Thousands of French Catholics join protests against government ban on public celebration of Mass
FRANCE, November 16, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) – Thousands of Catholics in France joined about thirty demonstrations over the past week-end in protest against the banning of public Masses under current lockdown regulations that allow citizens to shop in crowded supermarkets and use public transportation – including the ever-busy Parisian underground – tobacconists and public services. Primary and secondary schools are also functioning more or less normally.
The movement has been criticized by a number of French bishops in the wake of threats by the French Interior minister Gerald Darmanin who warned on Friday that there would be no “leniency” for Catholics who repeatedly ask for Mass in public demonstrations, even though these are duly declared and constitute a legal exception for coming out of lockdown. As the situation developed, it became clear that the French authorities are stepping up specifically anti-Catholic measures by allowing protests but coming down heavily on anything that looks like public prayers.
Here below is a chronological presentation of events since Friday morning when Darmanin issued his warning, followed by massive mobilization of Catholics but also repressive interventions on the part of the public authorities and the police.
The French minister of the Interior – who is in charge of public order and also of “religious worship” – Gérald Darmanin, warned Catholics assembling in front of churches that he would send the police in order to force them to observe lockdown rules and if necessary, fine them (135 Euros or about 150 US Dollars for a first offense).
Gérald Darmanin clearly stated on State radio FranceInfo on Friday morning: “I’m telling the Catholics of France – as I also tell the Jews of France and the Protestants – that freedom of worship is very important. We have left places of worship open: places of worship can go on doing worship, with a minister of worship who can continue to do his office and even film it so that during the few weeks of current confinement everyone can have a link with his or her religion. We respect that profoundly. But life is more important than everything. And life means fighting the coronavirus. I don’t desire to send police forces to issue tickets to believers who are in front of a church, but obviously if this is a repetitive act, and that is manifestly contrary to the laws of the Republic, I will do it.”
“Will you do it as of this weekend?” asked the journalist.
“I will do it as of this weekend. There was a weekend of leniency, the weekend during which we entered into confinement, it was also the final weekend of the school holidays. There will not be a second weekend of leniency,” warned Darmanin.
Previously, Darmanin had stated that he had stepped up police controls all over the country to ensure that lockdown measures are being observed by the population. Bars, restaurants and small shops are closed, and all people living in France are required to justify their every move outside the home with an auto-certification that allows them to go out only for one hour for individual walks or sports within a radius of 1 km, to do their shopping or to accomplish other “essential” acts. Book stores are closed and books may not be sold in supermarkets or other shops; nor may supermarkets sell any type of garment, make-up, kitchen appliances and so forth, in a Kafkaesque list of restrictions.
100,000 fines were handed out over the first two weeks of confinement up to Friday morning, with a whopping 12,000 fines over the 24 hours between Thursday and Friday.
Darmanin justified the measures by the number of COVID deaths but a yet to be determined proportion of these are deaths of people “with” COVID or “suspected COVID” rather than deaths directly attributable to the disease caused by the Chinese coronavirus. Examples of these of which I have direct knowledge are an in-utero death of a malformed baby that was attributed to COVID outside of the doctor’s knowledge; and the death of a 97-year-old woman from cancer, whose daughter was asked to accept the inscription “COVID” on the death certificate because that would ensure better subsidy from the Social Security system.
When the French Council of State refused to allow Catholics to assist at Mass, in a decision handed down on November 7, even though supermarkets, schools, public transportation and tobacconists are open under current lockdown rules, faithful in Nantes, Lyon and Versailles joined to pray the Rosary on Sunday in the forecourts of their cathedrals by the hundreds.
Their example triggered a wave of emulation as faithful in dozens of French towns and cities are set to demonstrate for the freedom of worship and the right to go to Mass, which is a true and real encounter with Our Lord in the Eucharistic presence.
Most of these rallies were formally declared beforehand to the local “Préfecture” which is the arm of the State in the French “départements.” While all gatherings beyond the strict family circle have been forbidden since October 29, the first day of France’s second lockdown, as well as meeting or spending time with friends or extended family during outdoor activities, “protest demonstrations” are still allowed provided they are declared.
Dozens of demonstrations were to take place over the weekend: one of the centralized lists of the initiatives of several associations is regularly updated by the “Salon beige,” a blog by young Catholics that played a major role in spreading the calls to action of the “Manif pour tous” in the fight against “same-sex marriage” in 2013.
