Paris archbishop launches investigation after priest did not enforce mask wearing
PARIS, France, April 9, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — Two parishes where the extraordinary form of the Roman rite is regularly celebrated are under fire from French media and civil authorities after a person attending one of the events complained in the daily Le Parisien, last Monday, about lack of compliance with COVID measures such as “social distancing.” Some media complained that priests had touched the forehead of people being baptized with their hands; another media remarked that one priest “was not even wearing a mask while consecrating the Eucharist.”
Two priests even spent most of Thursday in custody, in a clear move to intimidate Catholics — but probably also as a diversion: A scandal had only just broken out regarding over-expensive — and lucrative — dinner parties that were organized in March and on April 1 in the Palais Vivienne despite the present lockdown in France, with prominent guests.
The organizer, Pierre-Jean Chalençon, had told the press he had dined in several clandestine restaurants last month, and seen several government ministers there. He later retracted the statement, saying he was just trying to be funny, but the backlash against the authorities was enormous: While the populace suffers, the Nomenklatura ignores the rules it has imposed. The case of the Catholic churches appears to have come as a welcome means of damage control, and it is being exploited to the dregs.
Videos and photos of the Easter Masses held in the two churches — one in Paris, one in Reims — showed the celebrant and choir boys and several adults who were baptized during the Easter vigil not wearing masks. The number of alter servers and clerics, the alleged lack of space between the faithful, the use of the “same” baptismal water for ten adults, as well as the distribution of Holy Communion on the tongue were all quoted and condemned as proof of the disregard of sanitary safety and provided an excuse for the secularist media to present Catholics who favor the traditional rite as extremists or half-wits who trust in God to protect them from COVID-19.
Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile, in the center of Paris, was hardest hit by media hysterics. It all started when the non-Catholic brother of one of the adult men receiving baptism went to the press with the video of the Easter vigil (held on Saturday afternoon because of the 7:00 p.m. curfew) as broadcast and available on the parish website. A few minutes of the four hour-long ceremony were selected and edited for posting on the Parisien’s website with scathing comments about the priest using the same “flotte” — a slang word designating water — to baptize several faithful.
Immediately, the national media picked up the story with articles saying it was “incredible” how, despite one year of COVID-19, Catholic priests and their flock were being so “reckless” as to disregard the safety measures that all the other French are so scrupulously applying.
By Monday evening, the director of communications of the diocese of Paris, Karine Dalle, justified the attack, telling the national daily Le Figaro: “We are stunned by the obvious disregard towards the essential instructions of social distancing, of wearing a mask, and we disassociate ourselves from any behavior that does not respect a difficult health situation. Unfortunately, the video is unmistakable. The vast majority of people are not wearing masks and do not respect social distancing. The subject will obviously be addressed internally with those in charge.”
It is not clear whether Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris was aware of this public denigration of a Parisian parish and its pastor, Canon Marc Guelfucci. His own communiqué came two days later, on Wednesday: He publicly announced the opening of a canonical process against Guelfucci “because he is suspected of not having imposed in his church compliance of sanitary measures currently in force to fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, during a celebration on April 3.”
Aupetit added: “These measures had been clearly defined, and the Diocese of Paris regularly reminded all parishes. While waiting for the conclusion of this canonical procedure, he is asked to strictly enforce the respect of sanitary measures in this church and to communicate, during the weekend, a message from the Archbishop of Paris to the attention of the parishioners, in order to remind them once again of the rules that apply to all.”
There is of course no section of canon law imposing masks and social distancing during Mass. It can only be surmised that the procedure will involve the question of obedience to orders issued by the bishop: Disobedience, says canon law, can be sanctioned with a “just penalty.”
Regarding these orders, Canon Guelfucci told LifeSiteNews that “unfortunately, the French Bishops’ Conference has set up more restrictive norms than the government decree” regarding public worship.
For instance, the archbishop of Paris went further than the state norms in making Communion in the hand mandatory throughout the diocese. However, in the four diocesan parishes in Paris where the extraordinary form of the Roman rite is officially celebrated, Communion has continued to be given on the tongue since public worship was allowed from the end of May 202, after the first lockdown.
