Rorate Caeli

Rorate Exclusive: Interview with Dom Alcuin Reid on his ordination, his community, the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, and Desiderio Desideravi

In May the news broke that two monks of the Monastère Saint-Benoît in the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, a Public Association of the Faithful that celebrates the traditional liturgy exclusively and that lives a classical Benedictine observance, had received ordination from an unnamed “senior prelate in unimpeded communion with the Holy See” after its own bishop, Mgr Dominique Rey, had repeatedly said that he was unable to confer them. The monastery argued that these ordinations were necessary for their survival in the face of the inertia caused by the bishop’s fear of the Holy See. The bishop reacted by suspending the monks.

Early in June it emerged that Bishop Rey and his diocese had recently been the subject of a “fraternal visit” by his Metropolitan Archbishop and that in the light of this the Holy See had forbidden Rey to ordain anyone for the foreseeable future. (Annual ordinations had been scheduled for June 26th and others were due later.) On June 10th, the bishop decreed the suppression of the monastery’s Association of the Faithful.

The founding Prior of the Monastery, Dom Alcuin Reid, well known in traditional circles for his erudite liturgical scholarship, agreed to give this exclusive interview to Rorate Caeli.

RC: Dom Alcuin, many people around the world are astounded by your disregard of the canonical norms in respect of the reception of Holy Orders that has left you suspended and your monastery’s Association of the Faithful suppressed. Why have you and your monks taken the course of action that you have?

In short: in order faithfully to be able to live our vocations as monks and to be able to survive the storm that is raging around us, and now with a particular ferocity in our diocese. If we did not accept the offer of ordinations outside the canonical norms we would now be a priest-less and therefore Mass-less monastic community at the mercy of the Holy See—and we know how much sympathy they would have for a traditional monastery!

As our statement dated May 13 (link) explains, we made a decision in conscience over time after much prayer, fasting, and consultation to engage in a material disobedience that we firmly believed then, and believe now, to have been necessary in due prudence in order to be able to continue to live our vocations according to the vows we have made to Almighty God.

Our widely reported “suspension” was a canonical travesty. In fact the bishop declared that we had automatically incurred the penalty of suspension. The only problem was that, as we explained in our statement, the suspension had been canonically remitted beforehand (and therefore no longer existed). Once our Chancery understood this, a second suspension was imposed—but for the same delict (canonical crime). How one can incur a second suspension for the same delict for which the penalty has already been remitted is difficult to comprehend. But I guess our Chancery is under a lot of pressure at present.

The “suppression” of our Public Association of the Faithful has been duly challenged—the decree is based on falsehoods seemingly cobbled together in a hurry also. Frankly, they are canonically embarrassing.

Regardless of the decrees issuing from our Chancery, our daily life with its eight hours of the Divine Office and Mass, its manual and intellectual work, the welcoming of guests, etc., continues unabated—with great joy and peace amidst the thorns. We knew that suspensions and suppressions may be on the horizon, but we are the proprietors of our own property, not the diocese, so we cannot be evicted.

RC: So the monastery will continue on regardless?

That is our vocation and our duty to which we are vowed before Almighty God. We must be faithful to that. We can do nothing else without becoming mere hirelings that flee with the onset of the wolves (cf. Jn 10:23).

If we must be canonically independent for a while, so be it. We do not wish this, of course, and shall ensure that we maintain good relations with other monastics and shall invite appropriately experienced monks to make visitations every three years, and so on. If we must be independent, we must not become insular. In time, in God’s Providence, the authorities will come to recognise the integrity of our life and grant us the appropriate authorisation—as has happened in the not-so-distant past.

Dom Gérard Calvet, Msgr Marcel Lefebvre, Rev Guérard des Lauriers, 1970

RC: To what are you referring?

