France: French Bishops Confronted with Vocations Crisis

Source: FSSPX News

Le Figaro, in its November 9 issue, related the disturbing discourses of some bishops during the assembly of the Episcopal Conference held in Lourdes from November 2 to 8. “When I ordain two priests per year, Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, I bury twenty others…” “40% of people contributing to the “denier de l’Eglise” (a free donation given by Catholics to support the Church which receives no State subsidies in France, translator’s note) are over 80 years old,”Bishop Roland Minnerath, of Dijon admitted. So it is no surprise that confronted with such bleak prospects, Fr. Bernard Podvin, spokesman for the bishops, observed that “ a phenomenon of wearing down touches all states, priests, deacons, and committed lay people.”
Several bishops also pointed out that a “pitiless realism” had weighed over the meeting, as Jean Marie Guénois, noted in his articles: “ ‘Less ideologies between us,’ one bishop could comment. ‘More humility,’ suggested another. ‘Less conflicts, but more realism,’ decided a third.”
In his closing address given on Sunday, November 8, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, president of the French Bishops’ Conference (FBC) admitted straightaway: “Each day, we measure the dwindling of our means, and the chasm which lays between our poor resources and what would be necessary. Our pastoral and missionary desire is constantly confronted with this chasm, and each of our Christian communities is confronted with it likewise.”
The trouble is that there are only active 8,715 priests in France – which numbers over 45,000 bell towers — and 1,315 of them hail from a foreign country. As Philippe Baverel  noted in Le Parisien on November 8: “Half of them (650) come from Africa, the others from Eastern Europe (especially from Poland) but also from Vietnam, India…,” and he remarked: “The fact that over six years, the number of foreign priests ministering in France has doubled tells much about the scope of the vocations’ crisis. Ninety men only were ordained in the Hexagon in 2008, versus 101 in 2007, and 94 in 2006.”
What solutions did the bishops find? They first took cognizance of the report by their confrere, Bishop Claude Dagens, of Angouleme, who refused to organize “pastoral strategies”, and proposed 3 paths to renew the Church in France: 1. To launch a new reflection upon the notion of “catholic tradition”: “just as for national identity, Catholic identity is rooted in God’s mystery”; 2. “To boost the fact of “belonging to the Church,” leaving definitively aside the “outdated model” of  “belonging per force” to the parish. For today there is a desire of “belonging” against a background or “Catholic memory”; 3. To invest not in “institutional” but in personal communication: “I sometimes wonder whether we are not dumb. It is as if we were unable to express that we believe in a merciful God stronger than all the world’s evils,” declared the bishop, a member of the French Academy.
The French bishops also heard contributions by Bishop Dominique Lebrun, of Saint-Etienne, and of Bishop Guy Bagnard.  The former was hoping to create “missionary poles” in his diocese in which the priest would live in community. The latter, who has created a diocesan seminary in Ars and promoted the stability of the parish priest — not without being harshly criticized by some of his confreres — was able to explain the reasons and the results of his more classical pastoral choices.
At the end of the debates, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard, Archbishop of Bordeaux, avowed that the bishops still did not have “common convictions for one scenario type or one model to promote,” but they knew that the present organization was no longer livable. And Cardinal Barbarin stated: “No bishop today can boast that he has ‘the’ solution.” Cardinal Vingt-Trois was not saying anything else in his closing address: “Our talks during these days do not give transposable models, but they give us food for thought about each of our situations,” yet without having previously waved aside the temptation of “allowing us to be submerged by regrets for what was relative prosperity yesterday, or by the anxiety of keeping things at all cost the way we have known them.” – In plain words, there must be no turn back to what has been, though they do not quite know what the future of the Church in France will be with a clergy reduced to its last extremity. (DICI n° 205 - 11/19/2009 – Sources: Le Figaro/ Le Parisien/

Our Comment
We observe that, without saying it, the bishops of France, during their autumn assembly have broached upon a subject which was hitherto a taboo: the vertiginous crisis of vocation which is jeopardizing the survival of the Church in France. Four years ago, a bishop was asked a question on this subject in private. He answered that he had asked Cardinal Ricard, then president of the FBC, to place the issue on the order of the day. And he was told that many bishops did not want to hear about this vocations’ crisis because it depressed them… It would then seem that facts and figures are henceforth taking into account, in spite of their depressive side effect, by mitered heads.
On the other hand, what is not yet taken into consideration is the share of responsibility that churchmen themselves may have had in this unprecedented crisis. In Lourdes, they noted contemporary “religious indifference” — which is undeniable — and they proposed a better “visibility of the Church” — which is most desirable. Yet they forgot to make an examination of conscience about the forty years of pastoral policy of “burying” when priests, wearing secular garb, adopted the language and habits of secular life. Is not religious indifference explained — at least partly — by this absence of difference, desired and assumed by the clergy himself in the name of “opening to the world?”
But the burying was not only a matter of clothing, it did not only affect the vocabulary and morals of the priests recycled after Vatican II. There was also a philosophical and theological burying, or to phrase it otherwise: a secularization of Catholic thinking. Who wrote: “We accept without hesitation to place ourselves, as Catholics, in the cultural and institutional context of today, which is especially noticeable for the rise of individualism and the principle of secularization. We reject all nostalgia for past times when the principle of authority seemed to imposed itself undisputedly.  We do not dream of an impossible turn back to what used to be called Christendom”? – It was already Bishop Claude Dagens, in his report adopted by the plenary bishops’ meeting in November 1996, How to present the Faith in the present society (Cerf editions, p. 20, translation ours)
We can only rejoice to see the French bishops renounce at last the “ostrich policy pastoral” which was so devastating. But to be willing only to take stock of the facts, without seeing that they are also the effects of a cause for which they may be responsible, is tantamount to forbidding themselves to go down to the root of the problem and to condemn themselves to treat the symptoms. Symptomatic cure consists in treating the fever without dealing with the infection. (DICI n° 205 - 11/19/2009)