On the other hand, the whole business may well backfire against Aupetit: While he was very quick to condemn publicly a parish priest under his orders, videos and photos are now circulating on the internet showing that the choir singing at the Easter vigil he celebrated in Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois was not wearing masks, nor was the bishop himself during the whole celebration, and especially during the baptism ceremony that took place under basically the same conditions as in Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile. Mainstream media are commenting on the similarities with relish.
Guelfucci was requested to meet with Archbishop Aupetit on Wednesday: The meeting took place shortly before the aforementioned communiqué was published. Nothing transpired of the discussion, but remarkably, Aupetit has now backpedaled on the question of compulsory Communion in the hand, according to his statement to be read out in the parish next Sunday, that has already been made available to some parishioners. Communion in the hand will remain the rule for Novus Ordo parishes in Paris (even though this contradicts the rules of the Church), but for “extraordinary form” Masses, an exception now exists: Communion on the tongue will from now on be officially permitted, provided the priest dips his fingers in a hydroalcoholic solution between communicants.
Marc Guelfucci, it should be said, is a doctor in canon law.
This Thursday morning, Canon Guelfucci — while in custody at a police station — was required to answer for what purportedly happened last Saturday in his church, together with the vicar, Fr. Gabriel Grodziski. Usually, police custody is used in serious cases where the police want to isolate a suspect and obtain information or confessions regarding a delict or a crime.
Speaking with LifeSite shortly after he was released from custody at 6:30 p.m., Canon Guelfucci made a point of stating that “the police showed exceptional courtesy” to himself and his vicar, and even appeared to be “embarrassed” by the situation and “indignant” at having to interrogate priests in a case that can reasonably be suspected of having political motives.
According to the weekly Le Point, the two men were remanded in custody for “deliberately having put the life of others at risk,” “not wearing a mask,” and organizing a “reunion of more than six people without barrier gestures,” as they call social distancing, hand-washing and other public rules for the COVID crisis. This and other information regarding the case was given out by the public prosecutor’s office throughout the day, with great disregard for the principle of secrecy of investigations.
The public prosecution is now going to have to prove that there are serious grounds for these accusations before an examining magistrate decides whether or not to allow the case to go before a court.
“Putting the life of others at risk” is probably not a good choice for the prosecution: In order to succeed, the accusation would need to prove that the violation of a particular security requirement had directly exposed another person to an immediate risk of death or of injury capable of causing permanent mutilation or infirmity. Besides clear causality between the act and the risk, the latter would need to be “highly probable.” Already in March 2020, the French justice ministry had made clear that such a delict could not be sanctioned in individuals joining a public reunion where safety distances were not be respected.
The fact of not wearing a mask will also be difficult to sanction. In the decree allowing public worship despite coronavirus measures, it is made clear that at necessary moments in the liturgy, the mask may be removed. In France, where Church and state are legally separate, it is surely not up to the state to determine which parts of the liturgy can be considered as justifying the removal of the mask. Can the state have its say regarding choir boys wearing or not wearing masks? Again, the public authorities are not competent to judge what happens as part of the liturgy.
As to the “six-person rule,” which in France only applies outside and not in the privacy of people’s homes, it clearly cannot be invoked regarding public worship, because public worship is legal for congregations provided that families can remain at a distance from each other during Mass, in large, well-ventilated churches.
The way of receiving Communion is not quoted at all in the government decree regarding public worship and is certainly no business of the state.
But now that the time for “squealing” against Catholic worship has come, one (purported) parishioner of Saint-Eugène-Sainte-Cécile told Le Parisien that “sanitary rules have not been respected for a year” in the parish, particularly regarding masks, spacing of pews, and Communion in the hand. The man even wrote to the diocese in January to complain, he said, and although he received an answer to the effect that his complaint had been registered, nothing changed, he said.
Interestingly, however, the parish has not deplored a single death or severe case of COVID among its members since the beginning of the epidemic.
