Apologia pro Marcel Lefebvre
Volume 2, Chapter II

Lefebvre: Rebel or Restorer of the Roman Church?

27 February 1977


ON SUNDAY, 27 February 1977, the Church of Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet in Paris was "occupied" by Catholic traditionalists, or "liberated" as they prefer to express it. The church was still firmly under their control in 1983, and is certainly the most popular and thriving parish in Paris. Melodramatic stories of the event have been circulated by progressives; there have even been accounts giving the impression that it fell to a squad of fascist militia using rosaries as knuckledusters! When the Pope visited France in 1981 an appeal was made to him to celebrate Mass with ousted parishioners in the schoolroom which they have to use since they have no church. The Pope declined the invitation. As the article which follows makes clear, Saint Nicholas was operating as joint-parish with the parish of Saint Sévrin, literally a stone’s throw away. There is ample room in this huge church for a hundred times the number of the parishioners of Saint Nicholas, or alleged parishioners of Saint Nicholas, who do not wish to worship there now that the Tridentine Mass is offered once more. Although, strictly speaking, the occupation of Saint Nicholas does not form part of the story of the breach between Archbishop Lefebvre and the Vatican, which is the subject of this book, it must be set within the historical context of this breach-particularly where the French situation is concerned. It was certainly the most dramatic event in the centuries-old conflict between Tradition and Liberalism to have occurred in France since the triumphant Mass at Lille just over six months before (see Vol. I, pp. 253-271).

I had the good fortune to visit Saint Nicholas on 12 April 1977. The account which follows is one which I wrote for The Remnant of 30 April 1977.

The date: Tuesday, 12th of April, 1977. The place: Paris-more precisely, the métro station Maubert-Mutualité. The time: about 6.15 in the evening. I emerge from the métro station, and the first thing I note is the sound of the church bell sounding triumphantly, imperiously over the noise of the rush hour traffic and the homeward hurrying crowds. Within moments I see the church from which the bell is sounding-it is the Church of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, the church where a miracle has taken place. A miracle? Il ne faut pas exagérer say the French. "One must not exaggerate." But this is no exaggeration. Up till the first Sunday of Lent it had been typical of most parish churches in Paris. Less than 100 of the faithful attended all the Masses celebrated on Sunday. The once beautiful church had a grubby, dilapidated look. The Sunday assemblies, as the Mass is now termed in France, were celebrated on a table placed upon a podium covered in extremely tatty purple material. The altar had been abandoned-apparently forever.

During the final Mass of the morning on the First Sunday of Lent the miracle began. The handful of worshippers started to grow. Slowly but surely the church began to fill. Before long it was full. The faithful were standing in the aisles. One of the parish clergy could not restrain his astonishment.

"Who are you? Why are you here? We're overcome with delight."

"Let's hope you're still delighted in a few minutes' time," answered a layman.

“Why, what do you mean?" asked the cleric.

He soon found out.

Through the main door of the church a triumphal procession entered. Preceded by a cross came a long line of the faithful headed by a good number of priests, three of whom were vested ready for Mass-let their names be known and venerated. M. l'Abbé Juan, sub-deacon; M. l'Abbé de Fommevault, deacon; Monsignor Ducaud-Bourget, celebrant-a priest of more than eighty years of age, a patriarchal figure with long white hair , a priest who appeared to be a reincarnation of the Curé d'Ars. Among the other priests was M. l'Abbé Coache, hounded from his parish for the crime of organizing a procession in honor of the Blessed Sacrament.1

For years now these holy priests had been celebrating a series of Masses each Sunday in the Salle Wagram, a rather dilapidated hall near the Arc de Triomphe. They had begged and pleaded, used every possible approach to the civil and ecclesiastical authorities to be allowed the use of a church to celebrate their Mass-but to no avail. The Mass which they wished to celebrate was the Mass codified by Pope St. Pius V –and the celebration of this form of Mass is the one and only form of activity which is totally and absolutely verboten in the French Church. The present situation was perfectly expressed by Fr. Henri Bruckberger, Chaplain-General to the French Resistance. “Today a priest is permitted to lend his church for use by Moslems or Buddhists, Tibetans or Patagonians, hippies, Papuans, non-Papuans, boys, girls, by the ambiguous, the ambivalent, the ambidexterous, amphibians or nomads-but if a poor priest wishes to celebrate the Mass for which the very Church was built (and not by the hierarchy but by the people themselves), and if the French people wish to go there to assist at the same Mass that has been said in the place for centuries, then the full fury of the French episcopate falls upon them.”

