Rorate Caeli

Some Examples of the Many Ways of Resisting, Resisting, Resisting ‘Traditionis Custodes’ — Scenes from France


(Translation of Paix Liturgique Letter 910 of 29 December 2022)


Since the promulgation of the motu proprio Traditionis custodes in 2021, various French bishops—in spite of the reality of dechristianization and the shortage of the faithful, as well as of clergy and financial means—have begun to hunt down their last (rather young) faithful and parish priests.


The patchwork application of the motu proprio draws a map of France consisting of official, unofficial, and implicit prohibitions, among which the faithful and the parish priests manage to continue. As during the Covid confinements, faced with the choice of being faithful to the secular rulers or to the Lord, so too they prefer to remain faithful to the Mass of Ages. As for the “custodes traditionis,” which ought to be translated as “jailers of Tradition,” as Abbé de Tanoüarn says, they will end up falling into dust. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Mt 24:35).


Adapting to a crisis situation


It is springtime on the borders of Brittany, the Vendée, and Anjou. On the sky, the scene of a constantly renewed naval battle: every half-hour clouds gather in a line and make the gunpowder speak, the horizon fogs up with clouds, then the wind chases them away and leaves room for the next ones.


Caped in his cassock, flapping in the wind, between two waves, a priest comes out of his house to baptize a child in the traditional rite—as it has been done for centuries, with the exorcisms. The ceremony takes place in the private chapel, an old discreet barn, in front of a few people. A few weeks later, this parish priest will quietly slip the name of the baptized child among the others in his parish registry, kept several dozen kilometers away. Neither seen nor known.


The Tridentine sacraments are forbidden in the diocese—but they were already forbidden from 1793 to 1800, when this same barn was already used as a chapel, and when the young Republic killed one out of five inhabitants, locking up entire villages in their churches before setting them on fire. On the walls of the barn-chapel, black marks recall these terrible times. The bishop at the time apostatized before the republican representative who drowned the “suspects” by the dozens, then presided over his departmental administration before ending up married and a grocer in Paris. Meanwhile, Catholic priests baptized, married, and buried in hiding, in barns and forests. Such endurance galvanized a suffering and fighting people. Nearly 229 years later, in the same place and through many generations, the resistance continues.


“Since the ban on the sacraments, we have been receiving more requests for marriages from people who would not have come to us before,” says an SSPX priest from one of the dioceses, “and we try to satisfy them as best we can—of course, we also make preparations, we build on the solid foundation [they already have].” He continues, “In fact, since we continued sacraments while the dioceses—almost all of them—had abandoned their faithful, we already gained a third more faithful during the confinement. Then some of our faithful left the city after the confinements, or in between, sometimes to go to the suburbs while continuing to come to us, sometimes to go much further away—to inland Brittany, to other coasts, abroad too. But in the church, it’s still full. The parish is more diverse, there are more urban people than before, and from more varied backgrounds.”


Being inventive


A priest from the Ile-de-France travels hundreds of kilometers to perform weddings, baptisms, or burials. In both rites. “Generally, it goes well.”


More than a matter of different rites, the Parisian priest notes during these trips “the increase in the rupture between certain priests and their faithful. Some of my confreres run around endlessly, in vain, alone or with a confrere, taking care of 60 to 100 parishes; they are on the verge of permanent burnout. Others, on the other hand, always find a good pretext to refuse to go and do a sacrament, even in the Novus Ordo, in a church only 2 or 5 km from their chief town. In contrast, I know a traditional confrere who made a 600 km round trip to do a Requiem, carrying enough in his car to equip a church—including a tabernacle and altar stone—since the church where the ceremony took place had been abandoned for twenty years, and since, in the Tridentine Rite one needs many more things than in the New Rite.”


In some dioceses there are “local action committees,” in Reims-Ardennes in particular, in the parishes visited by a priest barely once a month, or even only two or three times a year. In charge are three retired women who know nothing and claim to be in charge of everyone—including the local priest who runs around and no longer controls anything, so he lets anything go at Mass. Feathers in the wind.


This impression is shared by one Michel, who recently called on a biritualist* priest from a neighboring diocese for his wedding. “Our bishop forbade the sacraments, we were refused twice politely, and once not politely—we were almost called fascists, and we told him: ‘My family has been here since the 17th century. In 1960, the church was full, whereas the last time I saw it full [since Vatican II] was in the late 2010s for the funeral of a high-profile political figure. There are barely 40 people on special occasions, often less than a dozen. There is only one Mass per month—and basically, we are the ones guilty of not following them in their stupidity.”


