31 December 2021

Important Study—"From Traditionis Custodes to the Responsa Ad Dubia: On the Hermeneutics of Our Holy Father Francis's Legislation"

A H/T to Fr Zed for bringing this to my attention. He says of it, 'The result is, simply put, devastating'. He calls it a 'Manual for Resistance'.

From Rorate Cæli

By Padre Federico

The following article by Padre Federico, first published on December 21 by InfoCatholicarepresents a unique approach to the situation presented by the motu proprio and the CDW responses: namely, the author advocates consistently employing, for their interpretation and application, the principles repeatedly enunciated by Pope Francis himself. We express our thanks to Gerhard Eger for the translation. The article is slightly abridged from its original.


On 18 December 2021, His Holiness Pope Francis approved Responsa ad dubia (RAD) to his motu proprio Traditionis custodes (TC).

Some consider the Responsa a response to the Roman rite, but in this essay we shall show this is not the case. We submit our interpretation to the judgment of hierarchical authority and declare from the outset that our text aims only to deepen reflection on the hermeneutical criteria that are needed to read the regulations promulgated by the Holy Father Pope Francis, while being faithful to the guidelines he has given to the Church in his magisterium. Needless to say, we are grateful for any comments that might allow us to improve or correct any defective point our study might have.

Although it is tempting to read these texts (TC and RAD) in a fundamentalist fashion, above all we must avoid interpreting or applying Traditionis Custodes and the Responsa ad dubia rigidly. We must take into account the specific way Francis asks us to interpret and live the law. We must do exegesis in the way the Pope himself has asked us to, with freedom and discernment, giving priority to charity. Above all we must avoid rigidity, insofar as, according to him, “Rigidity is not a gift of God.”[1]

The Holy Father points out that one must be

particularly concerned to offer understanding, comfort, and acceptance, rather than imposing [upon needy souls] straightaway, as if they were a rock, a set of rules [be they liturgical, canonical, or disciplinary] that only lead people to feel judged and abandoned by the very Mother called to show them God’s mercy.[2]

Indeed, many souls (both laymen and priests) feel abandoned by the Church in the face of the publication of Traditionis Custodes and the Responsa.


Now, the key to interpreting and applying TC and RAD is discernment, which ultimately cannot be applied from the frigidity of a clerical desk (be it Roman, episcopal, or parochial)—since “clericalism is a perversion.[3] Rather, the priest must go among God’s people as a shepherd among his sheep, willing to give his life for them (cf. John 10:11).

Indeed, as Amoris Laetitia 305 states:

Natural law should not be presented as an already established set of rules that impose themselves a priori on the moral subject; rather, it is a source of objective inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions.

This implies that Traditionis Custodes and the Responsa are merely a “source of inspiration for the deeply personal process of making decisions.”[4] Moreover, one must take into account that, as Pope Francis says, the “attitude that would solve everything by applying general rules”[5] is mistaken and that it is “not helpful to try to impose rules by sheer authority.”[6]

Indeed, according to Pope Francis, shepherds “who smell of sheep”[7] cannot coldly apply rules, but must make an “ongoing”[8] and “evangelical discernment [which] is the approach of a missionary disciple, an approach ‘nourished by the light and strength of the Holy Spirit.’”[9] The key to applying TC, RAD, and other regulations issued by Pope Francis is the discernment of a shepherd who knows his sheep and bears their “smell.”

According to Pope Francis, this attitude of ongoing evangelical discernment—something which requires permanent conversion—is opposed to the temptation of rigorism, which as the Synod Fathers say, comes from the devil and presumes to supplant the discernment of spirits.[10]

In the case of TC and RAD, the rigorist (and hence diabolical) attitude would be to apply these rules “from above” without allowing the shepherd and his sheep the chance to make communal discernment, case by case, in a way analogous to what Pope Francis asks for the discernment of cases of conjugal morality. In the marriage context, he calls for “renewed encouragement to undertake a responsible personal and pastoral discernment of particular cases,”[11] knowing that “the consequences or effects of a rule need not necessarily always be the same.”[12]

Indeed, the Holy Father says in Amoris Laetitia 300 that “if we consider the immense variety of concrete situations, it is understandable that [...] a new set of general rules, canonical in nature and applicable to all cases could not be expected.” Therefore, neither should it be expected that TC or RAD are applicable in all cases.

