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Wednesday, December 28, 2022

IT’S THE MASS THAT MATTERS: A Study in Faithful Resistance

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Domodossola, a storybook village of the Italian Alps Domodossola, a storybook village of the Italian Alps

SOME YEARS AGO I heard an extraordinary story from a friend who lived for a time in the extreme northern end of the country, in a remote and beautiful valley of the Alps, the Val d'Ossola. In brief, three priests one day told their bishop that they would no longer celebrate the Mass in the new rite, and adopted the traditional Mass when Summorum Pontificum was published. And despite immense pressure and months of struggle, they never did again.


The story has thus far had a happy ending; the priests continue celebrating the traditional Mass exclusively, and preaching and teaching the holy and ancient Faith while remaining in good standing in their diocese, even well into the Bergoglian period.

I don’t know if this has happened anywhere else, but I’ve never heard of it if it has. The priests simply refused, went on strike, as the newspapers said. They said they would never celebrate the New Mass of Paul VI, and have been openly and forcefully preaching against the New Paradigm of VaticanTwoism ever since, with no one stopping them. Their leverage? Do they know where the bodies are buried? Have they got some incriminating photos? No. They just refused to budge and equally refused to quit. Faced with this calm, placid but unyielding resolution, no one in the diocese - Novusordoist New Churchmen all - knew what to do with them other than to just let them keep doing it.

This article appears in the December 31st Remnant Newspaper
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There have been ups and downs, and twists and turns, not least a new pope with a mania for stamping out resistance. But through it all, they have just calmly kept on keeping on. I thought the story fascinating because it was a testament to the incredible power of the sacrament of ordination, when that grace is fully and fearlessly embraced. There was a battle, to be sure, but there was never any descent into vulgar shouting, accusations in the press or, worse, court cases. They simply announced that, within their rights as priests, they would celebrate only the Mass of the Ages, and that was that.

The story is worth telling now because in just the last few weeks they have endured - and apparently triumphed over - yet another attack. So, to illustrate what can be done by men acting wholly out of charity and with the power of the grace of their proper state in life…

Once upon a time, high in the beautiful Italian Alps, there lived three good priests named Don Alberto Secci, Don Stefano Coggiola and Don Marco Pizzocchi, who wanted to serve God and their flock in peace and happiness in their parishes. But a darkness was growing throughout the Church and the world, and these three priests knew they had to respond.

After many years each had come realise that the New Rite of the Mass and sacraments, installed throughout the Church some decades before, wasn’t any good. They had concluded, after many years of experimental observation, that it was a “fabrication, an on-the-spot, banal product,” as another priest once famously said, and they saw that it was not having the promised effect. It was not, in short, filling the pews, convents or seminaries; it was not making everyone into saints, and it was definitely not promoting conversions to the Faith of Protestants (rather thin on the ground in those parts) or Communists (somewhat more abundantly represented).

Above all this story can show others what can be done simply by deciding not to give in, not to blink. It doesn’t require canonists or interventions; just a priest with spine.

But they had the problem of all good priests in our time; the old rite was effectively, if not explicitly, banned. Lowly parish priests, dependent on the good will not only of their bishops but of their Boomer-generation brothers in the clergy could not be expected to solve the problem on their own. And those older, VaticanII-clergy, whose spitting hatred for the traditional rites was matched only by their habits of vengeful retaliation, were often also their bishops. What to do when the very thing that defined their ministry, the Mass, seemed to be the very thing that was undermining the faith of their flock and the result of turning back to the old Mass would certainly be suspension, or worse?

A nation and world groaning in agony for loss of Faith

Hilary mapSource: ISTAT. Things in Italy are grim up north.

As priests of the Novara diocese, up in the mountain province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola close to the Swiss border, they could only watch helplessly as the Church faded away: congregations getting smaller and older, fewer weddings and even fewer baptisms, and more and more funerals.

Hilary Map 2

Map of suicide rates in Italy per 1 million inhabitants. From the article, “Suicide prevention: a long-lasting Italian tradition: toward understanding the suicidal mind,” M. Pompili. Department of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Sensory Functions, Suicide Prevention Center Sant’Andrea Hospital, Sapienza University, Rome. Verbano-Cusio-Ossola province is circled at the top.

