The suspension of ordinations in France an unprecedented surprise

ROME — In a seemingly unprecedented move, the Vatican has asked a thriving diocese in France to suspend priestly ordinations scheduled for the end of the month without giving a formal reason for the decision.

Dominique Rey, bishop of the diocese of Fréjus-Tolone where the ordinations were to take place on June 29, the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, announced the decision in a June 2 statement posted on the diocese’s website.

In the note, Rey said that in recent months Bishop Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille, the metropolitan overseeing the province, has made a “fraternal visit” to the Diocese of Fréjus-Tolone at the express request of Rome.

It is unclear why the Vatican requested the apostolic visitation of the diocese led by Aveline, who recently concluded her work there and who is among the 21 new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis.

When he receives the red hat in August, Aveline will be the first French residential prelate to be named a cardinal during Francis’ pontificate.

“Alongside the many fine fruits of the proclamation of the Gospel and of the mission of committed Christians – clerics, consecrated persons and laity – in our diocese, it was possible to evoke the questions that certain Roman dicasteries were asking themselves about the restructuring of the seminary. and the politics of welcoming people into the diocese,” Rey said, speaking of the visit.

Fréjus-Tolone, considered one of the most flourishing dioceses in France which generates many vocations every year, is widely known for its generous welcome of new movements and priests from other regions.

Rey said a meeting had recently taken place with Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, who provided “useful information” regarding the situation.

“Pending the outcome of these ongoing exchanges with the Roman dicasteries, it has been requested that the diaconal and priestly ordinations scheduled for the end of June be postponed,” he said, saying the decision was welcomed. both with “sadness and confidence”. and is a test for all involved, especially men who were to be ordained.

“We are committed to carrying them in prayer and to continuing to accompany them on their journey,” he said, and urged the faithful to pray for the diocese, “until the situation can be clarified. for the good of all”.

Rey offered no further information on the reason for the Vatican’s unusual request, but some observers believe the decision was made because of Rey’s conservative stance on issues including the traditional Latin Mass and embrace of the diocese of priests who prefer to celebrate according to the ancient Rite.

Last year, Pope Francis tightened permissions for the celebration of the pre-Vatican II Latin Mass, the use of which had been liberalized under his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.

According to papal decree Traditional custodians enforcing the restrictions, priests who wish to celebrate the 1962 liturgy must now obtain permission from their bishop to continue to do so. Any priest ordained after the new norms were released who wishes to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass must submit a formal request to their bishop, and the bishop in turn will consult with the Vatican before granting permission.

Francis also instructed bishops to determine specific times and locations where Latin Mass can be celebrated and prohibited the designation of new parishes exclusively dedicated to the Old Rite liturgy.

Rey, who was appointed to Fréjus-Tolone by Pope John Paul II in May 2000, has often been hailed as a figurehead of the so-called new evangelization because of the number of vocations his diocese produces each year. and he is an advocate of the traditional Latin Mass.

This year, four priests and six deacons were to be ordained on June 29 and last year, according to the French publication lifethe diocese ordained 10 priests and eight deacons.

Fréjus-Tolone currently has around 250 active priests – which is significant considering that Paris, one of the largest dioceses in France, has 500 – most of whom are young. About 75% of priests in Fréjus-Tolone are under 64 and about 30% are under 44 – a relatively rare demographic in rapidly aging European society.

According to the French newspaper The crossonly 126 priests were ordained in all of France in 2020, with more than 60% of the country’s dioceses having no ordination, which makes the situation in Fréjus-Tolone significant.

The diocesan seminary of the Immaculate Conception in La Castille, where the young people who were to be ordained at the end of the month study, is the third largest in France and is celebrating its centenary this year.

Rey himself in the past ordained priests for Fréjus-Tolone using the 1962 missal and also used the Old Rite for ordinations within religious communities, including the Institut du Bon Pasteur.

After the promulgation of Traditional custodians Last year, Rey expressed concern over the decision, particularly about its impact on priests and communities in his diocese who celebrate the traditional Mass in Latin.

Fréjus-Tolone has also been the scene of a recent controversy involving a monastery that celebrates according to the Old Rite.

Liturgical scholar Dom Alcuin Reid is the founding prior of the Monastery of St. Benedict of Brignoles, a Benedictine community that uses the traditional Latin Mass, and which has recently seen several of its members ordained in the ancient rite outside France by a bishop. not disclosed.

Reid, who strongly criticized Pope Francis’ decision to restrict the traditional Latin Mass, was apparently one of those ordained and chose to do so outside of France given the scrutiny to which Fréjus -Tolone is currently facing.

After the clandestine ordinations, Rey suspended Reid and prevented him from celebrating the sacraments.

Critics of the Vatican’s decision to postpone ordinations have argued that Rome’s interference in the ordinary government of bishops in its diocese is ironic, given Pope Francis’ push for a decentralized church in which many important decisions are made. left to individual bishops and church conferences, who better understand the local situation. However, others defended the move as an attempt to secure unity.

In an interview with the French-speaking site, Christian Familythe rector of the Fréjus-Tolone seminary, Father Benoît Moradei, said Rey himself conveyed the news to the seminarians as part of a moment of prayer, and gave them time to ask questions.

“They received this news with courage, with a lot of questions of course, but also with a lot of trust in the Church and in the Lord,” he said, affirming that the young men “did not ask deadlines, but reasons”.

Speaking about the restructuring of the diocesan seminary, Moradei said the process began three years ago and was going “hand in hand” with Rey and Aveline.

“I say this because I am sad to read here and there that some are questioning the work of the Archbishop of Marseilles,” he said, insisting that Aveline’s visit “did not not harmed. On the contrary, his support was truly fatherly and encouraging.

Without going into details, Moradei said the restructuring of the seminary “raised questions in the diocese, and in particular among certain priests. It was therefore necessary to calm the situation.

In this sense, the visit made by Aveline, with the help of Bishop Sylvain Bataille of Saint-Etienne, was “very positive”, he said, adding: “we have tried to put into practice their advice and recommendations”.

Moradei said Aveline and Bataille’s visit began in the spring of 2021, and highlighted “many positive points in the general functioning of the seminary, but also points of progress and challenges to be overcome.

Specifically, Moradei said recommendations were made regarding intellectual training and the seminary was asked to publish a pamphlet outlining the teachings of the Church. They were also encouraged to continue their collaboration with the Catholic University of Lyon.

The presence of men from different fields and backgrounds in the seminary was particularly interesting during the visit, and the emphasis was placed “on the need to improve the integration of these seminarians in the diocese”, Moradei said. , adding, “That’s what I’m trying to do.”

“I can say in any case that the boys who come to this seminary sincerely seek to integrate and serve our diocese,” he said.

Referring to the abundant presence of young men who prefer to celebrate the traditional Mass in Latin, Moradei said devotees of the old rite make up “about a quarter to a third of our entire membership.”

“One of the specificities of the seminary is to make the different sensibilities coexist in a fraternal communion where everyone respects each other”, he said, insisting on the fact that he works so that the seminarians work and pray together “what whatever their sensitivities.

“That aspect is one of the things that stood out, not as an obstacle, but as a challenge,” he said.

No new date has been announced for when this year’s ordinations can take place.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen

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