Monday, January 28, 2019

What Does the Suppression of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei Mean?

I agree with many who have written that, materially, this motu proprio (full translation here) delivers no gigantic shocks. It does not abolish the functions of the PCED but transfers them internally to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It does not suggest any limitation on Summorum Pontificum or on any of the religious orders and communities that make use of the usus antiquior. It does not hint at any further steps of limitation or ghettoizing of traditionalists. Above all, it does not transfer any of the former competencies of the PCED to other Roman dicasteries that would surely have made mincemeat of them. In that sense, the bullet some were fearing has been dodged.

Nevertheless, one might have some concerns about the implications of the step the Pope has taken.

When Pope Francis summarizes his conception of the function of the PCED, he uses terms that are more limited than the scope Pope Benedict XVI assigned to PCED in the wake of Summorum Pontificum and Universae Ecclesiae. Francis speaks as if PCED existed to reconcile the SSPX and to regulate the life of other communities and orders that have chosen the usus antiquior. But as we all know, the Commission has spent a great deal of its time working patiently with bishops and clergy around the world who obstruct or deny the provisions of Summorum Pontificum. In this sense it is not quite true to say that the questions dealt with by the Commission “were of a primarily doctrinal nature.”

If the folding of the Commission into the CDF causes it to enjoy less independence and maneuverability for dealing with the refractory, this would be a narrowing of Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral program. We may hope that this does not occur; time will tell.

The motu proprio claims that “today the conditions which led the Holy Pontiff John Paul II to institute the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei have changed.” In many ways, this is true; but in other respects, the situation is still similar: there are many parishes desirous of the usus antiquior that have been denied it contra legem; there are groups of men and women religious who desire to incorporate it into their life and have faced stonewalling; and there are communities that have been suppressed because they too eagerly adopted the provisions of Summorum Pontificum.

Admittedly, it is an advantage for the dialogue with the SSPX that they will be dealing solely with the CDF, since it is a higher and more authoritative body. One wonders, however, if this administrative restructuring might be to the disadvantage of Catholic clergy, religious, and laity who, already in full communion with the Church, are facing difficulties that were handled by the Commission under its own head, Archbishop Pozzo, who has now been dismissed. The CDF has, of course, authority of a much higher standing, but it must choose to bring that authority to bear on those who stubbornly oppose the rights of the clergy and the faithful attached to the usus antiquior.

Then one may inquire about the unwritten message this change may transmit. Until now, the matter of implementing Summorum Pontificum has been deemed important enough to require a Pontifical Commission headed by an Archbishop. Could the new motu proprio be meant to insinuate that the urgency of this issue has passed? Sometimes reorganization, especially in this pontificate, seems to mean downgrading. Does it telegraph that dialogue with the SSPX is a priority, while fielding other issues is not, or considerably less so?

An anonymous Vatican commentator cited by Chris Altieri at the (US) Catholic Herald says: “It makes sense to ‘fold’ Ecclesia Dei — its duties and competencies — into CDF.” It surely makes sense for the SSPX doctrinal talks to be conducted by the CDF; but why would the handling of traditional religious orders and communities, or rubrical and calendrical issues, or cases of pastoral non-compliance on the part of ordinaries and superiors, be confided to a congregation that monitors orthodoxy of faith and morals? As a counterpoint, though, we might recall that all aspects of the Anglican Ordinariates are already handled by the CDF, including questions of clerical discipline and liturgy. One may also point out the sober truth that the preponderance of work now confided to the CDF concerns clerical abuse. The Congregation, in other words, is a multi-disciplinary body, wielding a great deal of authority, and amply furbished with Consultors.

Some have optimistically read into the decision a recognition that the real issues at the heart of the traditionalist/mainstream divide are doctrinal in nature, rather than liturgical or canonical. Now, it is quite true that the real issues are doctrinal. But this motu proprio limits doctrinal difficulties to the SSPX and kindred groups. I am happy to be proved wrong, and to see the new arrangement as an upgrade for all adherents of liturgical and doctrinal tradition.

It is possible that the CDF will prove entirely friendly to the new special section and will see to it that the work already admirably done by the Commission over the past 30 years will continue energetically, albeit in a different setting. Perhaps the change will add up to little more than having a different letterhead for correspondence. In a best case scenario, the CDF may throw its muscle behind the issues with which PCED has dealt in the past, and make better headway. For this we must pray.

In the end, one thing is absolutely clear. It is not administrative structures or even their governing documents that make decisions or protect rights; people do. The ultimate effects of this change depend entirely on the officials who are in charge of the section and of the CDF itself. As Pope Leo XIII explains in his encyclical Au Milieu des Sollicitudes:
In so much does legislation differ from political power and its form, that under a system of government most excellent in form legislation could be detestable; while quite the opposite under a regime most imperfect in form, might be found excellent legislation. … Legislation is the work of men invested with power, and who, in fact, govern the nation; therefore it follows that, practically, the quality of the laws depends more upon the quality of these men than upon the power. The laws will be good or bad accordingly as the minds of the legislators are imbued with good or bad principles, and as they allow themselves to be guided by political prudence or by passion.
Whether we have a Commission or a Section; whether the substance of concern be portrayed as doctrinal or disciplinary and pastoral; whether separateness is better than incorporation, or vice versa — everything now hinges on the leadership of the CDF, the staffing decisions, and the marching orders that are officially or unofficially conveyed to the CDF by the Holy Father.

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