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French diocese justifies kicking out two Latin Mass priests

If the reasons for the FSSP’s eviction are accepted without question by Rome, it could mean that difficult days are ahead for other traditional apostolates in France and perhaps elsewhere.
Thu Jun 17, 2021 - 2:18 pm EST
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 ANALYSIS

June 17, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) — After the sudden and unexplained eviction of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) from the archdiocese of Dijon, in Burgundy, France, the archdiocese’s website published a statement this Thursday giving the reasons for the move. Under the title: “To put things back into perspective,” the unsigned communiqué accuses the FSSP of being responsible for the break that has led local Archbishop Roland Minnerath to drive the traditional fraternity from its apostolate in Dijon as of August 31.

Several realities and attitudes are held against the priests of the FSSP: their refusal to concelebrate occasionally within the diocese in the Novus Ordo, and the functioning of the apostolate as a “quasi-parish,” with an “exclusive rite” and the offering of services, including catechesis and activities for the young, to faithful who are still “part of their territorial parish.”

The unsigned statement recalls how the apostolate of the Basilica of Saint-Bernard, in Dijon, originated 23 years ago in 1998 under the condition that “the priest of the Fraternity” should also “concelebrate now and again with the other priests so that there would be no watertight separation between the two rites.”

Already in 2007 (when the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum was published), the diocese decided it wanted to take over the celebration of the “old rite,” but this finally did not happen and the Fraternity was allowed to send another priest to Dijon: the diocese made “occasional concelebration” with his diocesan confreres a condition for the FSSP to remain.

Father Garban of the FSSP accepted this condition and remained until 2016.

Since then, the priests named by the FSSP have refused to concelebrate, which is presented by the diocese as the refusal of a “gesture of sacramental and priestly communion,” suggesting that a “parallel community” of faithful has been created.

The diocese is also unhappy that there are now two priests from the FSSP looking after “a small group of faithful” and accuses part of these of “rejecting what they call ‘the conciliar Church.’” It insists that it now has a diocesan priest, “helped by others,” who is willing to celebrate the “old rite” for this community, while its members will be expected to turn to the Novus Ordo parishes of Dijon for catechesis, chaplaincies, youth clubs, and preparation for the sacraments.

The statement concluded: “If like their predecessor, the priests of the Fraternity had accepted to demonstrate their unity with us by joining at least some concelebrations, and if they did not consider their group of faithful as their exclusive domain, we would have welcomed their contribution.”

The accusations are harsh indeed, for they suggest that the FSSP’s apostolate has created a kind of parallel Church whose communion with the diocese — and therefore with the hierarchy of the Church and the Church itself — is at best doubtful.

The issue of concelebration is a thorny one regarding the acceptance of institutes and fraternities attached to the traditional Latin Mass (TLM) by French bishops.

Different kinds of situations exist: some dioceses absolutely refuse to call in priests hailing from these communities, following the lead of the now-deceased cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger in Paris, who was quite open to the traditional form of the Roman rite, even before the 2007 motu proprio — as long as it was under his authority and celebrated by “bi-ritualist” priests.

In other dioceses, the FSSP, the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest, the Institute of the Good Shepherd and others have obtained apostolates of different types. Some dioceses, such as Versailles or Toulon, have set up “personal parishes” for the faithful who practice in the traditional, “extraordinary” form of the Roman rite, allowing them to have access to all normal parochial activities in the spirit of the traditional Mass, sacraments, and religious instruction, offered by diocesan priests, often priests who were trained in a traditional fraternity (including the SSPX), or by Ecclesia Dei communities.

In other dioceses, coexistence with the Novus Ordo is imposed within the place of worship assigned to the local traditional institute or fraternity, and daily traditional Masses, let alone catechism and other such activities are not nominally included in the services these priests can offer.

Also, some priests from these communities accept to join a yearly concelebration with their local bishop and the diocesan clergy at the “Chrism Mass” on Holy Thursday; others do not — those of the FSSP, as a rule, do not, considering that they were ordained for the Vetus Ordo (in the same way that Catholic priests of the Oriental rites assigned to groups of faithful in France only celebrate their particular rite, no questions asked).

