The Universal Indult vs. the Universal Insurance Policy?

Michael J. Matt
Editor, The Remnant

What's he going to do...and why?

It’s November again, and Vatican watchers are buzzing about yet another November surprise: Pope Benedict XVI is reportedly set to release a motu proprio that will more fully restore the traditional Mass throughout the world.  It’s too soon to tell, of course, but perhaps the late Michael Davies’ predictions weren’t far off.  Is “Cardinal Ratzinger” preparing to make the serious move in Tradition’s favor that Michael insisted would come? Evidently, we’ll all know soon enough.

Regardless of what happens in the next few weeks, the Pope’s proposed indult has already given rise to plenty of anxiety for liberals in the episcopate.  The French bishops, for example, are not happy. A good number of them have vehemently protested the plan already, and more dissent is anticipated in the days ahead. “This could create grave difficulties, especially for those who have remained loyal to Vatican II. We risk creating a front of sadness, discouragement and disappointment with the Holy See. The liturgy is just the tip of the iceberg,” Bishop Robert Le Gall of Toulouse complained to the Catholic daily La Croix.

An October 31st Reuters report by Tom Heneghan suggests that the French uproar is having a ripple effect: “Church leaders in Belgium and Germany have also grumbled, saying demand for the old Tridentine mass in Latin was minimal and warning the traditionalists could use it as a wedge to smuggle more divisive issues into the world’s largest church.” The Reuters report paints a fairly grim picture:

Paris Archbishop Andre Vingt-Trois bluntly spelled out the problems the traditionalists would bring at a Paris conference attended by Cardinal Francis Arinze, the Vatican official in charge of liturgical issues such as how to say mass. “Under the cover of a campaign to defend a certain type of liturgy, there is a radical critique of the Vatican Council, even outright rejection of some of its declarations,” he said. “The rejection of new liturgies was followed by public insults against the popes and crowned by violent acts such as the forcible seizure of a parish church in Paris and an aborted attempt by the same people to repeat this,” he said. The warning from Vingt-Trois came after a rising chorus of criticism from other clergy in France…

Not surprisingly, the Pope’s initiative is sending our old friend from Brussels, Cardinal Godfried Danneels, into apoplexy. The radical left-winger, whose liberal fanaticism even favors women in the Roman curia, told Reuters the “Tridentine Latin rite is only the locomotive–the issue is the carriages that are pulled behind it. Behind this locomotive are carriages that I don’t want.” 

If we are to judge the merits of Pope Benedict’s proposed indult by those who oppose it, traditionalists may well be in for a pleasant surprise. Nevertheless, the strident reaction has a certain foreboding undertone that recalls to mind the prophetic words of little Jacinta of Fatima: “The Holy Father will have much to suffer.” If and when the Pope does enact concrete measures along traditionalist lines he will be crucified.

The SSPX Connection

Our nervous bishops seem particularly concerned that a universal indult would yield too much ground to the Society of St. Pius X.   Never missing an opportunity to put his paranoia where tradition is concerned on display, the insufferable Cardinal Danneels urged the Vatican to be tough with the SSPX. “I’ve never heard their leaders say even once that they accept Vatican II,” he told the Brussels daily De Standaard. “I think the Vatican should demand this.”

But what if there is more to the universal indult than just the SSPX connection?  For the sake of argument, let us suppose the Pope is personally convinced—as Michael Davies contended he was—of the merits of the international initiative to restore the old Mass.  This is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility, nor does it suggest a papal about-face where Vatican II is concerned. On numerous occasions the Holy Father has expressed concern over the dismal state of the “reformed” liturgy.  And he surely hasn’t overlooked the fact that, while SSPX seminaries are teeming with vocations, vocations in the Novus Ordo have all but vanished, while Mass attendance continues to plummet.  It doesn’t take a dyed-in-the-wool traditionalist to see that the Novus Ordo is heading toward extinction. For all anyone knows, therefore, the 79-year-old pontiff—despite his own progressivism—may be convinced that, with or without the SSPX, the universal indult is necessary to prevent the total collapse of the Church’s official diocesan structure.

After all, even high-ranking prelates are admitting that the Church of Vatican II is in crisis. Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, in an address to the Catholic Citizens of Illinois (October 19, 2006), made the following startling admission:

That being said, we should however, realize that the Catholic Church in the United States, and to a large extent throughout the Western World, is facing a very formidable series of crises…Unless there is a strong realization among practicing Catholics that there is a crisis, and that this crisis deserves our resolute determination to confront it and overcome it, we will not get very far, except to descend further into the bleakness of this sad kind of winter.