Just as “a pastor cannot feel that it is enough simply to apply moral laws to those living in ‘irregular’ situations, as if they were stones to throw at people’s lives,”[13] neither should bishops think that it is enough merely to apply moral laws to the priests and laymen who live in “irregular” liturgical or ritual situations, as if these las were stones to throw at people’s lives. By analogy with Amoris Laetitia 305, this casting of regulations as if they were stones (be they of TC, RAD, or the Code of Canon Law) at traditional communities “would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families.’”[14]

In the wake of TC and RAD, many families feel hurt because they feel they are being discriminated against when choosing which rite they want their children to be baptized, confessed, or confirmed in. Indeed we can easily imagine difficult cases such as if five brothers are confirmed according to the solemn traditional rite but the sixth, on top of having to wear his older brother’s hand-me-downs, must now be confirmed in a different rite that appears less beautiful to him.

To presume, therefore, to apply the general regulations of TC and RAD without considering each specific case “would bespeak the closed heart of one used to hiding behind the Church’s teachings, ‘sitting on the chair of Moses and judging at times with superiority and superficiality difficult cases and wounded families.’”[15]

Indeed, the Pope says that “it is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule.[16] He also affirms that “although there is necessity in the general principles, the more we descend to matters of detail, the more frequently we encounter defects”[17]; that “general rules [...] cannot provide absolutely for all particular situations”[18]; that “what is part of a practical discernment in particular circumstances cannot be elevated to the level of a rule,”[19] because “that would not only lead to an intolerable casuistry, but would endanger the very values which must be preserved with special care”; that “discernment must help to find possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits[20]; that “by thinking that everything is black and white, we sometimes close off the way of grace and of growth, and discourage paths of sanctification which give glory to God”[21]; that “a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God than a life which appears outwardly in order, but moves through the day without confronting great difficulties”[22]; and that “fraternal charity is the first law of Christians”[23] (cf. John 15:12, Galatians 5:14).

If, as Pope Francis desires, discernment must be increasingly decentralized (he does declare, after all, that he “is conscious of a need to promote a sound decentralization”[24]); if he believes that, as the Pope requests, “each Christian and every community must discern the path that the Lord points out[25]; if we take seriously the papal exhortation that “each particular Church undertake a resolute process of discernment”[26]; if we aspire to carry out with our brethren “a wise and realistic pastoral discernment”[27]; then the agency of the laity is fundamental in this discernment, since Pope Francis asserts that “God furnishes the totality of the faithful with an instinct of faith—sensus fidei—which helps them to discern what is truly of God.”[28] This implies that laymen interested in participating in the traditional Mass should participate in the process of discerning how to interpret and apply TC and RAD.

Indeed, just as “it is not advisable for the Pope to take the place of local Bishops in the discernment of every issue which arises in their territory,”[29] neither is it advisable for bishops to replace priests—they who live among the sheep—in the discernment of all of the issues that arise in their dioceses, especially when they are working to heal wounds on the peripheries, be they geographical or existential.

Decentralization of discernment must be pursued with particular zeal during this Synod on Synodality, since the Synod of Bishops, called by the Pope, demands that we “initiate processes of listening, dialogue, and community discernment, in which each and every person can participate and contribute.”[30] The bishops also tell us that God’s people “shares also in Christ’s prophetic office”[31] (LG 12) and that “in a synodal style, decisions are made through discernment, based on a consensus that flows from the common obedience to the Spirit.”[32]

The key, therefore, is discernment, and the opposite of this discernment is a rigidity that seeks to apply the general norms of TC and RAD to the letter.

Pope Francis has firmly condemned this rigidity. “The rigidity of the hypocrite has nothing to do with the law of the Lord,” he has stated, “but has to do with something hidden, a double life that makes us slaves and makes us forget that being on God’s side means living in freedom, meekness, kindness, and forgiveness.”[33] “Jesus repeats the word ‘hypocrite’ many times in reference to the rigid,” the Pope insists, speaking of “those who have an attitude of rigidity in fulfilling the law.”[34] “Behind all rigidity there lies something ugly that is not of the Holy Spirit,” he declared.[35]


We have made it clear that discernment is the touchstone for the exegesis and application of TC and RAD, but what are the criteria we should use in this discernment? There are many, but the main onescan be classified into three groups: a) criteria of charity; b) criteria of synodality; c) criteria of realities.

