AGAINST THE SCHISMATIC DRIFT
3. The founding of
the League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation
HAVING retired to Maison Saint-Joseph in 1963 to pursue his monastic life with some of his brothers, Fr. de Nantes foresaw that his personal struggle against French progressivism might well lead him to create a new organisation uniting traditionalist Catholics.
“ During this year ”, he noted in his Letter of September 15, 1964, “ the number of our good Catholic and good French friends has risen from one thousand to six thousand. The overwhelming amount of mail – truly fascinating and encouraging – which accompanies and explains this progression, reveals the vitality of a whole sector of the Church in France which has been artificially deprived of any legitimate representation, any freedom of association and expression. We are being oppressed, silently but deliberately, by a system, a monolithic party apparatus, whose essence, principles and members are progressivist and anti-French. The true statistics would reveal that in reality we are in the majority, even though our very existence is denied ! Our personal misfortunes, both yours and ours, all fall into this general scheme of things.
“ At the beginning of this year, everything led us to expect fresh progress, and in the normal course of events the next stage was to be the organisation – outdoors but in strength – of groups standing up for the faith and morals, Catholic tradition and the liturgy, social peace and patriotism, against the progressivist mafia, in every town and in very diocese. In this way we would dissolve that fatal connection between the Church and the revolutionary ‘ Christian ’ left. Our conferences in the spring were received with extraordinary fervour and in packed halls, and all this was a very promising sign.1 I knew several bishops who were surprised and alarmed by the accelerated decomposition of their dioceses, and I used to receive many letters from priests who had been hesitant a year ago but who were now ready to try everything for the salvation of souls and of the Church of France now headed down the path of perdition. At the same time, events of major significance in the world at large indicated that the West was at last waking up.
“ The expectation was that we would join forces with many other organisations, and that this would result in the formation of a new National Catholic Federation resolutely opposed to progressivism and collectivism. It was hoped that this would be at a time when French nationalism would stop Communism in its tracks and when a strengthened Western alliance would hold it in check in every critical area of its war of subversion. But, for that to happen, it would be necessary for the Church – that is to say the new Pope and the Council – to renounce the language, the methods and the outlook of John XXIII’s time and to return to the wise, prudent and firm defence of the Christian faith, institutions and society. This is what I was hoping for. We needed ever so little – just some public encouragement and an unambiguous declaration of intentions. All the Catholics of the West needed to know was that, in defending their ancestral religion and their homes, they would not be committing any disobedience and would be following the lead of their pastors. This rare good fortune would have been enough to utterly transform their energies and the effectiveness of their action. ”2
Alas, these hopes and these projects vanished during the summer of 1964 when Paul VI published the encyclical Ecclesiam suam. By entering then into open opposition with the Pope, the theologian of the Catholic Counter-Reformation took up a new and very difficult combat. It was badly received by his friends who hesitated to support his criticisms of Paul VI’s teachings.
But Fr. de Nantes would leave them sufficient time to clarify their minds, to reflect and make their decision. Little by little, thanks to a period of intense and profound reflection, his readers would make progress in theology and would pass beyond that obedience, that respect and that trust, which all too often they had believed that they had to pay blindly to the ecclesiastical authorities. After a time of anxiety and a period of uncertainty, they would generally come to understand why his public opposition to Paul VI was legitimate.
Fr. de Nantes had not thought that it would be necessary or useful to create an organisation to oppose the Pope. He was quite capable of presenting his accusation of heresy against Paul VI on his own. But in 1970, when he took the decision to found the League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation in the twentieth century, the circumstances were rather different and indeed dramatic.
OUT OF THE FRYING PAN AND INTO THE FIRE
In January 1970, in a page of the Catholic Counter-Reformation headed : “ What have I done for Christ ? What will I do, what ought I to do for Christ ? ” Fr. de Nantes made a special address to his friends, to alert them to a new danger which had now become very menacing :
“ Treated until quite recently as the leading and most advanced opponent of the Reform, you have seen me overtaken by much more radical objectors. Since June of this year 1969 to be exact, I have apparently become ‘ out of date ’. People accuse me of having becoming ‘ moderate ’, and some suspect that I have been brainwashed by Rome or have given in to some kind of blackmail. I stand accused of betraying the Counter-Reformation ! By people who in public display a profound respect and perfect submission to the Pope and the bishops, but who in private speak quite another language, holding their bishops to be stripped of their apostolic authority and the Pope to have fallen from office, de facto. To listen to them, one would think the Church was leaderless.
“ They start by drawing on the immense labour of our Counter-Reformation over the last five years, using my name as a reference and even claiming my friendship. And then, pretending to be better qualified to guide the distraught mass of the ordinary faithful by reason of their greater devotion, moral rigour and obedience, they initiate this small group into a far more radical combat. Claiming to be far wiser and more prudent than me, they would like to regard themselves as more effective and more determined. They are going to rally the last of the just and to save the Church. Something which supposedly arouses my jealousy.
“ I may not be jealous, but I am at least concerned. This is a very clever way of separating good Catholics from the One Holy Church and leading them down the paths of schism… On one hand, there is the crowd who believe that they are following some holy priest who is perfectly humble and moderate. They follow him as their saviour, since he has made them lose hope in everything else, that is to say in the common run of the clergy and in the daily life of the Church. On the other hand there is the group of the initiated who realise that, now they are outside the control of the Pope and the bishops who are treated as spiritually dead and already condemned, they will have to rebuild communities of the faithful who no longer depend, either juridically or sacramentally, on the Roman hierarchy. And these initiates will act as the militant guides of the masses who have no idea where they are being led.
“ After that, it will be easy on some occasion of more serious scandal, like the New Mass imposed by the Pope and the bishops, to organise a total stand-off and to detach this whole mass of the faithful from the Church of Christ, just like a swarm of bees pressing around its queen which is knocked off a branch and stuffed into a bag. All it needs is for the priest to start hearing the confessions of these faithful without any ordinary canonical jurisdiction – and therefore invalidly – and both he and they will become an independent church, freed from the intolerable control of the clergy and reduced to being no more than a meeting place for the ‘ illumined ’ and the enraged, united in their common contempt and hatred of the clergy.
“ Already this happening in several countries. And such people talk of a subterranean or clandestine Church, whereas in fact all that is being built is a lamentable ghetto.
“ I have said enough to justify our strictures against our friends of yesterday. We will fight for our faith, whatever it takes, whether this be against our bishops or the Pope himself. This is our primary task, which remains of supreme importance. But never will we depart from the Church. And I will never urge any of you to leave your monastery or your convent, or to withdraw your children from the Catholic schools or the catechism, or to leave your parish and no longer go to Mass, in order to practise your religion apart. It is sin and folly to seek God elsewhere !
“ Therefore we will fight those who shake the dust off their feet on the doorstep of the Church, who curse her and go off to build a sham church on the other side of the road. On one side lies schism and on the other heresy. What is the good of escaping from Charybdis only to fall into Scylla ? to escape from the plague only to die of cholera ?
“ So what will we do for Christ ? We will fight for His faith, but only within His Church. We will sanctify ourselves with His grace and we will achieve this, as He would wish, in the very heart of this noble Catholic Church whose unworthy children we are. To remain within her is more necessary for us than it is useful for her that we should stay and honour her. More than any solution of despair, this sorrowful period of waiting, in symbiosis with the whole Mystical Body and in union with the outraged Christ, is meritorious and fruitful ; it will allow us to bridge the gap between yesterday and tomorrow. Ah ! may I never be separated from her… ”3
THE VIA MEDIA OF THE CRC :
NEITHER SCHISM NOR HERESY
In this way our Father revealed and denounced the intentions of the schismatic integrists, intentions which they themselves were careful to conceal at the beginning of 1970. Fr. Barbara even went so far as to claim that Fr. Coache had finally renounced his schismatic theories : “ As for Coache ”, he wrote to Fr. de Nantes on November 10, 1969, “ apart from certain information which you may have and which I know nothing about, I believe that you are wrong to maintain your opposition against him. What fault can you find in his talk of October 24 ? For my part, I fail to see the small measure of doctrinal error to which you make allusion. On the contrary, it seemed to me that he had taken into account everything we have said to him on the subject of jurisdiction. As for his intentions, I leave these to God ; it is not for me to judge them, still less to claim they are evil, unless proof to the contrary is forthcoming. ”
Nevertheless, as the theologian of the Counter-Reformation had published in January a warning against the new integrist leaders, on February 3, Fr. Barbara asked Fr. Coache to sign and publish the following “ doctrinal note ” in his bulletin :
“ To forestall any rumour propagated by excitable minds or those ignorant of sound Catholic doctrine, and to avoid even a suspicion of schism, we the undersigned declare :
“ 1. that we recognise the current Sovereign Pontiff, Paul VI, as the sole legitimate Pope of the Catholic Church.