The nationwide movement kicked off on Friday evening with an official rally in front of Saint Sulpice in Paris. “Suppressing Mass is equivalent to suppressing Catholicism…What is not negotiable is the necessity of the Mass...We need to prepare Christmas as it should be. We were weak enough to sacrifice Holy Week and Easter, we will not have the weakness to sacrifice Christmas! They can send all the police forces in France to inflict fines, even within our churches, but we will be there all the same,” said Father Michel Viot in front of hundreds of young people who also chanted Marian hymns and the Salve Regina.
������ EN COURS - Plusieurs centaines de catholiques manifestent devant l'Église Saint-Sulpice à #Paris pour protester contre l'interdiction des messes. (@CharlesBaudry) #COVID19 #manifestationpic.twitter.com/zVgC5kuNRv— Anonyme Citoyen (@AnonymeCitoyen) November 13, 2020
There was no police intervention in Paris on Friday.
In theory, it was expected to be difficult for the French authorities to persecute Catholic rallies in this way when officially declared.
But the Catholic activist group Civitas declared on Friday that it had in its possession “a number of letters from prefects saying the rallies will be banned if there is a Mass or simply prayers, and authorized if they are only ‘vindicative’.” “Authorized to sing the International [socialist song] but not the Hail Mary,” commented Civitas.
While many priests are indignant at the secularist, anti-Catholic stance of the public authorities, bishop Michel Dubost, Apostolic administrator of the diocese of Lyon, published a statement this Friday morning saying: “Let us be patient! I hope that very soon, Catholics will be authorized to celebrate Mass as communities. For the moment, the government is not authorizing this for sanitary reasons. I ask everyone to respect this decision and to do everything not to be a vector for this illness. We must not gather, either outside or inside churches, and let us show our capacity to respect the framework that we are provided with in the name of public health.”
“In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, what are the guidelines?”, retorted “Père Danziec,” the literary name of a priest who gives weekly contributions to the conservative weekly Valeurs Actuelles.
Earlier in the day Père Danziec commented on Twitter: “Darmanin's announcements confirm that the real issue currently is the celebration of MASS and the possibility of WORSHIPPING God rather than people gathering together. And it is precisely this which is absolutely scandalous.”
Despite threats by Minister Darmanin, thousands of Catholics joined static demonstrations all over France, in large cities such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Nantes, Toulouse or Rennes and in smaller towns from Vannes in Brittany to the suburbs of Paris, with one of the largest rallies taking place in front of Versailles Cathedral where the local vicar general of the diocese was present, and some 2,000 Catholics took part.
In Bayonne, near the Spanish border on the Atlantic, Bishop Marc Aillet personally took part.
Many of these officially declared demonstrations took place in front of churches but the government authorities in several towns banned meetings in front of religious buildings as planned by the organizers. In Lyon, rallies were to have taken place in front of the cathedral and the basilica of Fourvière but the local prefect forced a change in location and the many hundreds of Catholics were obliged to demonstrate on a large central square.
In Nantes, demonstrators were hoping to meet in front of the cathedral – which was badly damaged by a terrorist attack a few months ago – but were forced by the authorities to assemble in front of the monumental town theatre in another part of the city where no churches are visible.
In Paris, following the success of the Friday evening demonstration described above, a second rally was to have taken place on Sunday afternoon in front of Saint-Sulpice after the first choice of a meeting in front of Notre Dame cathedral was rejected by the local “prefecture.” But on Saturday, Prefect Lallemant decided to ban the second demonstration because hymns had been sung on Friday evening and people had been seen praying. The Prefect underscored that the first demonstration had taken the form of “public worship in the public square” and warned the president of the French Bishop’s conference that, besides the 135 Euro fine for individuals who would join the event anyway, extra punishments would be meted out for those caught praying, in application of the 1905 law of Separation between Church and State.
This is, of course, nonsense as public processions and prayers are not banned as such and indeed often take place, while increasingly over the years, Muslims have organized prayers in the streets of cities such as Paris without incurring sanctions.
Besides, the idea that the government should decide what can be said or not in a legal public demonstration is a direct contradiction of freedom of expression as guaranteed by the French Constitution.
The area around Saint Sulpice was surrounded by riot police vehicles as of Saturday evening, to dissuade Catholics from demonstrating anyway. One young man who decided to go to the church on Sunday afternoon all the same was immediately challenged by the police and fined 135 Euros.