1. Criteria of Charity

1.1. On the Absolute Nature of Charity, the Relative Nature of Norms, and the Culture of Encounter

1.1.1. Primacy of Charity above Other Norms

Charity is the only absolute when it comes to interpreting or applying ecclesiastical regulations, as is evinced in Evangelii Gaudium 179. The Holy Father repeated this idea during a conversation with his friend Eugenio Scalfari: “Agape, our love for every else, from the closest to us to those farthest away, is the only way Jesus has indicated to us in order to find the way of salvation and the beatitudes.” We are all called to “seek the happiness of others, as their good Father seeks it.” Therefore, if the celebration of the old rite makes any of our neighbors happy, a shepherd must not deprive him of it for the sake of rigidly adhering to this or that norm.

This absolute primacy of charity in interpreting and applying general norms becomes even more important when a shepherd must carry out discernment when attending to the needy and accompanying marginalized groups. This implies that a shepherd cannot ignore the clamor of groups attached to the traditional Mass if they feel marginalized or needy, especially when these groups live on the peripheries—geographical or existential—since “the key criterion of authenticity which [the apostles] presented [to Saint Paul] was that he should not forget the poor”[36] (cf. Galatians 2:10). “The poor” include those afflicted by the “new forms of poverty” such as the “isolated and abandoned,”[37] among which are the people who feel isolated or abandoned because they are not allowed to pray as they see themselves called to pray.

1.1.2 The Relative Nature of Norms

For Pope Francis, however, the relativity of norms is even more radical. Indeed, he has affirmed that the Ten Commandments are, ultimately, relative, as he stated during a general audience: “Do I despise the Commandments? No. I follow them, but not as absolutes.”[38]

Let the will of Pope Francis when he legislates or gives instructions be clear. If not even the Ten Commandments are absolute, Church norms made by men are even less absolute. What is said by a motu proprio is even less absolute, and what a Cardinal Prefect says in response to dubia is even less absolute than that.

The Pope points out that human precepts must be enforced with moderation:

Saint Thomas Aquinas pointed out that the precepts which Christ and the apostles gave to the people of God “are very few.” Citing Saint Augustine, he noted that the precepts subsequently enjoined by the Church should be insisted upon with moderation “so as not to burden the lives of the faithful” and make our religion a form of servitude, whereas “God’s mercy has willed that we should be free”. This warning, issued many centuries ago, is most timely today. It ought to be one of the criteria to be taken into account in considering a reform of the Church and her preaching which would enable it to reach everyone.[39]

This means that the application of TC and RAD cannot be so demanding that it burdens the life of the faithful. In other words, if the application of this or that precept of TC or RAD in a particular case makes the life of this or that believer burdensome, then those general normals should not be applied.

1.1.3 The Culture of Encounter and Constructing Bridges

For the Holy Father, the culture of encounter is the only means of social progress: “the only way for the life of peoples to progress is via the culture of encounter [...] Others always have something to give me, if we know how to approach them in a spirit of openness and without prejudice.”[40] This implies that the bishops must approach their neighbors who celebrate or participate in the traditional rite with an open attitude, without prejudice. According to the Pope, this is fundamental, given that, “Today, either we take the risk of dialogue, we risk the culture of encounter, or we all fall; this is the path that will bear fruit.”[41] Therefore, the exclusion of traditional communities is a serious attack on fruitfulness, one which will make us all fall, and which will impede social progress.

The Pope promotes the “culture of encounter” between members of all religions. All the more reason, then, to promote the culture of encounter between those attached to the modern rite and those who love the traditional rite, without excluding either, but striving instead for this “culture of encounter.”

So the culture of encounter is another factor that shepherds and laymen must keep in mind when they discern how to apply TC and RAD. If these documents fail to foment a culture of encounter by depriving some people of the rite they prefer, or if those attached to the new rite are prejudiced against others, then TC and RAD should not be applied in certain cases. A case by case study is necessary.