But by the First Sunday of Lent 1977 the faithful had had enough-more than enough. Attendance at the Salle Wagram -8,000 each Sunday-more than surpassed any other place of worship in Paris, not excepting the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Why, they asked themselves, priests and people alike, why should they have to worship in a public hall for the sole crime of remaining true to the faith of their fathers?

"By what right do you come here?" asked one of the parish clergy.

"We come ," replied Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget (and is it unreasonable to claim that he was inspired?) "in Nomine Domini."

The apostles of progress are temporarily nonplussed; before they realize what is happening their podium and table have been relegated to a transept, and a Solemn High Mass is being celebrated on the altar. But the apostles of progress do not remain nonplussed for long. Militant campaigners against oppressive social structures, advocates of lay participation- what can they do? The answer is simple. Call the police. They do so without hesitation. The police arrive. "Expel those people from the church."

"But they're saying Mass and praying. That's what a church is for! " Exit the police. The apostles of progress are nonplussed once more.

And that was that.

The traditionalists came; they prayed; they stayed. And they are there still.

The progressives clung on to the sacristy for some days, and on one occasion made a determined counter-attack which was unsuccessful. The resulting violence did, for a time, cast a shadow over what had been a very joyful event. But now they have given over the church entirely to the traditionalists. The faithful have a church in which they can assist at the Mass which was celebrated in all the churches of Paris before the "liturgical renewal" which has been followed, on the admission of Cardinal Marty, Archbishop of Paris in 1977, by a 54% decline in Mass attendance by Parisians. But no one is as determined as a stubborn Liberal, and the Cardinal would quite clearly prefer not to have a single Catholic assisting at Mass on Sundays rather than allow a single celebration of the traditional Mass.

Since the occupation, the Liberal establishment, led by Cardinal Marty himself,has engaged in a series of grotesque posturings for the benefit of the media-posturings which could only evoke amusement but for the distaste aroused by their cynical hypocrisy. Messages of sympathy have gone out to the poor pastor of Saint Nicholas and his distressed congregation (all sixty or seventy of them) who now have nowhere to worship, nowhere to hold meetings, religious instruction, or for their scout troop to meet. The Cardinal is united with them in their hour of sorrow and persecution, etc., etc., as are innumerable Liberal stalwarts who have expressed their solidarity effusively and very publicly. Yet only a stone’s throw from Saint Nicholas is the huge church of St. Sévrin-in fact, the two were already some sort of joint parish before the occupation. Once again, as a result of the decline in Mass attendance, there has been no difficulty in squeezing the handful of parishioners from Saint Nicholas, who have opted for the new Mass, into the ample space available for the new Masses celebrated in this church. But, and this is very important, now more than two hundred parishioners of Saint Nicholas are attending Mass in their parish church each Sunday-and the traditionalists can prove this. Cardinal Marty claims to have the signature of 2,000 outraged inhabitants of the parish who are consumed with impatience for the return of their church! When I mentioned this figure to those organizing the occupation it evoked extreme hilarity. To put it mildly (which they did not), they suggested that the Cardinal’s figures might be somewhat (and more that somewhat) exaggerated. In their own case, they are keeping a list of parishioners who have expressly signed a petition asking that the church be left in traditionalist hands, and in each case a photocopy of the signatory’s identity card has been obtained to prove that the person concerned is a genuine parishioner. The petition has now been signed by more than 50,000 symathizers-not just from Paris but from all over the world. I was most honored to add my own on April 12th.

Now surprisingly, Cardinal Marty is not content to leave the situation as it is. A court order has been obtained stating that the traditionalists can be expelled by a bailiff, by the police, and by the military if necessary .A date was given, but was followed by a stay of execution until after Easter, so that all the Holy Week services could be held (perhaps the judge wished to attend himself). This stay of execution expired on Monday 11 April, and it had been with some trepidation that I made my first visit to the church at about 8:15 a.m. on the morning of 12 April after an all-night journey from Switzerland. Upon entering the church I thought that the worst had happened as I heard a priest speaking in French-but all was well, he was simply reading the Gospel. It was a great joy to assist at Mass in a beautiful old church exactly as it had been celebrated before the Council.