“ When we speak of the Holy See, we the undersigned mean not only the ‘ Sedes ’ but also the ‘ Sedens ’, that is to say the See of Peter occupied by the current Pontiff, Paul VI.
“ 2. that we recognise in the residing Bishops the legitimate Pastors of the particular Churches, who remain in communion with the Holy See, at least until a just sentence should exclude them from the Catholic communion or until they should exclude themselves through formal heresy, something which one should not presume on. The suspicion of heresy – which demands the greatest prudence – does not exclude the person suspected from the Catholic communion.
“ 3. that every act of the priestly ministry which requires the power of jurisdiction for its validity, such as the Sacrament of Penance and the celebration of marriage, is invalid if it is carried out by a priest who has lost this power of jurisdiction, with the exception of course of those cases provided for by the Laws of the Church : assistance at the marriage and blessing of those spouses who have received a dispensation from the canonical form, and the Confession of those who are in danger of death.
“ 4. that this recognition of the authentic hierarchy of the Catholic Church in her aforementioned Pastors does not in any way prevent one from criticising these same legitimate Pastors for the errors and faults which they should make themselves guilty of in public. Although he fully recognised the legitimacy of Peter’s powers, when Paul saw that Peter ‘ was not straightforward about the truth of the Gospel, he opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned ’ (Gal 2.11-14) ”
On February 7, Fr. Barbara confided to our Father that his approach had failed : “ I fear ”, he wrote to him, “ that once again you are right. Coache absolutely refuses to sign the ‘ doctrinal note ’ and he has sent me a profession of faith which sidesteps the question. If you have not received this, I will send you a copy. Will you let me know what you are thinking of doing ? For myself, it seems to me that, if you are in agreement, we should sign and publish it (not Coache’s, but yours). ”4
Having denounced in January 1970 the so-called integrist leaders who were still cloaking their real intentions, the next month Fr. de Nantes announced his decision shortly to found the “ League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation ”. The purpose of creating this new movement was to maintain the traditionalists in a “ supernatural wisdom ”. It is certainly necessary, he explained, “ to keep the faith ”, but we must do this “ by remaining in the living communion of the Church and her seven sacraments. This is the diptych which simplistic minds and impetuous hearts find repugnant : to fight modernist heresy, enemy number 1, without falling into integrist schism, enemy number 1a. Re-read CRC no 255. This is the charter of our League of the Counter-Reformation. ”6
The narrow, but reliable path, of the Catholic Counter-Reformation was to follow the mountain crest (ligne de crête) between the chasms of schism and heresy. This wonderfully expressive image was presented by Fr. de Nantes to his readers in that same month, February 1970 : “ My firm hope derives from the growing numbers of our friends, both old and new, who write to tell me of their total support for this ‘ ligne de crête ’ which defines our integral Catholic fidelity. ‘ Nec tecum nec sine te, Ecclesia, possum vivere. I cannot live with you, O my Church, but still less can I live without you ! ’ The time is coming when we must organise ourselves to act, on the solid foundations of this fidelity, which alone will prove unconquerable : neither the schism of the right nor the heresy of the left, but just the Church, the Church alone ! ”7
AGAINST THE INTEGRIST TAPEWORM,
THE LEAGUE OF THE CATHOLIC COUNTER-REFORMATION
In the editorial of the Catholic Counter-Reformation for March 1970, Fr. de Nantes will describe the devastation wrought by both modernism and integrism by using another simile, this time a medical one – just as telling and more topical than the previous one. He will present modernism as a cancer spreading its metastases throughout the whole body of the Church, and integrism as a dangerous parasite : the tapeworm.
“ For this cancer to be properly removed it is obviously necessary that the Church muster all her forces and that everyone work loyally together to loosen the cancer’s hold, to stop the bleeding and to repair the tissue. For the Counter-Reformation to be carried through as painlessly as possible, it is essential that in every nation, every diocese, every parish, good Catholics should remain within the Church, in touch with their priests and the rest of the faithful, their brethren.
“ That is why it is a mistake and a crime to despair of the Church at this moment, at this very moment when she is so close to being freed from her disease, and to create for oneself alone a chapel, a sect, a schism which, like the tapeworm, can only grow fat at the expense of the host of which they are but parasites. After two religions have been fighting furiously against each other within the bosom of the one Church for ten years, it would be a betrayal of her into the hands of the enemy to withdraw from her so that there might also be two Churches, the one whose Head is in Rome and the other, an integrist one led by X or Y, with its forces rallied for the defence of its supposedly Catholic faith.
“ The schism of the right is at this moment threatening to jeopardise the Church’s future because its effect on the masses, disgusted by modernism but horrified at the thought of secession and schism, will be to drive them back in disorder under the influence of the Reformers. What neither Pope nor Council had managed to enforce, would come about through the foolish conduct of those who, despising the totality of today’s Church, shut themselves up in their chapel or clandestine sect.
“ Integrist schisms already exist openly in Canada, in the United States and even in France itself. They are little Churches in rebellion, led by a priest or sometimes a bishop – whether true or false, consecrated by some Old Catholic – or even a self-styled Pope (one should reread La Colline inspirée by Barres !). And there, under the appearance of the most sentimental forms of worship and the most austere morals, they live expecting and prophesying catastrophes which will destroy the other Church, that of Rome the Great Prostitute, and leave nothing in existence except their Church of the Miracle.
“ This dissidence exists also in a hidden form, more widely spread than one would think, wherever there has been formed some community on the fringes who deny the legitimacy of the present Pope, Paul VI, and of the bishops, of all the bishops of the world in communion with him, maintaining that the actual visible Catholic Church is nothing more than a corpse forsaken by God and that the life of grace and the powers of sanctification of souls have taken refuge in these chapels and these groups of isolated priests and faithful, hardened in their proud and stubborn integrism.
“ This tapeworm also exists in a virulent form in those organisations where despair has turned into violence and angry exasperation. Here there is no longer any concern with prayer and sacrifice for the recovery of the Church, nor even with living her doctrine, but simply with hitting out at the progressives as in some vulgar settling of scores. This senseless activism will also turn souls against the Church, now completely confused with her corrupt pastors.
“ And lastly, this schism exists in a gently erosive form. Every day an increasing number of good Catholics – failing to be united, supported or directed by a clearly defined organisation – drift noiselessly away from their parish church into a religion confined to their home and family. They absent themselves from the Church who has been a stepmother to them, but the Church will be cruelly absent from their lives also.
“ Isolated and alone, or else unwilling to listen to our advice, these people feared that they would be considered accomplices of this Reform which they disapprove of and detest. They left the Church, and gave up going to Mass and receiving the Sacraments. They broke free from the Reform, but they also deprived themselves of the grace of God, of the Sacraments, of that charity which in a mysterious way dwells in the living communities of our churches. Tomorrow they will die of cold and hunger. Before very long they will be perturbed to see their children sinking into atheism. I have known some who, in their despair, have thrown themselves into Buddhism ! ”
The demarcation line between our Catholicism and the schism of the dissident integrists is clear-cut, definite and declared. They “ argued from the noxiousness, perverseness and heresy of the actions of the Pope and the bishops to reject the consecrated character of their persons. The despair of these rebel integrists makes them akin to the Donatists. St Augustine taught us fifteen centuries ago to make a distinction between private persons and their unworthy deeds on the one hand and the sacred dignity, the clearly visible and public legitimacy of their Magisterium on the other.
“ To the appalling domination of the Church by the Modernist left, the wrong reply could not be long in coming : that of forming a schism on the right which would vacate the premises for the modernists ’ heresy. Such a reply corresponds exactly with their designs and serves their interests ! This uncontrolled reaction is now likely to disperse all our forces into as many chapels and sects, each nullifying the other’s value. But the essential evil of an integrist revolt is that it is a denial of the Roman Catholic Church and effectively cuts off from her those who yield to it, putting their souls in jeopardy.
“ It is sad to see priests of great faith leading the despairing faithful with them into a rupture from the Church of Rome which alone has the promise of everlasting life. We feel ourselves – and we wish ourselves – to be too closely united with her to remain in communion with these rebels. ”8
The theologian of the Counter-Reformation declared that the integrist schism seemed “ worse ” to him than the modernist reform, because it “ made one quit the Church ”. And “ who knows when one will return ! ”
“ Cancer destroys tissues by becoming embedded and inseparably fused with them. In the same way, Modernism has insinuated itself over the past ten years into the highest summits of the Church, identifying itself as closely as possible with her Magisterium. It is useless to fight against it piecemeal, difficult if not impossible to extirpate it partially. We must call upon the Head of the Church to use his sovereign power to excise it once and for all from the Church. It will require anathemas and solemn excommunications. This is why our CRC has for years been directed at the summits of the Church rather than engaging priests and faithful in sterile arguments.
