This evening, May 23, 2022, at 7 pm, Holy Comforter-Saint Cyprian Catholic Church, a predominantly Black parish in Southeast Washington, DC, will be hosting a talk by controversial traditionalist speaker Peter Kwasniewski on “Understanding Organic Development in the Catholic Liturgy: Distinguishing Improvements from Corruptions.” The talk is sponsored by the Paulus Institute, an organization that “was established for the purpose of propagating the Sacred Liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church” as it was celebrated prior to the Second Vatican Council.
Dr. Kwasniewski, the author of many books and articles, is a well-known advocate for reversing the liturgical reforms of Vatican II, asserting in a 2019 blog post that “it is legitimate, praiseworthy, and indeed necessary to seek the restoration of the fullness of the Roman liturgy that was lost in the postwar period.” In the same post, he described the process of reform of the Roman Missal as “the Montini-Bugnini reign of terror,” which resulted in “the crowning disgrace of the 1969 Ordo Missae and other rites of that period.” In a comment on the traditionalist website One Peter Five, he spelled out his goals specifically: “Generally speaking, we need to conquer every altar with a TLM, and convince every priest to offer it. The reform is going to come from within, not from above.”
In addition to his commentary on liturgical reform, Dr. Kwasniewski is an outspoken critic of many leaders of the Catholic Church in recent years. He has made many incendiary statements about Pope Francis and many bishops, including Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory. Dr. Kwasniewski’s rhetoric became especially heated following the release of Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis’s July 2021 document placing restrictions on the pre-Vatican II liturgy. In a response to the papal decision, Dr. Kwasniewski wrote in the Remnant, “this is a declaration of total war, and must be courageously resisted every step of the way… If Francis wants war, I hope and pray there will be enough men ready to enlist, and enough men capable of leading them.” In the same piece, he also advocates for rejection of papal authority (a common theme in his work), writing, “It is too high a price to pay for obedience to a soul-crushing regime, whatever trappings of authority it claims to wear.”
Perhaps his most controversial act was adding his signature to an April 2018 open letter accusing the Holy Father of “the canonical delict of heresy,” and calling on the bishops of the world to begin a process to remove Pope Francis from office. Dr. Kwasniewski defends his actions in a May 2, 2018 article in LifeSiteNews, in which he writes, “We will cry ‘Wolf!’ to the vulnerable sheep, and pray fervently that other true shepherds will come to the rescue, in ways that we cannot.” Since then, he has continued to accuse the pope of a multitude of offenses. In a January 2019 article for LifeSite, he wrote, “Pope Francis has shown the world that he has a tendency to be a manipulator, an ideologue, a dictator, and a relativist about dogma.”
Dr. Kwasniewski has also made numerous negative statements in his writing and on social media about Cardinal Gregory, in whose archdiocese the talk is scheduled to take place. For example, in an October 26, 2020 Facebook post, he shared an article from LifeSiteNews attacking Gregory’s appointment as a cardinal, entitled “The long list of anti-life, anti-family abuses by Abp. Wilton Gregory, named a cardinal by Pope Francis.” Along with a link, Dr. Kwasniewski shared the following quote from the article on his Facebook page:
“Gregory will be the first black U.S. cardinal, but one of the most deeply anti-family, anti-life cardinals in history. Listed below are Gregory’s worst assaults on marriage, the sanctity of life, and the Church over his long, scandalous career as a prelate.”
Dr. Kwasniewski also criticized Cardinal Gregory last year, following the cancellation of a Pontifical High Mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception following the release of Traditionis Custodes. The Mass had been scheduled for August 14 and was to be sponsored by the Paulus Institute (the same group is listed as the sponsor of Kwasniewski’s talk tonight). Dr. Kwasniewski said that canceling the Mass was, “a demonstration of sycophantic zeal that thinks nothing of marginalizing and dispiriting Catholics for the sake of playing politics.” He went on to say that “Cardinal Gregory shows a lack of the most elementary courtesy, respect, hospitality, charity, and pastoral sensitivity,” and added “It’s disgraceful and I think everyone can see that plainly enough.”
