Yesterday, I came in from shoveling snow for the better part of two hours and checked my phone. I had several emails from a friend whose oldest child has been involved with Fisher More Academy/Fisher More College in Fort Worth, Texas.
The news was bleak. Bishop Olson of Fort Worth had ordered the school to stop offering the TLM. Completely. No exceptions.
We had been considering FMA’s online courses as an alternative to homeschooling our oldest, who is a junior in high school. One of the most appealing aspect of Fisher More is that they offer the Traditional Latin Mass and sacraments to their students, and in fact study and understand the traditional thought and teaching of the Church.
This approach is noteworthy to me. As someone who earned a theology degree from Franciscan University of Steubenville — a college with a brand name reputation for “dynamic orthodoxy” — I have grown troubled over the years to realize that with the exception of certain writings of the Church Fathers, I studied virtually nothing from the pre-conciliar Church. I certainly was exposed to none of the warnings in documents like Pascendi about the coming distortion of Church doctrine from within. I had no framework with which to even begin to approach the Church’s historical thought on the thorny issues of ecumenism and religious liberty, both of which are issues of significant contention among my peers in the “traditionalist” movement.
Fisher More has been a bubbling cauldron of controversy lately. I don’t know all the details, but I do know they’re under fire for being too traditionalist, whatever that means. And there’s a discussion to be had around that. It’s clearly affecting the administration, the student body, and the financial solvency of the institution.
But the issue in play right now is whether a Roman Catholic bishop can just up and on his own authority forbid the celebration of the TLM while still allowing the Novus Ordo. I say no. And I make my case in a guest post at Rorate Caeli today:
[T]hese issues, while important on their own and relevant to the future of Fisher More, are distractions from the larger — and dare I say, more dangerous — ecclesiastical action that took place, which sets a precedent for the larger Church. In the wake of the situation with the FFI, it is, in fact, strikingly inauspicious. Bishop Olson chose to target the Extraordinary Form — and onlythe Extraordinary Form — as an apparent disciplinary action in violation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.
While I do not represent myself as an expert in such matters, the Canon Law Center has issued a canonical opinion on the matter that cuts to the quick:With the promulgation of Summorum Pontificum, the diocesan bishop no longer has the discretion either to permit or restrict the celebration of Mass according to the usus antiquor, a prerogative he previously enjoyed. Thus, no bishop has the authority to arbitrarily restrict the celebration of Mass according to the traditional Roman Rite. While the diocesan bishop has “all ordinary, proper, and immediate power which is required for the exercise of his pastoral function” (CIC/83, c. 381, §1), his authority is not absolute.The faithful have a right, enshrined in ecclesiastical law, to have access to the Mass and sacraments celebrated according to the usus antiquior. Celebration of the traditional Roman liturgy is no longer a privilege extended to the faithful on an individual basis but rather a right that can be properly vindicated if requests for such celebrations are not satisfied (cf. SP, art. 7).[…]For several years following the promulgation of Summorum, the legal mechanisms for the vindication of rights relative to the proper implementation of the motu proprio left much to be desired. With the promulgation of the InstructionUniversae Ecclesiae of April 30, 2011, the universal law of Summorum was effectively given teeth: the process of hierarchical recourse may now be utilized by faithful who believe their rights have been violated by a decision of an Ordinary which appears to be contrary to the motu proprio. (cf. UE, 10 § 1)The recent letter of Bishop Olson to Fisher-More College certainly appears to represent such a decision. Insofar as it has unlawfully restricted the rights of the faithful, the bishop’s administrative act can and ought to be challenged.The canonical opinion above validates my own understanding of the matter, namely: the authority for a bishop to forbid this Mass which was “never abrogated” (SP, art. 1) does not exist. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI wrote in the accompanying letter toSummorum, “What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred and great for us too, and it cannot be all of a sudden entirely forbidden or even considered harmful.”
Contrast these words with those of Bishop Olson, who wrote (after forbidding the Extraordinary Form and making provision only for celebration of the Ordinary Form), “I make these norms out of my pastoral solicitude and care for the students of Fisher-More College as well as for your own soul.”
These words imply that continuing to offer the Traditional Latin Mass at Fisher More would be substantively harmful to the souls who attend it. Bishop Olson also makes the draconian threat that any violation of his proscription would result in “withdrawal of permission to celebrate the Eucharist in your chapel along with withdrawal of permission to reserve the Blessed Sacrament in the Chapel.”
What it seems Bishop Olson disregards is the critical phrase, “Never abrogated.” Had it been abrogated, no priest would licitly be able to celebrate it. Since it has not been abrogated, every priest of the Roman Rite has the *right* to say it. It is, in fact, a completely licit and authorized Mass of the rite in which he received his ordination. There is no legal suppression of one Mass in favor of the other. This is the very situation Summorum sought to address. A bishop has authority over sacramental jurisdiction, and can at his discretion order that no Masses be said in a certain chapel. What he does not have the authority to say is, “You may have only the Ordinary Form of Mass, but not the Extraordinary Form.” This creates a false dichotomy between the forms, and violates the rights and freedom of the faithful.
You can read the whole thing here.
Steve Skojec is a storyteller, writer, blogger, photographer, designer, and sci-fi fan. He is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. He lives in Arizona with his wife Jamie and six of their seven children.