After the Mass I had a talk with the celebrant and some of the young men who are guarding the church. They then invited me to share their very simple breakfast of bread and butter dipped in coffee. It would be hard to imagine more pleasant and courteous young men; to discover such fervor and dedication for the traditional faith among young people brought up in the "Conciliar Church" is certainly a sign of great hope. All the doors of the church but one have been locked, and at least two or three young men always remain on duty here. They work in shifts-some remaining on duty all night while the others sleep in a makeshift dormitory. It is a monstrous calumny to suggest, as some Liberal papers (Catholic and secular) have done, that these are young men with a predilection for violence. If an attempt is made to expel them from the church by force they will resist-but if they are not attacked there will be no violence. Those I spoke to also assured me that they would not resist the police-only a physical attack by progressive laymen.

But the police and the courts have made it quite clear that they are most reluctant to take any direct action. Monsieur Jean Guitton, a prominent Catholic writer, member of the French Academy, and a close friend of Pope Paul VI, has been appointed as mediator. But the traditionalists will not leave unless they are offered a church of their own. After eight years of exile they are determined that they will worship in Churches from now on. If they are expelled they will simply occupy another church, and the legal process will have to begin again-the Cathedral of Notre Dame has been mentioned.

I was assured that if I wished to experience the true atmosphere of the traditionalist parish I should return in the evening-which explains why, at 6.15p.m., I emerged from the métro station Maubert-Mutualité to hear the bell of Saint Nicholas summoning the faithful to worship. Even on weekdays there is Mass at 0800, 1200, 1700 (followed by Vespers Benediction) and at 1830. I entered the church during Benediction just in time to hear Pope Paul being prayed for by name. This had also been done during the Good Friday services at Ecône where I had been four days before. A truly superb choir was singing-I discovered later it had come together spontaneously; it sings at Vespers, Benediction, and Mass each day and on Sundays at several Masses. Each evening its members remain behind to practice and expand their already impressive repertoire-the most remarkable aspect of the choir (apart from its talent) is its youth.

The grubby and dilapidated church which has existed before the occupation has been transformed-lovingly and thoroughly. The church has been washed and scrubbed-marble statues that seemed almost black with grime are now positively gleaming with whiteness. There are flowers in every side chapel, candles burning before the statues, the high altar in particular is ablaze with candles and almost smothered with flowers. The high altar in every church is the symbol of Christ, and in this Easter Week it is the most dramatic possible symbol of the resurrection of the faith of Christ’s Church in Saint Nicholas. The altar had indeed seemed to be dead, abandoned forever, never to be used again, and here it was, triumphantly resurrected, radiant with light and Easter joy-with the Cranmerian table and its tatty podium, cast inside, aptly symbolizing a defeat for the Conciliar Church.

The Mass began. It was celebrated by Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget himself. It was sung, and sung beautifully. At the Sanctus in particular the timeless chant filled and echoed through the arches of this ancient church as it had done for centuries. The Council might never have taken place.

A 1ady moved from chapel to chapel watering the potted flowers with loving care. Every few seconds an individual or a' group of people came into the church. Some stayed for the Mass, others just prayed for a few moments before leaving. Many were young, but some were old-and how happy these old people were. Here was the faith they had been brought up to know and love; here were their traditional devotions quite unchanged. Inside the Church of Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet it is as if time had stood still in 1962. A group of seminarians from Econe came in for a few minutes. They had left the seminary for their Easter break. They were a heartening reminder that the traditionalist resurgence in France is not a temporary phenomenon dependent on a few elderly priests. For every older priest who has remained faithful to the Mass of his ordination there is a young priest or a seminarian ready to join him, and eventually replace him. And for every old person who clearly regards Saint Nicholas as heaven on earth there is a teenager who has discovered what the Catholic faith once was, and is determined to accept it in no other form.

And the miracle of Saint Nicholas du Chardonnet - will it "continue? "You must pray for us. You must pray for us that it will continue," said one lady, gripping my arm in her fervor. "Tell everyone to pray for us."

As an ironic footnote to this report, and a significant sign of the times we live in, I discovered upon reading the 9 April issue of The Tablet, after my return to London, that Cardinal Mart)' has invited any Anglicans visiting France to receive Holy Communion in Catholic churches if they cannot get to an Anglican one. It would seem that the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris needs our prayers far more than the traditionalist members of his flock.


