- Catholic Church - France - religion
Pope Benedict XVI's decision to lift excommunication orders on four bishops, members of the fraternity of Saint Pius X, has put the spotlight on the traditionalist catholic movement, which has found a home in the Paris church of Saint Nicolas of Chardonnay.
The fraternity was established in reaction to the Second Vatican Council, convened in the mid-1960s to modernise the Church and mass, and seek to improve relations between Christians and Jews.
Traditionalists congregate in Paris at the church of Saint Nicolas of Chardonnay, in the capital's picturesque 5th district. In the church square, at the end of the 10:30am grand mass, worshippers rarely feel inclined to speak to journalists.
But Jean, 20, felt “a great joy” when the Pope announced that he would reverse the excommunication orders on the four bishops. “It’s something that we prayed very hard for,” he says.
For Gaelle, also 20, the Pope’s decision was a “welcome surprise”. “It was in the works for a long time, but we doubted that it would happen now,” she says. “We are very happy.”
“Now, at least, we can have a little respect!” says Bertrand, 22, with a dose of irony.
All, however, deplore the link being made between Williamson’s Jan. 22 Holocaust denials and Benedict XVI’s decision. Bertrand calls it a “media trap”.
Daniel and Helene, a young couple in their thirties, emphasise that Williamson’s remarks reflected only his personal views, something the fraternity disagrees with.
“You know, you never hear that kind of thing here,” Daniel says. “Not from the priests in the sermons, nor from the laypeople.”
The Williamson Affair, as it is called, did much to inspire discussion on the lifting of the excommunication order, already a controversial issue in itself.
A few metres from Saint Nicolas of Chardonnay, members of the Saint Severin church, in the centre of Paris' lively Latin Quarter, are also leaving mass. This is a place of worship for Catholics faithful to Rome. They all have an opinion on the Williamson Affair.
“I am against the Pope’s decision!” says Zeina, a mother in her forties. "The hardliners are reactionary, their faith does not correspond to my own.”
Like her, many Catholics do not understand the Pope’s openness toward a community that rejects the conclusions of the Second Vatican Council and which counts among its ranks hardliners such as Williamson.
“I do not understand why he made this gesture toward the hardliners and the Holocaust deniers, and not to those who are divorced and remarried,” says Alexandra, 28, on the church square at Saint Germain des Prés. She has just attended the 7pm mass, popular among students and young professionals. It was here that priests organised a debate on the Williamson issue for the faithful.
Others, like Guillaume, 26, are more divided. “On one hand it is positive, because it allows more unity in the Church, which must not stay divided,” he says. But as for the Williamson remarks, he says, “We cannot tolerate things that do too much to jeopardise the image of the Church.”
Although she admits to having been shocked by the controversy, Marie-Anne, 25, is now happy with the new harmony resulting from Benedict XVI’s decision, saying it is his mission to unify the Church and that it should not be confused with rehabilitation.
Certain intellectual Catholics who refuse to have the Holocaust denied by the Church have launched a petition in the French Christian weekly magazine “La Vie”, demanding that the Pope denounce the statements made by Williamson. So far they have received 6,000 signatures.
Rarely has the French Catholic Church felt so disconnected from the Vatican.