Thiberville: a French scandal!
First Bishop Nourrichard of Évreux gave the parish priest of Thiberville the boot after a two-year long cabal. Now he has just excommunicated him on the simple grounds that. . . he is still living in his rectory. A rectory in which Father Michel lives legitimately, actually, since the township of Thiberville, which has been supporting its pastor since the very beginning of the polemic, is the one that granted him its use.
The story of Thiberville is a simple one: a progressive bishop, whose diocese is fast becoming dechristianized, wished to dismantle the last remaining parish that was fully living out its Catholicism. The local parish priest for the past twenty years refused this decision; he had the support of the faithful as well as that of the town's elected officials. So the bishop tried to come down and impose his decision. He was literally driven out by the parishioners early in 2010, however.
Nevertheless the bishop persisted in his will to incorporate the parish of Thiberville into a new grouping. He ended up obtaining satisfaction from the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura, to which Father Michel had appealed this decision.
A new priest, whose views are more in keeping with the bishop's, was therefore appointed. Meanwhile Father Michel is left with no specific apostolate. The trouble is that the township of Thiberville decided to leave Father Michel the use of the rectory: indeed the new pastor wouldn't be living there because of the new clustering of parishes. And this is what the very open and tolerant Bishop Nourrichard, who gladly attends the ordination of women in the Anglican church, cannot abide. Hence this "motu proprio" excommunication of Father Michel . . . .
Without going any further into the merits of this sad case, we can make an initial assessment of this operation, especially from a liturgical point of view.
THE PARISH WAS JUST TOO CATHOLIC
Here's the "before" picture. Thiberville covered fourteen chapels and churches. Father Michel served them all and they constituted the most vibrant and missionary Catholic grouping in all the diocese of Évreux. The church of Thiberville was packed for all three Sunday Masses, there were alternating services among the other churches, big battalions of children attended Catechism, there was active participation of the Faithful, crowds of altar servers, confraternities, all the churches of the district were magnificently restored, weekday Masses were very well-attended, the pastor himself conducted the funerals, etc. In a word, it was one of the last places outside of Paris where the communion of all Catholics was lived out in an exemplary manner. It was a model of the application of the Pope's will with its "ordinary" Masses as pious as can be and the "extraordinary" Mass finding its natural place in between. We'll come back to this point.
Now for the "after" picture. Thiberville at present amounts to a glum Sunday Mass attended by only thirty people: about ten faithful from the original parish and twenty others from the parishes that have since been clustered with Thiberville. Weekday Masses? Cancelled. Kids at Catechism? Now, at most, twenty. Long story short: Thiberville shares the common lot of the parishes of France. It is discovering the "Church crisis" it had avoided until now thanks to its pastor's zeal.
Among this business's other victims there is also the "Reform of the reform" that the Holy Father wishes. It is not, as you will have guessed, much to Bishop Nourrichard's liking. The Extraordinary Form of the Roman rite is not at home in Thiberville any more. As a result, the entire diocese of Évreux is left without a Sunday Mass according to the Missal of Blessed John XXIII.
And to think that Bishop Nourrichard was often found swearing that the liturgical question had nothing to do with the business at Thiberville . . . .
Before being put out to pasture, Father Michel used to celebrate the traditional Mass at Thiberville every Sunday at 5pm, after celebrating the morning ordinary form Masses in the most reverent and orthodox manner possible.
Indeed Father Michel had prophetically anticipated the common sense measures that Benedict XVI was to promulgate in his Motu Proprio. For many years he had both forms of the one Roman rite peacefully cohabitating in his parish. As a matter of fact this traditional Mass had been celebrated at Thiberville since 1996. At the time Father Michel had given a favorable response to the request of some faithful who wanted a novena of Masses according to the traditional Missal to be celebrated for the repose of the soul of Father Montgomery, deceased in November 1996.
Father Montgomery was a former Scottish minister turned Catholic priest. He was pastor of Le Chamblac (located a few kilometers from Thiberville) from 1956 to his death. This parish priest had kept the traditional Mass in his parish and the successive bishops of Évreux--including the controversial Bishop Gaillot, whom John Paul II dismissed from his ministry in 1995--found no fault with him: that is how beloved he had been among all his faithful. And so this novena became as it were perpetual and was peacefully, though not exclusively, celebrated for fifteen years in the (now formerly) flourishing parish of Thiberville.
In a certain way, or rather in a way that is certain, Father Michel had succeeded in making of his parish a laboratory of the mutual enrichment of the two forms of the one Roman rite. He was, in a word, a "Reform of the reform" pastor, very much in the spirit of the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.
A BISHOP WHO DISDAINS HIS PRIESTS, HIS FLOCK, AND THE POPE!
We're going over this painful business once again because, among other things, it is symptomatic of the episcopal opposition to Benedict XVI's Motu Proprio.
Now the bishop may say that liturgical questions have nothing to do with his decision to suppress the parish of Thiberville and to leave Father Michel without an apostolate, even though he is still young by ecclesiastical standards (61, with fourteen years to go before retirement--bearing in mind that the diocese of Évreux is just as much of an ecclesiastical desert as the great majority of dioceses in France). Be that as it may, there are the facts.
It hasn't taken long for Bishop Nourrichard and his men to break this magnificent motu proprio experiment in a peaceful country parish.
To tell the truth, the traditional Mass at 5pm was not actually cancelled overnight once Father Michel was gone. In fact the Mass was on schedule for March 6, as you can see on this video.
These are both tragic and scandalous images. Tragic, because the priest's distress at dealing with a liturgy he manifestly does not know is a pity to behold. Scandalous, because the liturgy is abused beyond belief; one cannot avoid thinking of the bishop's responsibility in this travesty of a celebration.
These images are proof of Bishop Nourrichard's absolute lack of respect and charity for his priests and faithful. He sent out a priest who is totally ignorant of the rubrics of the extraordinary form, without any preparation of any kind, to distraught parishioners.
The images speak for themselves: if the priest had not announced at the beginning of Mass that he was celebrating the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, no one could have guessed it! New readings, wrong orientations, the color of the vestments having nothing to do with the liturgical season, lay readers, and above all a totally lost priest who doesn't know what to do or when to do it. So much so that the poor man, unable to make it through to the end of his attempt, switches to the Paul VI Mass in mid-celebration . . . .
Faced with such a waste one ends up wondering whether the Bishop of Évreux isn't actually scoffing at the Pope himself: while Benedict XVI is ever working at reconciliation among Christians, Bishop Nourrichard is sowing discord and resentment, going even so far as to use the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum as a means of retaliation. The discouragement and anger currently felt by Thiberville Catholics is therefore quite understandable.
And the bishop's words, as he explains that celebration in the extraordinary form might eventually start up again when a stable group of faithful asks for it, aren't going to settle things . . . . For, until these last few weeks, if there was a place on earth where the definition of "stable group" wasn't a problem, it was Thiberville, where such a group had fifteen years' existence.
A stable group? Bishop Nourrichard, whom do you think you're kidding?