Moreover, while the situation in Italy in general was sliding toward demographic oblivion, in the wealthy, industrialised north the creeping malaise of hopelessness was much worse. Rates of suicide, abortion and divorce were much higher than the Italian average. The numbers of doctors willing to do abortions is highest in the north, as is political support for legalised euthanasia. In short, the globalist death cult of the secular modern world was strongest where these priests ministered, and the Church of the New Vatican II Paradigm was either unable to stop it or had finally become unwilling to try.

Don Alberto SecciDon Alberto Secci celebrating the traditional Mass.

2007, the fight begins: Summorum Pontificum

But something was to happen in Rome that was to change the situation for these three, and potentially for all the priests in the world. In July 2007, the pope issued a personal decree that the old rite was formally freed from the legend that it had been suppressed or forbidden in the 1960s, and that priests were to be allowed to celebrate it, crucially, without needing permission from their bishops.

Rejoicing at such an unexpected sign of hope, the following September the priests informed their bishop, Renato Corti, that they would no longer be celebrating the Mass of Paul VI - not ever, anywhere or for any reason - again, in accordance with the letter of the new law. There was only one problem; bishops in general, especially in Italy and across Europe, were deeply committed to the Post-Conciliar revolution and were going to refuse to obey that law. The three priests of Novara soon found themselves at odds with the entire weight of that revolution. And what was worse, the press having taken an interest, the eyes of both Rome and the rest of the Italian episcopate were on the diocese of Novara. Their situation had become a flashpoint and a test.

Nevertheless, with holy confidence (and no doubt a certain natural trepidation) they started celebrating the traditional rite of the Mass exclusively in their parishes. What they could not have known was what a long war it was going to be, and how much their lives were to become devoted to the restoration of Tradition in the Church.

So rare was this relatively youthful “rebellion” in favour of Tradition in the Italian Church, the press expressed outright astonishment: “The diocese of Novara has a record as regards the Italian dioceses; it is the only one in which three parish priests (all under the age of 45) have decided to celebrate Mass only according to the Tridentine rite.” The local paper, Tribuna Novarese, quoted an “elderly” priest who expressed total bafflement: “He was very perplexed about this choice… [saying] it was made by young priests who had never celebrated Mass according to that rite and who perhaps do not even remember it. ‘Had it been someone my age, I would have understood, but none of us ever had the idea of ​​going back to that celebration.’”

Hilary Catholic cultural lifeEvident growth not only of Mass attendance, but of Catholic cultural life in the area. Procession for the feast of St. Rocco, the patron of the village.

The Empire tries to strike back. Fails.

No doubt under pressure from his brother bishops, it was not long before Bishop Corti informed the three rebels that they could either agree to continue to say the New Mass or be relieved of their parishes. In a letter dated November 2007, Corti wrote that the Old Rite could be celebrated if it was requested by parishioners, but this “must not replace Masses in the ‘ordinary form,’ intended for the entire parish community. On the part of parish priests, therefore, the ‘ordinary form’ of the Eucharistic celebration must be guaranteed, especially on feast days and Sundays.”

The three priests, however, remained adamant: “We communicated to the bishop that we would not celebrate the Mass of Paul VI,” they told the press. On the Sunday following the issuance of the letter, the area vicar of the diocese was dispatched to one of the parishes to discover that the faithful of the normally packed church had decamped. La Stampa reported the replacement priest “found only three women in the church.” (These three ladies, it is reported, took the opportunity to berate the poor fellow about the lack of episcopal interest in the remote northern corners of his diocese.)

Don Alberto Secci told Tribuna Novarese, “We are not playing as we are responsible parish priests who do not intend to scandalize the faithful. We are self-suspended in a prudential manner from the celebration of the festive [Sunday] Mass. Obviously everyone celebrates daily Mass, but we don't want to use the missal of Paul VI.”

“We know that the bishop receives a great deal of pressure, just as we know that there is a document of the Piedmontese episcopate which says that those priests who celebrate the Mass of Saint Pius V are outnumbered.”

Don Marco Pizzocchi said, “I know that the bishop has on his desk 130 signatures of people who ask for Mass according to the Tridentine rite. At this point one could even think of opening a church for Tridentine worship, but I believe that will not be possible.”

