Saturday 7 November 2009

The 'Traditional Reservoir' and the French bishops

This is an article from the French Paix Liturgique, today's issue (my rough-and-ready translation).

The French bishops met in Lourdes last week under considerable psychological pressure. Even though it was not explicitly on the agenda, they were thinking of only one thing—and which the media constantly kept in the forefront of their minds—that the life of French dioceses is mortally sick from the lack of priests.

In La Croix of 5th November, the President of the Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Vingt-Trois, lost his legendary self-mastery and attacked (not by name, but the inference was obvious) his colleague, Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon. ‘One might have a bishop who believes in the New Communities: he rings the bell and calls six new communities into his diocese, and thinks that everything will now be fine! Well, it might be fine so long as he is there, but what about afterwards?’ He is quite obviously talking about the pastoral strategy of Bishop Rey; in particular the welcome accorded to these communities. But he passes over in silence his principal reproach that he bears to his colleague; his generous welcome to those priests who celebrate according to the Extraordinary Form, or according to both forms: in short, his application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Because, to the Episcopal Conference, the subject remains strictly taboo.

Asphyxia on its way

1. The number of French diocesan priests working in France is fewer than 9000. For a number of dioceses, (Digne, 25 priests, Nevers, 38, Auch, Saint-Claude, Gap, Digne, Viviers, Verdun, Pamiers, Langres, etc) in ten years time the number of priests in active ministry will be ten at the most. In Bishop Gueneley’s diocese of Langres, the most liberal of French dioceses, one frequently finds one sole priest for 60 churches.

2. The number of seminarians has now fallen below the mark of 750 (740 in 2008, and this number includes a good hundred seminarians from non-diocesan communities). Pamiers, Belfort, Agen, Perpignan, &c, have no seminarians.

3. The number of ordinations remains fewer than 100 (90 in 2009—Paris, which is one of the best situated, had 10, 2 for the Emmanuel Community; 7 are predicted for 2010, and 4 for 2011)

4. 120 vocations have been declared for the class beginning in 2009.

The conclusion is dramatic: a third of French dioceses will cease to exist but will have to regroup within the coming 15 years.

Yet the majority of bishops, above all Archbishop Vingt-Trois, do not despair. Despite everything, the Church remains visible; she remains alive despite appearences. Archbishop Vingt-Trois has given a marvellous example of ‘visibility’ which was heard on Radio Notre-Dame (interview of 5th November): in a parish without a priest, the laity got themselves together to say the Rosary in a village hall: there they also had the idea of cleaning the church to recite the rosary in; so, nothing is lost; this church will live again…

A useful ‘reservoir’

The use of the ‘traditionalist reservoir’ won’t sort out every problem of the French dioceses like magic, but it might breathe some life into them, and above all, it will change the ideological tone. However it is just because of that, that for the Episcopal Conference, the subject remains rigorously taboo. For now.

Because the traditionalist world (not including the Religious) is becoming more and more difficult to ignore.

1. 3% of working priests are traditionalists (officially traditionalists, that is, not even mentioning the diocesan priests who observe the same liturgical practice). There are 260 priests equivalent to diocesan priests (140 in the SSPX and allied communities, around 120 priests in the communities under Ecclesia Dei).

2. More than 14% of ordinations are for the Extraordinary Form. (Paix Liturgique, 183, 22.06.2009): in 2009, 15 French priests were ordained for the Extraordinary Form (of whom 6 were for the SSPX).

3. Almost 20% of seminarians are destined for the Extraordinary Form (there are 160 of them, of whom about 40 were for the SSPX in 2008-9): op cit. 5.04.09. If this crossover continues as in past years, then in two years or more, a quarter of seminarians will be destined for the Extraordinary Form. Everybody knows that if the traditional priests had the assurance of a ‘normal’ apostolate in the dioceses, the number of these seminarians would be even greater.

4, Finally, 25% of vocations are inclined towards the traditional form (op cit 12.10.09). At the beginning of the academic year, September 2009, there were 41 entries (of whom 17 for the SSPX) into a traditionalist seminary.

