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Msgr. Dominique ReyMsgr. Dominique Rey/YouTube

(LifeSiteNews) – In two separate events regarding bishops in France – one open to tradition, the other decidedly against it – the increase of a spirit of persecution of clerics attached to the ancient rite of the Mass or even traditional clerical dress has been harshly underscored. 

The most serious decision involves the Diocese of Toulon-Fréjus in the south of France, where Bishop Dominique Rey received notice from Rome on Thursday that he must suspend the ordination of priests and deacons that should have taken place on June 26, pending discussions with various Roman Congregations. 

On the same day, Guy de Kerimel, archbishop of Toulouse in southwestern France, sent a letter to the seminarians of his diocese complaining that some had been seen wearing cassocks and ordering them to stop doing so, making clear that this rule is compulsory both within the seminary and for all activities outside of it. The reason given was that the young men preparing for the priesthood were giving an “overly clerical” image of themselves. 

Regarding Bishop Dominique Rey, who has headed his diocese for 22 years and boasts one of the most flourishing seminaries in France – where most diocesan seminaries have been shut down, leaving only about a dozen “inter-diocesan” centers for priestly formation – the reason for the sudden brutal – and indefinite – suspension of the ordination of four priests and six deacons destined to the priesthood has not been given by Rome. 

For the men involved, the news came as a shock: They have been living towards the day of their ordination and now they do not know whether they will receive Holy Orders in the coming months or year, or even ever. “They are experiencing this painfully and are in a position of waiting,” one of Bishop Rey’s vicars general told the unofficial newspaper of the French episcopate, La Croix. It is clear to all that it is less the seminarians themselves whose aptness for the priesthood is being questioned than the bishop who is being personally targeted – at their expense. 

The newspaper, adding weight to what many traditional-minded observers had already identified as the true cause of the cruel suspension, quoted an “inside source” saying that the fact that Bishop Rey welcomed some future priests with traditionalist leanings whose ordination had in some cases aroused “reservations” even within the diocese. Rey is being accused of having “displayed a lack of discernment,” according to La Croix. 

He has welcomed both the charismatic “new communities” and priests attached to the traditional Latin Mass, earning him the epithet “tradismatic.” The bishop himself hails from the conservative charismatic community of the “Emmanuel.” 

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But could jealousy be the cause of what is being referred to as a “sanction” against Bishop Rey? Jealousy of two kinds, in fact. One may have been triggered by the fact that the Diocese of Toulon has more priests than average – 300 for a Catholic population of some 700,000 souls – and their average age is also lower than elsewhere. Last year, ten priests and eight deacons were ordained by Mgr. Rey, a number of them hailing from other dioceses and even from abroad. The seminary of La Castille is the second-largest institute for the formation of priests in France (the first being the Communauté de Saint-Martin, where tradition-minded young men who do not want to enter into one of the institutes forming priests for the traditional rite have flocked over the last years because of its doctrinal firmness). 

The other motive for jealousy suggested by one of LifeSite’s sources is the fact that a former director of the seminary of Toulon was relieved of his function a few years ago, upon which he wrote an open letter to Rome complaining that the seminary was being “traditionalized.” He underscored in particular that the post of “prefect of studies” had been assigned to a member of a traditional community that was founded in Toulon in 2005: the Missionaires de la Miséricorde (Missionaries of Mercy) who celebrate Mass in the traditional form. They were given a personal parish and their particular “charism” is to preach the Gospel to the growing immigrant Muslim population in Toulon. 

Whatever the underlying reason for the Roman attack against Bishop Rey, it was set off by a convocation to Rome, where he was questioned by a large panel at the Congregation for the Clergy, in an aggressive manner by some, according to sources consulted by LifeSite. 

Following the interrogation, the Diocese of Toulon received a supposedly “friendly” apostolic visitation in the person of Bishop Jean-Marc Aveline of nearby Marseille, who incidentally will be created a cardinal by Pope Francis at the upcoming consistory in August. Aveline has been portrayed in the French press as a friend and follower of Pope Francis, preaching inter-religious dialogue in his own “multi-cultural” diocese where large districts of cities and villages now have mainly Muslim populations. 

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At the same time, discussions took place with Cardinal Marc Ouellet, head of the Congregation for the Bishops, who is clearly not open to the traditional mindset of Bishop Rey and who is said to be eager to see him go. In fact, the true objective of the move could well be to incite Rey to step down. In the already tense situation created by Pope Francis’ motu proprio Traditionis custodes it would be a major victory for the anti-traditional Latin Mass clan of which Cardinal Ouellet is a spearhead: very reliable sources have named him, together with Cardinals Stella, Parolin, and Versaldi as having pushed heavily in favor of the publication of the motu proprio. 

While the apostolic visit to Toulon-Fréjus has not resulted in an official report, the decision to bar Bishop Rey from ordaining priests for an indefinite period is clearly linked to Rome’s focusing on the diocese’s openness to the traditional Mass and has been in the making for many months. However, the norms governing the decision itself appear not to have respected the canonical norms. 