A “sad kind of winter”? Kudos to His Excellency for having the courage to state the obvious, but what does this say for the vaunted “Springtime of Vatican II”?  The Bishop continues:

Among the mistaken notions and distortions that derive from the Council was that of liturgical chaos. We also had a completely mistaken idea of the relationships of non-Catholics, individually and in groups, to the Catholic Church. The decree on ecumenism and the declaration on non-Christian religious, Unitatis Redintegratio and Nostra Aetate became the launching points of what later became, according to our present Holy Father, the dictatorship of relativism....

“Liturgical chaos?” A “dictatorship of relativism?” Are we to surmise, then, that Pope John Paul The Great presided over abject mayhem for almost three decades and said nary a word about it?

Archbishop Ranjith

In a July 13th interview with I Media news agency in Rome, Archbishop Albert Malcolm Ranjith Patabendige Don, the newly appointed Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship, made a remark that turned the New Church upside-down. Commenting on numerous complaints from  the faithful around the world over liturgical abuses in the New Mass, he said: “It is our duty to be vigilant… Because, in the end, the people will assist at the Tridentine Mass and our churches will empty.”

The winds of change do indeed seem to be stirring, but why now?  And could this universal indult be a ruse designed to corral the Catholic counterrevolution by co-opting its largest traditionalist priestly fraternity? After decades of betrayal, it’s a fair question.

Bishop Bernard Fellay, Superior General of the Society of St. Pius X, however, gives little indication of falling for “the trap”…if, in fact, a trap is what it is.  In an October 14, 2006 interview on, Bishop Fellay stated the following:

During the chapter, we examined some hypothetical situations: let us suppose that we make the agreement [with Rome] today, what happens tomorrow? We are perfectly recognized as members of the official Church, so the parish priest invites us to come and help him. “Listen, I have a lot of parishioners… could you come and help me give Holy Communion?” There we already have the first problem! “No, I don’t give this communion. I know the New Mass is bad. I can’t have any part in it. I won’t have any part in it and so I can’t come and give communion with you.” Things start out very badly. And you can consider things from any aspect you wish, relations with those around us would immediately be fraught with difficulties and conflicts. We would be obliged to remain entrenched in our chapels in order not to have any problem, and that in itself would already be a problem. This shows that we cannot begin with a practical agreement. On the very evening of the agreement, we would already be in such a disagreement that we would be excommunicated again, and we would be back to square one…

Are these the words of a would-be “sell out”?  They do not appear to be, and it is unlikely that the Vatican regards them as such.  What, then, are we to make of the Pope’s alleged determination to release the universal indult anyway, despite massive protests from his bishops?

Dr. David Allen White, a well known defender of tradition, is as opposed to a premature SSPX compromise with the Vatican as we are.  And yet in an October 26th interview with PRWEB ( , Dr. White noted that while a universal indult would not be a “complete remedy for a near 40-year crisis”, it would nevertheless be a step in the right direction: “It’s never a bad thing to have more traditional Latin Masses being said. If this step by Rome causes more priests to be able to say the traditional Mass, that’s good.”

I suspect that most traditional Catholics would agree, providing they could have some assurance that the ultimate end of the universal indult is not the undermining of the traditional Catholic counterrevolution. 

There are other concerns, too: The international traditional Catholic movement—including the SSPX, the Fraternity of St. Peter, Independent chapels, the Institute of Christ the King, tradition-minded Indult priests, etc., have—to varying degrees—managed to preserve the traditional Mass through forty years of liturgical “shock and awe”.  Do we really want that jealously guarded treasure to become the plaything of Fr. Elton John?  Are we ready for Palestrina meets Joan Baez? 

On the other hand, wouldn’t Father Elton John and his happy-clappy congregation be about as receptive to the old Mass as are the French bishops? The Tridentine Mass is to the liberal what holy water is to the vampire. Wouldn’t the universal indult, therefore, succeed mainly in providing sanctuary to those priestly prisoners of the Novus Ordo Gulag who have managed to keep the faith but who have grown sick to death of the protestantized new Mass?  It would seem so.