In December 2007, the diocesan office for social communications asked the priests in a letter “not to replace the Masses in the ordinary form (in Italian) intended for the entire parish community. The ordinary form must be guaranteed especially on holidays and Sundays.” The three priests held fast, responding, “We are not jukebox priests who say Mass one way today and tomorrow another.”

The three priests, however, remained adamant: “We communicated to the bishop that we would not celebrate the Mass of Paul VI,” they told the press.

In February 2008, the bishop visited the parishes and told parishioners that the ordinary celebration of Mass requires the rite in Italian. These meetings raised tensions, with one in the parish in Nibbiola, La Stampa reported, ending “under the sign of tension,” when a group of faithful left the church in protest.

In March 2008, the diocese tried again, saying that the three priests could either capitulate or they would “invited” to leave their parishes “voluntarily”. This resulted in protests from the faithful, who launched a letter-writing campaign to Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos and a petition of 600 signatures (impressive for a small and remote mountain provincial diocese), as well as yet more press attention. While “dialogue” continued, the diocese sent priests to say the Novus Ordo Mass in the four parishes, but these, La Stampa reported, were greeted like “strike-breakers” by parishioners. After being displaced for the Sunday Masses, the priests continued saying the traditional Mass during the week.

Parishioners wrote to diocesan officials accusing them of a “vexatious smear campaign” against the three priests. “This is the modern Church… This is the church of armchairs, of offices, of numbers, of bureaucratic priests who confuse the Gospel with the ledger. The Church hides behind the word change but does not want it because it brings no advantage.”

In early June the diocesan axe fell: the priests were to be removed from their parishes and from teaching religion classes in the local middle schools. The news was not well received, and even prompted protests from mayors. The municipal council of the village of Vocogno, where Don Alberto had been the parish priest of Santa Maria Maggiore, wrote to the diocese complaining of the instability created by the constant closure of the parish church, saying it penalized the faithful, including children waiting to receive Confirmation and Communion. They said the bishop never answered.

Hilary St. Catherines ParishSt. Catherine’s parish church, Vocogno di Craveggia

2008: compromise and peace, for a while

But the protests never stopped, and the priests never gave in on their determination never to say the New Rite. So it became a game of Chicken: who will blink first? The priests were under pressure, but so was the bishop. A bishop whose diocese has gone from 610 priests for 419,500 faithful in 1950 to 388 - many elderly - serving 545,000 in 2004, can’t afford to get rid of three capable relatively young men eager to serve. Faced with angry parishioners and the motu proprio of the pope, a compromise was reached.

Don Alberto Secci was made administrator the church of Santa Caterina in Vocogno, a parish church. He’s not the parish priest formally but has been de facto. Don Stefano Coggiola was permitted to offer Mass in the church of the Madonna del Buon Consiglio in Crevoladossola. This was later moved to the chapel of the San Biagio Hospital in adjacent Domodossola.1

And until this month, that situation remained stable. The two priests continued to offer only the traditional Mass to a growing congregation. In 2011 they established an annual pilgrimage to the Basilica of San Sebastiano in Biella, an event dedicated to prayer for the restoration of the Church. They set up a website that has links to their YouTube channel where recorded Masses and homilies are published.

During the intervening years, both Don Alberto and Don Stefano acquired a property of their own in Vocogno, where they live. They continue to celebrate Mass each day and teaching religion classes at the local school in Domodossola. This arrangement with the bishop continued with the new bishop, Franco Giulio Brambilla, installed to replace Corti in 2012. The phenomenon of diocesan priests offering solely the traditional Mass continued to be tolerated, perhaps because the priests were way up in the Alps, out of the limelight at the northern extreme of the diocese, and perhaps because the chancery had learned it was more trouble to try to stop them.

Hilary Bishop BrambillaBishop Brambilla of Novara celebrating the Novus Ordo on YouTube in the standard Italian style, with another priest concelebrating.

The Empire has another go.

"We have already defended our Faith and our parish priests once and we will not hesitate to do it again," was what parishioners said in a letter to the local paper in November this year after the diocese announced that all Traditional Masses would cease in Vocogno and in the chapel of the San Biagio hospital. “The greatest bitterness is that we have to do it against those who should lead us.”