“ The tapeworm and similar parasites, on the other hand, live in isolation and feed at the expense of their host organism. It is in this way that the sects and schismatic chapels are tearing the faithful one by one away from the Church, in a blatant and no longer concealed manner. The kind of help needed by these souls is therefore wholly ‘ molecular ’. Each one must be individually dissuaded from yielding to the temptation of despair.
“ To take our complaint against the Modernist heresy as far as Rome, I did not need any help from you other than your ordinary interest and generosity. I confronted the Supreme Authority alone and I was not defeated. But in this other apostolate which consists in supporting those close to us and keeping them within the Church, you are all called upon to help. We must support one another in a brotherly fashion, so that we both know and feel that we are not alone. ”
Truly concerned for the good of souls, Fr. de Nantes wished to stop as many of the faithful as possible from losing themselves in schism. That is why he was founding the League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
“ Today I should like there to be an organised opposition within the Church which could fight on equal terms against the Modernist organisation. Once this has come into existence, the sects will cease to be so successful ! There will be a new birth of hope and freedom. The odious monopoly of the Modernists will be indicted by such a federation of all traditionalist Catholics, instead of being left to dominate alone in the Church by those who have split off in schism. Such an organisation must be created openly and registered by our Leaders, in order that the great mass of those who have followed the Reform and have gradually become disgusted with it may learn that there is an alternative way of thinking and living in the Church, one that is truly and integrally Catholic.
“ Because Enemy Number 1 [Modernism] has a thousand subtleties and Number 1a [integrism] a thousand trickeries, it is clearly very difficult for the ordinary Catholic to keep a straight track through the devious paths of the postconciliar crisis. Just when it seemed impossible to steer a path between these two chasms of schism and heresy, the very existence and programme of the Catholic Counter-Reformation will show that it can be done. I have stated and repeated for years that my existence as a Catholic priest, sanctioned but not condemned, points the way. It seems to me that it would now be highly appropriate to demonstrate this on a large scale through a League of all those true Catholics in the Church who are fundamentally opposed – as is their right, and I would even say duty – to this modern and modernist Reformation.9
A WELL ESTABLISHED DOCTRINAL LINE
Starting from the spring of 1970, a special page dedicated to “ The League ” will appear each month in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. The initial pages will specify “ the basic principles ” and the programme of this third order, whereas subsequent ones will provide a regular chronicle of its activities.
In April, Fr. de Nantes succinctly recalled the doctrinal and pastoral line of the CRC, having already defined its general policy.
“ We were the only ones to declare ourselves wholly faithful to the living, teaching and sanctifying Church of today and also, for that very reason, absolutely opposed to the global Reform decreed and promoted by Pope Paul VI and his Second Vatican Council. No one else, to my knowledge, wrote an open letter to the Holy Father asking him to accept his expression of obedience to his Apostolic Magisterium and at the same time to accept his no less lively sentiments of opposition to the Reform conducted by him on the fringe of his legitimate powers.10 No one else, and that is a great pity.
“ Our doctrine is therefore firm and public. We live according to it openly here. It has been applied to the burning questions of the day, printed and circulated amongst our friends for the past fourteen years. You need only glance through the six volumes of the collection and read some old page at random to convince yourselves of our clear-sightedness and to acknowledge that we have demonstrated our case.
“ I dare not say : ‘ Let those who love me follow me ! ’ But I must ask you, for the good and cohesion, for the strength and continuity of our work, to ‘ obey me despite my unworthiness ’, according to the words of Father de Foucauld in the Rule of the Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart. Priests or lay people will be then be appointed or chosen as leaders of groups and presidents. There will be no shortage of work or responsibility ! But I am the father of the CRC, one cannot remake history and I think that it is never good to be ashamed of one’s father. I myself, before you, have always considered it an honour to serve and to follow. I have never made a secret of who my Fathers and Masters were, and I regard the persecutions this pride has earned me as an honour. ”11
In May 1970, Fr. de Nantes sketched a portrait of a member of the League such as he conceived him. He required all his knowledge of the mystery of the Church and a truly supernatural spirit to demonstrate, as he did, that to serve the Catholic Counter-Reformation demanded certain dispositions of the heart and solid virtues, above all an active charity :
“ The fight against error, and most certainly also against the persons of those who identify themselves with it, must be accompanied by charity towards all the others, towards all the priests and faithful who have remained within the Catholic community, even if they think and act differently from us. We wish to draw them towards us, not to reject them, and please God that deep in their heart, as in ours, there should be no desire but to please Him and to serve Him !
“ Bourdalue said of Saint Francis of Sales : ‘ This saintly prelate was, I believe, chosen by God for two important tasks, between which his life and his glorious labours were shared equally : the first of these was to fight and destroy heresy, and the second to bring back the spirit of religion which had all but been destroyed. ’ (Panegyric) Following the example of this great saint and others of the Counter-Reformation, our innermost purpose must be to maintain or restore piety in ourselves and in those around us, at the same time and to the same extent that we will defend the true religion and fight in its name the enemy from without or within. It is only this practice of our religion that will preserve a supernatural wisdom in us ; it is only this charity that will free us from our own narrow-mindedness and prevent us from contaminating this decidedly Catholic work with anything doubtful.
“ But it is not exclusively a matter of prayer and the study of doctrine free from the cares of our time : it is also a mobilisation of our forces against the reformism which is destroying the Church. We must have courage, for it is a fight. But we must not fight blindly, creating divisions and continuing the process of demolition. Our task is to be the peacemakers and restorers of religion, and for this we need piety and charity above all. That is why our motto shall be that of the Crusaders : ‘ God wishes it ’ (Dieu le veult), but tempered, restrained and enhanced in a manner that befits this peaceful war, this peace under arms, this rebellion in the name of loyalty : ‘ If God wishes it ’ (si Dieu le veult).
“ In the first place, let each of you pray so that he may understand what it is that ‘ God wants ’ of him. Let him reflect on the importance of this task and ask for advice or authorisation from his natural and religious superiors, or from the leaders of any organisations to which he belongs. Those who enter the CRC must look upon it as a service rendered to God ; they must not be afraid of showing their faith, and they must be resolved to give of themselves according to their gifts, their opportunities, and their individual vocations.
“ That is why our League, which will present a united front to the outside world, will be divided into three categories.
“ The spiritual third order will welcome those who come to us chiefly in order to maintain and revitalise their religious devotion amidst this desert which our postconciliar Church has become : to pray and to study the Catholic faith, its true nature and the answers it offers to the questions posed by our day and age. The members of this third order will meet for this purpose in particular, in a spiritual union of prayer, and study and silence, as practised by the Brothers.
“ The charitable and apostolic third order will consist of those who, in addition to the task of prayer and study, still have the time, the energy and the zeal to spread true doctrine or to devote themselves to the service of their neighbour. There will always, thank God, be Catholics eager to give of their utmost. In coming together in this way, they will find every means and opportunity of devoting themselves to the furthering of the CRC and to the service of their brothers.
“ The militant third order will be organised in a strict discipline and in a spirit of total self-denial. It will be for those who are prepared to put all their strength, moral and physical, into the service of the Order. It will be their responsibility to keep order in the ranks. The expression (service d’ordre) is noble, and the task itself is useful, indispensable and holy. It goes without saying that the dominant note of this military service of the Church will never be exclusive, for every Christian force must be nourished by piety and oriented in accordance with doctrine. Its members will in the first place play their part in all the common activities of their group. ”12
THE BENEFITS OF BELONGING TO THE CRC
Little by little the League took shape. Its members would fill out an enrolment form and organise themselves into circles. Our Father was delighted to observe that the League members received great spiritual benefits after joining : they were immediately rewarded a hundredfold.
“ The first benefit of belonging to the CRC is a profound serenity of faith. Joining the CRC puts an end to a great number of perplexities and scruples. How today should we reconcile the two commands of the adorable Will of our God : that of guarding and defending the true faith in all its integrity, and that of remaining sons of the Church, obedient to her hierarchy and nourished on her sacraments ?
“ To enrol in the CRC entails an absolute desire to reconcile these two, to commit oneself to this and to work at it in conjunction with others. And so one feels oneself more perfectly submitted to the Will of God. We know that He does not command the impossible and that with His grace and the help of the League we will manage this.
“ There are some who used to fight for doctrine and who had consequently given up the practice of their reformed religion, not wishing to appear to condone the new rites. There are others who used to follow the Reform blindly in order to continue the practice of their faith without inner conflict. Both have to some extent felt cheated and unhappy. The CRC has, for them, been the way back to the truth and to the grace of God.
“ The second benefit is a new surge of hope, a joy in the midst of tribulation. I warned you that our great temptation would be to despair of the visible hierarchical Church : no longer to believe in what we could not see. Isolated, with everyone against them, and unable to find a single priest or religious of their acquaintance who is worthy of their confidence, the ordinary faithful give way to despair.