In fact, it started using hydroalcoholic gel from February of 2020, and received a shipment of 3.000 masks by March last year at a time when the shortage of masks, even for health workers in direct contact with ill people, led the French government to proclaim that masks were “useless” in the general population. From the beginning of the pandemic, gel was available at the entrance of the church; an important factor when considering that according to French immunologist Didier Raoult, SARS-CoV-2 is mainly transported by hand contact, not by breath.
Canon Guelfucci made several statements to the press over the last days, noting in particular that during the Easter vigil, only 250 to 280 people were present while there are at least 600 seats in his large 19th century church. He added that most parishioners were wearing masks and that the pictures showing processions focus on exceptional moments during the liturgy. He added that in the Paris metro, crowds are much larger and pressed closed together. During the baptism ceremony, disinfectant wipes were used to avoid all risk, he added. When giving Communion, the celebrant disinfects his hands with ethanol. As to the choir boys, they are not face to face.
Guelfucci also stated that he baptized without a mask because the priest does not spit on the person he is baptizing.
The Saint-Eugène affair was launched in the press on Easter Monday. By Wednesday, a mayor in the Reims region, having hunted around for images of the Easter Mass on parish websites, warned the local press in his turn. He found a picture of the recently ordained Canon Jean Maïdanatz of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest during the Light Ceremony with the Easter candle, maskless, and accompanied by choir boys who also had no face coverings.
Once again, but more quickly this time, the public prosecutor jumped on the case and announced that there will be proceedings against Canon Jean Maïdanatz who celebrated two masses in supposedly dangerous circumstances on Easter Sunday.
Speaking to LifeSite, Canon Maïdanatz noted that contrary to accusations, the COVID rules were well applied in Reims: only 100 faithful attended each Mass in the St. Jeanne d’Arc church which can seat 350, the pews were well spaced, and care was taken with the Communion procession so that people would follow one direction only so as to avoid face-to-face contact. “I cannot police the congregation regarding masks,” he told a local newspaper.
There has been less coverage of the Reims case, and it would seem that the situation has already been in some measure appeased.
In a remarkable text published by the lay Catholic news blog “Le Salon beige,” its director Guillaume de Thieulloy called for an end to hostilities within the Church regarding the priests who are at present being vilified in the press with the clear objective of hurting Catholics.
He wrote (LifeSite’s translation):
For the past two days, the parish of Saint-Eugene-Sainte-Cécile has been under fire. Its parish priest has been accused by “courageous” anonymous individuals of having transformed the Easter vigil into a “COVID party.” As a result, legal proceedings have been announced against Fr. Guelfucci for endangering the lives of others. Why not complicity with murder or aggravated cannibalism, while they’re at it?
We must be reasonable. No, it is not bad news that a church is full for Easter! And no, I don’t believe that the main responsibility of a parish priest is to make sure that his parishioners have their masks on. If some of the faithful are fed up with idiotic, contradictory, and often freedom-killing instructions, it is not the fault of the priest. And I doubt that he went up to the pulpit to ask the parishioners to unmask themselves.
It is easy to understand the game of the anti-Catholic media. As with the fake news about the evangelical “cluster” in Alsace a few months ago, they are having a field day with the “irresponsibility” of Christians — without, of course, taking the trouble to verify that these gatherings have anything to do with the dissemination of the virus, nor, especially, with its potential deadly consequences.
It is also easy to understand the game played by the public authorities. In the middle of the discussion of a liberticide bill on “the respect of republican principles,” the government has every interest in “showing” that “radical” Catholics are as dangerous as the Islamists of the same ilk. And what better way to do this than with a “Latin Mass”?
But I confess that I don’t understand at all the interest of the ecclesiastical authorities or the Catholic media to burden the unfortunate priest.