The Holy Father also insists on the importance of building bridges instead of walls, as in the following passage:

I remember when I was a child one heard Catholic families say, even my family: “No, we cannot go into their house, because they are not married in the Church, they are socialists, they are atheists, hey!” It was exclusionary. Now—thank God—nobody says these things, right? No one says it! These things were said to defend the faith, but with walls. The Lord, on the other hand, built bridges.[42]

This concept of bridges must be taken into account when discerning how to apply TC and RAD. In other words, bishops and priests must avoid expressions like “no, we cannot allow that rite, because they aren’t attached to Vatican II, to the new Mass, hey!” That would be exclusionary. That would be like defending the new rite and the Council, but with walls. But the Lord, on the other hand, builds bridges.

1.2 Primacy of Conscience

1.2.1 Liberty of Conscience

It seems (according to Francis, one cannot be absolutely certain) that charity and kindness should guide the implementation of the norms contained in TC and RAD. In addition, the conscience of the priest and faithful affected by this implementation must be taken into account. Let us see what the role of conscience is according to the writings of Pope Francis.

First of all, “conscience is free.[43]

Secondly, the Church cannot take possession of people’s consciences, since this is a Pharisaical attitude that would render her sterile, as we read in the papal homily of 20th December 2014: “When the Church [...] takes over the consciences of people, when she goes along the path of the Pharisees, of the Sadducees, on the road of hypocrisy, hey! The Church becomes sterile!”

Thirdly, for the Pope, the goodness of a man depends not on his obedience to clerical general norms, but on his obedience to his conscience. He says:

Even someone without faith sins if he goes against his conscience. To listen to it and obey it means, in fact, to make a decision on what is perceived as right or wrong. And it is on this decision that the goodness or badness of our actions is based.[44]

Therefore, if a priest sees in conscience that he should not follow this or that point of TC or RAD, he should not follow it. Moreover, he cannot be judged on this matter, since if the Holy Father, the very Vicar of Christ, finds himself unable to judge a homosexual—even though Saint Paul says that those who consent to sodomy are condemned (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9)—who are the rest of the bishops to judge a priest who interprets and applies TC and RAD according to his conscience?

1.2.2 Condemnation of Condemnations

The Holy Father even says that Jesus “never condemns” and that “society must imitate him.”[45] Hence, no bishop can condemn a priest who continues to celebrate the old rite, or who has a critical opinion of Vatican II, since, according to Pope Francis, Jesus never condemns.

1.2.3 Religious Freedom and Ritual Freedom

Pope Francis believes we must respect the religious freedom of everyone:

This experience must spur us to promote religious freedom for everyone, everyone! Every man and every woman must be free in his or her profession of religion, whatever it may be. Why? Because that man and that woman are children of God.[46]

Now then, if we must promote religious freedom and let each one profess the religion he prefers, then, with all the more reason, we must let each Catholic interpret Vatican II as he pleases, and to have whatever opinion he wants about the old Mass and the new. We might paraphrase the cited papal passage thus:

This experience must spur us to promote ritual freedom for everyone, everyone! Even for those who celebrate the ancient rite. Every man and woman must be free in their own rite, whatever it may be. Why? Because that man and that woman are children of God.

Any attempt to condemn the old rite to the peripheries is a form of discrimination and authoritarianism condemned by Pope Francis.

2. The Criterion of Synodality

The second criterion to be used in interpreting and applying TC and RAD is that of synodality, which implies that priests should involve the sheep in the discernment of the application of the regulations of TC and RAD.

Synodality means, first of all, listening to and following the Holy Spirit. We must “abandon the complacent attitude that says: ‘We have always done it this way,’” and instead “be bold and creative in the task of rethinking the goals, structures, style and methods of evangelization in our respective communities,” applying “the guidelines found in this document generously and courageously, without inhibitions or fear.”[47] Therefore, the synodal spirit means abandoning the complacent pastoral attitude that, for instance, says that “the liturgy has been done like this for decades,” and rethinking methods without inhibitions or fear, following the Holy Spirit who might inspire us to try this or that rite.

Some of the baptized, perhaps, who have followed the corpus of Pope Francis’ declarations, might believe that when it comes to interpreting and applying TC and RAD three other points should be taken into account: a) the deliberate intention of making a mess; b) the revolutionary character of faith; c) the condemnation of proselytism; and d) the condemnation of clericalism. Let us examine these points, taking the Holy Father by the hand.