A Report in The Times

By an interesting coincidence a reporter from The Times visited Saint Nicholas on the same day. I was shown a copy of his report some days after mine had been dispatched to The Remnant. This report refers to the attempt at mediation by Monsieur Jean Guitton of the French Academy. It appeared in the 13 April 1977 issue

Church Occupiers Ignore Order

From Charles Hargrove
Paris, April 12.

The Roman Catholic traditionalists occupying the church of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet, in the Latin quarter, since February 27, expected to fight eviction today. But no police turned up to enforce the decision of the Paris court of April 1, which gave them 10 days to leave voluntarily or be expelled by force if necessary.

The main doors were shut against any surprise attack. A few determined looking young men, wearing a Sacred Heart badge, controlled admittance through a side door.

Inside the dimly lit church there was no sign of tension. A couple of dozens faithful, old, and a few seminarians from Ecône, seminary of Mgr. Lefebvre, the former Archbishop of Dakar, knelt in prayer before the high altar, reinstated in its pre-conciliar role. The host was exposed on it in a monstrance amid a profusion of flowers and tapers.

The “Kitchen table" in the transept, which had displaced the high altar in the new liturgy, had been removed.

A steady stream of people came in, asking for information about services, and putting their names down on the rolls of watchers or donors of offerings in support of the traditionalist cause.

Chairs were being arranged in rows in one of the side chapels for a lecture in theology to denounce the ways of the modern church, which was to follow the evening Mass, at which Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget, the instigator and organizer of the occupation of St. Nicholas, preaches.

There has never been any real likelihood of force being used to put an end to the occupation of the church. The Paris court which ruled it illegal and authorized the parish priest, Father Bellego, to call on the police to enforce the judgment, also indicated its distaste for such a solution.

This, the court's president said, "would create an unpleasant situation for all concerned." He appointed mediator, M. Jean Guitton, of the French Academy, the Catholic philosopher, who was given three months to produce a report.

After meeting Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget, Father Bellego, and the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Marty, M. Guitton was in Rome last week to obtain the approval of the Vatican for a compromise solution, which Cardinal Marty refuses to contemplate.

The Cardinal has said recently that to allow the traditionalists to have a church of their own where they could worship as they pleased would amount to giving official approval to a schism.

A lover of tradition, M. Guitton is also a close friend of the Pope, who publicly wished him prompt success in his efforts on Easter Monday.

Father Serralda, one of the four or five traditionalist priests who minister to the needs of the new congregation, told me: "Many Catholics today are in deep distress. They do not understand what is happening in their Church. The conciliar texts are like the decisions of Pope Paul VI-they are ambiguous. All we ask is that all the rites and teaching of the Church should respect Catholic doctrine.

"We are not a party in the Church. We are battling for the Church, not for ourselves. The obligation to say the New Mass is based on an abusive interpretation. It attributes to papal decrees the same authority as to Church laws, like the Bull of 1570 of Pius V laying down irrevocably for all time the liturgy of the Mass."


Facts and the Truth

The reporting of events at St. Nicholas which appeared in The Times was generally fair and factual, it was evident that its reporter, Charles Hargrove, was making every effort to be objective. But the report which follows indicates the extent to which a factual report does not necessarily convey the truth of a situation. Why this is so will be explained after reproducing the report which appeared in the 23 April 1977 issue.

Offer to Occupiers of Church is Rejected

From Charles Hargrove
Paris, April 22.

Cardinal Marty, the Archbishop of Paris, has made a gesture of conciliation to the traditionalists who have occupied the church of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet since the end of March.

He has offered them another place of worship until July 4, when M. Jean Guitton, the Roman Catholic philosopher appointed as mediator by a Paris court on April 1, will submit his report. He added that this offer in no way implied a recognition of their claims.

The church, appropriately St. Marie-Médiatrice, is on the outer boulevards, near the Porte des Lilas, north of Paris. It has been out for use for more than five years, since the construction of the Paris ring motorway. It was built by Cardinal Suhard, the archbishop at the time of the German occupation, as a result of a vow to erect a place to worship if Paris were spared destruction.

Cardinal Marty announced the granting of this church to the traditionalists after reaching an agreement with M. Guitton, who recalled in a statement last night that the dead-line set for the evacuation of St. Nicholas by the court had been prolonged by a week until yesterday, at his request.

