Saturday, May 26, 2007

A Stir in the French Village of Niafles [UPDATED]

UPDATE: French translations now available.

A situation is brewing in the small French village of Niafles. It seems that as the story goes, that parish priest died at the age of 94 years recently and an FSSP priest was brought in by the bishop to serve the parish in the interim of the past few months, but now that has been ended and it sounds as though the parish being closed and the parishioners are being told they if they wish to attend a "Latin Mass" they may now do so, in the modern Roman rite rather than the classical, some 45 minutes away in the city of Laval. This, of course, is not playing out very well locally.

I reserve comment on the issue itself, not knowing all the details, but the matter seems to raise a variety of interesting issues, including the relation of the State with regard to the Church in France, as well as a serious pastoral situation as regards the local parishioners who seem to have been worshipping in the classical Roman rite for decades -- and who have now suddenly had this taken away from them; but why is the question? Why is there such necessity, and even their parish church possibly being closed? That is a significant question that must be asked -- especially in the times we are in where we are on the verge of greater (at least legal) openness to the ancient Roman rite. It is this point particularly that interests me.

It is hard to get a sense of all the issues going on in this particular instance; the role of the mayor, the bishop, etc; It certainly seems nuanced and complex, requiring an understanding of local French politics. However, if anyone can round out our knowledge of the matter in the comments, it would be interesting to hear.

Here are the French translations:

Le Figaro report:

In Niafles, a village near Château-Gontier (Mayenne), some traditionalists have since yesterday been occupying the church. And the local authority, with the authorisation of the diocese of Laval, could force the premises to be evacuated. Tensions arose several weeks ago, after the death of Fr. Chéhère at the age of 94. The parish priest had served there for 40 years, in Latin. The committed and mostly rural congregation used to come from miles around. After his death, Fr. Loddé of the Fraternity of St Peter (FSSP) took over the job, continuing to use Latin. But the bishop, Mgr Armand Maillard, doesn’t see things the same way. He wants a Mass in Latin, yes, but according to the new missal, and in Laval. He wants the last Mass to take place this Sunday.

Declaration of the parishioners occupying the church
(Via Le Forum Catholique)

The faithful of Niafles defend the Church

On Wednesday 23rd May, at the invitation of our bishop, we went to a public meeting presented by him as a moment for reflection. We believed that it was the famous consultation announced by his Lordship, especially as he had just cancelled a meeting with a delegation of parishioners that same day.

So what a surprise it was for us to hear the Parish Priest of Craon (from which Niafles is dependent) introducing his Lordship by saying that he was going to communicate his conclusions to us. The latter began his speech saying, “I have decided”. Even without mentioning the decision as such, the process was shameful.

The discussion which followed was a pure formality, and moreover, pointless. This is why it was the occasion for the faithful of Niafles to express their suffering, I scarcely hesitate even to speak of despair. Nevertheless, numerous people spoke out, and gave a very moving witness of their attachment to their pastor, their village and their parish. Evidence was even presented of the full participation of the faithful of Niafles in the life of the parish cluster.

His Lordship’s decision is to have a Mass “of Paul VI” in Latin at Laval, celebrated at 9 a.m., that’s to say 45 minutes journey from Niafles.

The first consequence would be the disruption of the community of the faithful. After all, as one young father (who goes to church somewhere other than Niafles) said, why destroy something which works?

In a pushy exposition, full of contradictions, he proved to us his bad faith. For contrary to what he had had us believe for more than two months, his decision had already been taken several weeks ago. Witness to this is borne by several private comments which contredicted his public declarations.

To support our claim, we wish to underline the following fact:
On 12th April, Ouest-France (a big regional newspaper in the West of France) reported that the bishop had already informed the mayor of Niafles of his decision, and only the practical questions of putting it into effect remained to be sorted out. At the same time in Lourdes, Mgr Maillard revealed the same thing to several people. On 13th April, however, in an interview on Radio Fidélité available on the diocesan website (but which disappeared today as if by magic), Mgr Maillard expressed himself thus: “I don’t want to exclude a community which already exists.” And, in answer to the question “Have you met the Christians who go to this church?”, Mgr Maillard replied “It’s in the process of being arranged,” which is now clearly a lie.

Such duplicity obliges us to ensure that we have control of the premises. The church was open yesterday for the Parish Priest of Craon, who was able to have a conversation with the faithful present inside. He was able to see there that it wasn’t like some armed stand-off, but more like the flock taking refuge in the Sheepfold.

The enormity of the scandal is too great not to provoke a reaction in people of good faith.

When a limb is wounded, the whole body suffers. In assuring the continued existence of our community, we are defending the whole Church.

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