The most obvious parallel is that of the first two decades of the history of the Abbey of Le Barroux: its founder, Dom Gerard Calvet, was suspended and expelled from the Benedictine order for having his men ordained without permission (those ordained were suspended also)—only for him to be blessed as an abbot by a cardinal sent by the Vatican some fifteen years later.

Let us not forget the origins of the Fraternity of St Peter or of the Institute of the Good Shepherd: they would not exist today if it were not for the conscientious disobedience of several decades ago that ensured that the Society of St Pius X continued on when it was canonically suppressed in the 1970s.

People who benefit from the good work of these Institutes today, or indeed who admire the Abbey of Le Barroux, should not forget the fact that they exist today because historically their founders took conscientious decisions to ignore parts of canon law and decrees of suppression that would have otherwise brought about their death. Our times, unfortunately, seem to be becoming as extraordinary as were theirs and may well necessitate similar actions.

RC: But how will you survive independently?

If you mean financially, then we are in the hands of God’s Providence. But they are very good hands to be in! The publicity of recent weeks has brought in a flood of messages of support, of generous donations, of requests to visit and vocation enquiries—young people are not put off by authoritarian posturing. Indeed, the “sanctions” imposed on us have not prevented the faithful, or indeed clergy and seminarians from continuing to come to us. In the times in which we live in the Church these things are seen for the empty gestures that they are. People who know us know that we have truly acted out of due prudence.

We are confident that, if we are faithful to our vocations and live the classical Benedictine life with integrity and charity and are faithful to the traditional liturgy celebrated fully and with integrity, all shall be well. Certainly, we are taking a risk, but it is one we judge to be proportionate in the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We are in God’s hands—and that is the best place to be!

Rogations at the monastery, 2022

RC: What is your view on the future of Bishop Rey and the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon? Was your monastery responsible for the measures taken against him?

To suggest that we were directly responsible for the measures taken against him is to give us too much importance. I am sure that we figured on the lists of communities he founded that were of ‘concern’ to the Holy See—not because of any problems in our community (we have had regular visitations with good reports) but because we exist and are reasonably well known. Our ordinations in April came far too late to cause anything—the Holy See has been on Mgr Rey’s back for more than two years now, and the “fraternal visitation” of the diocese by the Metropolitan Archbishop had already taken place (we were never visited).

The future? It is hard to predict exactly. Several seminarians and some priests have already packed their bags and left the diocese. The bishop has publicly apologised for his past errors and has promised (whilst saying that he is waiting for further decisions from Rome) to try to do better—rather like an errant student begging the headmaster to be allowed to continue his studies for another year. I doubt that he is free to do anything of significance without the approval of the Holy See now. There is certainly great uneasiness in the diocese amongst seminarians and in the various communities, particularly those of a traditional inclination. Many of the communities are mere Associations and live in diocesan properties: they can be dissolved and evicted as and when authority wishes.

Of course, we know from other dioceses that have been the subject of visitations demanded by the Holy See that bishops can “be resigned” or side-lined in other ways very easily. It has happened too often before. This would be a great pity for Mgr Rey who should justly celebrate his silver jubilee as the bishop in three years’ time. I fear, though, that he will not now have that opportunity.

RC: It seems that the 2 June announcement of Rome’s intervention in the diocese forbidding ordinations justified your actions in the end. Do you agree?

It certainly proved that our fears, articulated in our 13 May statement, were very well founded, yes. It shocked me nevertheless and saddened me greatly: many good vocations are now at risk. We take absolutely no pleasure in being justified thus. Would that our actions had not been truly necessary and that Rome had not reduced Mgr Rey to a scared acolyte!

RC: You sound as if you have great affection for the Bishop – even after the sanctions he has imposed?

Yes, of course. He invited me to his diocese (I never requested to come). I have worked closely with him on various projects for more than a decade. He is a very good man of deep faith who as a priest and bishop truly seeks to father and promote initiatives that are for the good of the Church. He is part of the solution to the crisis in the Church, not part of the problem. If only more bishops were like him!

