When Cardinal Bergoglio was elected pope in 2013, many traditional Catholics were wary. Recently, their pessimism is being justified as "The Francis Effect" makes itself felt across the world and in America, most notably in the Archdiocese of New York.
So-called "traditional" Catholics prefer to attend the Mass as it was celebrated before and during the Second Vatican Council (1962-5), before the liturgy was radically reformed in 1969.
The Tridentine Mass, which was the ordinary form of the Mass from 1570-1969, is said in Latin, often accompanied by Gregorian Chant and incense, and emphasizes the sacrificial aspect of the Mass.
In contrast, the post-1969 Mass simplifies prayers, places more emphasis on the communal and removes language deemed to be an ecumenical barrier to Protestants. Many celebrations also use the vernacular instead of Latin, and have a more simplistic style and are frequently accompanied by modern music.
Although suppressed immediately after the reform, the older rite was legalized by Pope St. John Paul II in limited circumstances in 1988, and then freed up entirely by Pope Benedict XVI in his groundbreaking 2007 document "Summorum Pontificum," in which he also expressed his desire that the solemn celebration of the traditional rite would consequently rub off on the way the new rite is celebrated.
Yet Pope Francis is having none of it. In his Archdiocese in Buenos Aires, the traditional rite was non-existent, and he was described by an Argentinian journalist as "a sworn enemy of the Traditional Mass." Since he ascended to the papacy this has been shown to be true in a global sense.
Apart from his dive away from the traditional liturgical style of Benedict in papal masses, Pope Francis has dismissed Catholics who attend the older rites in Latin as 'ideologizing' and being guilty of 'exploitation.' He also banned the Franciscans of the Immaculate -- a worldwide traditional Catholic order -- from celebrating the old Mass freely. Apparently, the attitude of "Who am I to judge" does not apply here.
No wonder then that some bishops and cardinals are seeing the winds of change at the Vatican and are acting accordingly.
In New York, under the leadership of the once moderately conservative Timothy Cardinal Dolan, the Archdiocese was a place that allowed the traditional mass to be said without hassle after Summorum Pontificum.
However, since Pope Francis arrived, Dolan -- commonly referred to as "America's Pope" -- has shifted to the left, so much so that even the New York Times has noticed. Dolan has become a spokesman for Francis' view of capitalism, has softened on gay rights, been an even stauncher advocate of amnesty for illegal immigrants and incredibly -- criticized ObamaCare because it didn't provide free health care to illegals, putting him to the left of Nancy Pelosi.
Now he's turned on the traditionalists.
There are three churches in Manhattan that celebrate the Traditional Mass. One -- Our Savior's near Grand Central, had its pastor removed by Cardinal Dolan and replaced by a priest who could not say the old Mass, so it has been stopped.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the internationally-renowned Church of Holy Innocents, the well-attended hub of traditionalism in the city packed with masses, devotions, and regular confessions, all within one of the most beautiful churches in the archdiocese, has been recommended for closure by an archdiocesan commission.
The news shocked traditional Catholics all over the world and has become an international symbol especially as it is well attended and in good financial state.
Church closures and consolidations should be about getting rid of churches that are losing money or have no one attending. Masses at Holy Innocents are frequently standing room only, and documents I was shown suggest that Holy Innocents has run a surplus for the last seven years, and has no debt. This is in contrast to some parishes with no threat of closure that have 6-figure deficits, while other parishes openly dissent from Church teaching free from any scrutiny from the once-conservative archdiocese.
Holy Innocents, devastated by this news that they are earmarked for closure, have organized petitions and are saying daily rosaries and novenas to pray for the preservation of their beloved church.
Consequently at a recent Mass, Rev. Justin Wylie, a priest from South Africa who worked at the U.N. for the Holy See and who said regular masses both at Holy Innocents and at the third place of traditional worship -- St. Agnes -- compared the situation for traditionalists in the archdiocese to Reformation England and Cromwellian Ireland. Wylie asked traditionalists "why are you scurrying about like ecclesiastical scavengers, hoping for a scrap or two to fall from the table for your very existence?" and called on them to peacefully assert their rights as baptized Catholics.
This was apparently too much in the era of Pope Francis.
Sources told me that a letter was immediately sent to the papal nuncio to the U.N. and, incredibly, to Wylie's archdiocese in Johannesburg, scolding Wylie for his comments and threatening to recommend Wylie's priestly faculties be removed -- an extremely serious move that essentially prevents a priest from acting as one and is usually reserved for very serious accusations like sexual abuse, not upsetting a cardinal.
Sources say that after the letter was received, Rev. Wylie, in a move that sounds more like something from Inquisition-era Spain than from modern day New York, was then silenced, forbidden from celebrating Mass publicly, and told to pack his bags and leave for South Africa as soon as possible.
Msgr. Edward Weber, head of the Priest Personnel office for the Archdiocese, who would normally be responsible for such a letter, denied that the letter existed when I spoke to him by phone, despite previously being reported on a traditional blog as saying the order came from the Cardinal's office. Weber told me he had been misquoted.
Later, the archdiocese admitted in a statement that there had indeed been a letter, but said it did not come from the Cardinal's desk, and it did not threaten to remove Wylie's faculties. When I asked if they had threatened to recommend that he have his faculties removed, the archdiocese did not respond.
Wylie's silencing and banishment is devastating for traditional Catholics. Not only is Wylie a renowned preacher, known for solemn celebration and exceptionally beautiful homilies that are so revered they are frequently uploaded to YouTube, he was an important priest both at Holy Innocents, and also at St. Agnes, where he celebrated three out of four traditional masses a month. His move consequently threatens the regularity of the ancient rites there too, as Rev. Wylie's censuring has had a chilling effect on priests who would consider taking over his role.
This chilling effect has spread to non-clergy too. Many of those, clergy and lay people, with whom I spoke who provided me with information and documents on the situation first demanded anonymity in fear that they and the people with whom they are associated would be retaliated against by Cardinal Dolan's administration.
"There will be retaliation if our names appear in your article," one source told me. "We have already received hints of this [from the archdiocese]."
This it appears, is an all too real example of "The Francis Effect," where dissenters are pandered to and enemies of the Church have their bellies scratched, while those who sacrifice for the Church, battle on the front lines, and just wish to pray at a good liturgy steeped in the traditional beauty of the Church are attacked, insulted, and if they dare so much emit a squeak of annoyance, find themselves cast out of the Church.
I hope both Pope Francis and the New York Archdiocese will cease their attack on a community of people that mean no harm and who support the Church through thick and thin.
Unfortunately however, I fear we may be seeing the latest in a long series of pernicious events under the banner of "The Francis Effect."
I hope I am wrong.