Rebel priests denounce ‘dictator-Pope’ as Catholic schisms widen

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Father John Brucciani, Father Robert Brucciani - Jeff Gilbert
Father John Brucciani, Father Robert Brucciani - Jeff Gilbert

The head of the Catholic Church has been accused of being “thuggish” in his insistence on modernisation of the church and behaving like a “dictator-Pope”, rebel priests have warned.

Brothers Father John Brucciani, 54, and Father Robert Brucciani, 48, are both priests from the Fraternity of Society of Saint Pius X (FSSPX), an international society of Catholic priests that stands at odds with the liberal stance of Pope Francis.

Their controversial accusation levied at the Pope comes amid a widening schism within the Catholic Church between traditionalists and reformers, as Pope Francis continues to crack down on conservative groups and traditional Latin Mass services.

However, it also comes as the FSSPX prepares to build its first church from scratch on UK soil – on top of its 19 other chapels – and has begun ordaining new clergy to keep up with “growing demand” for tradition.

Breakaway ‘influx’

Now, the breakaway faction of conservative priests is preparing for an “influx” of worshippers amid concern that the Catholic Church is struggling to remain relevant and attract new believers.

In an interview with The Telegraph, the Brucciani brothers said they feel compelled to speak out because they are concerned about the sustainability of the future of the Catholic Church, which they fear is going “rapidly downhill”.

They also claimed that outlawing popular, traditional services will leave the Catholic Church as relevant as the Church of England, which they described as “in its death-throws” as a result of declining numbers of congregants.

“The choice to stick with tradition is paying off,” Father Robert said. “We [FSSPX] can’t cope with such growth, whereas Pope Francis and the Roman Catholic Church can’t cope with collapse. It’s just a great parallel.”

Pope Francis - Andrew Medichini/AP
Pope Francis - Andrew Medichini/AP

Father Robert described the current leader of the Catholic Church as a “dictator-Pope” and said that while he has a “soft spot in his heart” for migrants, the poor and people on the fringes of society, when it comes to enforcing religious doctrine, “he’s been accused of being thuggish”.

“The reason why tradition is great, and the Catholic tradition is strong, is because it’s giving people coherence,” he added. “It’s rooted in the 20th-century tradition. It’s beautiful in itself, and it also gives a sense of identity.”

Father John added: “With all of the Catholic Church’s current agendas, like climate change and global politics, the Pope is more often exercising authority in favour of new worldly ends, rather than to support and promulgate Catholic teaching. And the liturgy, for him, is a sign of submission to his authority.”

Latin Mass on the margins

Latin Mass, also known as the Tridentine Mass or Extraordinary Form, was established by Pope Pius V in 1570. It is celebrated exclusively in ecclesiastical Latin and was the form of Mass used for centuries around the world.

However, it was consigned to history following the Second Vatican Council (Vatican II) of 1962-65 in an effort to modernise the church and allow for increasing accessibility among congregants. While traditional Latin Mass was never officially banned, it has been increasingly marginalised ever since.

The Pope’s most significant recent intervention came in July 2021, when he further tightened restrictions on the celebrations of Latin Mass after he issued an apostolic letter, Traditionis custodes, which banned confirmations and ordinations according to pre-Vatican II reforms.

At the time, Archbishop Arthur Roche, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship, wrote a letter to the presidents of bishops’ conferences, in which he explained that the primary aim of the new restrictions was to foster ecclesial cohesion and communion.

“This is the direction in which we wish to move, and this is the meaning of the responses we publish here,” he said.

The typical Sunday Catholic Mass attendance in England and Wales has been falling for decades. According to the latest available data, in 2019 there were 701,902 attendees – a fall from 712,909 in 2018.

In contrast, in 2002, the number was 1,071,975; in 1982 it was 1,570,230; and in 1962 the number was 2,092,667.

Commenting on the figures, Stephen Bullivant, professor of theology and the sociology of religion at St Mary’s University, said that Christianity has long been declining in Western Europe.

While he described the FSSPX as a “fringe” group, he also said that despite the directive from Rome for a clampdown on traditional Mass, there remains “quite thriving congregations that have sprung up fairly recently and are devoted to it”.

Bullivant added: “Some of those people are now looking to the FSSPX, because they thought there was a place for them within the wider Catholic Church, but the direction of travel is: ‘get used to not having the old Mass, or leave’.

“The FSSPX would have got a few refugees from these groups. There’s a decent size of the population who love the Latin Mass and wish there was more of it.”

A spokesperson for the Pope was contacted for comment and did not respond.