But when the best of bishops is paralysed by fear of the Holy See and is not free to give communities he founded the ordinations that they need; when politics and power rather than the salvation of souls are the determining criteria for action, we are in a very grave crisis indeed.

I do not blame him for the sanctions he has imposed on us—it may well be that the Holy See is pulling the strings in this also. But I do regret that he has refused several requests to meet me one on one. He has nothing to fear from me, even if we disagree. If it were up to the two of us, we could probably find a way forward to reconciliation and regularisation, but I suspect that others are at work here to prevent that.

RC: Some difficult questions: First, who conferred the ordinations?

Obviously, I cannot answer that question. The prelate concerned deserves his anonymity in order that he is not sanctioned. We have been criticised for keeping this secret, but so be it. The interesting thing is that no one has seriously questioned that valid ordinations took place: I guess people don’t think we would lie about a matter such as this—and they are right!

Some of the rumours have been amusing: one person even suggested that it was Cardinal Bartolucci. The problem is that apart from being currently dead, he was never a bishop!

One day it will be possible to answer this question, but not now.

RC: Second, some journalists and blogs have raised questions about your past. Do you have anything to say about this? 

Ad hominem attacks are cheap and easy to make, and journalists or bloggers who either do not wish to deal with the issues to hand (or actually don’t understand them) or who have another agenda, often resort to them. They want to be careful: we have been professionally advised that some of what they have written could end up in them and their publishers making substantial contributions to our building and restoration fund!

In respect of myself, the diocese publicly confirmed last month that all due enquiries had been made when Mgr Rey invited me to the diocese in 2009 and that there was no impediment to my incardination. All due diligence was followed and the Archbishop of Melbourne at the time was consulted and gave his approval. For my part, I have hidden nothing from my superiors: it is they who have made the judgements on the facts put before them. (I was confirmed as superior of the monastery by the bishop as recently as January of this year.)

Certainly, 1980s seminary formation did its damage to all of us—one could even say that it abused us, and one day it would be good to write more about this—and I am far from perfect. But by the gift of God’s grace and with perseverance, that damage is long since healed. The monastic life with the conversion of one’s life at its heart is both a healing balm and the means of growing in virtue and becoming whom God calls one to be.

There are some trolls and internet commentators—including one English abbot and a journalist—who lose no opportunity to muck-rake, somewhat pathologically. I pity these people and pray for them: they neither understand the Gospel, the monastic life or indeed what they themselves are doing—let alone the issues at hand. Their activities say more about themselves than anyone else.

RC: What do you say to those who claim that all that you have done was simply about getting yourself ordained a priest?

One does not “get” oneself ordained—and I/we have certainly not done any such thing! If I had wanted to do that I could probably have done so many times over the years.

No, one must be called to ordination by the Church in the person of the bishop. Our bishop received the recommendation so to do of no fewer than three visitations, the last in December 2021, but would not proceed to ordain anyone in our community for fear of Rome—and not, as he has stated often, because he thought we were unsuitable in any way.

In discussing this impossible situation earlier in the year with senior prelates, I emphasised the need for our young solemnly professed monk who was overdue the subdiaconate and approaching the time for diaconate to be able to move forward normally. One prelate offered to ordain him and then insisted that I needed, for the good of the monastery, to accept ordination to the priesthood. I did not request this, nor did I seek it. After due prayer and consideration, and at the express wish of my confreres, I accepted this as a legitimate call to orders in the truly extraordinary circumstances in which we live.

RC: Thank you. On another matter, as a liturgist, do you have any comments on Pope Francis’ letter on liturgical formation?

I was pleasantly surprised to read some good if not beautiful passages in Desiderio Desideravi—the description of the formation of a young child in making the sign of the cross (n. 47) is very moving. I do wish, however, that it had been clearer that the primary purpose of the Sacred Liturgy is to give to Almighty God the worship that is His due, and that this is our very first duty as Christians.