Bishop Rey published a statement on Thursday recalling a number of the aforementioned exchanges with Rome. He added: 

We accept this request with both sorrow and confidence, aware of the trial that it represents above all for those who were about to receive ordination. 

We will continue to pray for them and to accompany them on their journey. I encourage each one of you to pray for our diocese as well, until the situation is clarified for the good of all. 

May the Spirit of Pentecost keep our hearts in peace, happy to serve and love.

A group of lay faithful has launched a petition that will ask Pope Francis to consider the “dire consequences” of the decision that they say “creates a great deal of confusion.” “Our letter will express our incomprehension at this suspension, but also our attachment to Bishop Rey, given the dynamism that he has been able to instill in this diocese for twenty-two years,” one of the authors of the text told La Croix. 

Meanwhile, in Toulouse, it is the archbishop of this large and ancient diocese who appears to be going after the more traditionally-minded students at the Seminary of Saint-Cyprien, among a total of 43 students and 8 ordained “student priests” from over 15 dioceses. 

Archbishop Guy de Kerimel sent them a letter dated June 2 that was almost immediately published on social media, in which he “thanked” the young men for time spent with them the previous evening. The letter’s objective was to formalize his discontent over the fact that some had been seen wearing cassocks and surplices at a ceremony of Confirmation for students in a central location in Toulouse. 

I told you that I did not want seminarians to present themselves in an overly clerical way. I found that the image presented (…) by these future clerics, who were sitting in the stalls far from the faithful although not in service, gave a very clerical image that is not adjusted to your situation as seminarians who remain lay faithful. It would seem that you did not understand my comments and above all, what I was asking of you.

I will make my wish clear: wearing the cassock is not permitted in the seminary; that is the current law. I am therefore asking that this law apply outside of the seminary in the Diocese of Toulouse, and this also applies for deacons. It seems to me that the priority for a young man who is studying in view of the ministerial priesthood should be to increase and fortify his relationship with Christ, in humility and truth, without aiming to enter into a character; then, he must allow pastoral charity to grow within him and to make himself accessible to all, striving to love people, especially the poor and those who are furthest away, before worrying about making a show of a marked identity. The future priest should be identifiable thanks to his holiness, his spirit of service and the quality of his pastoral relationship, above all.

Following admission, it is possible to wear a distinctive sign (a “Roman collar” or merely a cross); as of the diaconate, clerics are asked to wear “a suitable ecclesiastical outfit, according to the rules established by the Bishops’ conference and the legitimate local customs (canon 284).

As the generation of the 1960s grows older in France, many young vocations are at odds with the priests who ushered in the New Mass and the many upheavals that followed Vatican II. Even within diocesan seminaries, many of these young men are more attached to the traditional forms and dress of the Catholic priesthood than their predecessors. This is clearly a problem for part of the Catholic hierarchy in France, as many stories from traditionally-minded students attest. 

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Bishop de Kerimel’s letter is very much in line with Pope Francis’ many declarations regarding the “rigidity” of seminarians who are attached to traditional rites and dress, and his regular denunciation of “clericalism” which is shamed as a way of setting priests apart from “the people” and above them. This is also in line with the idea that the Church is more the “People of God” than the Mystical Body of Christ with its hierarchical structure: Our Lord as its head and the clerics – especially those who act “in the person of Christ” to dispense His grace through the sacraments –, religious and faithful as its members.

For seminarians, wearing the cassock is both a sign that they are being set apart from the world and renouncing its appeals, such as the state of marriage, and that they have been chosen by God and are answering His call, even though they may indeed not make it to the priesthood. The distinctive dress can also be seen as a protection of the particular requirements of their state, including celibacy. 

Mgr. de Kerimel’s attack against “clericalism” is also a reminder of the fact that he is one of the most enthusiastic defenders of Traditionis custodes. In his former diocese of Grenoble, he published a decree last November ordering that all priests celebrating the traditional Latin Mass must also celebrate the New Mass, and that in the one church of Grenoble where the traditional Mass is “tolerated,” a New Mass must replace it one Sunday a month. He also rejected the celebration of other sacraments in the traditional rite. 

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Jeanne Smits has worked as a journalist in France since 1987 after obtaining a Master of Arts in Law. She formerly directed the French daily Présent and was editor-in-chief of an all-internet French-speaking news site called She writes regularly for a number of Catholic journals (Monde & vie, L’Homme nouveau, Reconquête…) and runs a personal pro-life blog. In addition, she is often invited to radio and TV shows on alternative media. She is vice-president of the Christian and French defense association “AGRIF.” She is the French translator of The Dictator Pope by Henry Sire and Christus Vincit by Bishop Schneider, and recently contributed to the Bref examen critique de la communion dans la main about Communion in the hand. She is married and has three children, and lives near Paris.