In Germany just last month, the SSPX sent a letter to 6,500 Novus priests in the dioceses of Munster, Trier, Berlin, Munich, Paderborn and Cologne, inviting them to purchase an instructional DVD on how to offer the Tridentine Mass.  According to a RU ANEC news report, 1,000 German priests and 100 seminarians actually ordered the DVD!  In November, the same letter will be sent to an additional 4,500 priests, with another 5,100 to be posted in early 2007.

Cardinal Deneells may have good reason for concern.  Let’s hope so.

The Indult

With respect to the indult phenomenon as a whole, does it not behoove us to evaluate its merits (or lack thereof), not so much on the basis of why it came into existence, but rather on the direction in which it has moved the faithful ever since?  Perhaps we should ask ourselves:  Do “indulters” tend to be drawn out of Independent chapels and the SSPX and into the mainstream (as was the stated aim of the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei), or does it tend to be the other way around?

In the vast majority of cases, the latter seems to be the case. The Indult phenomenon has long been siphoning Catholics out of Novus Ordo swamps and into fresher waters.  At the indult Mass center in St. Paul, for example, there are perhaps two families that defected from the SSPX in favor of the indult. The rest are expatriates from the Novus Ordo. 

Accordingly, a high percentage of the SSPX faithful came through the indult porthole.  Many would never have set foot in a “schismatic” chapel had they not first gathered bits and pieces of the “rest of the story” while attending an indult Mass.

You see what’s happening? The “trap” has failed to ensnare its intended prey. Families are moving towards Tradition in droves, not away from it. So if Pope Benedict, who is surely well aware of this trend, wishes now to expand that number by introducing an even broader indult, what exactly would our grounds for objection be when all the statistical evidence points to indult Masses having inadvertently facilitated wide scale defections from the Novus Ordo? Even allowing for the most Machiavellian of intentions on the part of the drafters of the indults of 1984 and 1988, God seems to have circumvented their designs. 

The indult has its drawbacks, of course.  The Remnant has, in fact, led the charge over the past two decades against the “Indult Mentality,” which would have traditionalists swap their public resistance to the revolution for permission slips to have the Mass they “prefer.”  Mirabile dictu, the “Smile and Obey Your Apostate Bishop” crowd seems to be dispersing while militant lay traditional Catholics—in both approved and unapproved Mass centers—are putting jackhammers to the base of the great façade of neo-Catholicism. 

Total rejection of the “new ecclesial orientation” of Vatican II is what fueled the traditional Catholic counterrevolution since 1969. It wasn’t Archbishop Lefebvre’s “liturgical preferences” that prompted the motu proprio Ecclesia Dei and brought down modernist wrath upon his head; it was his resounding NO to the New Mass and the destructive “spirit” of the Second Vatican Council.

And the results?  The Novus Ordo ship is sinking, and hundreds of thousands of its erstwhile passengers are making for one of the many traditionalist lifeboats floating nearby.  At this point, what difference does it make whether those lifeboats are approved by the Establishment Coast Guard? Victims of liturgical shipwreck are being pulled from the waters, and Benedict’s proposed universal indult promises to send more lifeboats.

The Insurance Policy

Some years ago, I sat in the office of the rector of St. Mary’s in Kansas, Fr. Ramon Angles, SSPX.  We were discussing factionalism within traditional Catholicism, and I was trying to explain my contention that, so long as resistance against Vatican II and the New Mass is maintained, traditional Catholics inside the SSPX and out have much in common. “And if and when the Indult comes crashing down, everyone knows that the SSPX is right there, patrolling the waters and picking up survivors.”

There was a twinkle in Father’s eye as he quipped:  “It is good to know that you consider us to be your insurance agents.”

Indeed.  Where would the indult movement be without the hundreds of priests and a million faithful of the SSPX prompting such “generosity” on the part of modernist bishops respecting our “rightful aspirations”? Many of the progressivist bishops were so blinded by a sense of loathing for the SSPX that they begrudgingly gave permission for hundreds of indult Masses, causing traditionalists to triple in number, while launching the SSPX into an international force whose superior general would on occasion argue the traditionalist case before the Holy Father himself…in person!  

Look around! The Novus Ordo is dying while Traditionalism is thriving.  Why should we change the formula now? Working off each other from within the Establishment (the Indult and the approved orders) and from outside of it (the SSPX), tradition-minded Catholics are accomplishing the impossible despite their myriad differences of opinion with each other: They’re injecting Catholic Tradition into the lifeblood of the Church after forty years of hierarchical assault on that Tradition. 

