A document on the crisis of religious vocations published in the newspaper "Courrier de la Mayenne", February 2003

Source: FSSPX News


What is interesting in the document below is that it was published in what is called the "mainstream press". Up to now, the press was rarely exempt of the reproach of being biased whenever it tackled religious issues. So it is interesting to note that, as times goes by, so much the less can the deterioration of the actual situation of the Church escape the perspicacity of journalists. The document on the crisis of vocations in the Courrier de la Mayenne was published in two stages: first a striking report of the facts, second an explanation given by a traditionalist priest. The local bishop could not remain indifferent to this and found no other argument than the brandishing of canonical penalties – whose existence disagreeably came back to his mind.

First stage : the report

In Mayenne (a French department), within 30 years, the number of priests has been reduced by half

Out of 200 priests in Mayenne, only 29 are less than 60. The crisis that the Church will soon have to face is first the aging of its pastors. True there are 3 seminarians presently being formed, but it will be at least three years before their ordination. So, at best, there will not be a single new priest in the diocese before 2006.

Gone are the good old days when, like in 1947, bishop Richaud would ordain 26 priests for his diocese! True, the comparison is not very meaningful: "The Church depends upon the times, explains Fr. Tonnelier, who is also a historian. "Life has been considerably changed, the modern world has nothing in common with the 1950’s; we cannot isolate these figures from their human, sociological and Christian context. We must refuse to compare the needs of one period with those of another. And above all we must cease to lament and we must not panic."

The situation nevertheless remains worrying. Witness the example of Fr. Jean-Marie Véron, parish priest of St Bernard of Clermont. At 40, he is the only priest working full-time in this area of 14000 inhabitants. "Just a year ago, he says, we were three". No one could be sent to carry on the work, and the young parish priest is obliged to acknowledge that "the spiritual life does not exercise the same attraction". It remains to know why, or at least to try to. According to him, we live in "a time when to make a choice which implies a life-long commitment is something which is no longer taken for granted". And he argues: "one person out of seven has to change companies every three years." This impatient era does not foster the blossoming of new religious vocations. Everything goes so fast today that in the general busyness, it becomes almost impossible to nourish one’s faith by a return to the Gospel and to recollection. "You really need to want it in order to become a priest nowadays", says Jean-Marie Véron. Others go for sociological explanations. This is the case with Fr. Tonnelier: "In the past most of the priests came from the rural and agricultural world. The artisan and the farmer were more committed to the community than the middle-class people. The vocations curve certainly fell down with the diminution of that social class."

Should we question the reforms of the Vatican II, which would have changed the properly spiritual dimension of the Church, giving a preponderant place to man to the detriment of Christ: how can we experience grace when the social level overshadows the divine and the Catholic religion is turning into the philosophy of the rights of man?

The progressive disappearance of catechism classes in the schools doubtless plays a part too, as well as the dilettantism of some "faithful", who end up by attending church in an episodic manner: "believer but not practicing" has become the new creed…

After all, a society has the number of priests it deserves. No explanation can be privileged over another. What is threatening the future of the priesthood is a combination of historical, sociological, human and spiritual reasons. (…)

More and more frequent: lay people for funerals

It is a little revolution, even if the priests will not admit it. They would rather speak of evolution, of cultural change. From now on, at the four corners of the department, lay people can guide funerals in the absence of priests or deacons, according to the indications given by the Church in the canon 230 § 1, and specified by the diocesan service for the liturgy. They are called lay guides of funerals. But "it is still a Christian burial" insists Maurice Carré, the episcopal vicar, in order to dissipate the doubts and the reserves. It must be said that the chancery has already received several letters of protest. Some accept with difficulty the idea of a burial without a priest and they don’t mind saying so. With this astonishing realization that "those who are more shocked are those who go less often to Church, those who did not follow the evolution of the Church from inside", confides Maurice Carré (…)

Three quarters of the priests in Mayenne are over 70 years of age

The figures in this table show that the priests in Mayenne are aging more and more. Out of 190 incardinated secular priests only 14 are less than 60. The greater majority of them (155) are over 70.

90 and over 12
85 to 89 15
80 to 84 45
75 to 79 45
70 to 74 38
65 to 69 13
60 to 64 8
55 to 59 2
50 to 54 5
45 to 49 1
40 to 44 3
35 to 39 1
30 to 34 2
Under 30 0
Total 190

Second stage: the solution

The crisis in the Church: analysis by a SSPX priest in Mayenne

"When a priest has said his mass well, he has accomplished 80% of his ministry". It is by these words that in 1962, Archbishop Lefebvre was instilling courage back into the priests of the diocese of Tulle who were at a loss. Why?

"By reason of his experience in Africa as bishop and apostolic delegate (1947-1962), in France as bishop of Tulle, then in the whole world and at the council of Vatican II as superior of the Holy Ghost Fathers (1962-1968), Archbishop Lefebvre understood that the crisis in the Church was mainly a crisis of the faith and of the priesthood, a crisis of the priestly identity.

"What is the priest ? The priest is first and foremost a man of faith, a man of prayer and of the mass, he who continues the work of salvation accomplished on Calvary. He is a man of faith in Jesus-Christ, true God and true man, faith in the sacrifice of the mass, the mystery of divine charity. The priest believes in the supernatural efficacy of prayer and of the mass."

"Now, after the war, the faith in this supernatural power to evangelize has been diminished. They favored methods that were too human, too material. They wanted to open up to the world, allowing new ideas and behaviors contrary to the thought of the Church to penetrate into the Church. Then they abandoned this and then that, in order not to displease. From concession to concession, they drifted away from the Catholic faith and put their trust in man."

