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Dialogue Mass - CXXXIV

Francis: No-No to ‘Rigidity’ in Seminaries

Dr. Carol Byrne, Great Britain
While clerical purveyors of dissidence and immorality enjoy papal favor on a global scale, Pope Francis has nothing but criticism for young clerics whose lifestyle is characterized by their commitment to doctrinal and moral rectitude. The former are flattered for their “humanity,” while the latter are accused of “rigidity.”

“When I find a seminarian or a young priest who is rigid, I say ‘something bad is happening to him inside’. Behind every rigidity there is a serious problem, because rigidity lacks humanity.” 1

(Here we could interject with a paraphrase of his famous saying that he chose not to apply in this instance: “If this young priest is sincerely seeking God, and has good will, who am I to judge?”)

Prime targets: Young priests & seminarians

It is obvious that Francis’s barbs were directed at young clerics who – unforgivably in his estimation – showed their allegiance to pre-Vatican II codes of dress: he singled them out for an act of gratuitous aggression in a speech to a group of Jesuits, heavily larded with sarcasm and mockery:


Francis, furious against rigid priests,
‘a manifestation of clericalism’

“Clericalism has a direct consequence in rigidity. Have you never seen young priests all stiff in black cassocks and hats in the shape of the planet Saturn on their heads? Behind all the rigid clericalism there are serious problems. One dimension of clericalism is the exclusive moral fixation on the sixth commandment.” 2

It seems that the mere sight of priests in traditional dress produces a knee-jerk reaction that compels him to glower disapprovingly at their adherence to Tradition. Here, he adds two more accusations, smearing the reputation of traditional priests with allegations of “worldliness” and “effeminacy”:

“About rigidity and worldliness, it was some time ago that an elderly monsignor of the curia came to me, who works, a normal man, a good man, in love with Jesus – and he told me that he had gone to buy a couple of shirts at Euroclero [the clerical clothing store] and saw a young man – he thinks he could not have been more than 25.

"He was either a young priest or about to become a priest – before a mirror, with a cape, large, wide, velvet, with a silver chain. He then took the Saturno [wide-brimmed clerical headgear]; he put it on and looked himself over: a worldly, rigid man. And the very wise monsignor was able to overcome the pain, with a line of healthy humor, and added: ‘and it is said that the Church does not allow women priests!’ Thus, the work that the priest does when he becomes a functionary ends in the ridiculous, always.” 3

Sartorial semiosis

Instead of appreciating the value of sartorial semiosis – the sign-language of dress that communicates an unambiguous message which, in this case, distinguishes the priestly role – Francis treated it with derision. He could hardly contain his mirth in reducing it to funny hats, fancy dress and women’s clothes.


Pomp & rich vestments, despised by Francis

But these dismissive remarks can themselves be dismissed as flatly opposed to Catholic truth and common sense. The continuous witness of the Church shows that when priests went about in public wearing their cassocks, saturnos and capes, they did so not for worldly reasons, but for precisely the opposite: because these items of apparel were seen as iconic symbols pointing to a reality above and beyond the mundane experiences of this world. Now, however, with the new “theology of encounter,” clerical vestments are perceived as an obstacle to having a close relationship with the people.

It is indeed a bitter irony for Francis and the progressivists that they are now facing their own nemesis in the form of a new generation of young priests who do not share their negativity and ideological battles against Tradition. Au contraire, they are enthusiastic about preserving as much of their rich spiritual patrimony as possible, of which they had been deprived by the older generation. The issue at stake is the recovery of a sense of identity through faithful, ahem, “rigid” adherence to Catholic Tradition, doctrinally, morally and liturgically.

‘Grandma’s lace’

Francis similarly drew media attention with his depreciative remarks about priests wearing traditional vestments adorned with what he termed “grandma’s lace.” He wanted to discourage it on the grounds that it is not “how mother Church wants to be celebrated” and because it is not in keeping with “the true liturgical reform that the Council sent out.” 4

lace vestments

Lace vestments would be sign of stubborn ‘rigidity’

To view liturgical vestments adorned with lace as a sign of stubborn “rigidity” in the wearer is totally, perhaps deliberately, to miss the point. If we examine the underlying history of lace, we will see its appropriateness for liturgical vestments and linens.

In centuries past, lace was a visual symbol of status, worn by the elite – royalty, nobility, the rich and titled, and the Church Hierarchy. What all these people had in common was that they were of superior rank in society. (It is not without relevance that the French Revolution dealt a near-fatal blow to the lace making industry in France).

So we can see the Pope’s lace-shaming exercise as an element of the “class war” pursued (consciously or unconsciously) in the Church today, where progressivists refuse to recognize the superiority – in the sense of greater dignity, privilege and power – of the clergy over the laity. Rightly has it been remarked that Vatican II was the French Revolution in the Church.

The fundamental reason why “grandma’s lace” is appropriate in the liturgy is that it evokes connotations of royalty: the priest, being the representative of Christ, wears it to honor the King of Kings. Francis, on the other hand, said it was to “honor grandma.” 5

It is worth noting that delicately woven lace possesses a certain ethereal quality that makes it a suitable medium for conveying a sense of the transcendent meaning of the liturgy. Furthermore, as the beautiful and intricate designs of lace work required great skill and dedication to produce, this tells us something about the liturgy that has been lost in modern times. It reinforced the idea that the worship of God was not a casual, incidental, run-of-the-mill activity, but a privileged occasion to be celebrated in the noblest, most beautiful settings fit for a King. Hence, laughing at lace has no justification in Catholic liturgy.

