A new organization called Protect Our Priests was recently launched that will “defend and preserve the Latin Mass by helping canceled TLM communities continue to have access to the Traditional Mass and Sacraments. We will do this by linking these communities with priests who are able to offer private services.” Essentially, it will pair up canceled TLM communities with canceled priests to create a network for providing the Sacraments in the traditional rite where they are not currently available.
Even though this news story just came out yesterday, I’ve already seen strong reactions—both positive and negative—from Catholics. I’ll admit that I have conflicted feelings about this project.
On the one hand, this organization seeks to correct two grave injustices that currently exist in the Church. Too many good priests have been canceled by their bishops without just cause. These priests are good men who desire to live out their priestly vocations, but have been removed from public ministry without canonical recourse and often even without a reason given. Bishops have abused their authority in order to sideline priests whose open orthodoxy makes them uncomfortable.
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Likewise, the Traditionis Custodes era has seen the unjust shuttering of traditional Latin Mass communities. Faithful Catholics who want only to live out their faith like their ancestors did (something that all Catholics once desired) are told that what they are doing is dangerous and needs to be eliminated from the life of the Church. The spiritual harm done to them is incalculable.
So Protect Our Priests does seem to be making a noble attempt to right two wrongs. But I can’t help but be concerned by this effort.
First, there are dangers whenever Catholics step outside normal canonical boundaries. I recognize that Protect Our Priests sees its network as a response to an “emergency situation” which Canon Law does recognize (it’s a similar argument used by the Society of St. Pius X [SSPX] for its existence). But the reality is that these Masses will be outside the approval of the local bishop, which leads to a canonically irregular and thus potentially dangerous (spiritually speaking) situation.
As Catholics we should always appreciate the importance of being under a bishop, even when that bishop is not fulfilling his role. The episcopate, after all, is of divine institution. Unlike much of today’s Vatican and diocesan bureaucracy, diocesan bishops are necessary to the structure of the Church. To go outside their authority is a dangerous game.
Even the SSPX recognizes this. In my interview with James Vogel, a spokesman for the Society, he recognized that their canonically-irregular situation is not ideal and should not be permanent. The Society still emphasizes the importance of the papacy and the local bishop (and recognizes the current occupants of those offices as valid), even when acting outside their jurisdiction.
A more independent group like Protect Our Priests, however, might not be able to resist the pull to fall further and further outside canonical boundaries. An “emergency situation” can be used to cover a multitude of abuses (see what happened in the political world during the Covid “emergency”). Without any episcopal oversight, what will keep the priests in the network on the straight and narrow?
My greatest concern is that the combination of a community with no real oversight and members of that community who are often people who have been spiritually harmed by the Church in the past will be a recipe for potentially greater abuse. In reaction to the loose morality and rules found in many regular diocesan parishes, there could be a pull to become reactionary, forcing a multitude of rules and regulations on the congregation that go far beyond Catholic morality.
Likewise, the possibility exists of a cult of personality rising around a priest. In a small isolated community, a priest who is seen as a persecuted martyr for the truth will be (often rightly) admired, but with no real episcopal oversight, that could lead to an unhealthy attachment to that priest. Community members might feel drawn to treat the words of the priest as gospel, no matter what those words might be. In a small isolated community, a priest who is seen as a persecuted martyr for the truth will be (often rightly) admired, but with no real episcopal oversight, that could lead to an unhealthy attachment to that priest. Tweet This
So again, I admit I have concerns about this new organization. But ultimately we need to realize that the problem isn’t Protect Our Priests, but the situation that caused the need for the network in the first place. If bishops didn’t unjustly sideline good priests, and if the pope wasn’t on a jihad against traditional Catholics, there would be no market for such a network. While I might not be enthusiastic about this idea, I reserve my greatest concern for the hierarchs that led to its creation.