This is an article from the French Paix Liturgique, today's issue (my rough-and-ready translation).
The French bishops met in Lourdes last week under considerable psychological pressure. Even though it was not explicitly on the agenda, they were thinking of only one thing—and which the media constantly kept in the forefront of their minds—that the life of French dioceses is mortally sick from the lack of priests.
In La Croix of 5th November, the President of the Episcopal Conference, Archbishop Vingt-Trois, lost his legendary self-mastery and attacked (not by name, but the inference was obvious) his colleague, Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon. ‘One might have a bishop who believes in the New Communities: he rings the bell and calls six new communities into his diocese, and thinks that everything will now be fine! Well, it might be fine insofar as these communities are there, but what about afterwards?’ He is quite obviously talking about the pastoral strategy of Bishop Rey; in particular the welcome accorded to these communities. But he passes over in silence his principal reproach that he bears to his colleague; his generous welcome to those priests who celebrate according to the Extraordinary Form, or according to both forms: in short, his application of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum. Because, to the Episcopal Conference, the subject remains strictly taboo.
Asphyxia on its way
1. The number of French diocesan priests working in France is fewer than 9000. For a number of dioceses, (Digne, 25 priests, Nevers, 38, Auch, Saint-Claude, Gap, Digne, Viviers, Verdun, Pamiers, Langres, etc) in ten years time the number of priests in active ministry will be ten at the most. In Bishop Gueneley’s diocese of Langres, the most liberal of French dioceses, one frequently finds one sole priest for 60 churches.
2. The number of seminarians has now fallen below the mark of 750 (740 in 2008, and this number includes a good hundred seminarians from non-diocesan communities). Pamiers, Belfort, Agen, Perpignan, &c, have no seminarians.
3. The number of ordinations remains fewer than 100 (90 in 2009—Paris, which is one of the best situated, had 10, 2 for the Emmanuel Community; 7 are predicted for 2010, and 4 for 2011)
4. 120 vocations have been declared for the class beginning in 2009.
The conclusion is dramatic: a third of French dioceses will cease to exist but will have to regroup within the coming 15 years.
Yet the majority of bishops, above all Archbishop Vingt-Trois, do not despair. Despite everything, the Church remains visible; she remains alive despite appearences. Archbishop Vingt-Trois has given a marvellous example of ‘visibility’ which was heard on Radio Notre-Dame (interview of 5th November): in a parish without a priest, the laity got themselves together to say the Rosary in a village hall: there they also had the idea of cleaning the church to recite the rosary in; so, nothing is lost; this church will live again…
A useful ‘reservoir’
The use of the ‘traditionalist reservoir’ won’t sort out every problem of the French dioceses like magic, but it might breathe some life into them, and above all, it will change the ideological tone. However it is just because of that, that for the Episcopal Conference, the subject remains rigorously taboo. For now.
Because the traditionalist world (not including the Religious) is becoming more and more difficult to ignore.
1. 3% of working priests are traditionalists (officially traditionalists, that is, not even mentioning the diocesan priests who observe the same liturgical practice). There are 260 priests equivalent to diocesan priests (140 in the SSPX and allied communities, around 120 priests in the communities under Ecclesia Dei).
2. More than 14% of ordinations are for the Extraordinary Form. (Paix Liturgique, 183, 22.06.2009): in 2009, 15 French priests were ordained for the Extraordinary Form (of whom 6 were for the SSPX).
3. Almost 20% of seminarians are destined for the Extraordinary Form (there are 160 of them, of whom about 40 were for the SSPX in 2008-9): op cit. 5.04.09. If this crossover continues as in past years, then in two years or more, a quarter of seminarians will be destined for the Extraordinary Form. Everybody knows that if the traditional priests had the assurance of a ‘normal’ apostolate in the dioceses, the number of these seminarians would be even greater.
4, Finally, 25% of vocations are inclined towards the traditional form (op cit 12.10.09). At the beginning of the academic year, September 2009, there were 41 entries (of whom 17 for the SSPX) into a traditionalist seminary.
However, the ‘Extraordinary’ clergy serve 400 Mass Centres in France, of which 184 are served by the SSPX and their allies. One should not forget in this regard that according to an important CSA poll, September 2008, that a third of practising Catholics would willingly attend a traditional Mass if it were available in their parish. It is no exaggeration to say that if we add to the fully traditionalist vocations those vocations of traditional sensibility that are found in diocesan seminaries, that a third of priestly vocations, were it permitted to them, would regard themselves as directed to the Extraordinary Form, or to Bi-Formalism.
A third of the laity, and, eventually, a third of the priests. It would only seem reasonable, then, officially to give these priests a proper freedom—no longer in ghettos, but now in the hearts of the parishes—to celebrate Mass according to their preferences (which is how they speak of the sense of the faith). Is this not the spirit (and the letter) of the Motu Proprio Summorum Pontificum? And by this act, these priests would be able to give help by administering many other sacramental services, conduct missions, catechize…
But for the majority of the French bishops, this group of their flock, priests and faithful—who are willing, who demand nothing, but to be allowed to live and let live—simply do not exist, except as a thorn in their flesh. The dioceses are dying, but their ideology remains alive and kicking.
1. One remembers that the little diocese of Fréjus-Toulon has about 80 seminarians, destined for the Ordinary form, or the Extraordinary Form, or for both forms. The next biggest seminary (Paris, Issy-les-Moulinaux, for the Paris region) has at most 50.