“ Your membership of the CRC will certainly be a source of trial and self-denial, a cross to be borne. But in this cross there will also be a very pure joy. For the CRC means hope in the Church, a hope against all hope. To belong to it, to wear its emblem, is to proclaim one’s confidence in the future of the visible Church, a Church which, despite everything, will always be immortal and divine.
“ Therefore, instead of cutting ourselves off from her, instead of becoming hardened in bitterness and contempt, we feel called upon to do something to help, to play an active part. We glimpse a path opening out towards the future. After this decadence, there will be a renewal which will neither be a blind reaction nor a senseless reform, but a true progress, in fidelity to the exclusive service of God and the welfare of souls. The CRC is working openly towards this aim, its hand stretched out to every bishop, priest and Catholic of good will. And if they reject us ? We will go on trying and not give up hope. One day, God will bring it about.
“ A third benefit of our belonging to the League is a new ardour of fraternal charity. The thought that everything is finished and there is nothing one can do chills the heart. And making far-reaching plans for action on a grand scale, devising great theories, has a similar effect. To those who inundate me with vain projects and literature of this sort, I would say that the least act of practical and truly humble charity carried out in one’s own parish and one’s own circle is worth much more. It is there that we must perfect our charity.
“ We in the CRC will not get worked up telling ourselves that we must ‘ act ’ or being afraid of not ‘ succeeding ’. Let us strive to become better, let us be joyful and courageous during this formidable ordeal of the Church. Then we will love one another with greater warmth, as a result of our common membership of the League. And you will see, action will follow, success will come, ‘ if God wishes it ’ !
“ In this sense, the CRC is a ‘ pious union ’, an expression which may be outdated but is admirable. For this is where our consolation lies, this is our starting point for genuine conversions and spiritual progress. Throughout the Church’s history, such progress has always been followed by immense achievements. Our works, according to Saint Paul, will spring forth from the dynamism of our faith if we are united in charity. ”13
“ The standards of the King advance
The transfixed Heart bearing His Cross
The three letters make known our choice
In silver, crimson and gold… take hope ! ”
Under this epigraph, Fr. de Nantes will go on to explain the full significance of the design of the badge and how richly symbolic it was.
“ To become a member of the CRC is like entering religious life. The latter, a kind of new baptism, is an act of perfect love which restores the soul to her initial innocence ; the former is a new profession of faith involving the explicit rejection of any new faith. The CRC adds nothing new to the Credo or to the Sacraments or to the laws of the Church, and if one day we should establish practices of devotion and charitable activity for this third order, these will be but secondary obligations. The important thing for us now is to affirm our vigilant and passionate Catholic faith. Delivered from the doubt and the anguish into which the current confusion had cast him, he who enters this League has come to the firm conclusion that God wants him to be faithful to the faith of all time and to reject the Reform in a reasoned, firm, but prudent manner. Thus, he who rediscovers his ‘ collective identity ’ in this way, will begin to recover his hope. And so there will be no more carping…
“ To this great act of Catholic faith, to this ‘ spiritual renaissance ’, corresponds the design of the CRC badge. Contrary to what several people advised me as being virtually certain, nine out of ten of those who enrolled have replied that they will wear it – this compromising badge. Ah, these are the courageous ones ! We expect to receive the first five hundred badges at the end of the month and we will send them on to those who were the first to enrol. I hope that by the end of October there will be enough for everyone who has enrolled. This then will be the testimony, unspoken but public, of your active fidelity to the true religion which has no need of reform : ‘ Numquam reformata quia nunquam deformata, Ecclesia nostra Christi. Never reformed because never deformed, our Church of Christ. ’
“ A friend who had never before worn a badge told me : ‘ From now on I will wear it whenever I attend Mass. In this way the priests will know that I have come for the Holy Sacrifice and for the Sacrament, not for all the associated novelties, for the worship of God and not for any human fancifulness. My badge will explain my presence, without any discussion or argument : I am a son of God and the Church, but I am not for all that a partisan of the Reform. ’
“ Vexilla Regis prodeunt. The emblem is in the form of a pennant, so that we do not forget the triumph of Christianity. The standards of the King advance, and soon we will see the victory of Christ over all His enemies, the victory predicted in the Apocalypse. The Church lives through this combat of the last times in the faith and enthusiasm of a Crusade. Never mind those who get huffy about this, it was Saint Bernard who was the first to cry ‘ God wishes it ’. Even during the times of persecution, especially in those times when the only way of keeping one’s enemies quiet and preventing their advance was to kill them, Christians have always carried the standards of God, both on the battlefield and in their village processions. We have no reason to keep quiet, we have nothing to hide. We will advance, banners unfurled. Our emblem is a pennant, it is the standard of Christ the King.
“ The Heart and the Cross. The essential element is the Cross planted deep in the Heart. It rises with a certain fragility and points towards Heaven. We hold these symbols of our Mysteries in common with all our Catholic brethren : the Sacred Heart of Jesus and His redemptive Cross. But they are not the most prominent feature of the badge, because these treasures do not belong to us exclusively. Our whole Credo, the true Credo, is represented in these sacred symbols : the perfect worship offered by the Lord Jesus to His and Our Father, the love of God Himself for us and for our salvation. And let us not forget Mary, Her Heart transfixed, standing at the foot of the Cross. For the ‘ spirituals ’, it is an illustration of the mystical words : ‘ O Jesus, is there any greater joy than that of suffering for Thy love ? ’ (Saint Therese of the Child Jesus). For the ‘ apostolics ’, it is the sign chosen by Charles de Foucauld, the universal brother, our Father and model. And for those in the military, it is also the sign of the inhabitants of the Vendée whose wars were before all else a mass uprising for the defence of the faith.
“ C.R.C. (Contre-Réforme Catholique). The acronym, already familiar to you, has a pleasant sound. But most importantly it sums up our whole programme. It denotes a League ; it defines a family. All this you know already. There remains its hidden significance. On that day when order is restored in the Church, when all obstacles are swept aside and our Counter-Reformation no longer has to fight against what the Church herself will have rejected, we will be freed from the burden of our struggle… CRC will still signify the same service of the Church, but it will be a peaceful service. It will stand for something else like ‘ Circles of the Catholic Restoration ’ (Cercles de la Restauration Catholique). Only too happy not to have to fight any longer, our only aspirations will be to become diocesan and parish associations at the service of our bishops and priests, forming with them but one soul, one mind and one heart. And then it should be possible to say what the real Reform will involve, a Reform that will bring children back to the hearts of their Fathers and the men of the Church back to the cult of their sacred Tradition.
“ In silver, crimson and gold. These are the colours of God’s throne in the Song of Songs. The background is silver, a sign of purity, a sign of innocence preserved or recovered, for the true soldiers of the Church must honour the state of grace. And if you perceive in the luminous sky some trace of azure, it is in memory of the Virgin our Mother and patron. The signs are in crimson, for everything of decisive value in the works of God comes through the Blood of Christ and the blood of the martyrs mixed with His own. A bright red, to put our cowardice to shame, according to the words of Saint Paul to the Hebrews : ‘ In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ’ (12.4)
“ But gold surrounds everything like a halo, for, through the Cross, Jesus’ brothers advance towards Glory : ‘ Per crucem ad lucem ’, and persecution for the Name of Christ is already a blessing.
“ Such is our badge, such is our programme. It may be that this slender rectangle of enamelled metal, extremely luminous, is a sign of contradiction, hated by some and cherished by others. Like other human things, it may not always be worn to advantage. Let it at least express our good will, albeit often imperfect and too weak to attain by itself an end that lies beyond it. But the unwritten watchword of the CRC will remain present to our minds like a prayer and a hope : Yes, this will all be very beautiful, if God wishes it ! ”14
THE ESSENTIAL TASK OF SANCTIFICATION
On October 3 and 4, 1970, fifty circle leaders, or their representatives, took part in the first Congress of the League at Maison Saint Joseph. These workers of the first hour left loaded with handouts and cassette tapes so that they could pass on the teachings of the mother house to their diocesan circles. In the autumn of that year, 1970, the CRC published the recordings of one hundred and fifty hours of conferences given by Fr. de Nantes on spirituality and religious affairs. As for the handouts, the members of the League disseminated these far and wide, and over the summer seventy thousand copies of the first tract, “ The letter to Catholics ”15, had already been distributed. A second tract will appear in December : “ Peace in the Church ”16.