2.1 The Deliberate Intention of Making a Mess

The Holy Father exhorts the young to “make a mess,”[48] but this papal request actually extends to all of the baptized, since he has thanked certain people for helping him continue making messes.[49] Therefore, Pope  Francis invites all Christians to make a mess.

2.2 The “Revolutionary” Character of Faith

The Holy Father not only calls us to synodality, but also to be revolutionaries, since he considers the Catholic faith intrinsically “revolutionary.”[50]

Therefore, abiding by these papal declarations should encourage many Catholics to carry out a kind of “revolution” against TC and RAD, as long as this involves no lack of obedience to the Pope according to their own consciences. Instead, they might see it as an act of profound fidelity to the Pope and of commitment to following the doctrine he teaches, namely, that the faith is revolutionary.

Indeed, Abbé Barthe has already called for resistance against TC. Might he be someone who lives the revolutionary character of faith? That is something to be discerned, but what is certain is that he is making a mess, and that is precisely what the Supreme Pontiff asks of us.

Someone might say that the faith is not revolutionary, but that today, in these times of apostasy, it is counter-revolutionary. But surely the Holy Father will not oppose the opinions of those who add the prefix “counter”; we are, after all, in times of synodality.

Be that as it may, His Holiness Pope Francis has pointed out that he dislikes young people who do not protest[51] and that he appreciates it when young people are non-conformist, because that is their very essence.[52] Since it would be a hypocritical contradiction to exempt from this judgment those young people who protest against him, or to exempt those young men who are priests, then we cannot but conclude that His Holiness would like to see young priests protesting against TC and RAD.

The fact that protest groups are being formed asking for equal treatment between the followers of Vatican II and its opponents, and between the following of the new Mass and those of the old, does not actually undermine peace because, as Pope Francis says

Peace in society cannot be understood as pacification or the mere absence of violence resulting from the domination of one part of society over others. Nor does true peace act as a pretext for justifying a social structure which silences or appeases the poor, so that the more affluent can placidly support their lifestyle while others have to make do as they can. Demands involving the distribution of wealth, concern for the poor and human rights cannot be suppressed under the guise of creating a consensus on paper or a transient peace for a contented minority. The dignity of the human person and the common good rank higher than the comfort of those who refuse to renounce their privileges. When these values are threatened, a prophetic voice must be raised.[53]

In summary, the Holy Father asks those who feel discriminated against (socially, liturgically, or in whatever fashion) to raise a prophetic voice against the privileges of the followers of the new Mass, who can attend it anywhere without any restrictions, and who discriminate against them to the point of banning them from receiving the Holy Spirit (in Confirmation) in the rite of their grandparents.

2.3 The Condemnation of Proselytism

One of the things the Holy Father most repeatedly condemns is proselytism, which includes liturgical proselytism, which is why all efforts to convince or force those who sympathize with the traditional rite to adhere to the liturgical reform or to accept the Second Vatican Council in its entirely must be rejected and deplored.

The Holy Father affirms that “proselytism is always violent by nature, even when this nature is hidden”[54] and has said that “proselytism is not Christian” and that “the Church does not grow through proselytism, but by attraction.”[55]

Therefore, no bishop should proselytize their priests, trying to convince them to embrace Vatican II or the new Mass, since Pope Francis condemns proselytism. If Pope Francis prohibits us from converting a heretic to the Catholic faith, with all the more reason a bishop is prohibited from trying to persuade a priest refractory to Vatican II. He cannot proselytize.

It is true that many practicing Catholics are tired of Vatican II and the new Mass and believe that both projects have failed. One may agree with these confreres or not, but Pope Francis does not want to proselytize them but to attract them.

We think that a good way to attract them would be to show them—if it is possible (not otherwise)—with deeds instead of words, the abundant visible fruits of Vatican II and the new Mass and compare them with the fruits of the pre-Conciliar Church. If this is not possible, then the best thing to do is to wait a hundred or two hundred years (because in some places the fruits of the councils need perhaps centuries to be seen) and then one can try to attract (but not proselytize) those people who do not believe that Vatican II and the new Mass are as good as others make them out to be.

