Full-bodied row in BordeauxPhilip Crispin
- 28 October 2006
The Vatican's establishment of an institute for ex-Lefebvrists in Bordeaux, to operate in parallel with the existing Church, has caused deep anger in France. It is a major challenge to the authority of Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard - and to the Church, shaped by the Second Vatican Council'
Hear the word "Bordeaux" and it might well call to mind a good claret - "a beaker full of the warm South" - and accompanying mellow congeniality. But the mood of the Archdiocese of Bordeaux, in south-west France, is anything but congenial at the moment. The unannounced opening of a new pontifical institute, right under the nose of the archbishop himself, has provoked shock and outrage among clergy and laity alike. There have been street demonstrations, priests threatening to resign and a general feeling that Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux and head of the French Bishops' Conference, has been snubbed.
Emotions are running high owing both to the Vatican's seeming "parachuting in" of this new body, and to what that body is seen to represent, which is a hatred of the innovations that followed the Second Vatican Council.
On 8 September the Vatican created the Pontifical Institute of the Good Shepherd for five traditionalist priests - all former followers of Archbishop Lefebvre - which would answer directly to Rome and "not at all to local bishops". On the following Sunday, the institute's new head, Fr Philippe Laguérie, 53, climbed into the pulpit of the Bordeaux Church of St Eloi - a church that the archdiocese confirms he has been occupying illegally for five years - and hailed his "victory". He told his 200-strong congregation, made up principally of young families, that the institute, "especially mandated by Pope Benedict XVI", would celebrate Mass exclusively according to the Tridentine rite, a key Lefebvrist demand. It could also train and ordain seminarians.
Fr Laguérie insisted that no concessions had been made either in liturgy or doctrine and, as for the Second Vatican Council, the new institute "had the obligation to render the authenticity of Catholic doctrine, under the auspices of the Pope", he said. "Why would you wish to give your life to Jesus Christ for such chimeras as dialogue and intercommunal relations and international ecumenism?"
Fr Laguérie mocked the "not so glorious" pastoral policies of the last 30 years that had resulted, he said, in a catastrophic fall in ordinations and baptisms across France. St Eloi would be the prototype of a revival of truly traditional parishes in France and elsewhere.
"Tradition" here means lace, soutanes and mantillas; the old catechism and the priest turning from the faithful to face the altar and God. It stands for fortress Church, a bulwark against a corrupt world, as distinct from the Church of the Second Vatican Council, that seeks to engage with the world.
Fr Laguérie applauds Benedict XVI as a "traditionalist" Pope and dates the former Cardinal Ratzinger's return to the fold to Benedict's speech in December 2005 when he said that Vatican II should not be interpreted as a rupture with the tradition of the Church. In an interview with Le Monde's religious affairs writer, Henri Tincq, he also praised Benedict's recent Regensburg lecture that offended sections of Islam, calling it "a true and powerful discourse".
It is clear that Rome has made important concessions to the ex-Lefebvrists. In order to accelerate a rapprochement, the object seems to be to "jostle" the recalcitrant Lefebvrists themselves, who remain loyal to the schismatic Marcel Lefebvre, whose excommunication was confirmed on 2 July 1988 by Pope John Paul II. These number 460 priests, 178 seminarians, 70 brothers, 133 nuns and 68 oblates, and 150,000 lay faithful in some 50 countries.
For the moment, the Lefebvrists denounce the Vatican's "splinter-group solution" and continue to demand the Tridentine Mass for all Catholics. "It cannot be a privilege reserved for a few," they insist. Fr Laguérie, for his part, predicts that, come November, a papal document will be published that will re-establish the rights of the traditional Mass in all its dignity: that is, it will not be celebrated as a special favour but will be openly available.
Veritatis Splendor (John Paul II's encyclical of 1993) makes clear that division in the Church is a scandal, and this latest Vatican-driven initiative has indeed scandalised many in Bordeaux who dispute whether any meaningful reconciliation has yet been achieved. Bordeaux's council of priests says: "We denounce the absence of information and consultation with the local Church in the creation of this Institute." As the Bordeaux priest Fr Jean-Marie Roumégoux puts it succinctly: "Rome has acted in scorn of the local Church."