But the offer was rejected last night by Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget, one of the leaders of the traditionalists, who said he would sue the cardinal before the ecclesiastical authorities.

"For 10 years we have been treated with contempt," he said. “The faithful from at least five parishes come to our services. There is no question of our transferring to one of the outlying churches of Paris. Let the forces of law and order come and throw us out."

At a press conference this morning at the offices of the archbishop, Mgr. Georges Gilson, an auxiliary bishop, expressed regret that this "generous offer" had been rejected. The cardinal had made it in a "spirit of peace."

Over and above the juridical problem raised by the occupation of St. Nicholas, the cardinal was much more concerned with the religious conflict in which the traditionalists' leaders were opposed to the Catholic hierarchy, the Pope and the Council.

If Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget persisted in his refusal to leave the church, justice would take its course. A bailiff would come to record the fact and the secular arm would then act as it thought fit. But it seems hardly likely that force will be used to expel the traditionalists.

Mgr. Gilson said the leaders of the traditionalists would have to face up to their responsibilities.


The Truth behind the Facts

The reason that the traditionalists declined the "generous offer" of Cardinal Marty was that it was not a generous offer at all, and he must have realized that they would find it totally unacceptable before making it. The church, as the report notes, had been out of use for five years since the construction of the Paris ring motorway. It could only be reached by crossing a very busy motorway (freeway) on foot. The area around the church also happens to be one of the least salubrious in Paris, one where mugging is prevalent. It was also in a most inconvenient location, right on the north side of Paris rather than being central as St. Nicholas is. A good number of elderly Catholics now worship at St. Nicholas, and to have asked them to switch to St. Marie-Médiatrice was a totally impractical proposition, so unrealistic that it could not possibly have been made with any expectation that it would be accepted. This is the truth that the facts quoted in the report did not reveal.


Restored Tradition and the New Mass
By Louis Salleron2

The French newspaper Le Monde of 22 April 1977 published this among other letters which it said it had received concerning the “occupation” of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet Church in Paris. Le Monde said that these letters "are particularly revelatory of the viewpoint of certain Catholics who have so far had little opportunity to express themselves in public.” Professor Salleron’s letter follow:

The arguments brought forward by opponents of the Mass of St. Pius V can be reduced in the last analysis to a single point: St. Pius V, they say, established a rite by his Bull Quo Primum of 1570. What one Pope has done another Pope can undo; consequently, the new rite approved by Paul VI in his Constitution Missale Romanum of 1969 has abrogated the earlier rite.

To present the question thus is to be wrong all along the line. To start with, there is an essential difference between St. Pius V's Bull and Paul VI’s Constitution. Pius V did not set up a new rite. What he did was to authorize a text based on the researches of scholars over many years, and which thus seemed to him to carry the best guarantee of authenticity. It was the traditional rite in all its purity that he restored, after centuries during which faulty versions had become current in a number of dioceses. So great was his respect for tradition, that, although in his Bull he formally prohibited the use of the faulty rites, he expressly recognized and permitted the use of any rite which could prove a certain tradition of at least 200 years. In a word, his intention and his achievement was the restoration of the traditional Mass rites and, in particular, of the first among them, the Roman rite. By contrast, what Paul VI has done is to give his approval to a new rite-Novus Ordo Missae-which is a totally different thing.

Paul VI, it is said, had the right to do this. Of course he did. And therefore (the argument continues) the old rite has been abolished. This is not so. For in his Constitution the Pope does not abrogate the tradition rite; he does not forbid its use any more than he makes the new rite mandatory.

Is it the Pope's will that the new rite should replace the old one and that the latter should disappear? There is no doubt that this is his own wish, but it is not (in the legal sense) his WILL as Pope, which he could only express in and through a solemn Constitution, such as Missale Romanum. Moreover, even in the most urgent of his addresses (Allocutions), he has never invoked his authority as supreme legislator, nor applied this to give effect to his will in respect to the Mass; such an exercise would in any case require a different form than that of an Address. The most "imperious" of his texts on the subject is his Consistorial Address of 24 May 1976, and this merely refers one to the Instruction (or rather, Notification) of 14 June 1971. Now, in this context, an Instruction has no more weight than a Notification or an ordinance; none of them have the authority of an "Apostolic Constitution" or have the power to modify it. (To do so would be rather as though, in French political terms, an executive decree or even a Bill passed by Parliament were to modify the Constitution of the Republic.)

