After the promulgation of Francis' motu proprio restricting the Latin Mass, everyone braced for a new war to begin on traditionalists. Liberal blogs and pundits squealed with excitement over the idea of causing traditionalists even an ounce of spiritual discomfort. Traditionalists braced for trench warfare with the Bishops Everyone prepared to fight the Liturgy Wars over again, except now with added polarization and social media.
A funny thing happened on the way to this war, a war the Pope clearly wanted to wage: nobody waged it. Instead, even people who could normally be viewed papal allies (Cardinal Cupich in Chicago, Cardinal Nichols over in London) announced that they were "studying" the manner more in-depth (several months later they are still going to study it, they promise), while more conservative leaning bishops have outright dispensed their congregations from most of the document, following the example of Bishop Paprocki in Springfield. (And done most extensively by Archbishop Sample) Rome responded to this lack of enthusiasm (or contempt) with.... nothing. The Pope made clear his will, demanded the law be implemented immediately, and then..... nothing.
Recently we got a little insight as to why nothing happened. An exchange of letters between Cardinal Nichols and the CDW Prefect Arthur Roche was leaked to the press. Reading them, one gets the feeling these may have been leaked by someone in Roche's office. While there may be a lot of parsing to go on, I think overall a few things are clear:
Once again, we have a Roman official making clear that taking the Pope at face value would be a very bad idea. Traditionis Custodes was not ambiguous. The questions asked were not a matter of "the text isn't clear" but "the text as written: does ban everything actually mean ban eveyrthing? How on earth am I supposed to implement this?" Similar to the CDF telling people not to take the Pope's condemnations of Pelagianism as a doctrinally clear or reliable discussion on what Pelagianism was, we have a difference between the Pope, and the Vatican, with the latter trying to restrict the former. What makes this the spectacle it is, Roche was clearly the architect behind the desire to suppress the Latin Mass.
Secondly, Rome admitted, at least in private, pretty early on that it messed up with the decree. Here we see an explicit understanding of what was conveyed to the Bishops of Poland during their private visit: attempting to implement the law as written would divide the Church and cause Catholics to leave. While Francis intended this as a feature, not a bug of the motu proprio, more sober minded individuals have realized this could cause lasting damage to the Church. Even among those who want to destroy the Latin Mass.
Third, the CDW has not issued any guidelines for interpreting Traditionis Custodes, and it is highly likely none will be forthcoming. The CDW prefect essentially agrees that the implementation of TC should be slow walked if not outright paused, even if only "for a very brief period of time." This was not so much a brief concession as it was an acknowledgement of reality. By the beginning of August (when he wrote this letter), it was clear that the majority of the worlds Bishops were not going to implement the document. This is Roche (and by extension, Francis) coming to terms with that reality, but taking credit for it.
Nobody is naïve enough to think that the Pope, seeing how unpopular his decree was, and how little it is being enforced, would consider the good of souls and repeal the legislation he promulgated in haste. Even if he was so pastorally inclined to seek the spiritual good of traditionalists, it takes an act of near superhuman virtue for a powerful man to admit a mistake. Yet he is not so inclined. He clearly believes that we are the reason his pontificate has failed, and so we must be crushed.... even if not by him. He thinks he is playing a long game where conditions will change, and a future pope will be able to carry out his legacy.
In this he is likely mistaken. Conditions will not likely improve to where the priests and bishops in Communion with the Pope will want to carry out an ideological purge of traditionalists. The Latin Mass is an accepted fact of daily life in a lot of dioceses, even if it is not the life of the majority of worshippers in that diocese. Most of the worlds Bishops simply do not view it a matter of dogmatic necessity that every Catholic in their diocese worship the exact same way. Unless canon law is changed by the Pope, the chances are high that most bishops will just dispense their congregations from as much of legislation concerning this as they can. (Changing canon law in such a way would be a true bombshell change in the Church, something that would centralize authority in Rome like never before, transforming the Roman Pontiff into the largest micromanager in world history.)
Yet we in the end should be thankful for Rome recognizing reality and not simply just telling people not to implement legislation that 24 hours beforehand was instrumental to the survival of the Church. Yet this tension cannot hold forever, and it will not.