The League would count a thousand members by the end of 1970. Admittedly, as Fr. de Nantes would note, “ it is not sufficient to reverse the course of history or to bring the men of the Church back to their Catholic faith and their laws. But we have no illusions about a democratic fight or some kind of electoral manoeuvre in which ‘ our ideas ’ would prevail thanks to a chance majority. Simply to act as a leaven, as salt, as a sign of hope for the masses who have been deceived and demeaned, ‘ to turn the disobedient to the wisdom of the just and to make ready for the Lord a people prepared ’ (Lk 1.17) – all this is already a great deal, provided of course that these thousand members have a firm understanding of what they really believe and want. For the strength of the League lies not in mere numbers, which are often illusory, but in true doctrine and in the untiring energy put at its service. ”17
At first sight, the Catholic Counter-Reformation was a religious league whose members were only held together by their conscious, deliberated and active opposition to the Reform of the Church decreed by Vatican II. But, in reality, as its founder remarked, “ membership of the CRC, to be firm and reliable, requires other less external conditions. There is an invisible cleft between those who look no further than the doctrine of the Counter-Reformation and the resistance activity of the League, and those who go to the very source of this holy combat, that is to say to their personal conversion, the private consecration of themselves and their family, and a life that is ardently Christian. This combat must be rooted in prayer, this criticism must be nourished on the docility of a living and contemplative faith, otherwise it becomes bitter and dries up. That is why our friends should know that our CRC is the combatant, but passing and transitory, form of a religious order dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, a contemplative and missionary order, of which the League is the lay third order.
“ Furthermore, the CRC leads and guides one to this service of God. Young people, on discovering the magnitude of the task and the value of such a vocation, respond to it fully and for ever by joining our order as brothers and sisters. Rather than trying to reconcile their desire for a Counter-Reform with the conflicting demands of a seminary or monastery that have gone over to the Reform, rather than sacrificing their convictions in any way to the demands of the Reform, they give their whole life to the Church in her Counter-Reformation. The community of brothers, now nine years old, is the first order. That of the sisters, just started, is the second order. And you, the members of the League, you form the third order.
“ This third order has as yet no rule and no prescriptions for prayers and penances. That does not seem to me to be unacceptable for the time being. But how are the ‘ tertiaries ’ amongst you to be recognised ? Not by any distinctive outward sign ; they have no need of this. But by the religious character of their attachment to the CRC and by the supernatural means they employ to protect this and strengthen it. At first sight their ‘ mystical ’ preoccupations would appear to restrain their activity and to take the edge off it. Others, with fewer prayers, retreats and spiritual conferences, appear to do more. But we observe that time lost like this is quickly regained. When dedication and commitment of a wholly supernatural kind is called for, when holding to the ‘ via media ’ is almost heroic, the only ones left will be those who belong to this third religious order. ”18
Fr. de Nantes would often caution the members of the League against an antagonistic activism that was wholly negative, and he would urge them to undertake a reform of their own moral and spiritual life. His warnings and his numerous exhortations to practise a truly religious and fervent life that was nourished at the sources of grace, were founded on a profound analysis of the crisis in the Church. In his editorial “ The patience of saints ”, he wrote as follows :
“ The third cause of the Church’s ills is the lack of holiness of the Christian people. But for this, there might have already appeared somewhere in the world a reaction, an opposition of the kind that was always aroused in the past when holiness came face to face with heretical sects and the criminal passivity of the Church’s Pastors. That is why, after denouncing the schemes of the Modernists and the complicity of the Pope and the bishops, we must all of us – priests, religious and faithful – challenge ourselves for not being the saints we should be and for not having merited by our prayers, our works of penance and mercy, and our good conduct that God should make use of us to bring about the reaction that will save the Church.
“ It is never too late, and this is the only path which Hope holds open to us. Let us work firstly at our own conversion and then we will be able to see the Church’s appalling situation in a new light. We may well be indignant against our bishops and our Pope – and with good reason ! – and we may be exasperated against the ‘ assassins of the faith ’ and their retinue of admirers – and rightly so ! But if, in our pride, we would despair of the Church and feel that we no longer belong to her, viewing ourselves as the last of the just surrounded by all the others who are guilty, then we ourselves would also have a share in this universal transgression. As soon as we make up our mind to sanctify ourselves, we will find ourselves back in the boat, rowing away in a brotherly way with all the others, perhaps even harder than the others, but for the salvation of us all. Did not Our Lord tell us in advance : ‘ By your patience you will save your souls ’ ? ”19
THE DOGMATIC ERRORS OF THE SCHISMATIC INTEGRISTS
The firm warnings of Fr. de Nantes against any kind of schismatic dissidence, beginning in the summer of 1969, forced the rebels to adopt a certain restraint. Nevertheless, certain integrist priests who claimed to provide leadership and authoritative teaching, had no intention of renouncing their plans. So, when Fr. Coache began to disclose and to attempt to justify his sedevacantist convictions, Fr. de Nantes took him publicly to task.
“ I have said repeatedly ”, he wrote in the Catholic Counter-Reformation for April 1970, “ that it is against our faith and our sacred commitments for us to withdraw from the official Church in order to form little islands of supposed integrist fidelity, which their pastors propose as a new Church of the Catacombs. This integrist schism may be recognised by the profession of three dogmatic errors : 1. The affirmation that Paul VI has fallen from the Sovereign Pontificate on account of heresy ; 2. The correlative affirmation that the bishops in union with Paul VI have also been deposed for the same reason ; 3. The claim to be able to establish isolated churches whose priests, through extraordinary means, supposedly assume all pastoral jurisdiction, independently of any official ecclesiastical authority, whether local or Roman. And this is already being practised in our midst.
“ Fr. Coache, in a ‘ Short study concerning membership of the Church and obedience ’, has recently stood theological surety for this integrist contention. In four pages, studded with imposing quotations from recognised authorities, he seeks to establish that it is not schismatic to contest the legitimacy of the reigning Pope. This is put forward in veiled language, tentatively, as though it were an hypothesis or matter of opinion. But such ideas, supported by an appearance of learning and devotion, will wreak havoc in the souls of the ordinary faithful. ”
Our Father dissected Fr. Coache’s text. It was full of truncated quotations, invalid arguments and false reasoning. His refutation of it was simple and devastating. Having exposed the errors contained in this document, Fr. de Nantes concluded : “ We therefore fear that the little group of integrists, who are at the moment thinking and behaving in some odd corner as though freed from all papal or episcopal authority – however much they claim to be ‘ in union with unity ’ and ‘ obedient to the Holy See ’ –, are nothing but a miserable schismatic sect. Seeing how calmly our bishops are taking it all, we can only suppose that they are quite happy with this symmetry of a right-wing and left-wing revolt. But we cannot do other than put our poor exasperated friends on their guard and beg them not to let themselves be dragged outside the One, Holy and Immortal Church like this. ”20
In the autumn of 1970, Fr. Barbara will rally to the group of schismatic integrists, making his own their theories on “ the extraordinary powers of jurisdiction during times of crisis ”.
“ Fr. Barbara, in the supplement to number 14 of Forts dans la Foi (Strong in the Faith), joins Fr. Coache in the disastrous doctrine according to which the whole Catholic hierarchy, having fallen both visibly and invisibly into Modernism, has ipso facto lost its power of jurisdiction. As a consequence of this, the faithful, now deprived of their ordinary pastors, have the right to ask for the sacraments from any priest who lacks or has been stripped of canonical jurisdiction. The fact that he has not received from the local bishop the powers required to hear confessions and bless marriages validly, matters little ; the need of souls takes precedence over this difficulty : Ecclesia supplet ! Fr. Barbara has decided that, given the circumstances, Christ the King Himself delegates His powers of jurisdiction to good priests, and the invisible Church, hidden and holy, makes up for this juridical invalidity decreed by the legal but heretical Church…
“ This theory, theologically indefensible, is an attack on the visible, canonical and hierarchical character of the Church. I thought I had proved this on ten occasions to the author but, alas, it was all in vain ! Today, as yesterday, I hold that this pitiful encouragement given to the ‘ schism of the right ’ is a very unfortunate initiative which will not resolve any of our problems. It is simply to swap cholera for the plague.
“ It is false to say that any Pope, bishop or priest, who deliberately breaks with the heritage passed on by Christ, ‘ even if there is no external evidence of this ’, ipso facto loses his power of jurisdiction – which the author treats as a simple ‘ moral power ’. This is Donatism ! For, were the faithful to indulge in wild suspicions that their Pastors had committed this crime – a very badly defined and debatable crime –, they would soon been unable to distinguish the real Church from its empty appearance.
“ It is even more false to maintain that, in our calamitous times, the need of souls is sufficient to make up for the absence of ordinary canonical powers of priests who have no mandate, and that it confers upon them a power of extraordinary jurisdiction. This is to claim that the whole edifice of the hierarchical Church has been destroyed and that any priest can therefore consider himself as an envoy of the invisible Church and directly provided by Christ with that jurisdiction which is lacking to him : Ecclesia supplet ! If Fr. Coache and Fr. Barbara start marrying Catholics who are disgusted with their priests, they should know that they will be setting their jurisdiction above any other, above their bishop and the Holy See, who will certainly consider such marriages null and void… Will they do it ? To set oneself above the laws and the legitimate authorities of the Church, is that not schism ?