Of course, the foundation upon which this letter stands is the assumption that the modern liturgical rites promulgated after the Second Vatican Council are in complete conformity with the wishes of the Council itself. Historically, this is a complete non sequitur, as decades of serious scholarship have now more than adequately shown. That the Holy See chooses to repeat this elephantic lie over and over again does not change the facts of the matter and will convince no one who studies it. But this is the unquestionable super-doctrine of the controlling party at present—anyone who questions it is persona non grata. Such back-room politics and power plays have nothing to do with the liturgy or with history and are simply unworthy.

The repetition of the consequent call to re-establish a unity (uniformity is probably what is really meant) in the Roman rite around the modern liturgical books is nothing less than incendiary and will lead to further division. Generations of clergy and laity (including an emeritus pope, no less) know only too well that the Council called for something different to what was produced afterwards, and they know that the older liturgical rites are of great spiritual and pastoral value today. Indeed, as I have said many times before, one can very easily fully, actively, consciously and fruitfully participate in them precisely as the Council desired—as so many thriving usus antiquior communities, seminaries and religious institutes attest. The modern rites are not of themselves necessary for this.

The Holy Father is right to underline the urgent need for liturgical formation, and of the fact that it is something more to be imbibed rather than studied or taught. But such formation must be grounded in truth, not peppered with lies, and it must be open to all that is true and good and beautiful in the rich liturgical tradition of the Church, not corralled into the drafty liturgical stables hastily constructed after the Council, promulgated by Paul VI and ideologically defended by their devotees.

Cardinal Sarah recently spoke on Liturgical formation at Sacra Liturgia San Francisco. His presentation will no doubt have something to contribute when it is published.

RC: Were you not scheduled to speak at Sacra Liturgia San Francisco? Were you disappointed not to be there?

Yes, and yes, but of course in current circumstances my presence would have been a distraction from the good work of Archbishop Cordileone and his team in putting together another very successful international Sacra Liturgia conference with an excellent lineup of speakers. I certainly would not wish to have detracted from that.

Incidentally, the Sacra Liturgia initiatives are a direct fruit of Bishop Rey inviting me to his diocese—of his paternity and trust. I could never have founded it otherwise. I would encourage all those who have benefitted from Sacra Liturgia in any way to pray for him in particular at this time: a very heavy cross has been laid upon his shoulders.

Monastère Saint-Benoît

RC: Finally, what does the future hold for the Monastère Saint-Benoît? How can our readers assist?

The future holds a traditional monastic observance of prayer and work, with each day revolving around the eight canonical hours of the Divine Office and Holy Mass. It holds an integrity of liturgical and sacramental life according to the older forms of the Roman rite (we use the 1953 missal for Holy Week)—including the minor and major ordination rites. It holds manual and intellectual work according to the monastic tradition, and such pastoral work as may be necessary to serve people who come to us in need if we are to enter into another age of persecution.

That is to say, it holds nothing unusual for we “monk-monks” seeking to live the traditional Benedictine life (we don’t seek to hyphenate ourselves according to any particular devotion or non-monastic spirituality—the Rule is enough!) Probably the future holds a good deal of investment in the forming of men so that they can themselves carry the torch of traditional Benedictine life alight in the coming decades—we are working hard on the restoration of our medieval buildings so as to accommodate them.

Your readers can help with this through their prayers and their support: the only reason we can continue on is due to the fiscal independence we have through the providential help given by our oblates, friends and benefactors. Certainly, we shall continue to sing the Office and offer the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and welcome guests and form and nurture vocations and offer pastoral care as best we are able, but we rely on God’s Providence to do so. We are confident that it will not be lacking.

RC: Thank you Dom Alcuin. God protect you and your monastery!

Thank you. God bless you, your team and your readers.

Good Friday at the monastery

(Visit the monastery website for homilies, news, gift shop, and opportunities to help.)