Pope Francis is very clear about prohibiting any “spiritual interference in personal life”:

Religion has the right to express its own opinions at the service of people, but God, upon creating us, made us free. Spiritual interference in personal life is not possible. [...] The person must always be taken into account. Here we discover the mystery of the human being. In this life, God accompanies people, and our duty is to accompany them based on their condition. We must accompany them with mercy.[56]

Therefore, although the Popes have the right to express their own opinions in the service of people—through the acts of Vatican II or documents such as Traditionis Custodes—“God, upon creating us, made us free. Spiritual interference in personal life is not possible.” Therefore, “we must accompany with mercy” all those who do not share these papal opinions or tastes, which implies that the opinion that so-and-so has about Vatican II cannot be a valid reason for us to build walls to exclude him, as would be done, e.g., if someone punishes a priest for celebrating confirmations in the old rite only because he does not share the Pope’s opinion about this or that council or rite. Let us remember Pope Francis’ principle: “spiritual interference in one’s personal life is not possible.”

Francis says that “by welcoming everyone as they are, with benevolence and without proselytism, your communities manifest the desire to be a Church with open doors, one which ever ‘goes forth,’”[57] and this must be kept in mind when applying TC and RAD.

Welcoming each of our confreres who have distaste for Vatican II and the new Mass, with benevolence and without proselytism, your communities manifest a desire to be a Church with open doors—even to the traditional rite—one which ever “goes forth” to all the peripheries, even the peripheries of souls who do not agree with Vatican II or the reformed Mass.

2.4 The Condemnation of Clericalism

2.4.1 Clericalism as a Perversion

Pope Francis has condemned clericalism repeatedly, as one can see, for instance, in the address he delivered to the Mexican College: “Do not forget that clericalism is a perversion.”[58]

Clericalism is an excessive affection and submission to the clergy and its directives. Hence, evangelical discernment, in certain cases, will lead shepherds to avoid a literal interpretation of TC and RAD when laymen ask to participate in the traditional rite, for otherwise there would be the risk of falling into that “perversion” called clericalism. The Holy Father has declared that “we do not have to control the other person, to follow their every step lest they escape our grip,”[59] as would be the case if a bishop tried to control his clergy in their every step in order to ensure they fulfill this or that regulation.

2.4.2 The Principle of Liturgical Equality

Moreover, according to Pope Francis, “we are all equal,”[60] which implies that he is not more important than the least layman. In other words, it should be enough that an ordinary layman asks for a traditional Mass to justify giving it to him, since “we are all equal.” The Pope is not more important than the rest and therefore a Vatican document (be it TC or RAD) does not enjoy greater authority than a layman’s opinion on the subject. If we denied this, we would have to conclude that we are not in fact equal and that the Pope does have greater authority, but this is not what the Pope himself said. He insisted, “We are all equal.”

2.4.3 Live and Let Live

According to Pope Francis, to“live and let live [is] the first step towards peace and happiness.”[61] We must live the ritual we prefer and allow others to live the rite they prefer. We must have our opinion about Vatican II and allow others to have their own opinion about this or that council.

3. The Criteria of Reality

3.1 Primacy of Realities over the Idea

The Holy Father affirms the primacy of realities over ideas:

There also exists a constant tension between ideas and realities. Realities simply are, whereas ideas are worked out. There has to be continuous dialogue between the two, lest ideas become detached from realities. It is dangerous to dwell in the realm of words alone, of images and rhetoric. So a third principle comes into play: realities are greater than ideas. This calls for rejecting the various means of masking reality: angelic forms of purity, dictatorships of relativism, empty rhetoric, objectives more ideal than real, brands of ahistorical fundamentalism, ethical systems bereft of kindness, intellectual discourse bereft of wisdom.[62]

This passage implies that when applying TC and RAD there might be cases in which a tension arises between the ideas (including the words) of TC and RAD and actual realities, to the point when the idea is completely separate from realities. In these cases, the application of the general principles of TC and RAD could lead to an angelic liturgical-normative purism, the dictatorship of relativism (that is, to the dictatorship of merely human ritual forms), to empty rhetoric about liturgical matters, to liturgical objectives more ideal than read, to ritual fundamentalism, to systems bereft of kindness, or to liturgical preoccupations bereft of wisdom.

