DIJON, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - French Catholics are challenging the archbishop of Dijon for "falsely insinuating that the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter (FSSP) has decided to abandon its faithful community which it has looked after for 23 years."
After expelling the FSSP from his diocese "with the stroke of a pen," as Church Militant earlier reported, Abp. Roland Minnerath emailed FSSP district superior Fr. Benoît Paul-Joseph Thursday evening, refusing to meet with him.
Father Paul-Joseph had written to Minnerath at the end of May pleading for a meeting but received no response from the archbishop until he phoned the prelate's secretary Thursday morning. Minnerath refused to speak with the FSSP district superior on the telephone, sources in Dijon told Church Militant.
The archbishop told Fr. Paul-Joseph that "his friends did not reflect a good image of the FSSP" — a reference to the distressed flock of 300 faithful Catholics who are members of the Basilica of St. Bernard of Dijon Traditional Latin Mass (TLM) community.
Minnerath, a social justice advocate and member of the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences, issued a statement on the diocesan website Tuesday denouncing the response of the faithful as triggered by "much misunderstanding."
"The announced transfer of one of the priests of the FSSP has prompted the diocese to now minister to the group of faithful attached to the so-called Missal of St. Pius V," the prelate maintained, refusing to admit that he had ordered the expulsion of the FSSP.
"Entrusting the faithful now to diocesan priests will only strengthen their communion with the diocesan church," Minnerath wrote, defending his expulsion of the FSSP as having "no other goal than to strengthen ecclesial unity while respecting legitimate sensibilities."
The archbishop chided lay members of the Latin Mass community for their responses to the diocese, which he labeled as "unfortunately revealing of a regrettable spirit of the rejection of the 'conciliar [post-Vatican II] Church.'"
However, a statement from the Friends of the Basilica of St. Bernard of Dijon sent to Church Militant refuted Minnerath's statements as "an extremely misleading explanation."
"The diocese is ignoring the usual procedure of priest transferal, letting us believe that the transferred priest would not be replaced. A replacement priest was, in fact, offered by the FSSP," the statement noted, adding:
The faithful community of the birthplace of St. Bernard feels profoundly scorned by the diocese of Dijon. After initially creating a local parish, the diocese, in one fell swoop, is sweeping away the whole life of a tightly knit Catholic community and its catechumens, by encouraging them to leave and join other parishes.
The statement from the Friends of the Basilica of St. Bernard explained how transferring oversight from the FSSP to diocesan clergy "disregards an entire community of Christians who currently benefit from the guidance of these [FSSP] pastors who are dedicated to them on a full-time basis."
Minnerath said that he would appoint diocesan priests to celebrate the TLM on Sundays as an alternative to the FSSP priests who offered their congregation 12 Masses a week, including Eucharistic services on weekdays.
But the TLM parishioners responded by saying it was not simply a matter of "ritual"; rather, the FSSP pastors further ministered in areas of catechism, patronage, chaplaincy, scouts, catechumens, home visits and ministry to the sick. Minnerath has asked the TLM laity to join local congregations to meet their various stated needs.
If the Church is one, Catholic and universal, "what could be a better sign of communion than that of bringing together different liturgical expressions of a rite, under their one and same faith in Jesus Christ, 'the same yesterday, today and for eternity' (Hebrews 13:8)?" the statement from the Friends of the Basilica asks.
Multiple sources associated with the congregation's senior leadership told Church Militant that Minnerath had expressed his distaste for the TLM, especially since priests refused to concelebrate during the Holy Eucharist.
At the last diocesan council meeting, the archbishop also told priests that the FSSP was becoming increasingly "radicalized," and he could no longer tell the difference between them and the schismatic Society of St. Pius X, sources said.
Last year, Minnerath tried to take away the church from the FSSP worshippers and give it to seven members of the Aïn Karem community, locals told Church Militant, explaining how they had invested their own resources transforming the building from a village hall into a church.
"The building was bare, the floor was flat concrete and the site was used for flea markets and village meetings. But we bought pews, wooden floors and confessionals from a big religious house that had just shut down," a member of the congregation said.
"One of our parishioners, a former carpenter, did an amazing job fitting the floor and the benches to the Basilica. We had the altar carved by stone cutters and an ancient tapestry featuring St. Bernard restored," the parishioner said, explaining how difficult it was to install a modern heating system in a historic building.
"The faithful community of the Basilica of St. Bernard hopes that the archbishop of Dijon, Roland Minnerath, after clarifying this misunderstanding, will acknowledge our spiritual and pastoral needs and cancel his decision to expel the FSSP," the Latin Mass congregants are pleading.