Those of us who can remember what being a “traditionalist” meant back in the 1970s can well recall that sense of isolation that was our lot.  Our cause was ridiculed and dismissed; no one in authority seemed to pay it any mind; we were kooks, renegades and schismatics.  Remember? 

Today, traditionalism is in the thick of Church affairs worldwide, our arguments and objections often surfacing on front-pages from New York to Paris. The neo-Catholics are falling all over themselves in a desperate effort to appear more traditional, many even applying the term to themselves.  “We were here all along,” they chirp.  So be it.  Who cares!  This is not about personal vindication.  The important thing is that the Mass of tradition has survived, even if (or perhaps because) the situation in the mainstream Church has regressed beyond our wildest nightmares.

As the world descends deeper into darkness and apostasy, millions are keeping the Faith in the various enclaves of traditional Catholicism that history will credit for having served the Church well—despite the fact that they never reached a consensus on strategy.  Some pound away at the great façade from the outside while others insist on quietly chipping away at it from within.  After forty years of this, the great façade is beginning to crumble and it’s obvious that the traditional Catholic counterrevolution is larger than any one traditionalist group. 

I’m not suggesting that the dark night has ended or that the state of emergency has subsided.  Far from it!  Judging from the belligerent ecclesial reaction to the Pope’s universal indult, a war for the soul of the Church may be nearer than we think. But some things have improved. One cause of paralyzing discouragement down in the catacombs over the years, for example, was the muffled din of jubilation that constantly reverberated through the streets overhead. While we seemed to be losing everything—the Mass, the Sacraments, our children—our shepherds and co-religionists were basking away in the sunshine of a “new springtime” and making merry with a world eager to take advantage of the “new and improved” Catholicism of Vatican II.

The party, mercifully, is over, and Catholics from the lowliest pew to the throne of St. Peter are coming to realize that something must be done.  In a few days, the Holy Father himself is expected to extend his hand over the universal Church and solemnly proclaim that, at least liturgically, the traditionalist resistance has been justified all along. The old Mass must be restored.  

Imagine that!

But even when this happens, if it happens, can there be any doubt that, after so much betrayal and revolution, the SSPX lifeboat must remain anchored precisely where it has always been, safely beyond the vortex of the sinking Novus Ordo? The “insurance policy” can not be cancelled until Rome’s recognition of the full extent of the crisis takes the form of a total recall of the disastrous Novus Ordo—liturgically, theologically and philosophically.

Until then, pay the premiums. Support Bishop Fellay’s very public and controversial stand for the restoration of Tradition throughout the whole Church, especially now when it is obvious to all, even high-ranking Vatican cardinals, that the SSPX is not in schism.  (Let’s get past that, shall we? Our fight is not with brother traditionalists. It is with the Evil One and his minions, including a number of faithless invaders who have seized exalted thrones in the heart and bosom of Holy Mother Church.) 

Wise serpents and cooing doves will not fail to recognize the absolute necessity of keeping the traditionalist chess pieces in play just as they have been—some on the inside of the façade, some on the outside. That strategy, along with devotion to Our Lady and dogged determination to keep the old Faith and reject the regime of novelty, has been our salvation.  Approved and unapproved lifeboats—tossed on stormy waters—have rescued millions.  Despite our best efforts to drive holes in each other’s hulls, the Holy Ghost must have been at work all along, even when we imagined ourselves to be on our own. 

And now if Pope Benedict XVI—the great devotee of Pope John Paul II and champion of Vatican II—is suddenly to decide to defy his progressivist bishops and promote universal restoration of the Tridentine Mass, is it really so far beyond the pale to hope that the Paraclete is at work there, too—in the Eternal City? Let us at the very least pray that this is so.

If the Pope follows the present course, we should be cautiously optimistic.  We do not delude ourselves—our Holy Father is no traditionalist. But the modernists’ hissing and gnashing of teeth over his proposed universal indult indicate that, happily, he is not with them, either.  Will they try to nail Peter upside-down on a cross for daring to restore the old Mass?  Perhaps we’ll know soon enough what little Jacinta saw in her vision that prompted her to cry out through her tears that the Holy Father would have much to suffer. Whatever our disagreements with the Holy Father, we’d do well to pray for him with renewed fervor, especially now when all hell looks to be rising up against him.