The concelebration issue is one that exists in these sometimes tense relationships with local bishops.

Concelebration is certainly not the norm in the Vetus Ordo: it is restricted to the newly-ordained priest’s ordination Mass together with the ordaining bishop, without the visual form it takes in the Novus Ordo, where several priests — sometimes a great number of them — form an arc around the main celebrant, facing the public and taking turns to speak in a ritual that turns away attention from the sacrificial aspect of the Mass and the fact that in consecrating the bread and the wine, the priest acts “in the person of Christ.” Concelebration is evidently out of place in the Traditional Latin Mass, and such has been the case for centuries.

The FSSP itself went through a crisis starting in 1999 when a group of its priests in favor of concelebration at the Chrism Mass asked for an apostolic visitation that would allow for this to happen. The crisis would lead to a number of priests leaving the FSSP to join the diocesan clergy, while the FSSP itself remained attached to the exclusive celebration of the Latin Mass.

In a recent interview with “Le Salon beige,” a news website run by lay Catholics, the superior of the French district of the FSSP, Father Benoît Paul-Joseph, noted that the Fraternity faces tensions in some dioceses where its apostolates attract as many (and often more) faithful as the local Novus Ordo parishes, and appear to be only “tolerated” within them while being more “dynamic.” He sees the solution in the creation of “personal parishes.” In the present situation, “[t]he priest and the faithful involved give the impression of going beyond the limits of the framework, but this is because it does not fit” their needs.

This is obviously what has taken place in Dijon, where the Vetus Ordo community that has grown around the FSSP is lively and observant, while Novus Ordo parishes often have less regular faithful from older age-groups.

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Regarding concelebration, Father Benoît Paul-Joseph told “Le Salon beige:”

The question of concelebration is a delicate one, especially in our institute, because of our internal history and a crisis that we have gone through. As a preamble, let me recall that if the majority of FSSP priests do not concelebrate, this is not due to an unofficial prohibition by their superiors, nor to an impossibility linked to their constitutions (which would be impossible), but to their personal choice, as the Church allows.

Secondly, it is also important to remember that the priests of our institute are in full ecclesial communion because of their membership in the Fraternity of St. Peter, an Apostolic Society of Pontifical Right, whose history and very name originate in fidelity to the See of Peter. There can be no doubt about this.

The Motu Proprio does not speak directly of concelebration, but recalls the dignity of the Paul VI missal, asking priests not to exclude it on principle. In our case, our constitutions, definitively approved by the Holy See in 2003, recognize that celebration in the Extraordinary Form is constitutive of our charism. This means that a priest of the FSSP cannot receive a mission that would include the celebration of the liturgy in the ordinary form.

As for concelebration (in the ordinary form), if it is one of the signs proper to express communion with the bishop, it is not the only one, nor the highest (it has been practiced only since quite recent times), and it is not binding.

Also, the priests of the FSSP, because of the liturgical choice they have made, which is based on objective theological reasons, do not wish to concelebrate Mass in the Ordinary Form as provided for by canon and liturgical law. I can understand that this is difficult for some bishops to accept, but it seems to me unjust to suspect or penalize people who make use of a right, or to put them on trial for their motives in making their choice. The priests of the FSSP have never questioned the validity of the Mass celebrated according to the missal of Paul VI, but they have always underlined its insufficiencies and ambiguities, in a filial spirit. For this reason, since they have permission, they prefer not to concelebrate it.

In this regard, I would like to point out that the question of concelebration was submitted to the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei in 2010 and that it recalled that it is always a possibility, never an obligation.

These are all important points, and they raise the question of the legitimacy of the FSSP’s eviction: Does a bishop have a (canonical) right to drive away and cast suspicion on a legitimate fraternity whose mission is the celebration of the Traditional Mass, because its members proclaim their steadfast attachment to that Mass?