Quite angry, Michel finds “it is hardly surprising that the faithful who remain—the youngest in particular, and those who persevered against all odds during the Covid regime—prefer sacraments that stand the test of time. Our church was built in the 17th century for the Latin Mass. With their new Mass, they have built a few multi-purpose halls in town, which they can sell to Lidl [a grocery chain] or Jehovah’s Witnesses; but for the people who live around these non-churches, it will make no difference.”


“Our bishop has declared war on people like us—in fact, on those who don’t live in the city, who drive cars that will soon be banned there, and who smoke cigarettes. These bishops have forgotten that they are old and alone, that they don’t represent anyone anymore. In any case, he doesn’t represent us anymore. I’m a local elected official, and I’m going to commit four years of my municipal budget to rebuilding the local church—because it’s our heritage, it’s been our heritage for centuries, it’s up to us to maintain it. And instead of giving it to the diocese so that they can turn around and spit on me, I help the deserving [traditional] priests. Those who go out of their way so that we can get married in the way my parents did, and their parents before them.”


Crossing national or departmental borders


In Moselle, the traditional sacraments were also forbidden by the new bishop, Mgr Ballot, during a meeting of priests on November 15, 2022. One of the faithful reacted thus: “We’re going to Germany [for Mass]. I never thought I’d say this, but long live Europe! In Saarbrücken, the SSPX priory is five kilometers from the border. By train, it’s a quarter of an hour from Forbach. By streetcar, 25 minutes from Saarbrücken—and a little walk. Others go to Luxembourg—one hour from Metz, fifty minutes by train.”


Elsewhere, it’s a given. The people of Cambrai, when they don’t have their traditional Mass (it’s only monthly), go to Belgium, as do the inhabitants of Douai and Valenciennes. The Carmel of Quiévrain adjoins the border, 20 km from Valenciennes, on the old national road punctuated by the bell towers of Saint-Michel, Onnaing, and Quiévrain. During the confinement, it was the other way around—the Belgian Masses being limited to fifteen faithful, it was the SSPX priest of Quiévrain who crossed the border, the bishopric of Cambrai leaving him the church of Blanc Misseron, a few steps from the border, on the French side, underutilized.


The people of the Ardèche also travel to attend the Mass of Ages. The bishop of Viviers never proved capable of applying Summorum Pontificum in his area, and for a long time, from Puy to Nîmes, there was no regular Mass. For some years now, there has been a regular Mass in Alès, in a house given to the SSPX, but still nothing in the Ardèche.


The rare Masses, the sacraments, everything here is by nature clandestine, part of the long lineage of the Cévennes resistance—but this time a Catholic resistance, where the traditional ones are the Camisards, and the official priests are the dragoons who are chasing them. But their army is affected by the decline in numbers. The faithful, for their part, drive dozens of kilometers through snowy passes to get to Le Puy, or down to the Drôme, and south of the Cevennes—even the Languedoc for some—Montpellier and Lattes are closer to the north of the Gard than the only authorized diocesan Mass in Nîmes (ICKSP). Pont-Saint-Esprit, in the east of the Gard, bordering the Ardèche, is much closer to the SSPX priory in Sorgues or the chapel in Montélimar (FSSP) than to its capital.


Seen from the Rhône plain, on the Drôme side, or from the Bollène plain, the blue line of the Ardèche hills is the last great frontier of Tradition in France, emblematic of these Cévennes which, as is too often forgotten when speaking of the Protestants, have given thousands of priests and religious vocations—in 1901 the Semaine religieuse de Mende indicated that Lozère alone had given more than 1,700 religious, including 1,000 Brothers of the Christian Schools, and more than 5,000 nuns in 25 congregations, since the Concordat. From 1915 to 1940, the diocese of Mende gave 140 priests to dioceses with fewer priests, including 20 to Paris. And from 1860 to 1940, Lozère gave rise to 5000 religious vocations, including 836 for the Picpus congregation alone.


These Cévennes, so prolific—the zealots of the “springtime of the Church” and of Vatican II turned them into a desert. “Desert”: precisely the word that signified for the Protestant Camisards those shelters where they celebrated their forbidden cult. Today, it is Catholic worship that is reduced to the desert. The traditional faithful—this time, the Catholics—know that Tradition will sow new seeds in the desert.




* This article correctly refers to the traditional Catholic worship and its attempted replacement under Paul VI as separate rites (for explanation, see this book); hence a “biritualist” priest means one who celebrates both the vetus ordo and the novus ordo.