FSSP priests suddenly evicted from French diocese after 23 years
June 9, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) —Like a thunderbolt in a clear sky, the community of the Fraternity of Saint Peter (FSSP) in Dijon, in central France, received notice about a week ago that it was being “thanked” for its 23 years of service at the Basilica of Saint-Bernard – meaning it will be driven out of the diocese without warning, as of August 31.
The decision bore the signature of Bishop Roland Minnerath, Archbishop of the Metropolitan diocese of Dijon, himself a member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Roman dicastery that supervises all “Ecclesia Dei” congregations, fraternities and institutes (many of which, incidentally, originated in France).
No explanation was given.
Besides, Msgr Minnerath is just five months away from his 75th birthday, the legal date for the handing in of his resignation to Pope Francis – a strange time to implement such an unexpected and radical decision as the dismissal of a priestly fraternity that offers not only Mass and the sacraments, but an active “parish” life to close on 300 regularly practicing faithful, including many families with children and young people.
Despite the FSSP’s repeated requests for a meeting with the Archbishop, no further explanation has been forthcoming and no meeting offered.
The faithful who regularly attend Mass at the “Birthplace of Saint-Bernard” – an eleventh century castle and church that were overhauled and rebuilt over the centuries and now boasts a massive basilica – were both dumbfounded and angry. They immediately set up a Facebook group, “Soutien à la Basilique St Bernard de Dijon,” respectfully disputing the Archbishop’s “unilateral decision” and hoping to have it overturned.
They published a statement on June 3 with the aim of obtaining support from the flourishing community of Catholics who choose the Traditional Latin Mass in France.
Today, we need your help, action and support.
Msgr Minnerath (…) has put an end to the life of the Catholic community of the basilica of Fontaines-lès-Dijon.
Next September, the FSSP, after 23 years of presence in Dijon and the (department of) the Côte-d’Or, will be obliged to abandon 300 faithful and leave Dijon.
Besides the loss of two priests, we the faithful are set to lose: 12 Masses per week, catechism for children and for adults, preparation for all the sacraments, both now and for the future, visits to the ill and the needy, accompaniment of student groups and Christian homes, a youth club, scout groups etc. A complete apostolate!
A community of many Catholic families is being swept away by a bishop who is on the point of leaving!
(Signed) Catholics who want to keep their priests and their community.
The superior of the apostolate of the FSSP in Dijon, Father Roch Perrel, also sent a letter to the local faithful that was widely circulated on the internet, opening his remarks with a quotation from the Gospel of Matthew: “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be dispersed.”
Encouraging the laity to rise to the occasion, he wrote:
During all these years, priests of the Fraternity of Saint Peter have come and gone to Dijon to allow you to attend Mass daily, to receive the sacraments easily, to have catechism classes according to the pedagogy of the FSSP and given by priests; we have been able to develop activities for all ages in order to constitute a lively and peaceful community within the archdiocese of Dijon. Could all this disappear with a stroke of the pen? Without any consultation?
For our part, the District Superior of France of the FSSP, Father Benoît Paul-Joseph, has asked for an appointment with Bishop Roland Minnerath and we will explain the reasons for our incomprehension and our hurt in the face of a decision that seems to us to be deeply unjust. The fact remains that you, dear faithful, are the most injured in this affair where you will be the main victims of this change of regime: you will no longer have all the services that the FSSP rendered to you, while the diocesan solution always remains insecure since it depends on the goodwill of one or two diocesan priests who are already in charge of another parish and who are already overwhelmed. Moreover, the FSSP allows your community to maintain a unity among its members despite the diversity of pastors who have worked at the birthplace of Saint Bernard. It is therefore up to you to make your distress known in the appropriate ways to find a peaceful solution for the good of all.
What threatens us is division – among ourselves or, what would be worse, in relation to the diocese – since the pastors have been struck. Let us not let ourselves be troubled by the spirit of the evil one who sows discord in the hearts. Let us therefore have the wisdom to remain united in order to present a strong front and to be able to overcome this trial that afflicts us while remembering the admonition of St. Paul the Apostle: “Owe no man anything, but to love one another. For he that loveth his neighbor, hath fulfilled the law” Romans, 13.
In this month of June traditionally dedicated to the Sacred Heart, I invite you to pray the litanies of the Sacred Heart every day for the intentions of our community.