However, the ‘Extraordinary’ clergy serve 400 Mass Centres in France, of which 184 are served by the SSPX and their allies. One should not forget in this regard that according to an important CSA poll, September 2008, that a third of practising Catholics would willingly attend a traditional Mass if it were available in their parish. It is no exaggeration to say that if we add to the fully traditionalist vocations those vocations of traditional sensibility that are found in diocesan seminaries, that a third of priestly vocations, were it permitted to them, would regard themselves as directed to the Extraordinary Form, or to Bi-Formalism.

A third of the laity, and, eventually, a third of the priests. It would only seem reasonable, then, officially to give these priests a proper freedom—no longer in ghettos, but now in the hearts of the parishes—to celebrate Mass according to their preferences (which is how they speak of the sense of the faith). Is this not the spirit (and the letter) of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum? And by this act, these priests would be able to give help by administering many other sacramental services, conduct missions, catechize…

But for the majority of the French bishops, this group of their flock, priests and faithful—who are willing, who demand nothing, but to be allowed to live and let live—simply do not exist, except as a thorn in their flesh. The dioceses are dying, but their ideology remains alive and kicking.

1. One remembers that the little diocese of Fréjus-Toulon has about 80 seminarians, destined for the Ordinary form, or the Extraordinary Form, or for both forms. The next biggest seminary (Paris, Issy-les-Moulinaux, for the Paris region) has at most 50.

2. These should have been the last to have flung mud against their confreres: there remains the scandalous fact that ‘Bishop Centène; we made him buckle. Bishop Aillet; we give him three years. Afterwards, we will see. Bishop Dominique Rey; his diocese will end up sinking.’. (Op cit. 02.11.09)

Many thanks to an anonymous translator who made a couple of corrections (see comments).


pelerin said...

Thank you Father for putting up the translation of the latest 'Paix liturgique' bulletin - mine has not yet arrived in my in-box.

I am trying to understand what archbishop 23 meant in his interview on RND by 'Le travail d'un eveque n'est pas d'imposer un modele a tout le monde.' 'The bishop's job is not to impose one model on everybody.' Surely unity is of the greatest importance? And the bishops should think as one?

The archbishop seems to contradict himself with his comments on the Bishop of Frejus-Toulon. Does he accept diversity or does he not?

Regarding the popularity of the TLM at present in France, I attended a TLM Mass a couple of weeks ago at Ste Odile's in Paris. I had hoped it would be at the fine High altar there but it was celebrated in one of the side chapels. There were only 8 other people there but it was a week day Mass and I have previously been to the regular Sunday TLM there which is much better attended. However it was interesting to see that nearly all the others were young people in their 20s or 30s.

Anonymous said...

Not a few Anglican clergy have holiday homes in France - perhaps the Personal Ordinariate will be able to help out!

Anonymous said...

The Paix Liturgique article picks out the Diocese of Langres as the most "sinistre" and says "on a parfois déjà un seul prêtre pour 60 clochers" - clocher means steeple. A literal translation might be "There is already at times a single priest for 60 steeples" But do they mean 60 Churches?

If one looks at the website of the Diocese of Langres one can see they have many villages grouped into a single parish.

For example:

The parish St Pierre-St Paul extends around Chateauvillain, and includes the following villages: (19 in all, Population: about 4276 inhabitants)
Aizanville, Blessonville, Braux-le Châtel, Bricon, Créancey, Essey-les Ponts, Marmesse, Montribourg, Cirfontaines en Azois, Dinteville, Laferté sur Aube, Lanty, Latrecey,Ormoy- sur- Aube, Orges, Pont -la -Ville, Silvarouvres, Villars-en-Azois

There is one priest for this Parish and he says one Mass each Sunday. So one priest serves a population of 4276 living in and around Chateauvillain. For a rural parish that seems to be quite a good ratio.

Many of these villages may have a Church which has not been used for many years since the population in the village has fallen as people moved away to towns. The benefit of abandonment in this way is that some of these village church have never been "re-ordered".

