Shakeup at Congregation for Divine Worship Described as a “Purge”

As several outlets have now reported, on 28 October 2016 – just before his going to Lund, Sweden – Pope Francis replaced all the members of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. That is the dicastery currently (but perhaps only temporarily) headed by Cardinal Robert Sarah. Several Catholic authors from around the world – clergy and laymen alike – have responded with a measure of indignation about this unprecedented papal decision. Many see the shakeup as a sign that the pope disapproves of Cardinal Sarah’s recent attempts to encourage priests to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass ad orientem – more reverently facing God.

Father Brian Harrison, theologian and author, commented as follows:

Pope Francis, in one fell swoop has today carried out a stunning mass removal … of all conservative cardinals and bishops from the Vatican’s Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship. On the hit list are Cardinals Burke, Scola, Pell, Ouellet, Ranjith and many others. The Pope has ousted all of the prelates who, together with the Prefect, make up the current membership of the Congregation, replacing them with 27 new and more ‘progressive’ members.

Father Harrison points out that one of the new voting members of the Congregation for Divine Worship is Archbishop Piero Marini, former papal Master of Ceremonies under Pope John Paul II, who is a “disciple and admirer of the chief architect of the post-Vatican II liturgical reform, the late Archbishop Annibale Bugnini,” according to Father Harrison. Marini has been responsible for “liturgical novelties” which include a “bare-breasted lectoress” and “pagan dances” at papal Masses. The Australian priest who now works in St. Louis, Missouri thus fears for the liturgy, especially for the future of the Tridentine Latin Mass. Harrison says, as follows:

This almost total clean-out of an entire Congregation’s voting members in a single hit – unprecedented in Vatican history, so it seems – is also in effect a sharp rebuff to Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the centerpiece of whose pontifical legacy was a restoration of tradition, dignity, and Latin in the Sacred Liturgy. One is filled with a deep sense of foreboding as to what changes to the way we are expected to worship, and what possible undermining of Benedict’s liberation of the Traditional Latin Rite, are portended by today’s breathtaking papal purge.

Father John Hunwicke, a British Catholic priest and a convert from Anglicanism and a vivid commentator on Church matters, posted a comment on 29 October on his own website. His comments read:

The personel [sic] changes at the Congregation for Divine Worship look like very bad news for the heroic figure of its Prefect, Cardinal Sarah. It looks as though some crude revenge is taking place …

Bishop Alan Hopes, a former Anglican, is the only piece of good news I can see on the new list. But, as a bishop with a large diocese, he will not be able to be often in Rome.

But Bad Marini lives in Rome and has a minuscule job … Eucharistic Congresses … quid dicamus …

Marco Tosatti, the untiring and always well-informed Vatican specialist published on the same day his own report on his new website Stilum Curiae, calling this papal decision an “unprecedented purge” as well as a “torpedo against the Prefect of the Liturgy Congregation.” Among the new more progressive members of the Congregation, Tosatti mentions Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, “president of the Papal Council for Culture who has made himself immortal by participating in a dance for the ‘Pacha Mama’ in San Marco Sierras in Argentinia.” The Italian journalist also points out that the newly appointed Archbishop Marini had been earlier removed from his office as chief papal liturgist by Pope Benedict XVI himself, similar to the new member of the Congregation, Archbishop Domenico Sorrentino,who had also been removed from his position as secretary of the Divine Worship Congregation under Benedict. Thus a conscious reversal seems to be taking place. Tosatti also points out that the new Congregation member Archbishop John Dew of Wellington, New Zealand had been prominent at the recent Family Synod “for proposing that the Church should change her attitude that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil.”

Marco Tosatti concludes that this is an “extraordinary purge,” saying that dismissals and replacements in such a scale are absolute exceptions in the practice of the Roman government. “Cardinal Sarah seems now to be very alone, and there are no voices anymore which would contradict the politically correct dominant liturgy.”

Armin Schwibach, the conservative Rome Correspondent for the Austrian news website, has made similarily strong comments on his own twitter account. In one of his two entries about this topic, he said: “What happened at the Divine Worship Congregation, one can indeed only sum up with the word (unique) ‘purge’.” Schwibach continues in his second comment, as follows: “Fascinating: again it becomes clear where the real game takes place. The rest is eyewash and spectacle for the large audience.”

These different comments from Europe as well as from the United States, as they are presented here make it clear that the concurrent indignation against the recent papal move goes beyond certain traditional groups and reaches deep into the center of the Catholic Church.

It may be now more realistically hoped that this dispersed and concurrent indignation over Pope Francis’ revolutionary methods will help more Catholics to open their eyes and understanding to realize what kind of destructive work he has been conducting and is still conducting to the Catholic Church. It is also to be hoped that Cardinal Sarah finds some consolation in seeing so much sympathy flowing to him from people who know that he now suffers for all of us, especially those who are determined to remain faithful to the teachings of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Update: As Edward Pentin reports on 4 November, 2016, the membership of nine cardinals was renewed by Pope Francis. Thus, not the whole Congregation was dismissed, as first was assumed by many observers. According to Pentin, however, “the majority of the Pope’s new choices have a distinctly preferential approach to Blessed Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae, the “ordinary form” of the liturgy most widely used in the Latin Church today.”  

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