Interestingly, the FSSP appears not to be taking the situation lying down, although it clearly is doing everything possible to reach a peaceful outcome.
Seen from the larger perspective of Ecclesia Dei institutes and religious communities in France, the case of Dijon is a symbolic one and, if no solution is found, could appear as a precedent to other French bishops, some of whom have accepted the presence of these Traditional Latin Mass apostolates over the years, but with little enthusiasm. The very success of these communities which prove particularly attractive to young people is often a living reproach to the lack of practice in many Novus Ordo parishes.
Also, the past long months of lockdowns and severe COVID restrictions, as well as the banning of Communion on the tongue, have led a significant proportion of Catholics who would normally attend Novus Ordo liturgies to take the plunge and start attending TLM Masses – be they diocesan, Ecclesia Dei or of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X (SSPX).
In Rome, Pope Francis is said to have prepared a document and a letter modifying the generous provisions of Summorum Pontificum with regard to the “extraordinary form” of the Roman Rite, as it dubs the Tridentine Mass, restricting the right of non-Ecclesia Dei priests to celebrate it. Credible sources say that Francis’ letter will oblige diocesan priests to ask permission from their bishop to use the 1962 form of the Mass.
If Archbishop Minnerath’s move is not countered and lifted, the general context and the particular fate of the FSSP in Dijon could be seen as shaping things to come.
However, one can only speculate as to the future and even as to the reasons and context of the sudden rejection of the FSSP. Some have suggested that the owner of the Basilica, a private association dedicated to the promotion and upkeep of the historical abbey of Cîteaux, may be trying to take over the building that is presently used by the diocese. Such a move had already been attempted in recent years, with a possibility of assigning the FSSP to another, less adequate location, but eventually the FSSP was able to remain.
A statement published this Tuesday on the diocese’s website explains nothing regarding the true motivation of Minnerath, but it does make clear that the basilica will continue to be used for worship. And it does appear to reveal the present state of mind of the Catholic hierarchy – it reads:
Concerning the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter - Dijon
Much incomprehension has been expressed after the announcement of the departure of the priests of the Fraternity of Saint Peter in Dijon.
The announced transfer of one of the priests of the Fraternity led the diocese to take on the ministry of the group of faithful attached to the Missal of Saint Pius V.
There is no question of the faithful leaving their place of celebration at the birthplace of Saint Bernard.
Father Christian Baud and other diocesan priests are ready to ensure the celebration of the Mass according to the Extraordinary Form as well as the other sacraments.
For all other pastoral services, such as catechesis, patronage, scouting and other apostolic activities, families who wish to do so will find the best possible welcome at the local parishes of Saint Bernard de Fontaine and Saint Bernard de Dijon, or at any other parish of the diocese.
The diocese thanks the Fraternity for the services rendered during these past years. The fact that the faithful will now be entrusted to diocesan priests will only strengthen their communion with the diocesan Church.
Many of the messages received are unfortunately indicative of a spirit of rejection of the “Conciliar Church” as if there were another. The change proposed by the diocese has no other purpose than to strengthen ecclesial unity while respecting legitimate sensitivities.
So, the Traditional Latin Mass will continue to be offered at the Basilica of Saint-Bernard, but by overworked diocesan priests. And the Archbishop sees this as a means of strengthening the communion of the faithful with the diocese, thereby implying that Catholics who practice their faith in Ecclesia Dei communities are in some way wanting, or inferior, or even in some kind of opposition with the hierarchy of the Church.
The local faithful have already stressed that they will be losing active and dedicated priests who not only offer them a daily Traditional Latin Mass – something that is excessively rare in French parishes that offer “Motu proprio” Masses, but usually only on Sundays – but also catechesis and activities. They know only too well that diocesan catechism classes are often way beyond par as regards the full, articulate and well-structured teaching of the Faith, while traditional scouting and other lay activities are themselves profoundly informed by the Latin liturgy that supports them.
The idea of “respecting legitimate sensitivities” as regards the liturgy of the sacraments also downplays the true concerns of many “Ecclesia Dei” faithful. They most often choose the traditional form of the Roman Rite not because of their feelings or nostalgia, but because of its objective, Christo-centric qualities and its sure, clear, God-willed affirmation of adoration and of the Faith.