France: Archbishop of Poitiers’ solution to the shortage of priests

Source: FSSPX News


On March 6 2007, Mgr. Albert Rouet, archbishop of Poitiers, visited Gap at the invitation of Mgr. Jean-Michel di Falco Leandri, the bishop of Gap, to present the fruits of what he set up in his diocese a few years ago. The reorganization of his diocese is founded essentially on a geographical redrawing of boundaries into new sectors, with the creation of local ecclesial communities.

 These lay communities are elected for a 3-year period, which can be renewed once, and they follow a set of specific responsibilities. It concerns “moving away from the lay state which revolves around the priest “in order to help Father” – as devoted and self-effacing assistants – to the status of real, responsible communities, with a priest at their service…” (Un nouveau visage de l’Eglise: L’expérience des communautés locales à Poitiers, Bayard 2005, p. 35.) “These local Christian communities are motivated by teams of Christians who, in the name of the sacraments of Christian initiation (Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist) ensure the proclaiming of the Gospel, celebrations of the Faith and service to the most frail. A priest is sent to each local community. Together, several local communities form a pastoral sector, a basic pastoral unit, where the priestly ministry is carried out. Around one hundred lay people have received a letter assigning to them the title of “recognized ministry”. This is how lay people officially carry out important diocesan responsibilities according to their competence in a specific domain (Catechesis, Theological Centre, Service to the poor, etc.). We come from a time when there was a resident priest in each community, the parish. (Today), the priests are not at the centre of the unit. They are sent to several Christian communities in order to support them in their mission, ensure a sacramental presence, and help them grow in faith. As Vatican II demanded, they are priests ‘in the manner of apostles.’” (Nominations and pastoral choices, Eglise en Poitou No 45)

 Numbering currently 304, “these communities are of course acting with ordained ministers.” Today the Church does not need curés (in charge of parishes), but priests (in charge of communities): “I have too many curés, not enough priests!” said Mgr. Rouet. But “we are not preparing for a Church without priests!” pointed out the archbishop. Because “the priests revive the missionary momentum which we need so much today.” “These communities have revived hope and prayer,” concluded Mgr. Rouet. “The Church has a different face, but she is still alive.”

 The archbishop of Poitiers had invited 239 priests from his diocese in 2004 to meet in small groups: 225 accepted and 14 replied in writing: “Talking together about what our life as a priest constitutes is so rare.” The report has just been released and it is made up of three hundred citations of dialogues which have kept their oral style and are followed by a commentary by Mgr. Rouet.

 The priests want “to be a sign of Christ” in human and genuine meetings. “I am neither afraid nor concerned. There are many thing which are fermenting. This will happen without us, we will be dispossessed. It will be something different. We are sad to see a form of the Church disappear. But it must happen. It is not a catastrophe,” explained the archbishop of Poitiers. The priest is like a “father of the faith” and a “servant of the communion”, he has to place himself as the “joins which the Apostle Paul speaks of”, “to create bonds”, “to promote complementarity.” He is also “the sacrament of the other”, a sign which binds the communities to Christ and to each other. And if the priests “stop trying to do everything,” said Mgr. Rouet, they will have more time to go and meet those who are far from the Church. “What matters at this present is no longer to count who comes to Church, but to know to whom she must go”, the Good News is “brought first of all to the poor (Luke 4, 18) and the those furthest away have priority (Matthew 9, 12).”