I am now suspicious of all the stats used in this article.

Bryan Dunne

PS: Anyone who wishes to check the stats for other Parishes in the Diocese of Langres can look here:

My example Chateauvillain (taken at random) here:

pelerin said...

Anon. According to the Larousse the word 'clocher' as well as being a literal translation of 'steeple' also means 'paroisse' or 'parish' so it appears that it can mean a church building - steeple or no steeple.

There is a video on the internet which shows the work of three Priests in Normandy. They looked after so many scattered parishes between them (I forget the exact number) that they had to consult an enormous calendar on the wall to find out where they were supposed to be at any given time.

Anonymous said...

Dear Pelerin,

Thank you for providing the Larousse translation - I did not have one to hand.

The Langres website says that the Diocese was radically transformed by Episcopal Decree in 1998. It went from 445 Parishes to 31 Parishes. There are regular Sunday Masses in some of these Parishes at 6 different village-churches:

Eg: Bettancourt:

Samedi 21 mars 4ème dimanche du carême.
18 h : Sainte-Thérèse au Vert-Bois
18 h 30 : Saint-Martin à la Noue
Dimanche 22 mars
9 h 30 : Saint-Denis à Bettancourt-La-Ferrée
10 h 30 : Saint-Martin à Roches-sur-Marne
11 h : Notre-Dame à Saint-Dizier
11 h : Saint-Jean-Baptiste à Saint-Eulien

But this is a two-man parish.

I still do not believe there is a single priest for 60 churches (clochers). Do you?

In caritate Xp.,


Simon Platt said...

Actually, I had a look at the Langres website, following Bryan's links, and learned that the parish he picked as his example is served by a priest who also serves two other large parishes. Each of the three parishes covers about 20 villages. If each of these villages had its own church that would be one active priest (there is also an very elderly priest resident in one of the parishes, whom I believe to be retired) for about 60 churches.

Anonymous said...

Suggestions from a native speaker/translator:

Bishop Centène is about to fold. Bishop Aillet; you can give him three years. Afterwards, as we will see, Bishop Dominique Rey will still be in the race

Bishop Centène; we made him buckle. Bishop Aillet; we give him three years. Afterwards, we will see. Bishop Dominique Rey; his diocese will end up sinking. (Note of the translator: Perhaps a smartaleck reference to Toulon as naval base)

One might have a bishop who believes in the New Communities: he rings the bell and calls six new communities into his diocese, and thinks that everything will now be fine! Well, it might be fine insofar as these communities are there, but what about afterwards?’

One might have a bishop who believes in the New Communities: he rings the bell and calls six new communities into his diocese, and thinks that everything will now be fine! Well, it might be fine as long as he is there but what about afterwards?’

Pastor in Monte said...

Thanks :-)
I had trouble with the last para; My French is clearly not as good as yours.

pelerin said...

I still have not had this edition of the Paix Liturgique bulletin in my in-box and cannot find the original website where I registered.

Does anyone know how I can register again?

Roberto said...

According to the Figaro, a French priest can cover up to 50 steeples...

"Et même si un prêtre supervise jusqu'à 50 clochers, toujours relayé sur place par des équipes de diacres et de laïcs, la visibilité extérieure de l'Église catholique en est directement affectée."

tempus putationis said...

Clink on the Rorate Caeli link at the bottom of the Valle Adurni story, and then click on the italicised link to Paix Liturgique. Otherwise, it's like trying to get into Fort Knox. I wonder why?

pelerin said...

Thank you tempus! Fort Knox it is - I've tried several ways in but without success so far. As I used to receive the info I can't understand why it has suddenly stopped. I had it on my bookmarks but even that has now failed to work. I have not de-subscribed as I am interested in following what is happening regarding SP in France.

pelerin said...

Thanks again Tempus. I have now found no 203 of Paix Liturgique and re-registered which was confirmed.

Nicolas L. said...

With all due respect, I wonder where Paix Liturgique get their figures from, because there is one seminarian from the diocese of Belfort-Montbéliard : I see him almost every day ;)