Excerpts translated for Rorate from an Aleteia interview with the new abbot of Solesmes, Dom Geoffroy Kemlin, who just met with Pope Francis on September 5. The Solesmes Congregation numbers 24 monasteries of monks and 8 monasteries of nuns around the world. In their houses Mass is usually celebrated in Latin with the missal of Paul VI, but some abbeys have long utilized the previous missal, most famously Fontgombault and, in the USA, Clear Creek.RORATE CÆLI: Pope tells new Abbot of Solesmes: “I leave it to you to discern” how to implement Traditionis Custodes
Aleteia: Why did you meet with Pope Francis?
Dom Geoffroy Kemlin: Last week there was the Synod of Presiding Benedictine Abbots in Subiaco. This annual meeting should have been held in Poland, but because of the war in Ukraine and the reception of refugees in the monastery that was to receive us, we decided to go to Subiaco. Since I was just elected abbot, I took advantage of my stay in Italy to stay a few days in Rome, to get to know Saint Anselm and to visit some congregations. With a bit of audacity, I asked to meet the Pope and he granted me an audience.
Dom Kemlin: It was a very nice moment. The Pope was very paternal and fraternal with me. I had come with some questions about the liturgy after the publication of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes in 2021. He enlightened me on a number of points and I am satisfied. Concerning the way of doing things here in Solesmes, his answer was interesting. He said to me: “I am 2,000 kilometers from your monastery. You are a monk, and discernment is what monks do. I don’t say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to you, but I let you discern and make your decision.” This advice, which the Pope had already given to French bishops who came to see him, is very paternal. So I feel very free and reassured. When I decide, I know that I will do what Pope Francis wants.
Aleteia: Did you feel that the Pope was aware of the turbulence that Traditionis custodes had caused in certain parts of the Church?
Dom Kemlin: I explained to him how this text had been perceived in France and why it had caused misunderstanding among Catholics attached to the Extraordinary Form of the Roman Rite. He explained to me how things had happened. He didn’t seem to be aware of the situation and even assured me that what I was telling him had already been passed on through other channels. I came away from this meeting reassured and strengthened in my role as abbot to discern situations. This confidence on the part of the Holy Father is very appreciable.
Aleteia: Unlike his predecessor Benedict XVI, Pope Francis seems to be more distant from the Benedictine monastic tradition. How does his pontificate nourish you spiritually?
Aleteia: The Church in the West is in crisis. The number of baptisms is inexorably decreasing as well as the number of priestly vocations. However, one sometimes has the impression that this crisis spares the monasteries. What is the situation?
Dom Kemlin: At Solesmes, we are perhaps less aware of this crisis. Our guesthouse is full and we have people at Mass on Sundays. But this is nothing like the 1960s when you had to make reservations to come to Mass. I was told that there was a line right out to the street. If we don’t see a drop in attendance in the hospitality area, we do see a drop in recruitment. The crisis of vocations was not really felt in the 1970s, when we were perceived as “conservative” monasteries. We did not experience the turpitude of the post-Council period. But starting in the 1990s, things started to go downhill. In 1995, there were perhaps 25 novices; today we have 4. We are currently 42 brothers in all. That’s a big number, but there were about 100 of us about 40 years ago. That does not worry me. In history, as we know, there are fluctuations….
Meanwhile, the monasteries with the traditional Latin Mass are, in Europe and America, the ones most flourishing with vocations…. When will the lesson be learned?