Whispers on the Vatican Street

What follows is a letter from a friend in Rome. It is not a definitive report on what is likely to transpire with the universal indult over the next few weeks, but rather a small synopsis of the Roman rumors surrounding it.  I have asked our correspondent, Scipio, who is a friend of tradition, if he would be willing to help us separate fact from rumor in the months  ahead.  So, stay tuned.  MJM

Hello Remnant Friends:

I just wanted to pass on some important news that I have learned from a priest friend who works with the Congregation for Divine Worship in Rome about one particular item in what is purported to be a virtual barrage of Liturgical pronouncements about to issue from the Holy See.

Two items have already been made public.  First, was the instruction to the US Bishops [through Bp. Skylstad, Pres. of USCCB] that laypeople [extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist] may no longer purify the sacred vessels after Communion.  This action rescinds the indult granted to the dioceses of the United States and calls into force the Universal Law of the Church on this matter.  It may seem like a small matter, and common sense, and you may even say “not only should they not purify the sacred vessels, they shouldn't even go near them,” with which I whole-heartedly concur.  But, based on the reaction of some of the older pastors that I’ve met from the States, it would seem that this action may have the desirable effect of reducing the occasions on which Communion is given under both kinds.  In fact, in his letter to Bp. Skylstad, Card. Arinze went so far as to counsel the bishops to reiterate the teaching of the Council of Trent on the Doctrine of Concomitance.  This gave the letter a rather unusual tenor.

Second, regarding the new translation of the Roman Missal ... it seems that while Pope Benedict was still the prefect of the CDF, he inaugurated a study of the proper and traditional ways in which the phrase from the Canon “pro multis” has been translated, with a view to resolving the ongoing debate over “for all” and “for [the] many” (BTW, this controversy is not unique to the English translation, most translations share this error).  Within months of his election as Supreme Pontiff, Benedict instructed Cardinal Levada to continue this study, and that both Doctrine of the Faith and Divine Worship should present him with a single conclusion.  Once again, it seems like common sense that since Latin has a perfectly good word for “all” (i.e. omnis) that we shouldn’t translate a word that means “many” as “all”.  You would think.  Well, guess what happened.  Cardinal Levada and the CDF came to the conclusion that “pro multis” means “for all”, while the CDW concluded that it means either “for many” or “for the many”.  Since these Congregations came to opposing conclusions on the matter, the CDW decided to present the Holy Father with an independent statement, which reportedly sent Cardinal Levada into a fury since he was told to present a single united conclusion by the Pope.  It also turns out that the Holy Father has come to the conclusion that “for [the] many” is the only acceptable translation of that phrase.

Now, as regards the rumored indult ... the latest draft (which apparently has only been seen by a few people, AND has been kept from both the heads of  CDF and the CDW – after all it’s a motu proprio of the Holy Father) is said to include the following features:

·         A universal indult for any priest, anywhere, at anytime to celebrate previous uses of the Latin Rite.  This is absolutely essential to its effect because it does NOT specify the Missal of 1962.  It is also crucial to note that since this document liberates previous uses, it will mean freedom for the Dominican Use, etc.  So the indult in itself is comprehensive and sweeping.

·         As for the Bishops ... they are told in the second section that they are to moderate the use of previous editions of the Missal in their dioceses by providing time, place, clergy, etc.  It does not – at this point – include any right for the bishop to forbid the previous use by his priests.  The term ‘moderate’ is apparently defined in greater detail in the preamble to the motu proprio.

·         The third item is a bit mysterious, but seems to address seminaries and priestly preparation.

It is important to note that there does not seem to be any reference to the right of the Faithful to have access to these older uses, but it would seem that a motu proprio is not really directed to the Faithful as much as to the bishops.

The feeling in Rome is one of great anticipation and it is the topic of many hallway discussions.  One priest seminarian told me that in his dry Canon Law classes at the “Greg”, more than a couple students are brushing up on the old rubrics under their Law texts.  I’m waiting for the moment after publication (Deo volente) when these discussions will move from the shadowy hallways to the dining room, where only the most politically correct discourse takes place. 

There are many rumors about the possible date of publication of the motu proprio (anything from Nov 4 to the end of Nov).  Who knows?  And who knows if it will preserve the current features that I describe here.  Whatever it is, it will be news to everyone, because apparently the Pope has NOT sought the advice of the curia in this matter, despite press reports to the contrary.  If it does come out the way my friend described it ... then it will be nothing short of counter-revolutionary.  I guess a million Rosaries can do anything.