Rorate Caeli

Traditional Catholics get French Highest Court for Administrative Matters to Act for the Liberty of the Church when Bishops didn't

Note: The following is an article published in the French daily Le Monde, not known for Catholic sympathy.  The remarkable fact referred to in this article is that a group of Traditional Catholic priests and laity brought a suit to what is the French equivalent to the Supreme Court on administrative and governmental matters to celebrate Mass within the situation of the Covid-19 crisis.  The French Bishops Conference protested against the situation but did not follow up with an appeal to the Court.  This shows where the power lies in the battle that will be engaged in the future between a secular state that is inimical to the Christian faith and its practice and those Catholics who believe and will fight for their rights against a secular and anti-religious State.  

The original decisions of the Conseil d'État are available here (the main one is number 440366)

 Conseil d’Etat lifts the "disproportionate" ban on religious celebrations in France

By Cécile Chambraud for Le Monde 

May 19, 2020

The government has eight days to relax the ban on public religious ceremonies in places of worship, in effect since March 15. The Conseil d’Etat ruled Monday, May 18, that the general and absolute ban on all gatherings in churches, temples, synagogues and mosques, if it could be admitted in the first phase of the fight against the epidemic Covid-19, is “disproportionate” during this period of post-confinement.

In the eyes of the highest administrative court, this ban constitutes a “serious and manifestly unlawful interference” with freedom of worship, a fundamental freedom of which one of the components is the right to participate in collective ceremonies, particularly in places of worship. 

The Conseil d’Etat therefore advises the Prime Minister to replace this ban with “measures strictly proportionate to the health risks” as they are at the beginning of post-confinement, where other activities have been authorized to resume. Supervised and under conditions, the religious celebrations should be able to resume shortly, at least in certain parts of the country. 

With this decision, the Conseil d’Etat settled a subject of tension between the French Episcopal Conference (CEF) and the government, agreeing with representatives of the Catholic Church. Since May 11, the CEF has tried to get religious ceremonies to resume, in respecting health protocols. The episcopate made proposals in this sense to the government. But this perspective was dismissed by Edouard Philippe, who first set the resumption of worship to June 2, then May 29, before the Minister of the Interior, Christophe Castaner, talked about a resumption “by the end of the month.”

The CEF did not appeal against the ban. But several traditionalist organizations of Catholicism have forcefully addressed the Conseil d’Etat. Civitas;    the Christian Democratic Party, the General Alliance against Racism and for the Respect of French Identity, the Priestly Fraternity of Saint Peter [FSSP], and the Society of St. Pius X [SSPX], among others, demanded the repeal of a provision of two decrees from May 11 stating that “any gathering or meeting” within religious establishments “is prohibited,” with the exception of funeral ceremonies “authorized within the limit of 20 people.” 

At the hearing Friday, the applicants echoed the concerns on the part of the Catholics, notably with regard to the feasibility of religious ceremonies that followed the guidelines. They did not understand why it would be allowable with certain restrictions  to restart public transportation, with the close contact of persons  inherent in them, schools, libraries and non-food businesses, but not religious celebrations. The representative of the Ministry of the Interior had opposed the increased risk of contagion that would attend on large gatherings.

In its decision, the Conseil d’Etat said that the “less strict supervisory measures (than the ban on celebrations of Mass)) are possible, particularly in regard to the toleration of gatherings of fewer than 10 people in public places.

The second series of criticisms concerns the very content of religious freedom and the obvious ignorance of the situation which certain political leaders demonstrate. Catholics were astounded and deeply concerned when M. Castaner affirmed on May 3 that “prayer does not necessarily need a place to gather.”

“There is something essential in coming together,” replied Jean-Frédéric Poisson, president of the Christian Democratic Party, on Friday. “It is inseparable from religious practice and therefore freedom of worship. Either the state ignores it, and it has a reductive vision of the situation , or it goes beyond its prerogatives. The Conseil d’Etat accepted this analysis, noting that the right to participate collectively in religious ceremonies is a component of the freedom of worship.

On May 11, the suspension of religious ceremonies was dealt a blow by the Constitutional Council. The judges of the Rue de Montpensier had affirmed that celebrations organized in “premises for residential use” could not be forbidden. In other words, nothing prohibits an individual today from organizing a Mass or a wedding with as many people as he wishes. Already on Monday, the bishop of Bayonne, Marc Aillet,  informed his flock that the priests could celebrate the Eucharist “in private places… with a small group of the faithful..”

The decision of the Conseil d’Etat will force the government to allow, at least under certain conditions, religious ceremonies to take place next week. This could allow Catholics to celebrate the Feast of  Pentecost on May 31. However, since the start of the crisis, the representatives of other religions — Protestant, Jewish, Muslim — have relied on government health decisions. 

(translated from French by Lawrence Andrea - with modifications)