On November 1st, 2022, the diocese of Novara, after fourteen years of peace, dropped another bombshell: from the first Sunday of Advent, 27 November 2022, “the group at the Domodossola hospital will join the group of the Church of Vocogno”. This merged group would be moved to the shrine church in the even tinier and more remote village of Re.

More significantly, and likely under pressure from Rome, the bishop announced that no priest would be allowed to say the Traditional Mass in the diocese of Novara until he has declared his allegiance to the Novus Ordo:

"The Bishop will grant the faculty of celebrating only to those presbyters (art. 5 of Traditionis custodes ) who explicitly recognize the validity, legitimacy and fruitfulness of the rite celebrated with the Missale Romanum, Editio Typica Tertia of 2002 , and undertake to take care so that the faithful participate in the rite celebrated according to the Missale Romanum (1962) not with an alternative spirit to the current form of the Roman Mass".

Validity, perhaps. But “fruitfulness”? What’s Italian for “fat chance”? The bishop proposed to send such a priest to offer the old Mass in the new location. “In the parish church of Vocogno, Sunday Mass will be reactivated in Italian.”

Punished for being too Catholic

The traditionalist website UnaVox commented, “In Vocogno there is no ‘group,’ but it is the whole parish community that attends the traditional Mass and enjoys the Sacraments according to the traditional rite. Not to mention that in the summer many of the faithful who are on vacation join the parishioners; and not to mention the fact that many faithful from the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and neighboring provinces go to Vocogno and Domodossola. And this is because so many faithful deliberately choose to follow the traditional liturgy instead of the modern liturgy.”

Which does seem to be the heart of the diocese’s objection. The enthusiasm for the Faith of the parishioners attending these Masses, perhaps in stark contrast to the near-death condition everywhere else, is likely the very thing that has drawn the fire. It cannot be tolerated that the two starkly different situations suggest the conclusion that there are, in fact, two entirely different religions being practiced in the diocese of Novara, and only one is a smash success.

“The bishop deliberately and ambiguously speaks of a ‘group’ from Vocogno to hide the fact, glaring for years, that we are dealing with thousands of faithful who want to remain tied to the traditional liturgy,” Unavox continued.

It’s perhaps understandable that, rarely appearing in the place himself, Bishop Brambilla was unprepared for the response. His office was flooded with letters and emails, a selection of which are published by Catholic journalist Aldo Maria Valli.

40 year-old Laura, “happily married and mother of six children with another on the way” told her bishop2, “Your decision saddens me enormously and we have all been praying for some time in the family that you will change your mind as soon as possible."

No doubt it won’t be the last time the Bergoglian machine moves against this tiny alpine island of the old Faith. Bishop Brambilla can clearly be counted on to bow to pressure, and Rome’s lidless eye is now going to be trained on the diocese. But the story certainly shows the power of just doing the traditional Catholic Faith, come what may and refusing to budge.

“After so many years of attending Mass on Sundays and weekdays, with the sensation of feeling in exile in my own parish and also elsewhere, because I had the sensation of participating in a great show where noise, confusion and haste reigned supreme…”

After finding the parish in Vocogno, “we immediately felt at home. Laura writes, “Finally a silent liturgy that helps to recollection… an order and decorum that lead directly to the sacred and the supernatural.” Priests “who pray in church” and genuflect before the tabernacle, who preach Catholic doctrine, “without fear of naming Jesus Christ and the saints, who still speaks of Eternity, of the salvation of souls, of death, of Hell and Heaven, of the commandments.” And who are “always available for confession before and after Mass, in the confessional and without an appointment.”

“In short, everything that is in short supply today: the priest who is a priest, a Holy Mass, celebrated with just what you need, simple, silent without unnecessary disturbances, what my heart has been looking for for years.”

A spokeswoman for the hospital group, Silvana Pirazzi, told Ossola News, “With this rite we have increased our faith; without it many of us could risk returning to indifferentism.”

Daily old rite Masses, she wrote to the bishop, had “allowed our small community of faithful to grow in number and grace, bringing many of us who were far away to Christ. Our concern is tangible growing day by day…now we run the risk of being left without our pastoral care without our two priests it is clear that our concern is considerable.”