“ This pamphlet, sent to me without any explanation, pains me deeply. It will solve nothing and it will cause fresh divisions amongst our friends. But fidelity to the Church must come first. If I had maintained such a theory when my writings were examined at Rome, the Holy Office would certainly have condemned me. And it would have been a job well done. ”21
In claiming that the hierarchy had been destroyed and that ‘ faithful ’ priests directly received powers of jurisdiction from Jesus Christ, these integrist priests were sinking into heresy. “ Their schism ”, Fr. de Nantes will remark, “ is turning into heresy and this heresy has a name : presbyterianism. ”22
“ ARCH-APOSTLES ” SOW TROUBLE AND STRIFE OVER IN CANADA
Fr. de Nantes had founded the League of the Catholic Counter-Reformation at a dramatic moment, immediately in fact on returning from his trip to Madrid and Rome, when he gave his readers and friends practical directives concerning the new ordo missae, which went counter to those of the extremist rebel priests. Whilst he was engaged in frustrating the schismatic designs of these integrists, they in their turn accused him of half-heartedness and even of treason ! To listen to them, the editor of the Catholic Counter-Reformation was turning the defenceless flock over to the reformers. “ They have written to me ”, Fr. de Nantes will confide in July 1970, “ they have even told me to my face that I had sold myself to Rome using Cardinal Daniélou as a go-between !… and that I was going to be made a bishop as a reward for my treason. Good Heavens ! It just goes to show how the sectarian spirit rages in exactly the same way, with the same blind passion, whichever side it takes. ”23 Several months later, pamphlets will be multiplied denouncing his so-called betrayal of the traditionalist cause. “ A French priest in Rome is responsible for spreading this perception amongst the integrist press, both Italian and international. ”24
On his return from a conference tour, in May 1972, Fr. de Nantes remarked in the chronicles of The League : “ There is trouble afoot everywhere, as bad shepherds pass amongst good Catholics persuading them not to attend the New Mass under pain of sin and, would you believe it, even of sacrilege ! I had hoped not to have to speak any more about this. But events force me to do so. Having preached in this vein, they go away pleased with themselves, leaving behind them a flock that is thoroughly confused. Torn away from its legitimate pastors and separated from the fold, it now lacks access to the living grace of Christ : Confession, Mass and Holy Communion. Anything is better than a New Mass it would seem. And what if there is nothing else ? Well, they will risk the worst !
“ I rise up in protest against this global rejection of today’s Church. The ‘ New Mass ’ is, in itself, valid. I can do nothing about this nor can you. Nor can God. He has bound Himself to it and He will not go back on His word ! Christ will certainly never abandon His Church. And it is absurd to think we can flee from her in order to remain faithful to Him. Never has the CRC been so necessary to preserve in you a true understanding of the Church, of the legitimacy of her ministers however unworthy, and of the validity of her sacraments however profaned. ”25
“ These bad shepherds ”, these “ arch-apostles ” were therefore sowing confusion and doubt amongst the sympathisers of the League. Fr. Barbara was one of these integrist preachers. His activity was particularly harmful, even as far away as in Canada !
Our Father had in fact stayed in the province of Quebec between November 15 and December 6, 1974, and he had there made the acquaintance of some excellent friends. There were already several CRC circles and others were on the point of “ being formed around some very solid Christians from good Catholic families ”26.
Certainly, he will confide on his return to France, “ their problems and difficulties are exactly the same as ours, if not worse, for the debacle over there is much more pronounced and brutal.26 The temptation to schism exists powerfully in Canada. It is a reaction against a long period of total submission to the clergy, who were the first to betray their responsibilities and now know no restraint. However, a number of holy priests appreciate the danger and gave us a very warm welcome. They promised to keep our friends on the via media with wisdom and prudence, and they are themselves closely united in this task. ”27
In the course of this journey to Canada, Fr. de Nantes will meet Fr. Pierre Henry28, a living witness to the Phalange of Oblates of Mary Immaculate who had been sent as missionaries to the Eskimos of the Far North. Blocked in at Trois-Rivières by a snowstorm, Fr. de Nantes spent the whole of November 21 in his company, and he saw him again on several occasions before he left Shawinigan. “ I had a great affection for him ”, he will confide, “ and the friendship was mutual. He was a holy man, with an enormous beard ! We got on extremely well together. ”29
“ I cannot say ”, he will recount on another occasion, “ that I was immediately drawn to him. He was too simple and had spent too long in his solitude in the Magnetic Pole for his manners or his conversation to hold any particular charm or or surprise. And yet, as he passed his ever-present Rosary through his fingers, anyone could see from his character that here was a man of unaffected holiness, who had the angelic purity of soul of a child of Brittany. He was a French priest and missionary, a religious of the Oblates of Mary, a holy man who was disoriented and confused by the collapse of everything that he believed in, hoped for and loved. But he was not discouraged, and he had certainly not been won over to the Reform, although deep down he had reached the limits of what he could bear !
“ The catechetical and liturgical novelties, the ‘ New Mass ’ ! had been an appalling shock to this not naive but virgin soul. And this had started in 1951 when, returning home from a stay in the South, he found that some of his Christians had become perverted and that others had become renegades. ”30 Many had in fact fallen into heresy. They had passed over to Protestantism. “ Fr. Henry would wear himself out for two years zealously trying to bring his poor Inuits back to the true faith but, when he was forced to abandon his mission to others in 1961, he would suffer for another ten years before stepping down from the fight in 1971. His was a calvary of the Innocent who had been deceived ”30, illustrating the drama and the trials experienced by many holy souls during those same years.
Fr. Henry had been scandalised by the ecumenism of Vatican II. As chaplain to the boarding school at Chesterfield, from 1962, he became very alarmed by the reforms and by the new methods of education. In 1965, he would write : “ For a month now I have been passing through great anguish, darkness and doubts, and have seen very little of the light of Mount Tabor. Never in my life before have I felt such a strong need for a spiritual guide. There are moments when I no longer know where I am ; it seems to me that the world has never been so bad and yet people tell me that it has never been so good, so spiritualised, and that I am lagging behind the times. However, I enjoy inner peace. I love Chesterfield and its young people, and I rely on God for whom nothing is impossible. The devil is jealous of the good which is done here despite everything ! ”31
In 1973, Fr. Henry was allowed by his superiors to retire to Shawinigan to stay with some good and holy people. The bishop of Trois-Rivières, impressed by his merit and his virtue, authorised him to celebrate Mass in the old Roman rite. It was probably at this time that the traditionalists in Shawinigan introduced him to the writings of Fr. de Nantes ”32.
The heroic missionary was frightened to see the danger of “ this accursed apostasy that dares not speak its name. However, he would not do anything without the consent of his superiors. ” What an agonizing struggle ! Made even worse by the fact that some of his more extreme friends tried to get him “ to break with his congregation, practically to go into schism ! ”33
In 1974, recounts our Father, “ the first time we met ”, on Thursday November 21, at the home of the leader of the CRC circle at Trois-Rivières, “ we spoke of that which tortured him : this New Mass. Certain people had told him it was invalid and, for him, it had a Protestant inspiration and character, which is what he most loathed about it ! I have never celebrated this rite, and nor had he, but nevertheless I did my best to demonstrate to him its certain validity and unquestionable liceity. At the end, he seemed happy to trust what I had said33. On this matter, I believe I was able to alter his judgement. ”34 Thus, Fr. Henry had found in the theological learning of Fr. de Nantes and in his supernatural wisdom the necessary enlightenment to remain faithful both to the Mass of his ordination and to the Church of Jesus Christ.35 One may well think, therefore, that this holy religious probably understood that the good Providence had allowed him to meet on that November 21, 1974 an incomparable guide, the spiritual guide of whom he had felt so great a need for several years beforehand.
On his return to France, Fr. de Nantes was able to draw up an encouraging summary of his first trip to Canada. “ Our friends ”, he wrote on December 8, “ do not as yet experience any schismatic divisions amongst themselves, something which I was going to dissuade them from. I think that their priests, put on their guard and in full agreement with us, will spare them this scourge. I departed, leaving behind some excellent and profound friendships, great devotion, and an organisation which can only turn out well, with God’s grace. ”36
Alas ! Several months later, Fr. Barbara visited Canada, disturbing and disorienting numerous members and sympathisers of the League. To his Canadian friends, who were now divided, Fr. de Nantes wrote a special letter37 on August 6, 1975, reminding them of his doctrine on the Mass and encouraging them to keep to the via media of the CRC.
