His Holiness, and I assume this is acknowledged by all, is a very clever man.  Not just an intellectual, his experience as a teacher, a pastoral Bishop and a Curial cardinal means that he has an unparalleled understanding of people, and especially of the clergy. 

One of the implications of this is that he knows what he is doing.  That sounds like a statement of the obvious, but it is worth stopping and thinking about it: it means that his public statements follow what the military might refer to as the “Effects Based Approach”.  Start by thinking about the endstate that you wish to achieve, and consider the activities that you will need to carry out to reach that position, the order in which you should carry them out, and the allies you will need to draw on to enable you to reach this endstate.

Viewed in this light, it seems that we are approaching a climacteric in the Church: in fact, it may already have started.  The Pope has appealed to priests over the Bishop’s heads and has given them permission to use the Extraordinary Rite ad libitum.  Several Bishops have reacted negatively to this – do they see it as an attack on their authority? – and have “interpreted” the Motu Proprio in such a way as to restrict the permission given to priests by the Pope.

Now if my assertion above is true: that HH the P knows exactly what he wants to achieve: then it isn’t hard to conclude that he expected this reaction.  Indeed, he might almost welcome it.  Although there can be no doubt that he sincerely desires a return to regular celebration of the Extraordinary Rite, and to Masses celebrated everywhere and always in Beauty and adherence to the rubrics, I believe that his target is Episcopalianism – government by Bishops – in the Catholic Church.

One of the novelties which arose from the aftermath of Vatican II was the creation of national and regional Conferences of Bishops which began to federate episcopal responsibility within countries and regions.  The Church  had managed pretty well for 1900 years without these structures, even after the rise of the nation state.  This was because the Church, while local and universal, is not national; but what has arisen is national. 

The Bishops in England and Wales were able to coordinate a response to what became the 1944 Education Act without the need for an Eccleston Square full of officials.  That was because most of their work was local and pastoral.

The Pope’s target is regulation of the Episcopacy, I believe, and the necessary reduction of the power they bring to bear when they act collectively, especially when that power is exercised against the Pope.

If I’m right, then some of us will be asked, however obliquely, to choose our loyalties: do we follow our Pope or our Bishop?  This fight will not be pleasant.