Black Catholic Messenger reported that the Mass was canceled despite the fact that Cardinal Gregory offered the group permission to celebrate a Latin-language Mass according to the current Roman Missal, noting how in Traditionis Custodes, Pope Francis called the reformed Missal “the unique expression” of the Roman Rite. Some traditionalists, including Kwasniewski, see the current Missal as inherently inferior and corrupted regardless of the language used and the traditional elements—such as chant and incense—that can be incorporated into the liturgy.
In recent years, Dr. Kwasniewski has taken many other swipes at the cardinal. In response to Cardinal Gregory’s statement that he did not intend to deny the Eucharist to President Joe Biden, he wrote in a comment on Facebook, “Perhaps another bishop could declare Wilton had excommunicated himself, and issue a decree that Wilton himself was forbidden to receive Eucharist in their diocese and advise the faithful not to receive Eucharist from HIM. Now that would shake things up, wouldn’t it?” In another comment, he wrote, “If +Gregory and his ilk do not convert and repent, they are asking for the full application of God’s justice.” Also in the same thread, Dr. Kwasniewski “liked” a comment that stated, “No one with any sense believes Gregory is any kind of Catholic. The man wouldn’t stand up to the most abject evil.”
In addition to his attacks on the pope and the cardinal-archbishop, some Catholics have questioned the appropriateness of Dr. Kwasniewski speaking about his ideas on the liturgy at a predominantly Black Catholic parish that has a rich history of sacred music in the African-American cultural tradition, “whose repertoire includes anthems, church hymnody, spirituals and traditional and contemporary gospel music.”
Kwasniewski seems to oppose any liturgical music that does not align with his traditionalist position. In a 2020 article for the New Liturgical Movement blog, Dr. Kwasniewski complains about the current state of liturgical diversity in the US, calling it “a misguided movement of modernization, lowest-common-denominator localization, and narrowly-construed inculturation.” He complains:
“You end up with Masses for white upper-middle-class golfers, Mass with African-American Gospel music, Mass for Hispanics, Mass for Vietnamese, etc. etc. How can the Church ‘unite the different races’ if she can’t even unite us in a single recognizably Catholic worship?”
As a solution to cultural divisions, he suggests that “The traditional Latin liturgy chanted by the minister and choir in the church is one and common to all, binding us together as a fixed, stable, reliable external ‘gold standard.’” Inviting Dr. Kwasniewski to speak on what he sees as “corruptions” in Catholic liturgy can easily be construed as an implicit criticism of the music sung by the choir and the parish community.
There are many other examples of instances where Peter Kwasniewski has made accusations against Pope Francis and other bishops (several of these have been discussed at Where Peter Is). He regularly calls for resistance against Magisterial teachings and Church decrees. He has even argued that the 2018 canonization of Pope Paul VI must be rejected, stating that “Montini was a terrible ruler of the Church, and if the virtuous fulfillment of one’s responsibilities in one’s state in life is constitutive of sanctity, we may conclude that it is impossible to imagine a worse role model for any ruler than Montini.”
It is not clear how the invitation to Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian came about. The Archdiocese of Washington did not reply to a request for information about whether there is a policy for approving speakers at archdiocesan parishes (unlike some dioceses, there is no speaker policy posted on the archdiocesan website). The archdiocese also did not reply to questions regarding the appropriateness of hosting a talk by Dr. Kwasniewski on archdiocesan property. It is possible that the event was coordinated by the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian, Msgr. Charles Pope, an advocate of the older liturgy and frequent critic of Pope Francis. In response to the language and tone of Traditionis Custodes, for example, Msgr. Pope remarked, “It is very shocking and saddening to me as a pastor of souls that such vitriol be directed at the flock I have long cared for.”
It appears that now his parish, in hosting Peter Kwasniewski, has become a center of resistance to Pope Francis.
Image: Presentation of the Czech translation of the book Resurgent in the Midst of Crisis ( in Czech: “Povstávání z prachu”) by Peter Kwasniewski, introduced by His Eminence Raymond Leo card. Burke, Strahov Abbey, Prague, October 2016. By Lucie Horníková – Lucie Horníková http://galerie.clovekavira.cz/fotografie/be9c2333-fba0-4e87-95f1-7070ab1021b8?relatedTo=be04a839-38ac-4174-8953-29b56ed8c0b6, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=68679928
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.