THE DISCREET SUPPORT OF DIOCESAN PRIESTS
Having created the League in order to give traditionalists the means to fight against the Reform while remaining within the bosom of the Church, Fr. de Nantes was initially hopeful that some diocesan priests would publicly support it and would “ dedicate themselves to the CRC, with the knowledge of their bishops, bringing it their indispensable assistance. ”38. Unfortunately, the reformist passion of the bishops was so strong that no priest charged with a parish ministry would be able to have any official involvement in the League.
When Fr. de Nantes proposed to those of his brother priests who were sympathetic to the CRC that they come to Maison Saint-Joseph on October 27 and 28, 1970, those who will reply to his invitation will scarcely be numerous, less than ten in fact ! After this meeting, our Father would remark that there was an all too obvious and general incompatibility between the doctrine and action of the CRC on one hand and, on the other hand, not the faith or the priestly service of these priests, but “ the thinking and the instructions of their bishop, for them to be able to unite these two ‘ functions ’. What these priest friends wish and are able to do, is primarily to act as support centres for us, making their parishes and their communities places of welcome for us and for every good Catholic. What is more, they are ready to help us through their doctrine and their advice. But as for enrolling as members of the League, certainly not ; and they most definitely will not wear our badge. The idea of creating a CRC centre in their parish or college is also out of the question. It is different from what I imagined at the beginning. It is better. It is already a very good thing that the bishops should be aware that excellent priests – priests who have the care of souls and who are beyond reproach – should have a profound sense of fellow feeling with us and should lend us their encouragement and support, as their conscience directs them. But none of this implies any subjection on their part. Their sole attachment is to their bishop; they depend on him alone. Those who have no parish ministry or who are authorised by their bishop will be able to do more among us, without of course in any way exceeding the powers of jurisdiction delegated by their Ordinary. ”39
DECLARATION OF EXISTENCE TO THE LOCAL BISHOP
Desiring to remain faithful to the principles of the Catholic Counter-Reformation, Fr. de Nantes’ primary concern was to maintain “ a twofold fidelity : firstly to the Church of all times, by holding on to the unchanged cult and practice of our apostolic and Roman religion, and secondly to the Church of all peoples, by peaceably and heroically maintaining communion with the visible Body of today’s hierarchical Catholic Church – Pope, bishops, priests and faithful who are our Fathers and our brothers, and each of whom is our neighbour. One does not deny the apostolic traditions, even to please the Pope of a day. Nor does one quit the Roman Catholic Church, even to respond to the appeal of an angel of light. ”40
Fr. de Nantes would have liked the League – certainly of the “ Counter-Reformation ”, but always “ Catholic ” – to have been officially recognised as such by the authorities of the Church.
“ This work ”, he wrote in March 1970, “ is in the first place ‘ Catholic ’ and it will remain so. That is its generic denomination. To hold fast to the Church, to recognise her divinity in her present-day reality, visible, historical and human, is an act of faith which is daily becoming more bold and beautiful . May God continue to give us the grace for it ! We believe that the Church is immortal and we wish to remain her obedient sons. I hope with your support to act in such a manner that our Supreme Pastor, Pope Paul VI, and our immediate Pastors, the bishops, may be brought to recognise that we are ‘ full members ’ of the One Holy Church whose guardians they have been appointed.
“ Our particular task, which is Catholic and has to be carried out within the bosom of today’s Church, is that of the Counter-Reformation. It is this that specifically defines it. We are fighting in the service of God and of souls – true to the faith and the supernatural charity we have been taught, which is bestowed upon us by the sacraments – against this Second Reformation, which is worse than the first and entails the self-destruction of the Church and the loss of souls. This is a legitimate form of service which we are called upon to render in our parishes, in our dioceses and in all the countries of Christendom. It may seem like a paradox to remain faithful to the Pope and the bishops and yet fight against the very opinions and enthusiasms to which they appear most attached. But we claim to have both the right and the duty to do exactly this. We will act in such a way that our Pastors shall understand this freedom and recognise that we possess it. ”41
In an attempt to gain this official recognition, Fr. de Nantes asked those who had local responsibility for the League to make contact with their diocesan bishop. The first task of the circle, as soon as it was constituted, was to declare its existence to the ecclesiastical authorities.
In those years 1970-1971, therefore, many circle leaders or their representative delegations visited their bishop. “ Without of course asking him for a special role or mandate ”, Fr. de Nantes will point out, “ they simply assured him of their dedication in everything which concerns the service of God, notwithstanding their rejection of this Reform of the Church and the auto-demolition currently in progress. While several bishops chose to make them feel welcome, the majority remained cold and distant, and some were exceptionally violent. All of them refused to give their consent to the foundation of circles that were dependent on a ‘ rebel ’ priest, someone who was against the Pope and the Council and therefore, in effect, outside the Church. It was this peremptory statement to which everywhere our friends took exception. This was the nub of their discussion : Do we, yes or no, have the right to reject the current Reform ? Our bishops say no. Anyone who does so has ipso facto left the Church. I believe they are sincere in holding to this error. Ever since the Council which inflated them with the extraordinary feeling of their ‘ collegial ’ self-importance, they are under the impression that taken as individuals they are worth nothing at all, but that once they form themselves into committees, assemblies, synods etc., they are invested with that ‘ indefectibility ’ so dear to Hans Küng, which is practically a super-infallibility. That is why they take such offence at the idea that people might not fall into line, might rise up and hold on to their freedom of opinion and action in a Church which has become a popular democracy with a collegial government. For each and every one of them, to be a non-conformist is the worst possible aberration. Any kind of criticism is wholly unthinkable. Our Counter-Reformation is therefore outside the Church ! ”42
A MEMORABLE DISCUSSION WITH MSGR. PAILLER
“ The audience at Rouen on April 3, 1971 is typical of this approach ”, Fr. de Nantes will note. “ The Archbishop agrees to see three circle leaders, no more. He is surrounded by the Vical General Malandrin and Fr. Devis, rector of the seminary. His purpose is to declare to our friends : Fr. de Nantes is outside the Church as are those who follow him. I have nothing else to say to you. One does not converse with people who are outside the Church. Any arguments employed by a priest who is outside the Church are worthless. Nevertheless, he had to agree to discuss them. The dialogue lasted sixty-five minutes. ”42
Here is a résumé :
Basing himself on the Notification of the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith on August 9, 1969, Msgr. Pailler claimed that Fr. de Nantes stood condemned : “ There is no need to wait or ask for a list of his errors. As with the index of old, there is no need to go into his motives. Since the Council, a notification equates to a condemnation. Fr. de Nantes stands condemned, and there is no appeal. He is like Msgr. Cantor and his Old Catholic Church at Mont-Saint-Aignan, a schismatic. If he comes to give a conference in the diocese… – He will be coming. – I will forbid him to say Mass in any of the churches and I will publish a warning about him. A priest who is not in communion with the Pope and the bishops is unworthy to celebrate the Eucharist. ” Protest by the members of the League : “ That is defamation, pure and simple. Fr. de Nantes has a celebret from his bishop, Msgr. Matagrin. ”
According to Msgr. Pailler, the founder of the CRC was emotionally disturbed. “ A madman ? – I do not say he is mad ”, replied the bishop. “ He is emotionally disturbed. He believes he is in the right against the hierarchy of the entire world which he considers heretical. ”
Msgr. Guerry had apparently explained to Msgr. Pailler the origin of this pathological condition. The young Georges was fourteen when he lost his father. The latter was a follower of Maurras. Action française had been condemned. As he lay dying, he grasped the hands of the young Georges and told him : “ It is the Pope who is wrong, and it is Maurras who is right. Promise me that you will never forget this. ” And so Georges de Nantes was marked from his childhood.
All of which belongs to the realm of fiction. This scene is a complete invention.43
To believe Msgr. Pailler, the only liberty possible lay in unconditionally obeying the Pope and the bishops. The prelate and his two acolytes rejected any distinction between the infallible Magisterium and the person of the “ private doctor ” : “ Obviously, when the Pope takes a walk in his garden and remarks that the weather is fine, it is the man who speaks, but as for the rest he must be obeyed… encyclicals, Wednesday allocutions, etc. ” Likewise for the collegial decisions made by the episcopates. All such teaching supposedly came under the Ordinary Magisterium to which Catholics must submit without question. The circle leaders opposed these evidently false theories with the doctrine of the Catholic Church. Whereupon these ecclesiastics became furious at being contradicted and nonplussed by members of the laity who went in for theology, and that of an excellent kind !