One may add that in the Bull Quo Primum St. Pius V granted an individual indult to all priests, permitting them to celebrate the rite that he had just authorized, despite any ruling to the contrary, even by competent juridical authorities. This perpetual indult can only itself be abrogated by a new and equally authoritative ruling specifically directed to that end.

Cardinal Ottaviani was thus fully justified when he said to me personally at Whitsun 1971-many months after the promulgation of the new rite: "The traditional rite of Mass, according to the Ordo of St. Pius V, has not to my knowledge been abolished. Consequently, local ordinaries (i.e., bishops) especially if they are concerned to protect the rite and its purity , and even to make sure that it continues to be understood by the body of those attending Mass, would do well, in my humble opinion, to encourage the permanent retention of the rite of St. Pius V. .." Note that he does not say "would do well ...to authorize the rite," but "encourage the. ..retention of the rite;" the rite, having been neither abolished nor forbidden, has no need of authorization.

In actual practice, the bishops do forbid the use of the rite of St. Pius V. But their prohibition is itself illegal, and this illegality would be proclaimed as such openly if it were not that the Roman legal structures are in full decomposition.

Rank-and-file priests and layfolk do not look so far. What they can see is that anything, absolutely anything, is permitted in the way of "celebrations"-anything, that is, except the Mass of St. Pius V. As they know, too, or as their instinct tells them, that the new Mass was constructed in an ecumenical intention: that is to say that in it the notion of Eucharistic Sacrifice is played down as far as possible, so as to make it acceptable to Protestants, they are in revolt.

Behind the affair of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet (in Paris) looms the whole problem of the Catholic Mass. This problem is still to be resolved.


St. Nicholas du Chardonnet - Two Months Later

Despite the fact that Monsignor Ducaud-Bourget was sagacious enough to evade the trap set for him by Cardinal Marty’s “generous offer," he soon found that remaining at St. Nicholas brought its problems, namely that despite the fact that is a very large, it was soon unable to accommodate the thousands who wished to worship there each Sunday. The result was that Mass had to be celebrated once more in the Salle Wagram. This is referred to in an extract from an article by Professor Thomas Molnar which follows. Professor Molnar also mentions the sympathy shown by the police for the traditionalist clergy and parishioners of St. Nicholas. It appears that on one occasion a delegation of progressive clerics (in civil costume, naturally) went to the principal police station of the area to demand that the officer in charge should explain why no action had been taken to evict the traditionalists from the church. They were informed by the sergeant on duty: "You can't see him now, he's assisting at Mass at St. Nicholas."

Professor Molnar's account of his visit to St. Nicholas appeared originally in the New Oxford Review and was reprinted in The Remnant of 17 January 1978. 

An Interview with Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget

Last April Ecône received some important allies, one in the person of Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget the priest-poet, and the thousands of people who helped him take over the Church of St. Nicholas du Chardonnet in one of the Paris’s oldest quarters. The reader may now speak of “violence.” But this is France. St. Bernard was violent, so was Joan of Arc and Bossuet and Bernanos. So was Jesus Christ in chasing the money changers from the temple. For years, the "traditionalists" have begged Cardinal Marty for a church where the Mass of Pius V (Tridentine Mass) could be celebrated; the Cardinal, closing his eyes to the desecration of Rheims Cathedral by copulating hippies and to the Buddhist celebration in the Cathedral of Rennes, left the petitioners without an answer. Last Easter they moved into St. Nicholas, made it clear that only the old Latin Mass would be celebrated, and that they would not leave before a church is officially offered them as a permanent abode. For more emphasis, they set up a permanent guard of several dozen young men to keep out troublemakers. These young people, all of them making financial sacrifices by leaving their jobs or studies for the duration of the "siege," canalize the worshippers, keep a watch on the street, and provide protection to the half dozen priests celebrating Mass.

I visited St. Nicholas on Sunday, 12 June of this year. It was 11 o'clock, people were coming out en masse, their way practically blocked by a similar mass of people waiting to enter for the next celebration. The crowd in the square in front of the church was enormous, waiting for the 12 o'clock Mass. Before entering, I talked to several policemen in the vicinity. Without exception they sympathized with the "occupants," partly on the old religious grounds, partly on political grounds. "It is doubtful," a young police officer told me, "that if ordered to evacuate the church, my men would obey. But at any rate, what politician would dare give such an order, and certainly not Chirac, the new mayor? Besides, if Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget personally stands in our way, we would not touch him or whatever or whomever he protects."