The demonstration that was to have taken place in Bergerac was also prohibited by the local authorities: it was replaced by a utility van bearing a banner with the words: “Rendez-nous la Messe” – “Give us back the Mass.”
However, several bishops made clear that they agreed with the intent of the public authorities, publishing letters to the faithful, tweets and communiqués saying that “charity towards the poor” is more important than assisting at Mass in the present circumstances.
Bishop Denis Moutel of Saint-Brieuc (Northern Brittany) formally “disapproved” the actions of the organizers of the local rally, in the name of “solidarity with those who are suffering because of the pandemic.”
In nearby Rennes, Bishop Pierre d’Ornellas asked Catholics to “live out their faith by accepting this temporary deprivation of Mass.”
He wrote: “A demonstration is political and addresses the state when citizens demand greater justice from the state. Prayer is addressed to God who makes charity grow in hearts so that an authentic and full fraternity may grow in every place. This prayer is still possible in churches, with strict respect for barrier gestures. It is wise not to mix demonstrations and prayer, otherwise it will lead to confusion which does not respect the 1905 Law of Separation and which harms the dialogue of the representatives of the religions with the State. I sincerely hope that this dialogue, which will take place this Monday 16 November, will be fruitful.”
It was not, in fact, since a video-conference joined by Minister Darmanin and representatives of all religious groups on Monday afternoon led to a statement on the part of the civil authorities that no public worship may take place until December 1 at the very least, and if then, under stringent new “protocols” to avoid the spread of COVID-19.
As a result, the students who called for the Rennes rally on Sunday afternoon in front of a local church promised that no prayers would be said or hymns sung. Only 200 people attended.
The president of the French Bishops’ conference, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, Archbishop of Reims, wrote a letter to all his “brother bishops” on Friday that many Catholics see as a betrayal of their spiritual needs.
Having subserviently underscored the principle of “Separation of State and Church” that Darmanin had recalled to him in an official message earlier in the day, Moulins-Beaufort added:
“Whatever the merits of this point of law, we bishops should be able to agree that prayer should not serve to support political claims. Prayer addresses itself to God and not to public authorities.”
This shows that as a bishop, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort has no understanding either of the spiritual duties and needs of his flock, nor of the fact that religious fundamental rights are being mocked by laws that are by essence political and, in this case, issued by political powers that are showing themselves to be both secularist and totalitarian.
At the Nantes demonstration last week, one of the faithful asked a priest who was present whether he could hear his confession. When the said priest – Father Bruno France of the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Pius X – took out his stole and put it around his shoulders a policeman immediately swooped down on him, accusing him of “celebrating Mass.”
In Nantes in particular, cooperation between various Catholic movements ranging from the FSSPX to the diocesan and traditional movements “in full communion with Rome” was seen as a hopeful sign. A planned open-air mass near the cathedral declared by the FSSPX was formally banned by the local “préfecture.”
In Bordeaux, some 300 Catholics rallied near the Cathedral of Saint-Andrew on Sunday morning. A few of them kneeled and started praying and singing the “Hail Mary.” As a result, the organizers of the event were summoned to a police station on Monday morning, despite the fact that they repeatedly asked the participants not to pray during the rally. “We eat, we go out, we come home. That’s all we do. We are living like animals,” commented Jacqueline, 72, telling the local press that “Mass is essential.”
In Aix-en-Provence, in the south of France, some thirty people attended a Mass celebrated by a priest of the Fraternity of Saint Pius X on Sunday in a chapel in the city center. The local “préfecture” sent the police to stop the Mass. All the faithful present were fined 135 Euros for having broken the lockdown. The priest was forced to go to a local police station and risks a fine, while the chapel may be subject to an “administrative closure.”
Several political figures, such as Marine Le Pen of the “Rassemblement National” (formerly “Front National”), asked for the respect of religious freedoms, while Christine Boutin, former president of the Christian Democrat Party, and Jean-Frédéric Poisson, its present leader under the name “VIA”, personally attended rallies “For the Mass.”
In a widely circulated video, National Assembly member Julien Aubert of “Les Républicains” complained that 200 deputies are allowed to join in the hemicycle of the lower chamber of Parliament, with a president officiating “much as a priest or a rabbi in a church or a synagogue,” but Catholics may not assist at Mass in very similar conditions.
Catholics in France are increasingly considering that COVID-19 rules are being used as tools of persecution against the Catholic Faith, at a time when all other types of demonstrations are being freely allowed by the central authorities.