Msgr. Pailler then tried to get the members of the League to say that there was no longer any Pope :
“ Fr. de Nantes has deposed Paul VI. ”
But the position of the CRC was impregnable. The circle leaders set the score straight. It was all too much for the bishop :
“ You follow Fr. de Nantes unconditionally. – We follow the Tradition of the Church unconditionally. – Do you persist in following Fr. de Nantes ? – Yes. – In that case, we have nothing more to say to each other. ”
He is asked for his blessing. He refuses to give it because they are wearing CRC badges. “ First take off your badges. ” They refuse to do do. He refuses to bless them. He gives them an icy ecclesiastical handshake…
To understand the importance of this discussion on April 3, 1971, one should recall that Msgr. Pailler had forecast in the spring of 1965 – that is before the final session of Vatican II – that the integrists would go into schism when the Council proclaimed religious liberty.44 The theologian of the Counter-Reformation had immediately replied to him that this error would never be taught infallibly and that the traditionalists would not quit the Church over a temporary act of infidelity committed by her members, even the most eminent ones !
Six years later, shortly after this meeting on April 3, 1971, Fr. de Nantes could therefore observe :
“ We are still at the same point. Msgr. Pailler is enraged that we have not apostatised and he lives in constant expectation of an event which he greatly desires ! All of which at least proves that Vatican II has not delivered on any of its promises. Firstly, the Church is still condemning people ! Secondly, our postconciliar hierarchy calumniates those whom it detests. Thirdly, it demands of the flock, more than ever before, a blind obedience and makes no allowance for the least true freedom. Fourthly, it falsifies Catholic faith and discipline according to its caprice and its passions. ”45
Whilst the circle leaders were clashing with a fanatically reformist hierarchy, Fr. de Nantes put pressure on those bishops who were calumniating him. He challenged them to accept a public debate before their diocesan faithful. “ I am waiting ”, he wrote in January 1971, “ for the bishop who will have the honesty to publicly support these extravagant accusations and condemnations which they all copy each other in bringing against the CRC from the safety of their episcopal palaces, collegially. Come on then ! We are looking for a bishop who is capable and courageous. ”46
The Bishop of Troyes, Msgr. Fauchet, will reply to him that he had “ no illusions about the efficacy of any such face to face encounter ”. Whereupon Fr. de Nantes observed : “ This gives the impression that a bishop is afraid to give a serious account of his faith before anyone, and is simply content to hold illusory dialogues with unbelievers and ignorant people who have no interest in the matter. Yet I would have very much liked to have been able to go over with him the conditions for peace detailed in our tract number two, for the honour of God. ”47
“ The reformist mafia which dominates the Church ”, our Father will remark, “ cannot tolerate either the third order nor the League of the Counter-Reformation. The only difficulty that hinders them from crushing us is a strategic one : How to persecute us and condemn us without appearing to contradict themselves, given their claim that no one is condemned any longer !
“ For the time being, their solution is ‘ pastoral ’. It consists of dissuading the faithful from following a ‘ bad priest ’, a suspended priest who has been denounced by numerous ‘ warnings ’ from the episcopate and by a papal ‘ disqualification ’. To follow such a man, what shame, what horror !
“ No, our bishops no longer condemn anyone. They simply defame those who do not share their opinions and reject their ‘ Reform ’. Our friends must therefore prepare themselves to share in my opprobrium, in my so-called condemnations and my troubles, in a word, in this type of de facto ‘ excommunication ’ which, without judgement or decree, falls on the deviationists and the counter-revolutionaries in both the contemporary Church and Soviet Russia. Disciples of an irregular priest, of someone filled with pride, of a rebel, of an… enchanter, you will be clothed in the same fool’s cloak and soon afflicted with the same ecclesiastical sanctions. Are you ready ?
“ This is your combat, so much more than the uproar against Cardonnel or the Masses said at the back of grocery stores. It is far more difficult… It is more like the way of the cross than a combat, more like the passion than any striking activity. To suffer condemnation at the hands of one’s parish priest, one’s bishop or the Pope, yes, it is terrible. But this cross is already a victory. It is an admission by the reformists of their sense of error and of their powerlessness. They are unable to answer us, so they strike us and hound us. As I have said a hundred times before, the witness given to the Truth by Jesus and by the glorious cohort of the martyrs is exactly this : that Caiphas and Pilate, Nero and Julian the Apostate, and the persecutors throughout the ages, being unable to convict the Christians of lies and crimes, had no other solution than to torture them and to crucify them in order to shut them up !
“ The proof we have to give to the truth and holiness of the Counter-Reformation is that no blackmail, no insult, no threat, no sanction will ever wrest us away from our Catholic fidelity and from our rejection of this proud ‘ reconstruction ’ of Christ’s Church. Listen to the conference talk ‘ The CRC six months later ’. There you will find that I do not predict fabulous victories for you, but crosses. To suffer with Christ for the Church, if God so wishes ! ”48
Such were to be the testing vocation and the meritorious witness of the members of the CRC League.
All references to the CRC journal relate to the original French edition.
1. For the Church II, p. 52.
2. Letter to my friends no 183, September 15, 1964, extracts.
3. CRC no 28, January 1970, p. 2.
4. Letter from Fr. Barbara to Fr. de Nantes, dated February 7, 1970.
5. Cf. supra, p. 32 ff.
6. CRC no 29, February 1970, p. 10.
7. CRC no 29, February 1970, p. 10.
8. CRC no 30, March 1970, p. 1-4, extracts.
9. CRC no 30, March 1970, p. 1-4, extracts.
10. Open letter to Paul VI of 11 October 1967, CRC no 1, October 1967, p. 3-12, and CRC no 2, November 1967, p. 3-12. For the Church II, p. 304 ff.
11. CRC no 31, April 1970, p. 13, extracts.
12. CRC no 32, May 1970, p. 13, extracts.
13. CRC no 35, August 1970, p. 13, extracts.
14. CRC no 36, September 1970, p. 13.
15. Tract no 1, supplement to CRC no 33, May 1970. 300,000 copies printed.
16. Tract no 2, supplement to CRC no 39, December 1970.
17. CRC no 39, December 1970, p. 11.
18. CRC no 60, September 1972, p. 14-15, extracts.
19. CRC no 38, November 1970, p. 1-2.
20. CRC no 31, supplement, April 1970, p. 6.
21. CRC no 37, October 1970, p. 4.
22. CRC no 83, August 1974, p. 2.
23. CRC no 34, July 1970, p.2.
24. CRC no 46, July 1971, p. 11.
25. CRC no 56, May 1972, p. 15.
26. Letter to our friends no 7, of December 8, 1974.
27. CRC no 87, December 1974, p. 2.
28. Born in 1904 at Plouguenast in Brittany, Fr. Pierre Henry, an Oblate of Mary Immaculate, was sent in 1932 to the missions in Hudson Bay where, for thirty eight years, he will accomplish an heroic apostolic task. He will found four missions near the magnetic pole and he will convert the whole tribe of the fearsome Netjilik Eskimos. In 1977 Fr. Henry will retire to the house of the Oblates at Saint Agatha, where he will die, on February 4, 1979, “ as he had lived, an obedient and exemplary Oblate, abandoned and despised, like Jesus Christ, by his brothers ” (Georges de Nantes).
29. Oral account of his journey to Canada, December 8, 1974.
30. Georges de Nantes, caption under the picture of Brother Henry of the Cross making his solemn vows, September 11, 1994.
31. Quoted by Charles Choque, Kayoaluk, Pierre Henry OMI, missionary to the Inuits, published by the Oblates of Mary Immaculate, 1982, p. 253-254.
32. We do not know precisely on what date Fr. Henry began to read the writings of Fr. de Nantes. It is possible that he received the Letters to my friends at the beginning of the sixties, while he was still in the Far North.
33. Ibid., September 1994.
34. Spiritual reading of Fr. de Nantes, September 14, 1994.
35. Certainly, the explanations and advice of Fr. de Nantes were very precious to Fr. Henry. One of the members of the Canadian CRC one day saw Fr. Henry brimming with joy. The holy missionary had just received a letter from our Father : “ Now ”, he said, “ I can see things clearly. ”
36. Letter to our friends no 7, December 8, 1974, extracts.
37. Letter to our friends no 12, August 6, 1975.
38. CRC no 32, May 1970, p. 13.
39. CRC no 38, November 1970, p. 12, extracts.
40. CRC no 53, February 1972, p. 14.
41. CRC no 30, March 1970, p. 1.
42. CRC no 44, May 1971, p. 13.
43. Commenting on this in the Catholic Counter-Reformation of May 1971, Fr. de Nantes added : “ But imagine if my father had said to me : ‘ It is Marx who is right ! ’ I would not then be considered as someone who was emotionally disturbed, but as a prophet. And perhaps I would be an archbishop also, a trendy one of course… and such a good son ! ” (CRC no 44, May 1971, p. 13)
44. Letter to my friends no 206, Pentecost 1965, and no 209, July 22. For the Church vol I, p. 137-138; 150-151.
45. CRC no 44, May 1971, p. 13.
46. CRC no 40, January 1971, p. 11.
47. CRC no 41, February 1971, p. 13.
48. CRC no 40, January 1971, p. 13.