Pope Francis has encouraged French bishops to show special care for Catholics “disoriented” by his decision to severely restrict the celebration of Traditional Latin Masses.
“Pope Francis … invites you to the greatest solicitude and paternity for those people — especially young people, priests, and laity — who are disoriented by the motu proprio Traditionis custodes, which you will be working to implement,” said the message released Nov. 3 and signed by Cardinal Parolin. “They are often wounded sheep who need to be accompanied, listened to, and given time.”
The French bishops are scheduled to discuss Traditionis custodes and “the place of traditionalist communities in the Church of France” on Nov. 6, the fourth day of their plenary assembly.
The French bishops were among the first to react to the publication of the motu proprio in July 2021. A day after the text was released and went into immediate effect, they issued a statement assuring lay people and priests attached to the Traditional Latin Mass of their “care,” “esteem,” and “determination to continue the mission together, in the communion of the Church and according to the norms in force.”
France, one of the world’s leading centers of Catholic traditionalism, has seen protests against the motu proprio. Regular demonstrations have taken place in front of the apostolic nunciature in Paris, with Catholics holding signs reading “Freedom for the traditional Mass” and “Freedom for Summorum Pontificum,” Benedict XVI’s 2007 motu proprio lifting restrictions on the use of the 1962 Missal.
An analysis published in September suggested that only one in five bishops in France had signed decrees implementing Traditionis custodes. It said that 20% of French priests were “ordained to celebrate the old missal, and the youth movements that are attached to it are the most fruitful in terms of vocations and commitment.”
A group of French bishops met with Pope Francis on Sept. 10, 2021, and discussed the application of Traditionis custodes. According to Vatican News, the pope defended the new norms but insisted on the importance of pastoral care for traditionalist groups.
After a meeting with French members of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), the pope issued a decree on Feb. 11 this year granting the traditionalist society’s priests “the faculty to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass, and to carry out the sacraments and other sacred rites, as well as to fulfill the Divine Office, according to the typical editions of the liturgical books … in force in the year 1962.”
In June, the Vatican suspended ordinations in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, which is known for welcoming traditionalist groups.
In his message to the French bishops, dated on Oct. 27, Cardinal Parolin acknowledged that the French Church remained in the midst of an abuse crisis.
“More than ever you are called to address the wounds of the people of God. The victims of these abuses, in the first place, but also all the scandalized, disappointed, and tested people, in particular your priests whose beautiful ministry is dishonored and made even more difficult, and who need your closeness more than ever,” he wrote.
On Friday, the second day of their plenary, the French bishops discussed reform of bishops’ conference structures. The last reorganization took place in 2005.
The bishops’ assembly ends Nov. 8.