That the archbishop of Paris should lecture the parish priest who earned him a day of media “ruckus,” I can of course understand. But a canonical procedure? Theologians who profess manifest heresies are left in peace; and yet a canonical trial would be instituted for a priest who deemed it more important to give the Blessed Sacrament the reverence it deserves than to make sure that his flock rubs its hands with hydro-alcoholic gel? This is simply absurd! Do we want to let believe, not only by the faithful, but by the whole world, that the Catholic Church is more concerned with prefectural injunctions than with God? By the way, when I speak of these heretical theologians who are left in peace, I speak with personal knowledge of the facts: A quarter of a century ago, I was a seminarian at the Catholic Institute of Paris and I had as a professor one of the rare theologians who had been forbidden to teach by John Paul II (it must be said that this man, who was charming by the way, had the rather eccentric idea of philosophically and morally “justifying” abortion)! Well, he was quietly teaching in this temple of French theological education, without it disturbing in the least either the academic or the ecclesiastical authorities. The Pope could say what he wanted, it was of little importance in Paris. So how can we not suspect a scandalous double standard when we compare it to this mini-media crisis?
However, the worst part, for me, is elsewhere. I know nothing about the relationship between [Canon] Guelfucci and his superiors and it is none of my business. On the other hand, there is something that concerns me closely, because it is precisely my responsibility as a faithful Catholic (and as a Catholic engaged in the media and political struggle): the political and media consequences of this affair.
The ABC of political action can be summed up in a few simple principles: never obey the dictates of the enemy media; never go further than they; never disassociate yourself from your friends. Of course, we can have different analyses — in the Church as elsewhere. One can debate them publicly and even rudely. Theological controversies in the Middle Ages (which was a bit more Catholic than our postmodern West) were more spirited than ours. But we must always keep in mind that, since 1789, the anti-Catholic left has attributed to itself the monopoly of moral legitimacy. They define us as “right-wing” (or reactionary, or fundamentalist, or fanatical, or obscurantist, or God knows what else). And it tolerates the “moderate” right only insofar as, like Salome, it offers the head of its less “moderate” neighbor on a platter. But let us never forget that we are always someone’s “moderate” and someone else’s “fanatic.” This is how the swearing priests had to disassociate themselves from the refractory priests (during the French Revolution), in order to show that they were good citizens, before being in turn proscribed as suppressors of superstition. Hodie mihi, cras tibi …
As the Church of France is engaged in a fight of capital importance for the defense of human dignity (against euthanasia, against the commodification of the body, for the educational freedom of families, to speak only of the laws currently under discussion in Parliament), it is obvious that our adversaries have every interest in dividing us. But nothing obliges us to obey them. Nothing obliges us to go further.
It is always a bad investment. And we can already see it in this “Saint-Eugène affair”: The media, having smelled the odor of blood, are beginning to evoke other churches which allegedly did not respect the letter of sanitary measures that no one understands anymore. There is no end to it: These new priests will be lynched by other priests who, themselves, will be victims of the same process a few days later. And, in this case, it seems obvious to me that Bishop Aupetit, a courageous opponent of euthanasia and of the bioethics law that respects neither biology nor ethics, will be among the next “collateral victims” since one could say of the Easter vigil he celebrated at Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois practically everything that was said of that of Saint-Eugène.
I have always been struck by an overwhelming superiority of American pro-life activists over us old Gauls who like to tear each other apart, even in front of the enemy: It is their capacity to never criticize the action of another pro-lifer, even when this action is more than questionable. I remember a conversation in the late 1990s with a conservative senator, during which a young Frenchman asked him about the killings of abortion doctors that were happening at the time. Naturally, we all thought that the senator would condemn these murders (which are indeed the worst way to defend the cause of life). Well, he was much more intelligent than that. He told us in substance: “It is not my way of acting, but the real problem is abortion …” Before going on to five minutes of denouncing abortion. I was very impressed. And I still believe that we have a perfect right to answer only what we want to the media. I think also of Georges Marchais (a former French Communist Party leader), who knew about politics, and who answered the journalist who told Marchais that he had not answered his questions: “But these are my answers.” It is not up to the media, it is not up to our opponents to dictate our agenda!
So, yes, common sense demands that we say: Ceasefire! No, Father Guelfucci is not an assassin. No, it is not a tragedy that his church was full for the Easter vigil. And yes, the Blessed Sacrament is more important than a piece of cloth on your snout!