New communities and newly traditional communities

Par P. Laurent-Marie Pocquet du Haut-Jussé, sjm

Français, italiano

The moral crisis the Church is experiencing in France following the “discovery” of the criminal demeanor of some of her ministers is not in itself a surprise if we examine the general loosening of standards, the crisis of moral theology, the guilty naivety of many in regards to the reality of sin. Certainly, there has always been possible diversions from this reality of grace which constitutes the spiritual paternity of the priest, related to a lack of intelligence of the divine pedagogy, a lack of doctrinal education and spiritual depth, or to a perverse and sinful will. But, we are also in an era when scandals related to sexual abuse, abuse of power or spiritual abuse are denounced and decried. There is an overabundant literature. I will mention the descriptive  and enlightening synthesis of journalist Céline Hoyeau, La trahison des pères. Emprise et abus des fondateurs de communautés nouvelles (The treason of fathers: the control and abuse of founders of new communities) (Paris, Bayard, 2021). This is also the occasion to reread about  modern religious history, the crisis of the Church, the John Paul II’s generation with the appearance not only of new communities as it is called, but also of a movement, though in minority, strengthening and which constitutes a fervent and creative reality in regards to its mode of actions and its way of giving witness. I am talking about the faithful attached to the traditional liturgy.

On the crisis itself, there is also many excellent descriptions. I am thinking particularly of the works of Guillaume Cuchet (Comment notre monde a cessé d’être chrétien. Anatomie dun effondrement, Paris, 2018) and Jérôme Fourquet (Larchipel français, Paris, 2019), who dedicates the first chapter of his book to the collapse of Catholicism. I would point out that this collapse had been foretold by Charles Péguy, past away in 1914, and by Georges Bernanos, past away in 1948. The new condition of the Catholic faith in the modern world has also been described and analyzed by saint John Henry Newman (1801-1870) and by Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936). But rather, these writers give the reason properly theological to this crisis, that is a growing ignorance of the Christian event. As to the consequences, I do not need to mention it again, since my ministry as priest deploys itself in this relatively new and very particular context (“our miseries are no longer Christian!” just to take on the expression of Charles Péguy).

New communities: a response to the crisis…

In this context, yet we were told to expect a spring for the Church, like a new Pentecost. It is fair to say that the new communities (many charismatic in origin, but not all) have allowed many Catholics, priests and faithful, to find an existential answer to the anti Christian radicalness of modernity and post-modernity; the refusal to inherit, the killing of the father figure, the illusion that each and everyone must built its identity and no longer receive it (thus fostering the emergence of new damaged generations of festive depressive individuals), the necessity to elaborate alone a life project without matter nor models (the hero and the saint according to Bergson), but in complete dependence from the fashion phenomenas, with, for certain progressive Catholics, the obligation to adapt Christianity so as to improve it (we might as well desire to improve the Magnetic North, as Péguy used to say)… In this context, the new communities have truly been a lifeline, and that in two ways: the prophetic and spiritual contestation (in the face of a contesting and political prophetism that came from the Christian left), thus identitarian and an example of paternity offered to a generation without a father figure (and without points of reference!). There was also the duplication of a model well known in the Church: the apparition of new religious families around a founder bearer for the Church of a charism, a grace gratis data, offering a new and appealing manner to live the Gospel, brings together and constitutes a new religious family gathering many baptized persons with different degrees of involvements. Some of these new communities have adopted a form of organization with some originality as it includes a fraternal life gathering different states of life (men and women, families and celibates…). For most of them, founded by laity, it claimed to be aligned with the Council (which is doubtful, since the Council has rather canonized the model of the Catholic Action, and not the model of laities living like monks…). To these elements, we should add that they foster a particular fondness for the person of the Holy Father, have a clear Marian dimension, and a community and apostolic life centered on the liturgy (preferably Eastern…) as well as a strong contention about  secularization.

… but crisis in the new communities

How to explain the crisis hitting all of them today? These deviance they have created and encouraged are today well known: the unique reference to the “Father” (the founder often keeping his place as superior for a long time), the well kept sentiment that in facing the crisis they represent the purest expression of the Church, though only an ecclesial community, the certitude to constitute the small phalanx of saints of the end of times and to offer a synthesis of the best Christian spiritual tradition has to offer, the confusion between internal and external forum…
On the side of the founders, and in the doctrine being taught and communicated, we usually find what is called a “neo-quietism”: the strong spiritual experiences, the certitude to be an instrument of God to establish in the Church a new supernatural way, the fascination for the omnipotence one exercises on the members via the observation of the Evangelical Counsels (though they are the object of simple promises or of private vows…) which is being regulated by the superior on his own, the object of adulation that he becomes… little by little pushes one to pardon even legitimize a demeanor contrary to the 6th and 9th commandment. The phenomenon of psychological hold they have on the members seems to give way to delicts and criminal acts.