Admission to seminaries blocked for ‘rigidity’

While there are legitimate concerns about admitting into seminaries men who are unfit for the priesthood, this cautionary approach does not seem to have been given a high priority in the wake of Vatican II – judging by the clergy child abuse crisis that has hit the Church in the last few decades. But the greatest corruption has come from the Council’s own liberal agenda which has succeeded in overthrowing traditional doctrine, standards and discipline, especially in the area of Catholic morality – the very things that the Church, in her wisdom, has always considered essential for the formation of young men training to be priests


Any ‘rigid’ seminarians are meticulously weeded out

We know from well-documented studies and personal testimonies that, since Vatican II, many candidates exhibiting even a streak of attachment to traditional Catholic values of piety and orthodoxy were screened out by those in charge of the selection process because they were seen as a threat to their liberal agenda. (Some seminarians said they survived by hiding their attachment to the Rosary which they prayed in private; others who were caught in the act were sent for psychological assessment or dismissed from the seminary). Precisely how often this happened is not known, but it was widespread enough to frustrate many genuine vocations and change the face of seminary training for generations of priests.

What we do know, however, is that Pope Francis was one of those who favored the elimination of what he termed “good” candidates – he said so himself at a conference for the Congregation for the Clergy in 2015. 6 In his address, he explained that when he was a master of novices in 1972, he took the results of a “good” candidate’s personality test to a psychologist for her assessment.

According to Francis, her diagnosis, based on Freudian psychoanalysis, was devastating: this young man must not proceed to the priesthood because his attraction to rigid structures is a sign of unconscious repression that will later manifest itself in mental illness. He quoted the psychologist’s words:

“Father, have you ever wondered why there are so many police officers who torture? They enter young, they seem healthy but when they feel confident, the illness begins to emerge. Those are the strong institutions that these unconsciously sick ones seek: the police, the army, the clergy.” 7


Carefully chosen future priests who will ‘toe the line’

The inference meant to be drawn from this analysis is that all young men looking for “security” in rigorously disciplined institutions – a goal frequently denounced by Francis – must be mentally unstable and have a high probability of turning into psychopaths. That is how the post-Vatican II progressivists besmirch the reputations of traditional priests and seminarians who adhere to the Faith in its entirety.

There is a remarkable similarity between the demonization of traditionally-minded candidates and one of the techniques of the old Soviet re-education camps to “rehabilitate” those who opposed the “Party line.” In both cases, the non-conformists were hunted down, publicly denounced and, crucially, labelled as mentally ill.

In opposition to this grossly unjust assessment, another professional psychologist working in the field of seminary recruitment came to a different conclusion. He observed that “many who have felt called by God to follow Christ in this special way have too often been under attack by dissidents, feminists and homosexuals that were aided and abetted by psychologists who saw themselves as ‘change agents’ of the Catholic Church.” 8

It is now an established fact that Francis condones this baneful process of winnowing out seminarians attached to any aspect of Catholic Tradition. In the same address to the Congregation for the Clergy, he warned them about admitting such young men:

“When I realize that a young man is too rigid, too fundamentalist, I do not have confidence; in the background there is something that he himself does not know… It is a rule, a rule of life. Eyes open to the mission in seminaries. Eyes open.”

Preaching to the converted


Bishop Wong, Secretary for Seminaries

To put the Pope’s address into perspective, it is important to know that the Prelates in charge of the Congregation for the Clergy had been hand-picked by him for their revolutionary views on seminary training. The two most prominent figures were the Mexican Bishop Jorge Carlos Patrón Wong, appointed Secretary for Seminaries in the Congregation in 2013, and titular Archbishop Beniamino Stella, appointed Prefect of the Congregation in 2013 and made a Cardinal in 2014.

Both have long-standing form as opponents of Catholic Tradition, and owe their promotion on the career ladder to their sycophantic loyalty to Pope Francis and his “New Age” obsessions.


  1. Francis, Speech to seminarians at the Pius XI Pontifical Regional Seminary in Ancona, June 10, 2021.
  2. Antonio Spadaro, “The Sovereignty of the People of God: The Pontiff meets the Jesuits of Mozambique and Madagascar,” La Civiltà Cattolica, September 26, 2019.
  3. Francis, “Mediators or intermediaries.”Address to the community of the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, Morning Meditation in the Chapel of the Domus Sanctae Marthae, December 9, 2016.
  4. Francis, Speech to the Bishops and priests of the churches of Sicily, June 9, 2022.
  5. Ibid.
  6. The conference was organized by the Congregation for the Clergy in honor of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council.
  7. Francis, Address to the Congregation for the Clergy, November 20, 2015.
  8. John Fraunces, "Vocation Crisis: The Self-Inflicted Wound," Homiletic and Pastoral Review, March 1998, p. 53.

Posted January 12, 2024


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