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DIJON, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - French Catholics are expressing deep distress after the archbishop of Dijon expelled the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP), robbing over 300 worshippers of a thriving Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) apostolate.
FSSP superior Fr. Roch Perrel wrote to his flock Thursday, stating that Abp. Roland Minnerath had forced the fraternity to "abandon the faithful" and leave after the FSSP had spent 23 years of dedicated ministry in the Burgundy region of Dijon and Côte d'Or.
"The words that come to my mind these days are the words of Our Lord Jesus Christ quoting the prophet Zechariah: 'I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered' (Mat 26:31)," the superior stated.
"With the stroke of a pen" Minnerath ordered the society out of his diocese and "to date, the FSSP has still not been received by the bishop," even though French district superior Fr. Benoît Paul-Joseph has been asking for a meeting, Perrel lamented.
While the FSSP is an apostolate that upholds the TLM at the center of its charism, Minnerath is a staunch advocate of social justice and a member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences. Ironically, he has written extensively on "the right to religious freedom."
President of Una Voce France Patrick Banken told Church Militant: "The French people keep their fighting spirit, and I can tell you that if the pope dared to question Summorum Pontificum, there would be a 'Levée de boucliers' (raising of shields), and the warlike comparison is knowingly chosen!"
Pope Benedict XVI's motu proprio Summorum Pontificum grants greater freedom for priests to use the Extraordinary Form (EF) of the Roman rite, otherwise known as the Traditional Latin Mass, in its 1962 form.
The Dijon TLM community of the Basilica of Fontaines les Dijon blasted on social media the archbishop's "unilateral decision," noting that the FSSP, which had served them faithfully, would be forced to leave by September.
"Besides losing two priests, we the faithful lose: 12 masses per week, catechesis of children and adults, preparations for all the sacraments, visits to the sick and needy, oversight of student groups, patronage, scouting, etc. ... a whole apostolate!" a bereaved member noted.
The outraged faithful described themselves as "a community of many Catholic families, swept away by a bishop!" and warned that "Rome is preparing a coup against the ecclesial communities" offering the TLM.
On Monday, Paix Liturgie, a website dedicated to the Extraordinary Form of the Latin rite Mass, interviewed Raymond Pierre — an expert on the political and ecclesiastical situation prevailing in the diocese.
Pierre slammed Minnerath's expulsion order as "the last posturing of an aging bishop" who is about to retire and an "attempt by the last defenders of old strategies to undermine the traditionalist movement which is growing "more and more vibrant and missionary."
However, Pierre warned that the Minnerath who often held conservative positions on several issues was being used as a "useful idiot" by larger forces seeking to entirely wipe out the traditionalist Catholic movement in France.
"What is happening in Dijon today is a trial run," Pierre observed, "because if the enemies of the liturgy succeed in carrying out their ugly maneuver there, they will soon try it elsewhere. They want to attack the traditional world in pieces."
On Saturday, district superior Fr. Benoît Paul-Joseph told Le Salon Beige website that if the FSSP was granted "personal parishes" in France (as in the United States), there would not be tensions between congregations who attend the TLM and the Novus Ordo in the same parish.
"If 'walking towards unity' means trying to gradually erase everything that distinguishes us, then we are on the wrong track, and we even destroy the richness and harmony of unity," Fr. Paul-Joseph emphasized.
In February, French bishops submitted to the Holy See a devastatingly "contemptuous" appraisal of the Latin Mass, asking the Vatican "not to extend the celebration" of the EF. The submission was in response to a 2020 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) questionnaire on the TLM sent to bishops worldwide.
Catholics attending the TLM remain frozen in an "idiosyncratic conception of the Church" that rejects Vatican II, criticizes Pope Francis and is "hostile to a Church that is too open," the bishops claimed, arguing that the traditionalist movement creates a "mentality of resistance."
Noting that "fragile, identifiable youth are easily fascinated by the EF" and "reinforced in their obsessional fever by mediocre preaching and social networks," the bishops asked: "Why is there such a craze, especially among young people for the EF — the scrupulous form?"
Last week, unconfirmed reports from credible Italian and English sources suggested that Pope Francis was in the final stages of drawing up a document to modify some of the provisions of Summorum Pontificum and restrict the celebration of the TLM.
The revisionist document has reportedly received support from two cardinal consultors to the CDF: Vatican Secretary of State Cdl. Pietro Parolin and Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops Cdl. Marc Ouellet.
But Cdl. Gerhard Müller warned: "One cannot act with authoritarianism now by introducing prohibitions; it takes prudence and respect for groups and people who want to celebrate Holy Mass with the rite adopted until John XXIII, without creating new tensions."
Earlier in March, an unsigned Vatican Secretariat of State memo abolished "private" Masses celebrated at numerous side altars in St. Peter's Basilica and restricted the TLM to a single altar in the basilica's crypt.
The memo is directed at "canceling" the TLM from St. Peter's Basilica by making it "virtually invisible" to tourists and Catholics entering the shrine, a Curial priest told Church Militant. "Pope Francis is literally driving traditionalist Latin Mass Catholics underground and into the catacombs."