Crucially, the Vatican's top-down approach has given the impression that it was unaware of - or ignored - some highly significant local facts. Not only has Fr Laguérie been "squatting" illegally in St Eloi for five years, the archdiocese says, but he's used it as his platform for launching stinging "anathemas" against the local Church - hardly the best way to endear yourself to your neighbours. In a letter penned by Cardinal Ricard and published in the diocesan review, Aquitaine, on 5 October, he reminds the faithful that "it needs the authorisation of the diocesan bishop for any apostolic activity in his diocese".
Also causing alarm are Fr Laguérie's links with the extreme Right. In 1996, in his previous guise as the curé of St-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris, the beating heart of Lefebvrism in France and another illegally held church, he celebrated the funeral of Paul Touvier, the former Vichy militiaman. Touvier was the first Frenchman to be found guilty of crimes against humanity, notably the multiple murders of Jews and human-rights activists. He evaded arrest for half a century thanks to a network of reactionary and anti-Semitic Catholics across France.
In his widely reported sermon, Fr Laguérie described Touvier as a "delicate, sensitive ... soul", and added: "In the divine courtroom, there will be no media, no headline news ... and no LICRA [the international league against racism and anti-Semitism]." Le Monde reported that he has also advocated voting for the extreme-right Front National party and defended its leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, when he was condemned for describing the Holocaust as "a detail of history".
This is the man now rehabilitated by the Pope and promoted to head the new institute. "The very name the Good Shepherd is a disgrace, an insult for us," exclaims the archdiocesan priest Hugues Walser. And perhaps no one should feel this more keenly than the Archbishop of Bordeaux himself, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard.
The cardinal is head of the French Bishops' Conference, and a member of Ecclesia Dei, the pontifical commission charged with reconciling recalcitrant traditionalist groups. Yet he has owned that, although aware that Fr Laguérie was - on his own advice - in negotiations with Rome, he was not informed by the Vatican of the imminent publication of the decree of institution. Many feel that the cardinal has been snubbed. He certainly never wanted a reconciliation with traditionalists without their making concessions on their convictions and practices. His vicar general, Fr Jean Rouet, denounced inaccuracies in the Vatican decree of institution concerning the presumed accord of the cardinal. Rueing the institute's triumphalist rhetoric, he said, "Abbé Laguérie ... has wounded my Church and, if he wishes forgiveness, he must ask for it." Given the institute's direct dependence on the Holy See, there are fears that a sort of parallel Church in Bordeaux has been created.
Cardinal Ricard has expressed doubts over whether the new institute personnel will join him for Holy Week's Chrism Mass (celebrated in the New Rite, of course) when all the priests of the diocese come together. In contrast to Fr Laguérie and his cohorts, cardinal, priests and people proclaim their love of the Second Vatican Council, which has given them "great joy". Fr Rouet has expressed astonishment that the new institute's history of vitriolic attacks on members of the council were not picked up by Rome. Meanwhile in Bordeaux there have been demonstrations and a flurry of letters. In one, 200 lay members demand an extraordinary diocesan congress to discuss what is at stake.
Cardinal Ricard's recent letter in Aquitaine reflects the deep anger and sense of betrayal of the people of Bordeaux. "In Bordeaux, the creation of this institute has provoked a strong reaction. We cannot forget the violence which has characterised over several years the relations between the occupants of St Eloi and the diocesan Church."
Cardinal Ricard goes on to explain how he sees a way forward that would involve the setting up of a personal parish according to Code 518 of canon law. This would require the signing of a convention between the diocese and the institute. The most crucial moment for the settling of this dispute, and a key one for the relationship between the Church and those who do not accept Vatican II, will be the visit of Cardinal Ricard to Rome to try and find a solution. Cardinal Ricard knows how damaging this controversy is. As he writes in Aquitaine, "We know simply that neither the dissolving of the Gospel into the climate of the times, nor the founding of Christian ghettos looking back in on themselves, are satisfactory responses to the challenge of evangelisation."