We must also briefly address the responsibility that is the one of the members of these communities: a perverted trust, an overpowering subjectivism and an invasive affectivity, the neglect of the objective and normed dimension of the rules of development of an authentic spiritual life, last, the ignorance of the tradition of the Church, of her doctrine as well as her spirituality to the advantage of a gnosis both elitist and immoral… Difficulty members have to distance themselves from someone who seems to have been in their mist as the instrument of God for conversion, for a strong spiritual experience, an awakening or a decisive encounter… Refusal to see in the master any defects or limitations. Yet, this is, in relation to a person or in relation to a community, a necessary step: deception, the essential moment to chose only but God, to live only but for God. This comes into the more general frame of the active and passive purifications of any vocation to an authentic spiritual and theological life. We quote from the testimony of a religious member of a recent foundation regarding the founder: “It was really beautiful, but it was like watching a movie in which I did not play a role, as a person wondering. What invited me there to conversion? As a young religious we did not have the instruction manual to know what to do next with the complexity of our personal lives […] These founders have awaken something deep in me in relation to faith but they have not been able to guide their disciples and to provide them with the means to live on their own, to live the spiritual experience of the night every religious at one point make the experience in his life, because they themselves were no constructed” (Hoyeau, p.174-175).

Finally, there is the responsibility of the pastors of the Church, responsible for the doctrinal rectitude and the fidelity of the faithful of their diocese to the Tradition. We must note a lack of perspicacity, first in the refusal and then in the use of these communities, because not truly rooted in Tradition still and because of a lack of clear intelligence of the Catholic identity. Even if we can understand the necessity for them to welcome these new vocations, as they provide new blood for the various tasks of the ministry, thus compensating in a small way the erosion of the diocesan clergy and older religious communities which were like the last rampart. They saw them as the ultimate chance not to have to recognize the existence, the fecundity, the permanence of an other doctrinal and spiritual movement in the Church, that is the Ecclesia Dei or Summorum pontifical movement.

The renewal through tradition

This is where the traditional liturgy can represent, with all that it includes, a chance of renewal for these communities, as it could for the whole church. The life of the Church rests on a triptych: Liturgy, Catechism, Mission. Even if the realization of this pastoral and spiritual program seem hindered for the moment, we keep our liberty of prophetic contestation since the legitimacy of what we are and what we represent is undeniable and that it exists in the Church a right to constructive criticism, as long as none of the truth revealed and infallibly taught by the Magisterium is itself contested… In this context, there is no “trad” spirituality but only a right and vital necessity to defend a spiritual patrimony which belongs to the whole church. What’s more, if there is a plurality of spiritualities in the Church, the liturgy is the spirituality of the Church, hence the importance of a liturgy of referral, a missa normativa which constitutes what we used to call once the extraordinary form of the Roman Rite, which is the guarantee of orthodoxy. The objective character of the Tridentine liturgy (cf. Claude Barthe, Histoire du missel tridentin et de ses origines, Versailles, 2016) and the fact that it is the fruit of a homogenous development through history, while preserving the vital continuum with the Fathers of the Church and the apostolic times, preserving pastors and faithful of all the deviance we just talked about. This doctrinal fidelity totally belongs to the new evangelization, unless we are trying to eliminate a group of faithful, not because of what they believe but because of what they are. Clericalism is nothing else but the deployment of the authentic spiritual paternity that the priests must exercise in the Church for the good of the faithful: The role of the father is to introduce his son in the reality, in the objective order of things, allowing him to make his own in a subjective manner, to make his own to shape himself, the ordo sapientiæ et amoris of the Christian Revelation. For the son, the father is not an omnipotence but the servant to what is higher than himself, a reality the son is called in his turn to love and serve so to be free. The thing is the traditional liturgy predisposes and leads to this spiritual attitude of poverty and of service by its hieratic character, its objectivity and permanence. The priest who celebrates, literally disappears by the orientation of the liturgical action and the silence.

Here is why the traditional liturgy can be for these communities a token of renewal, recovery, and reform. By engaging on this path, with all the filial affection they are capable of, they thus manifest to the eyes of the pastors their freedom in the Spirit by adopting the best known way of conversion and missionary generosity. Pope Francis has told his slovak jesuit confreres, on 12 September last, not to be afraid of freedom in the Church. It is our task, and the one of these communities, to show him the necessity to break from all these restrictive and paralyzing measures!

Fr. Laurent-Marie Pocquet du Haut-Jussé, sjm