ROME -- Pope Francis has intervened for the third time to crack down on the celebration of the old Latin Mass, a sign of continued friction with Catholic traditionalists.
Francis reasserted in a new legal decree published Tuesday that the Holy See must approve new celebrations of the old rite by signing off on bishops' decisions to designate additional parish churches for the Latin Mass or to let newly ordained priests celebrate it.
The decree states that the Vatican's liturgy office, headed by British Cardinal Arthur Roche, is responsible for evaluating such requests on behalf of the Holy See and that all requests from bishops must go there.
For weeks, Catholic traditionalist blogs and websites have reported a further crackdown on the old Latin Mass was in the works, following Francis' remarkable decision in 2021 to reimpose restrictions on its celebration that were relaxed in 2007 by then-Pope Benedict XVI.
Francis said at the time that he was acting to preserve church unity, saying the spread of the Tridentine Mass had become a source of division and been exploited by Catholics opposed to the Second Vatican Council, the 1960s meetings that modernized the church and its liturgy.
Roche's office followed up a few months later to double down on the Vatican's position with a series of questions and answers that made clear that celebrating some sacraments according to the old rite was forbidden.
The new decree doesn't restrict the celebration further but merely repeats what was previously declared. Its insistence on Roche's authority in the process appeared aimed primarily at quashing traditionalist claims that the cardinal had exceeded his mandate. Francis signed off on the decree Monday during a private audience with Roche.
Francis' crackdown on the old Mass outraged his conservative and traditionalist critics, many of whom have also attacked him for his focus on the environment, social justice and migrants.
Francis says he preaches the Gospel and what Jesus taught, and has defended the restrictions by saying they actually reflect Benedict's original goal while curbing the way his 2007 concession was exploited for ideological ends.
Joseph Shaw, chairman of the Latin Mass Society in Britain, which promotes the old Mass, called the new document "grave" since it confirmed that bishops need explicit permission from Roche's office to use parish churches for Tridentine Masses.
In a series of tweets, Shaw noted that when the office has been asked for such permissions to date, the office "has typically been restricting the number of locations and giving the permission for only two years."
He said that would lead to uneven access to the old Mass, where it would be easy to find alternative locations in some places but impossible in others.