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Ordinations suspended in Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon: An incomprehensible decision?

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ordination nanterre

© Marc-Antoine Mouterde

Ordination du diocèse de Nanterre, 2021.

Fr. Pierre Vivarès - published on 06/14/22

According to Father Pierre Vivarès the decision to suspend the ordinations planned in the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon may be justified, but without an explanation, it lacks charity.

The recent decision to postpone priestly and diaconal ordinations in the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon rightly raises many questions because it is incomprehensible. It is incomprehensible because no element of understanding has been shared either by Rome or by Toulon, the laconic communiqué of Mgr Dominique Rey, written jointly by the diocese and the Holy See, offers – strictly speaking – nothing.

A promise of obedience

Rome has forbidden a bishop who has been a bishop in the same diocese for twenty-two years to ordain priests and deacons to candidates trained in his seminary. This bishop has cultivated a dynamic and welcoming policy first implemented by Bishop Madec, Bishop Rey’s predecessor between 1983 and 2000. If there was a problem with a particular candidate, it was possible to delay his reception of Holy Orders.

Three weeks ago, the candidates’ letters of petition for ordination were written, the bishop answered them and they were called to Orders. It is the very discernment of the bishop that is at issue and the collateral victims are the ordinands. Technically, if candidates are judged unfit, this is only decided by name and not as a group. So it seems that Rome forbids a bishop to receive the promise of obedience from all the ordinands. However, for six of them, the deacons, this is already done. This is absurd.

Motivating a decision is the first charity of a decision-maker and one cannot expect assent or obedience if one does not offer to those who receive it the reasons that led to it.

To add spice to the matter, this decision comes against a bishop who stands out a bit in the landscape. This is one of the seminaries with the most candidates for the priesthood, in a diocese that can still boast of having one priest per parish. Of course, this recruitment is broader than the diocese alone, of course, candidates with a traditional sensibility are flocking to it. This is not new, and in the nineties, when I was a young priest, some people were already saying that Bishop Madec was getting everyone, even those whom no one wanted. However, it is up to the bishop to choose the collaborators he needs to carry out the pastoral work entrusted to him. In the current climate of tension in France, this incomprehensible decision adds fuel to the fire and we did not need it.

Leading with charity

Motivating a decision must be the charity of a decision-maker and one cannot expect assent or obedience if one does not offer to those who receive it the reasons that led to it. If one cannot communicate because the investigation is not complete, then it is appropriate to do nothing, unless a serious and imminent danger is discerned.

This decision came after a “fraternal” visit by Archbishop Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille to the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon. He will be created a cardinal on August 27. It seems that one should now be wary of “fraternal” visits and that the ecclesiastical tongue-in-cheek is in full swing.

In the midst of the Synod on Synodality, during which attempts are being made to drown fish, an authoritarian decision concerning a bishop and his own diocese (whose mission the Second Vatican Council has put back rightly at the center of Church governance) contradicts the most elementary rules of ecclesial functioning, which foresee duly prepared and organized canonical visits, at the end of which decisions are made with clarity and understanding, and perhaps with a form of gentleness and intelligence.

If there are even more serious reasons for it, then in charity, justice demands transparency.

If warnings and admonitions have been addressed to the diocese of Toulon about its seminary and its formation and they have not been followed up, then it is possible to say so and to motivate this decision. This was not done. If there are even more serious reasons for it, then in charity, justice demands transparency.

A fight that no longer exists

But all this also marks a certain Roman drift at the moment. Even if there is reason to question recruitment, discernment or the content of formation in a diocese, these are not dignified and respectful methods. The Church and the people of God should not conduct themselves with such brutality, nor should any institution or person for that matter.

For the past nine years, we have not ceased to hear criticism of priests from the highest levels of the Church and, of course, also from society, but we were used to this. This desire to de-criminalize the Church seems like a mortar shot to an ambulance. Boomers are fighting a battle that no longer exists, but the boomers have arrived in Rome.

Today’s 20-40 year olds are much freer, more independent, even more demanding too in some ways. Their struggle is not that of those who lived through the Council and the post-Counciliar period. They are much less clerical, they only ask priests for what priests can give them, namely Christ. They manage very well to live their lives as believing adults in our de-Christianized society.

Some dream of a Church without priests, that is to say, a Church where everyone would be a priest and would navel gaze instead of leading their lives as lay people, nourished by the Word and the sacraments, in a world that is waiting for Christ.

Since all this is incomprehensible, let us wait for explanations that will perhaps come too late, that will only rekindle the wound; the damage is done and it is a pity. My prayer is for these deacons and seminarians, indirect and undifferentiated victims whose call and vocation are being sullied, at the very dawn of their mission. May the Holy Spirit give them peace and communion with the One who is and will always be the only Innocent One.

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