One parishioner told Valli he had written to inform the bishop about the “worldwide community” the parish had attracted through their YouTube channel. Don Alberto’s 12-minute video homilies receive between 2000 and 4000 views each: “from every part of the globe we too are an active part in communion of prayer with the Piedmontese community.”

A week before the deadline, 30 year-old Giovanni - who started as an altar boy in the parish at the age of six - wrote to Aldo Maria Valli, “From next Sunday the church will remain open, but empty. The faithful will not have permission to access it: they will be forced onto the road; including the numerous children, old men and pregnant women who I am sure will continue to be loyal to that place. And winter has now arrived with rigor on the mountains of Piedmont.”

The parishioners, Giovanni said, had not failed to notice that it was their adherence to the old religion, not just the old Mass, that was bringing persecution from Rome through the bishop.

“What are we missing to be considered Catholics with full rights like the others? I don't know…Perhaps then we have become uncomfortable precisely because we are Catholics?” Giovanni notes that even as a professor in Milan, after all these years, he still happily drives 280 kilometres to Mass in Vocogno every Sunday.

He adds, “We have inundated the Diocese with letters to draw the bishop's attention: no one has replied. Nobody. We went personally to the Curia to ask the reason for this decision: we were literally dragged to the door.”

The Empire gives up. Again.

On November 23rd, Aldo Maria Valli reported that the bishop had “retraced his steps”. The diocese issued a press release saying simply, “Here are the churches where Eucharistic celebrations will be held according to the Roman Missal promulgated by Saint John XXIII in 1962 and the priests who will preside over the masses.

“In Ossola, in the church of Santa Caterina in Vocogno, instead of in the sanctuary of Re, as initially communicated.”

A new “parish administrator” has been appointed to Vocogno, who “has expressed his willingness to host in the church of Santa Caterina the groups of faithful who in Ossola celebrate according to the 1962 Missal…He will also ensure the festive [Sunday] Eucharistic celebration for the parish community according to the Roman Missal of Paul VI.” The bishop then named both Don Alberto Secci and Don Stefano Coggiola among those with permission to celebrate the old rite Mass.

The diocese did not include any information about the daily Mass at the hospital chapel at Domodossola, but the church times app DinDonDon still has daily Masses listed in “Forma Straordinaria”.


No doubt it won’t be the last time the Bergoglian machine moves against this tiny alpine island of the old Faith. Bishop Brambilla can clearly be counted on to bow to pressure, and Rome’s lidless eye is now going to be trained on the diocese. But the story certainly shows the power of just doing the traditional Catholic Faith, come what may and refusing to budge. The two priests have made sensible provisions for further attacks. Inside sources assured me that they are not going to back down, knowing better than their bishops, apparently, what is at stake.

But above all this story can show others what can be done simply by deciding not to give in, not to blink. It doesn’t require canonists or interventions; just a priest with spine.

One Italian Catholic blogger described his experience in the village of Vocogno, saying, “Perhaps someone considers it an impossible, anachronistic, visionary, exalted thing, an option for literate elites endowed at least with a classical high school diploma?

All he has to do is spend a Sunday in this small normal village. Here, thanks to the determined and courageous awareness of a parish priest truly against the tide, attentive to the signs of the times, in close collaboration with the equally resolute chaplain of the hospital of Domodossola, any Catholic, young or old, can drink with simplicity every day from the salutary source of the liturgy and doctrine of all time.

A geographical island, but also historical, as it seems to be immersed in other times, when the churches were full and devotion was learned from an early age.

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1 Don Marco Pizzocchi is the only one of the three to “go independent”. He joined the sedeprivationist group, the Istituto Mater Boni Consilii and later declared the sedevacantist position, denying the legitimacy of all popes since Pius XII. The current bishop of Novara, Franco Giulio Brambilla, has issued a formal decree of excommunication.

2 The whole letter was too long to reproduce in its entirety, but is well worth reading. Open in the Chrome browser for automatic translation.

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Last modified on Wednesday, December 28, 2022
Hilary White

Our Italy correspondent is known throughout the English-speaking world as a champion of family and cultural issues. First introduced by our allies and friends at the incomparable, Miss White lives in Norcia, Italy.