3.2 Preference for Accidents over Being Closed

Along the same lines, the Holy Father warns us about rigidity:

It never closes itself off, never retreats into its own security, never opts for rigidity and defensiveness. It realizes that it has to grow in its own understanding of the Gospel and in discerning the paths of the Spirit, and so it always does what good it can, even if in the process, its shoes get soiled by the mud of the street.[63]

This passage is very important when interpreting and applying TC and RAD. Indeed, shepherds should not retreat into the security that would come from a general application of TC and RAD, since that would be rigidity and defensiveness.

Furthermore, Pope Francis exhorts us to prefer accidents to being closed off: “But I tell you, I far prefer a Church that has had a few accidents to a Church that has fallen sick from being closed.”[64] It is infinitely preferable to have an “accident” caused by the celebration of Mass in the old rite (an “accident” with respect to papal regulations) than allow the Church to fall sick from being closed off in the new Mass or worship of Vatican II.


Some might object that the criteria for the application of TC and RAD we have listed are a subtle way of calling for them to be ignored. We reply that this is not the case, and that Pope Francis asks that we renounce casuistry.[65]

In any case, we believe that were are some red lines that must not be crossed when interpreting and applying TC and RAD:

- The situation of those traditionalist priests who want to form “Catholic” sects by throwing bricks at all those who are not like them must never be favored.

- The proliferation of traditionalist groups that consider the new Mass celebrated according to the rubrics as invalid must not be allowed.

- The birth of traditionalist groups whose motive is not the glory of God but human ends disguised in the splendor of a brilliant rite should not be fomented.

We could add many more points, but we wish to avoid falling into the casuistry condemned by the Holy Father, although it is problematic to set red lines, given that the Pope asks us to apply the ecclesiology of the polyhedron, which he explains in these terms:

The Holy Spirit does not create uniformity! What figure can we find? We think of the polyhedron: the polyhedron is a unity, but with all different parts; each one has its peculiarity, its charism. This is unity in diversity.[66]

Let us apply this to the interpretation and application of TC and RAD.

The Holy Spirit does not create liturgical uniformity! What figure can we find? We think of the polyhedron: the polyhedron is a unity, but with all different parts; each one has its peculiarity. This is unity in liturgical diversity.



Let us conclude by emphasizing that TC and RAD cannot be applied rigidly, but we must follow a continuing process of discernment, without being afraid of the possibility of making mistakes, as Pope Francis has declared.[67]

In short, if we want to be consistent with the texts of His Holiness Pope Francis and avoid defensive rigidity—clearly condemned by the Holy Father—, Traditionis Custodes and the Responsa ad Dubia must be interpreted and applied according to a careful discernment, which should have as its main criteria charity (with tenderness and mercy); scrupulous respect for the conscience of every priest and every layman; synodality and promotion of “making a mess” to the point of manifesting public disagreement with certain human norms that go against one’s own subjective conscience; the rejection of clericalism and the criterion of reality, which considers each case as a unique and unrepeatable whole not to be pigeonholed in the limits of a general human and abstract norm.

Let us conclude this essay by imploring Our Most Blessed Lady to obtain for us the grace of utmost docility to the motions of the Holy Spirit so that we may prefer His Will to any human security, of perfect fidelity to the See of Peter so that we might live always cum Petro et sub Petro, knowing that “only the Holy Spirit is capable of making a heart docile to the freedom of love.”[68]

Let each one discover that the Holy Spirit “acts in each evangelizer who allows himself to be taken over and guided by Him,”[69] regardless of the general norms established by this or that clerical document.

Only thus will be able to build a Synodal Church, “which ever goes forth,” open to all and adapted to the modern world.

Padre Federico is a lawyer from the University of Buenos Aires (UBA). He received his doctorate in philosophy summa cum laude, defending a thesis on separate substances at the Ateneo Pontificio Regina Apostolorum (APRA, Rome) and was an associate professor at the Unicervantes University and in three major seminaries. Since January 2014, he has been a missionary in pagan lands. Currently, he lives in Malawi. He is director and missionary of the Omnes Gentes Project (OGP), a platform that, through apostolic expeditions, brings the Faith to tribes or villages that have not yet known Jesus, in the Himalayas, Indochina, deep Africa and other confines. He is the director of the Athenaeum Saint Elias (ASE). Since 2013, he publishes reflections and chronicles on the blog Mar Adentro. Together with Father Dr. Dr. Javier Olivera Ravasi, he founded the Order of St. Elias (OSE), dedicated to the bold proclamation of the Faith, in the fields of the missio ad gentes and the Catholic cultural counter-revolution. (Source: InfoCatolica)





[1] Pope Francis, “Never slaves of the law,” Homily, 24 October 2016.