After Mass, I was received by the Monsignor in a room of the sacristy .We are in France! He is 84, as alive as an eel, white hair to his shoulders, long nails like a mandarin, and a pipe between his lips. His manners and speech could be placed somewhere between the eras of Louis XIV or Louis XV. First we spoke of doctrine and philosophy, which was made easier by the fact that we had read some of each other's writings, I his poetry-poetry which had just been given an enthusiastic review in the Osservatore Romano where the editors had not realized that the poet Ducaud-Bourget and Mgr. D-B are the same person! Huge embarrassment a few days later and repulsive back-tracking. So much for pettiness...

The Monsignor had just arrived from the Salle Wagram where he said Mass before the 800 people who could not get into St. Nicholas that morning. In other areas of France churches are similarly occupied by those whom the new inquisitors contemptuously describe as a few old people and some reactionaries. I had carefully scrutinized the crowd in and outside the church: all age groups were represented; of course, whether they were reactionaries, I had no way of discerning.

The Monsignor told me of the endless lies, unkept promises, threats, and vexations on the parts of Cardinal Marty, his bureaucrats, and the Vatican. Thank God for the brutal anti-church laws of 1905: all ecclesiastic property was then confiscated by the State, so that the Cardinal is today unable to send his shock troops to reoccupy St. Nicholas; and as we saw, the Government and the Municipality prefer not to touch this hot potato, for fear of dividing their electorate. Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget is consequently confident that nothing will happen. We then spoke of the recent court decision (lawsuit by the regular curé of the church) to ask the Roman Catholic philosopher, Jean Guitton, supposedly impartial, to mediate between the Archdiocese and the occupants. Guitton is a soft man and an opportunist, Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget told me; he does not wish to jeopardize his status as a biographer of Paul VI. With all that-I was shown letters-Guitton expressed his “déférence sympathique” to Mgr. Ducaud-Bourget, and called his own role as a mediator a wonderful opportunity to meet him. Therefore I was surprised to read in the Express interview with Guitton (late July) his disparaging comments on Lefebvre’s position vis-à-vis the Pope to that of an Algerian O.A.S. General vis-à-vis De Gaulle. A ludicrous and not even flattering comparison-after which one may speak disparagingly of Guitton’s intelligence too.

Anyway, the “mediation” is off, but meanwhile the “Case” is expanding and more “allies” are joining Lefebvre. In early June the Princess Pallavicini opened her palazzo in Rome for 1,500 guests to hear the Archbishop re-explain very simply that he would not renounce the faith of 2,000 years. “I do not want to die a Protestant,” he said. There was an indescribably fervent ovation, not only by the guests in the salons, but also by people sitting on the stairs and the multitude outside who listened through loudspeakers to Lefebvre's words.

The Vatican took this as a further provocation - to carry the "opposition to the Pope" to within the latter's earshot. The Pope's vicar (as Bishop of Rome), Cardinal Ugo Poletti, attacked the Princess in a press statement-to which he received a responding statement amounting to "mind your own business, I receive in my home whom I wish." The "mind your own business" is quite an appropriate warning, since Rome now has a fellow-travelling mayor elected on the Communist list.


Saint Nicholas Today

Readers who wish to participate in the "miracle of Saint Nicholas" during a visit to Paris should take the metro to the station Maubert-Mutualité, which is adjacent to the church. All the old churches and cathedrals in France belong to the State, which is responsible for the upkeep of their exteriors. It is very significant that since the liberation of St. Nicholas a great deal of work has been done to the outside of the building, by the civil authorities, to complement the internal renovation carried out by the parishioners. Although the diocesan authorities will not accept the legality of the present situation, or that it has any permanent basis, it is clear that the civil authorities have no intention whatsoever of evicting the traditionalists. St. Nicholas now stands as an island of Catholic tradition, and, indeed, of sanity, in a sea of Modernism and liturgical banality.

1. See Vol.I,pp.108-109

2. Well-known writer and journalist


Chapter 1

Courtesy of the Angelus Press, Regina Coeli House
2918 Tracy Avenue, Kansas City, MO 64109

Home | Newsletters | Library | Vocations | History | Links | Search | Contact