"Hence came a crisis in the Church. Pope Paul VI described it thus: "The Church finds itself in a time of self-criticism, or better of self-destruction. (…) The Church ends up, so to speak, by striking blows at herself" (December 7, 1968). He also stated that "somewhere the fumes of Satan had entered into the temple of God" (June 30, 1972). Pope John-Paul II, on his part, admitted that "many Christians find themselves lost, mixed up, confused, and even disappointed; ideas contradicting the revealed truth which has always been taught, have been spread abroad by handfuls ; true heresies have been propagated in the dogmatic and moral realm" (February 6, 1981).

What is to be done when confronted with this crisis?

"In 1968, Archbishop Lefebvre was in Rome with a small suitcase and just enough to live on. Priests and seminarians sought him out: help us, do something! He met with the bishop of Fribourg, and, upon his advice, he wrote the statutes of the Society Saint Pius X, which was canonically approved on November 1st, 1970".

"Thus it is a work of the Church, entirely at the service of the faith and of the priesthood : "to direct the life of the priest towards what is essentially its raison d’être : the holy sacrifice of the mass", read the statutes."

"Thus was born the seminary of Ecône out of which will come priests formed according to the spirit of the Church. There are presently about 400 of them who visit 62 countries. They live in communities of two or three priests with a few brothers, giving one another mutual support. Their days are lived to the rhythm of four times of prayer, studies and the various tasks entrusted to them by their superiors."

Faithful from all countries, currently from the Eastern countries, South Africa or India, young diocesan priests, religious communities, even bishops like Bishop Lazo in the Philippines, are interested in the Society Saint Pius X, make an appeal to it or come to it".


"Because they have changed the faith and the mass. Everywhere the facts are the same: the churches are emptying out, seminaries and religious communities also. Everywhere it is the same realization: "they are changing our religion."

Bishops no longer believe in the divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. The catechisms do not express the faith of all time. Who still believes in the existence of hell? Who still knows what sin is, an offense to divine love for which Our Lord Jesus Christ has atoned by suffering and dying on the cross?

"Who believes that the mass renews the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and communicates to us the fruits of salvation? Is not the Blessed Mother herself despised by those who do not believe in her Immaculate Conception, her perpetual virginity and her spiritual maternity towards all our souls?

"That is why everywhere in the world, and especially in France, a resistance to all these novelties has been organized in order to safeguard the faith, to preserve the priesthood."

"The new ideas introduced at the council of Vatican II, and the reform of the mass in 1969, were the first motives of this resistance. Can the faith be changed ? Can our religion be changed? The truths that Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us, the commandments he asked us to observe, the help of his grace which he communicates to us through the sacraments and the mass, in a word, all that Jesus-Christ has established when founding his Church, cannot change. It is not within the power of any authority on earth, no matter how high it may be, to change or modify whatsoever to what has been done by Jesus Christ."

Besides, the Church reminds us of this in the first council of the Vatican, in 1870 : "the Holy Ghost has not been promised to the successors of Peter so that, under his revelation, they may made known a new doctrine, but so that with his help they may worthily keep and faithfully expound the revelation transmitted by the apostles, that is to say the deposit of the faith."

"And saint Paul himself affirms: "If we ourselves, or an angel from heaven would announce to you another Gospel than that we have announced, let him be anathema" (Galatians 1 : 8).

Out of fidelity, out of duty then, has the resistance been organized. In order to keep the mass of their ordination and not say the new mass, priests suffered persecutions and ill treatments. Others died of grief. It is again out of fidelity and to safeguard the faith that Archbishop Lefebvre consecrated four bishops in 1988, without any spirit of rebellion against the pope’s authority.

"It demanded courage to resist, to remain faithful. You need courage when you realize that you are on the wrong track and that you have to go back. Bishops, priests, faithful have had this courage, why not others? Bishop Lazo, a bishop in the Philippines, explained that he had been obedient, then he studied, read much, reflected and especially prayed to the Blessed Mother. He came back to Tradition and the old mass and explained why to the Holy Father."

At the priory of the Moulin du Pin, in the chapel of Laval, we see the fruits of fidelity to the Catholic faith, the fruits of the sacrifice of the mass : souls who are happy to love Jesus-Christ and his Blessed Mother, exemplary families."

And the priest concludes : "You need courage to remain faithful, it is true, but cannot the Holy Ghost raise up a great love for Jesus and a great strength in order to overcome the obstacles ? Is not the Blessed Mother a mother full of goodness, always ready to come to the help of those who entrust themselves to her ?

Le Courrier de la Mayenne, 2/13/03

Bishop Maillard reacts to our survey on the crisis of vocations

"The article which generously lets Father du Châtelet speak and gives him the last word, fosters confusion : it speaks of traditionalists and of the Society Saint Pius X without really defining what is understood by those words" notes Bishop Maillard about the article of February 13.

Thus to attend a mass offered by a member of the Society is to "break away from the Church, it is to deny the teaching of Vatican Council II on essential points: religious liberty, ecumenism, the mass, the authority of the Pope in the Church and of the bishops in their diocese", explains the bishop of Laval. Fr. Tonnelier goes further underscoring that "a Catholic cannot have recourse to the ministry of those priests. He could be liable to canonical penalties."

"It is a mistake (…) there is no such thing as "an expression of the faith" of all time. The faith is lived as a perpetual novelty, a mainspring of life. Faith becomes incarnate in history. Religion runs through the times of men and is inscribed in the history of each man. It is a dialog between the Church and the world. The question of vocations has to be set within the context of each period of time. Seminarians, religious are men who live their faith in their own time."

Le Courrier de la Mayenne, 2/25/03