In the same way, can it be expected of the faithful to give up the natural context of the Traditional Latin Mass, which includes access to all the sacraments in the traditional form, in all “Catholic” activities, together with a solid and well-structured catechesis? Many traditionally-minded Catholics have issues with diocesan catechesis because it does not adequately teach the faith and is often sadly lacking in substance. One need only look at the continual plummeting of religious practice in the younger generations and their widespread if not universal ignorance of many points of doctrine, even when having attended diocesan Catholic schools, to realize that this is a real problem.

From the diocese of Dijon’s statement, it clearly emerges that this desire for a coherent, unified “traditional” practice of the faith within a group of faithful attached to the Latin Mass is precisely what the local bishop finds problematic.

If the reasons for the FSSP’s eviction are accepted without question by Rome, it could mean that difficult days are ahead for other traditional so-called “Ecclesia Dei” apostolates in France and perhaps elsewhere, especially given the fact that the latest developments in the Vatican point to restrictions on the Traditional Latin Mass. These developments include the banning of individual Masses in Saint Peter’s Basilica, and a possible rewriting of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum which is said to be favored by Pope Francis.

Here below is LifeSite’s full translation of the statement of the diocese of Dijon:

Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter — Dijon: to put things in perspective …

The Diocese would like to make some clarifications.

1. FSSP the list of requirements

The Fraternity of St. Peter (a society of priests attached to the pre-Vatican II rite) was welcomed in the Diocese of Dijon in 1998 in response to requests from some of the faithful to have Mass according to the pre-Vatican II tradition.

It was agreed that the priest of the Fraternity should also celebrate from time to time with the other priests so that there would be no watertight separation between the two rites.

After the departure of the first priest of the Fraternity in 2007, the diocese wanted to provide these celebrations in the old rite by diocesan priests. This plan could not be carried out and the Fraternity was told that another of their priests could come to Dijon on the condition that he would not refuse to concelebrate occasionally with his diocesan confreres.

Appointed in 2007, Father Garban fulfilled this condition quite naturally. His superior wanted to transfer him elsewhere in 2010. We insisted on having a priest who was willing to concelebrate. Since the Superior could not find a replacement for him, he extended Father Garban’s mandate until 2016.

Since then, the priests appointed by the Fraternity have refused to make this gesture of priestly and sacramental communion. Such an attitude reveals a conception of their ministry that we do not share. The old rite must not create a parallel community. Priests must be free to celebrate in either rite, and the faithful are still part of their territorial parish.

2. The faithful are attached to them

The priests of the Fraternity have gradually developed in an autonomous way a quasi-parochial pastoral ministry, which goes beyond the specifications of our initial agreement. Since 2017 there are even two priests who are sharing the assistance of a small group of faithful. Little by little this group has consolidated around them since they were in fact providing all the services normally provided by the parishes.

We understand this attachment. Part of these faithful easily go from one rite to the other. Another part does not accept the ordinary form of the Mass and rejects what it calls “the conciliar Church.” The diocesan authority must see to it that the Catholic community is not divided. It is clear that this is not only a question of rite, but of exclusive rite and separate community.

3. Proposition

The blockage comes from the attitude of the FSSP which has excluded that its priests celebrate in the ordinary rite. The faithful do not understand this blockage and say they are victims of this intransigence. The Superior of the Fraternity has appointed two priests when we had requested only one. The FSSP is imposing the formation of a community, part of which (as recent messages show) casts suspicion on the diocesan Church.

Since today a diocesan priest, assisted by others, has said that he is ready to provide ministry according to the old rite to this community, we remain consistent with the line that the diocese has taken for 23 years. Mass according to the ancient rite will be assured and the services of catechesis, chaplaincy, patronage, preparation for the sacraments will be offered by the parishes, in particular those near Fontaine-lès-Dijon and Dijon-Saint Bernard.

If the priests of the Fraternity had accepted, like their predecessor, to mark their unity with us at least in some concelebrations and if they did not consider their group of faithful as their exclusive domain, we would have been delighted with their contribution. 


  archdiocese of dijon, fssp, persecution, roland minnerath

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