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PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - The archbishop of Paris has condemned a police raid on a church in the French capital.
Armed officers stormed the Church of Saint-André-de-l'Europe on Sunday morning and ordered parish priest Fr. Philippe de Maistre to stop the celebration.
Father de Maistre refused to comply with the order, contending that according to French law, police are prohibited from entering a church building until the priest himself has summoned them and given them permission to enter.
Father de Maistre, a cleric known for his courageous preaching on the crisis of masculinity, also pointed out that there were only seven people present: "myself, a server, a cantor, an organist and three parishioners to respond and read."
"My altar servant, himself a policeman, was able to come down to dialogue with them. But they left after 20 minutes after demanding that the three parishioners leave," the parish priest told Le Figaro.
The cleric alerted Abp. Michel Aupetit of Paris who spoke on Radio Notre Dame on Wednesday denouncing the police for "entering the church with weapons" even though "there is a formal ban on the police to take up arms in a church."
"There were no terrorists! We must keep a cool head and stop this circus. Otherwise we will speak and bark very loudly!" the archbishop warned, adding: "We are in an era which recalls certain periods of France which are not very happy, such as the [Nazi] occupation."
According to French laws of 1905 and 1907, police can only enter a religious sanctuary at the express request of the parish priest. The exception is a threat to public order or a serious problem of security, peace or health, as specified in a 1993 Council of State judgment. Case law specifies that the police must allow interested persons to freely evacuate the building before using force.
Father de Maistre believes that the incident could have been triggered by a neighbor who may have alerted the police after hearing the organ. "I found a message on my voice mail from a person shouting: 'underground Mass in Saint-André!'" he revealed, lamenting the fact that people were tipping off the police to report "allegedly clandestine Masses."
"We closed the doors of the church precisely to dissuade the parishioners from coming [for Mass] and [so they would] respect the quarantine. However, this turns against us, because people have the feeling we are doing something hidden!" he added.
The priest also narrated how the commander of the police squad wanted to charge him. However, de Maistre spoke to the mayor and police superintendent reminding them that if the police wanted to charge him, they should not have interrupted the Mass and should have stayed outside the church.
The latest government regulations laid down in decree 2020-293 of March 23, 2020 specifies that "religious establishments" are "authorized to remain open." However, "any gathering or meeting within them is prohibited."
Some clergy have argued that a "meeting" or "gathering," "does not always correspond to a religious celebration, especially if it ... remains private."
Apb. Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Bishops' Conference of France states: "No Mass with an assembly of any size should be celebrated," with the exception of funeral ceremonies within the limit of 20 people who "will have to be distributed throughout the church."
However, the Ministre de l'Intérieur (Ministry of the Interior) agreed that solitary services may be held and "the priest may be assisted by a few people, if necessary, and in the smallest number possible, to record the service.
On Easter Sunday, police raided a vigil Mass at the traditionalist Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet church in the 5th arrondissement of Paris after a tip-off from local residents who heard music from the church.
There were around 40 worshippers at the Mass, including clergy and choir, and Communion was administered on the tongue. The vigil was filmed and uploaded on YouTube.
After a meeting with representatives of different religions, President Emmanuel Macron has said he will consider a resumption of worship around mid-June, with the limited presence of the faithful.
Church Militant earlier reported the contrasting response of pro-gay Cremona bishop Antonio Napolioni, who denounced Fr. Lino Viola on the diocesan website for failing "to comply with the current emergency legislation that prohibits the celebration of the Mass in the presence of the faithful."
Refusing to condemn Sunday's heavy-handed police raid on the church, Napolioni instead "underlined with regret" that the priest's behavior was "in contradiction with the civil and canonical norms" laid down for the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church during the pandemic.