Rome blocks ordinations of seminarians in French community that offers Latin Mass, superior says – LifeSite

(LifeSiteNews) — Five seminarians in the French religious community of the Missionaries of Divine Mercy have been waiting as long as two years for their ordination to the diaconate on their path to the priesthood, and the reason for the holdup in Rome has now become clear: an attachment to the Traditional Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.  

A communiqué issued Monday by Father Jean-Raphaël Dubrule, the superior of the community, stated, “After many discussions with the competent Roman authorities, led by Bishop (Francois) Touvet (the coadjutor of Toulon), whom I warmly thank for his very strong support for our community, it appears that the situation is blocked not only because of the ritual of ordination but also because with regard to the possibility for these future priests to be able to celebrate in the old rite.” 

As a community of diocesan right, the Missionaries are linked to the Diocese of Toulon-Fréjus, whose bishop, Dominique Rey, was subjected to an “apostolic visitation” via a decision of Pope Francis in February 2023. The community’s statutes, which provide for ordinations and the celebration of the Holy Mass in the Traditional Roman Rite as part of its charism, were approved in Rome even before the 2007 motu proprio Summorum pontificum from Pope Benedict XVI. The Missionaries were assigned a personal parish in the center of Toulon on the Mediterranean coast and permitted to offer the traditional Mass in a central parish in Marseille. Both are frequented by families and many young people. 

The Missionaries are unique in France in that they were founded with the approval of a bishop to form new priests for his diocese with the intention that they should celebrate the traditional Mass and who were ordained in the diocese by the bishop in the traditional rite. 

The community has called for “very intense prayer” as talks with Rome continue. 

All ordinations in the diocese, including those of the Missionaries, were suspended indefinitely by Rome only weeks before they were to take place in June 2022 after a “fraternal visit” to the diocese by now-Cardinal Jean-Marc Aveline of the nearby Diocese of Marseille, ordered by Rome. Bishop Rey was to have ordained four new priests and six deacons. 

As a result of the apostolic visitation of 2023, Bishop Rey was assigned a coadjutor bishop with right of succession, François Touvet, who was installed in December 2023. In a joint statement, Bishop Rey and Bishop Touvet made clear that the latter was to assume a large portion of the duties and power within the diocese, including the management of the diocesan clergy, priestly training, financial administration and support of religious communities, of whom there are many, thanks to Rey’s welcoming attitude during his years of government. 

Bishop Rey is an exception in the French Catholic landscape insofar as he was open to traditionally minded groups and did not reject a number of small communities attached to the Traditional Latin Mass. (But not the large institutes such as the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter or the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest.) It is commonly understood that the “traditionalization” of the diocese triggered the successive visitations targeting Bishop Rey. 

It was at the end of his installation Mass on December 10 that Bishop Touvet revealed that the Vatican decree postponing ordinations was “now revoked,” with the first subsequent ordinations taking place on January 21. However, the Missionaries of Divine Mercy were not included, and the reasons for this have now been made clear. 

As rumors continue to grow about a possible decree in mid-July from the Congregation for Divine Worship led by its prefect, English Cardinal Arthur Roche, a known opponent of the traditional liturgy, the move against the Missionaries is concerning to say the least. According to some sources, the decree would formally ban the Traditional Latin Mass “in a manner ‘as wide, final, and irreversible as possible.’” 

If this is true, it would explain the current ban on ordinations of the Missionaries’ sub-deacons, but at the same time, Pope Francis has more than once confirmed the Fraternity of Saint Peter in its exclusive use of the traditional “Tridentine” Mass. The superior of the Institute of the Good Pastor also received a personal encouragement from Pope Francis during a public audience in November 2022, after the publication of Traditionis custodes that severely limits the use of the ancient rite. Only recently, on May 25, the Priory of San Benedetto of the Benedictines of Norcia in Italy, who celebrate the traditional liturgy, was elevated to the status of an abbey. 

The current “punishment” of the Missionaries of Divine Mercy is all the more peculiar because it is fully integrated into the life of the Diocese of Toulon; apart from a two-year formation that’s the equivalent of a “novitiate” in a community of religious – the Missionaries are secular priests – its members join the diocesan seminary of La Castille in Toulon, where they have always been well appreciated for their good attitude and their willingness to be close to the people, and visit even the poorest of the poor. 

This is not a situation that would encourage traditional communities to feel confident that they are well understood and supported by authorities in Rome when these ask them to be closer to the local bishops. 

One of the main charisms of the Missionaries of Divine Mercy, in addition to their closeness to the message of Saint Faustina, the Polish visionary who spread the devotion to Christ’s infinite mercy, is their aim to evangelize the Muslim population that is particularly large on the south coast of France. Their white habit is reminiscent of the “White Fathers,” the Missionaries of Africa founded in Algiers in 1868 under the French rule and who went on to work in many parts of the continent. Their black sash is a sign of humility aimed at reminding them of their secular status. They do parish work, organize summer camps for youth, organize short retreats in various locations in France and Saint Ignatius retreats, and also do missionary work in the streets of Toulon and Marseille and on the beaches during holidays. 

To date, the Missionaries have had good relations with the local religious authorities. Bishop Touvet celebrated the Traditional Latin Mass in their Saint François de Paule personal parish in Toulon on Divine Mercy Sunday – the Sunday after Easter – and Cardinal (Jean-Marc) Aveline has also celebrated the Tridentine Mass at the parish of Saint-Charles in Marseille on several occasions. 

Despite the current ban on ordinations for its members, the community of the Missionaries is doing well, with four of five new entries expected this year in September. Last April 20, four young men received the habit of the community. 

By way of contrast, the diocesan seminary of La Castille is not expecting a single seminarian to enroll at the beginning of the academic year – an unheard-of situation over the last 40 years, when there were new candidates to the priestly formation every year. This is despite the fact that diocesan ordinations did take place this year after a lengthy wait. Indeed, Bishop Rey’s seminary was one of the most flourishing in France, where many diocesan seminaries have merged into regional ones and attract fewer and fewer young men. 

Below is the full translation of Fr Jean-Raphaël Dubrule’s June 24 statement. 

Statement by Father Jean-Raphaël Dubrule, Superior of the Missionaries of Divine Mercy: 

Five seminarians of the Community of the Missionaries of Divine Mercy have been waiting for their ordination to the diaconate and then to the priesthood for over two years in the case of one of them, and one year for the other four. Their wait is no longer linked to the situation in the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, where ordinations have resumed, but to the celebration according to the traditional ritual, as provided for in the community’s statutes. 

After many discussions with the competent Roman authorities, led by Bishop Touvet, whom I warmly thank for his very strong support for our community, it appears that the situation is blocked not only because of the ritual of ordination, but also because with regard to the possibility for these future priests to be able to celebrate in the old rite. The Roman authorities are not providing any assurances regarding this possibility, and it is therefore possible that candidates may be ordained without having the right to go on to celebrate according to the old rite. This would prevent them from exercising their ministry within the community and in accordance with its statutes. 

Faced with a large number of questions from the faithful, we felt it necessary to explain why this was taking so long and what is at stake for us. The objective is to call for very intense prayer, because talks with the Roman authorities are ongoing. This ordeal in no way makes us regret the work of diocesan integration that the community is undertaking and living out. Our community is calling for renewed prayers and vigilance. 

May the merciful Jesus protect and strengthen us. 

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