[2] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 49.

[3] Pope Francis, Speech to the community of the Mexican Pontifical College, 29 March 2021.

[4] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 305.

[5] Ibid. 2.

[6] Ibid. 35.

[7] Pope Francis, Chrism Mass Homily, 2 April 2015.

[8] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 43.

[9] Ibid. 50.

[10] Cf. Synod of Bishops, Synod 2021–2023: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission, Preparatory Document, 21: “Then, there is the ‘extra’ actor, the antagonist, who brings to the scene the diabolical separation of the other three. Faced with the perturbing prospect of the cross, there are disciples who leave and mood-changing crowds. The insidiousness that divides—and, thus, thwarts a common path—manifests itself indifferently in the forms of religious rigor, of moral injunction that presents itself as more demanding than that of Jesus, and of the seduction of a worldly political wisdom that claims to be more effective than a discernment of spirits. In order to escape the deceptions of the ‘fourth actor,’ continuous conversion is necessary.”

[11] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 300.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid. 305.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. 304.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid. 305.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid. 306

[24] Evangelii Gaudium 16.

[25] Ibid. 20.

[26] Ibid. 30.

[27] Ibid. 33.

[28] Ibid. 119.

[29] Ibid. 16.

[30] Synod of Bishops, Synod 2021–2023: For a Synodal Church: Communion, Participation, and Mission, Preparatory Document, 9.

[31] Ibid. 14.

[32] Ibid. 30, IX.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Pope Francis, Homily, 24 October 2016.

[35] Pope Francis, Audience, 1 September 2021.

[36] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 195.

[37] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 210.

[38] Pope Francis, Audience, 18 August 2021.

[39] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 43.

[40] Pope Francis, Meeting with the leaders of Brazilian society, 27 July 2013.

[41] Ibid.

[42] Pope Francis, Homily, 8 May 2013.

[43] Pope Francis, Interview with Eugenio Scalfari, 13 July 2014.

[44] Pope Francis, Letter to Eugenio Scalfari, 4 September 2013.

[45] Pope Francis, Speech to the prisoners and staff of the Penitentiary in Cassano All’Ionio, 21 June 2014.

[46] Pope Francis, Address, 18 May 2013.

[47] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 33.

[48] Pope Francis, Encounter with Argentinean Youth in Rio de Janeiro, 25 July 2013.

[49] Pope Francis, Encounter with the daughters of his first boss, Zenit, 11 July 2015.

[50] Cf. Pope Francis, Homily in Rio de Janeiro, 25 July 2013; Speech to the Participants of the Diocesan Assembly of Rome, 17 June 2013; Interview with O Globo, 29 July 2013; Speech to the First World Encounter of Popular Movements, Rome, 28 October 2014; Speech to the Second World Encounter of Popular Movements, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, 9 July 2015.

[51] Pope Francis, Interview with O Globo, 29 July 2013.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 218.

[54] Pope Francis, Book Interview with Gianni Valente

[55] Pope Francis, Speech to the staff of the dicastery for communication, 23 September 2019.

[56] Pope Francis, Interview with Antonio Spadaro, 19 August 2013.

[57] Pope Francs, Address to the Bishops of the Regional Conference of North Africa, 2 March 2015.

[58] Pope Francis, Address to the Pontifical Mexican College, 29 March 2021.

[59] Pope Francis, Amoris Laetitia 115.

[60] Pope Francis, General audience, 26 June 2013.

[61] Pope Francis, Interview with Pablo Calvo, 27 July 2014.

[62] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 231.

[63] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 45.

[64] Pope Francis, Address, 18 May 2013.

[65] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 45.

[66] Pope Francis, Address during the private visit of the Protestant pastor Giovanni Traettino in Caserta, 28 July 2014.

[67] Pope Francis, Dialogue with the Directresses of the CLAR, 9 January 2015.

[68] Pope Francis, Homily, 9 January 2015.

[69] Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 152.

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