Pope Benedict will be remembered primarily for two things. One will be his resignation as it established the precedent that a pope can resign, something which had not happened for centuries, and because it had not happened for centuries had been ruled out as an option by several recent popes who suffered from a debilitating old age, namely Popes Pius XII and John Paul II. (This is not to say that Pope Benedict had become debilitated for while he seems to have the normal infirmities of age, he otherwise appears to be in good health for his 87 years.)
The second legacy that Benedict has left the Church may have far more deleterious consequences in years to come, namely the revival and diffusion of the pre-Conciliar Liturgy to which he gave somewhat of a carte blanche with the promulgation of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum on July 7, 2007. This more-or-less unrestricted permission for priests to celebrate the pre-Conciliar Liturgy at their own discretion is the very manure that is providing the nutrients for a nascent schism that is threatening the unity of the Church by creating a separate and self-defining Catholic movement with ties to the Holy See that are, at best, tenuous.
The problem is not the traditional Liturgy itself. This Liturgy served the Church well for four centuries. Nor is the problem a lack of Liturgical uniformity; the Church—it all its different Rites ranging from the Mozarabic in the West to the Syro-Malankar in the East—has long flourished with a wide variety of Rites. Moreover, with the inculturation of the Liturgy called for by the Second Vatican Council we need, if anything, a wider variety of Rites in the Western Church to reflect the cultural diversity of the Catholic faithful. The problem is that an unforeseen consequence of Summorum Pontificum is the development of two separate Churches that not only practice vastly different rites, but have two differing sets of beliefs, two separate hierarchies, and two magisteria.
The vision of Pope Benedict to expand the use of the pre-conciliar rite, the usus antiquior (the older usage) of the Roman Rite, was that it would be an alternative choice for the same worshippers who normally attend the Novus Ordo Missae (new Order of Mass promulgated by Pope Paul VI in 1970). The same people, Pope Benedict hoped, would use both rites interchangeably. In fact, it has worked out quite differently. Less than 3% of those Catholics in the United States who attend Sunday Mass weekly attend the TLM (Traditional Latin Mass) while the vast majority of American Catholics have shown no interest in the pre-conciliar rites. Granted, some attend the TLM when it is available and otherwise attend the Novus Ordo, but they are few and far between. Most Catholics who attend the TLM feel no obligation to attend Mass when only the Novus Ordo is available; and I suspect that most who are used to the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite would feel no obligation to attend the TLM if it were their only option.
While there are some who prefer the TLM for aesthetic reasons—finding it more “solemn,” more “meditative,” or more “beautiful,” the majority of those who attend have issues not only with the “new liturgy” but with the Second Vatican Council itself and particularly with the Conciliar teachings on Ecumenism, Inter-religious dialogue, and Religious Liberty. If they looked at the Conciliar decrees more carefully they would be certain to have difficulties with Dei Verbum (The Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation) and Gaudium et Spes (The Church in the Modern World.) Many who have looked at the Conciliar documents—and frankly there are not that many who have in either the “New Liturgy” or the “Old Mass” camps—have other piques particular to their own opinions and ideas, but by and large those who attend the Pre-Conciliar Rites do not accept the teachings of the Second Vatican Council. They are anxious for their children to be catechized by the pre-conciliar Baltimore Catechism which does not reflect the teaching of the Church these last fifty years. They have formed what up to now has been a “Church within the Church” but which, especially under the pontificate of Pope Francis, threatens to become open schism. There seems to be a particular rejection of the Church’s efforts at and after the Second Vatican Council to better appreciate the unique position of the Jewish people in the plan of Salvation as there is a much higher incidence of anti-Semitism on the part of neo-traditionalists.
A significant number of adherents of the usus antiquior do not recognize the validity of the revised rites. This was a concern of Pope Benedict in granting permission for the wider use of the pre-conciliar rites. Benedict had insisted upon a recognition of the equal validity of both rites, but the number of parents who insist on their children being baptized and confirmed according the older rites belies their acceptance of the sacramental validity of the new ones. Moreover, more and more traditionalists are insisting that their priests have been ordained in the pre-conciliar rite, again expressing a hesitancy (at best) regarding the validity of the Reforms of Paul VI after the Second Vatican Council.
Up to now the Church has held together under the strain of two distinct liturgies and two differing sets of beliefs by having one single hierarchy, but that too is starting to show fissures. The appointment of Blase Cupich as Archbishop of Chicago has created a panic among many neo-traditionalists in the Midwest. The authority of Cardinals Wuerl, Dolan, and O’Malley has been flouted by many in their own Archdioceses. Michael Voris, spokesperson for many neo-trads has been openly encouraging rebellion against the above Bishops and others whom he deems to be unfaithful to authentic Catholic teaching. On the other hand Cardinal Burke—whose remarks disparaging the leadership of Pope Francis have been the most outspoken public criticisms of any pope since Cardinal Lucien Buonaparte whose open mockery of Pius IX was the delight of Roman anti-clericalism in the second half of the 19th century—has created a “Burke faction” in the Church distinct from those who admire and trust the leadership of Pope Francis. Burke’s protégés among the American hierarchy, notably Bishop Robert Finn and Archbishops Salvatore Cordileone and William Lori, on the other hand, are often held up to criticism and even contempt by progressive Catholics in their dioceses.
The fracture in the hierarchy creates a crises in the magisterium as many in the neo-traditional camp, including those who attend the Novus Ordo Mass in their parishes have grown very distrustful of Pope Francis. While less than 3% of weekly Churchgoers attend the “old Mass,” estimates are that somewhere between 10 and 12 percent of American Catholics disagree with Pope Francis on his efforts to reconcile the divorced and remarried and gay Catholics to the Church and probably a greater percentage would disagree with him on social issues such as the welcoming of immigrants, the unsuitability of the death penalty, and the need for a more just distribution of wealth. Cardinal Burke’s criticisms of Pope Francis and the direction in which the Pope is leading the Church has set him up in the minds of many as the “true voice” of Catholicism even as Michael Voris has replaced the bishops for many American Catholics.
Only time will tell the what the results of this fracture will be. It is another case of the toothpaste won’t go back into the tube, though this time with the neo-traditionalist brand. It is too late to suppress the TLM as that would make the schism immediate, but it is hard to see that Pope Benedict’s long term legacy will not be anything but the emergence of a new Church claiming to authentic and traditional Catholicism.