Since I wrote about the Pope’s declaration of war on the Old Rite, something unexpected and beautiful has happened. Many bishops have held the line. Far from all: some have gleefully welcomed the opportunity to extinguish the pretty rite, and intellectual justification has come, predictably, from the Jesuits, who haven’t been sound since The Exorcist. But so many other bishops have judiciously, almost seditiously, chosen to interpret the Pope’s instruction to the letter while ignoring its spirit, and given immediate dispensation to the priests who already say it to continue. Others, I’m told, have written or telephoned Old Rite-saying priests to offer personal comfort and reassurance. This is how you quietly turn the tide in a culture war. Ignore the bullies.
Why would the bishops – including friends of Francis – do this? Because he took them by surprise. He insulted them. Francis always said he wanted a ‘synodal church’ that proceeded by debate and consensus, but this was a bolt from the blue: could it be that all along synodality was a way of imposing liberal reform from the centre under the guise of consultation?
Second, whatever these men thought of the Old Rite 14 years ago, it’s been active in their dioceses for a while now and they can no longer see any harm in it. In fact, so-called traddy priests are some of the hardest working. Why should an overburdened bishop want to upset or antagonise good priests or laity over a debate that was resolved yonks ago – or so the Vatican has long insisted?
Some readers of my previous column complained that I didn’t explain for a non-Catholic the distinctions between Old and New Rites, but that’s sort of the point.