack on Pope Francis’ motu proprio restricting Traditional Latin Masses, saying that the document seemed to be a “declaration of war.”

In an essay posted on his blog on July 22, Bishop Rob Mutsaerts described the pope’s intervention as “dictatorial,” “unpastoral,” and “unmerciful,” and argued that it would benefit the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX), a breakaway traditionalist group.

The comments by the auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch, in the southern Netherlands, contrast with those of other European bishops who have broadly welcomed the motu proprio, such as Bishop Jean-Pierre Batut of Blois and Bishop Olivier Leborgne of Arras in France.

The motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which entered into force on July 16, the day it was released, said that it is a bishop’s “exclusive competence” to authorize Traditional Latin Masses in his diocese.

The document made sweeping changes to Benedict XVI’s 2007 apostolic letter Summorum Pontificum, which had acknowledged the right of all priests to say Mass using the Roman Missal of 1962 without having to seek their bishop’s permission.

Mass according to the 1962 Roman Missal is referred to variously as the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, the Tridentine Mass, and the Traditional Latin Mass.

The Dutch bishop’s essay was entitled “A malicious ukase from Pope Francis.” An “ukase” was a proclamation with the force of law issued by the czar of Russia.

“Pope Francis promotes synodality: everyone should be able to have their say, everyone should be heard,” Mutsaerts wrote.

“There was little question of this in his recently published motu proprio Traditionis custodes, a ukase that should put an immediate end to the Traditional Latin Mass.”

“In doing so, Francis strikes Summorum Pontificum, Pope Benedict’s motu proprio which gave ample space to the old Mass.”

Mutsaerts, 63, suggested that the pope’s decision indicated that he was “losing authority.”

“This was already evident earlier when the German bishops’ conference took no notice of the pope’s advice regarding the synodality process,” he wrote, referring to clashes between the Vatican and German Church officials over the “Synodal Way.”

“The same occurred in the United States when Pope Francis called on the bishops’ conference not to prepare a document on receiving Holy Communion in a dignified way,” he said, alluding to the dispute over “Eucharistic coherence” within the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

He continued: “The pope must have thought that it would be better not to give advice, but an injunction, now that we are talking about the traditional Mass.”

“The language used looks very much like a declaration of war.”

Mutsaerts, who was named a bishop by Benedict XVI in 2010, confirmed his authorship of the blog post in a July 26 email to CNA.

Asked if he was concerned about the Vatican’s response to his essay, he told CNA: “No, I am not concerned. I don’t think Rome worries about the opinion of an unknown auxiliary bishop in this tiny country. They have other matters to worry about.”

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He added that he had never celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass himself.

“And I am not old enough to know it from my youth, so my comments have nothing to do with nostalgia or anything of that kind,” he said.

Mutsaerts has published outspoken posts on his blog, “Paarse Pepers” (Purple Peppers), since 2019. Previous posts have included sharp criticism of the Amazon synod, Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Amoris laetitia, and “cancel culture.”

The number of Catholics in the Netherlands, a country of 17 million people bordering Germany and Belgium, has fallen sharply in recent decades. But Catholics remain the nation’s biggest religious group.

The diocese of ’s-Hertogenbosch has the largest number of Catholics of any diocese in the Netherlands, according to the Dutch Catholic blog In Caelo et in Terra.

In his essay, the bishop argued that Pope Francis took a radically different approach to the Traditional Latin Mass to his predecessors.

“Pope Francis slams the door hard by means of Traditionis custodes. It feels like treason and is a slap in the face of his predecessors,” he wrote.

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Mutsaerts argued that Sacrosanctum concilium, the Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy, was a “conservative document” that did not sanction many liturgical changes that followed.

“Only 17% of the prayers of the old missal (Trent) are found in the new missal (Paul VI). It is then difficult to speak of continuity of an organic development,” he wrote.

He continued: “Pope Francis is now pretending that his motu proprio stands in the organic development of the Church, which utterly contradicts reality. By making the Latin Mass practically impossible, he is finally breaking with the centuries-old liturgical tradition of the R.C. Church. Liturgy is not a toy of popes, but is the heritage of the Church.”

He argued that the small number of places where the Traditional Latin Masses are celebrated attract large, devout families.

He said: “Why does the pope want to deny people this? I come back to what I said earlier: it is ideology. It is Vatican II, including its implementation with all its aberrations, or nothing!”

“The relatively small number of believers (which is growing, by the way, as the Novus Ordo collapses) who feel at home with the traditional Mass must and will be eradicated. That is ideology and evil.”

He said that if the goal was to evangelize, then Tridentine Masses should be maintained.

He wrote: “From this day on, the Old Mass may not be celebrated in parish churches (where then?), you need explicit permission from your bishop, who may only allow it on certain days, and for those who will be ordained in the future and want to celebrate the Old Mass, the bishop needs permission from Rome. How dictatorial, how unpastoral, how unmerciful do you want it to be!”