Archbishop of Paris closes experimental, "Vatican II" parish
Archbishop Michel Aupetit closes Saint-Merry Pastoral Center, which was established in 1975 as a place of welcome for people on the margins of the Church.
Spectators attending the "Sacred Night", organized by Saint-Merry Parish, in May 2016. (Photo by JAN SCHMIDT-WHITLEY/CIRIC)
Archbishop Michel Aupetit of Paris has announced that he's closing what has long been recognized as the French capital's most progressive Catholic community, ostensibly because of its members' refusal to accept recent priests that have been assigned there.
"I am announcing that from March 1, 2021, the mission entrusted by Cardinal Marty in 1975 to the Saint-Merry Pastoral Center will come to an end," the archbishop announced in a letter to the community that was dated February 7.He said he was closing the center because of the difficult climate at Saint-Merry, especially regarding the people's attitude towards the most recently assigned priests.
"This is the second time in less than three years that the priest of your parish has been forced to leave his mission abruptly in the face of violent attacks against him," said Aupetit, who was installed as Paris's archbishop in January 2018.The people of Saint-Merry have reacted with disbelief, sadness and anger.They were particularly somber at last Sunday's celebration of the Eucharist, and many complained that the decision to close their community was "unfounded, excessive and brutal".
Saint-Merry was formerly known as the "Centre pastoral Les Halles-Beaubourg" (Les Halles-Beaubourg Pastoral Center).But in 1975, in the wake of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65), Cardinal François Marty entrusted this place close to the Center Pompidou to a team of lay people and Father Xavier de Chalendar.The cardinal, who was Paris archbishop from 1968-1981, entrusted the fledgling center with the mission of "inventing new ways for the Church of the future".
Unconditional welcomeSaint-Merry became a sort of pastoral laboratory.It has developed partnerships with people from the art world, works to accompany migrants and unconditionally welcomes people on the margins of the Church, such as gays and lesbians, the divorced and remarried and others.
This "boldness" may have worried some of the faithful.Saint-Merry's priests and lay people have, from the beginning, experimented with "co-responsibility" for the center, something that's been reinforced by Pope Francis's words on synodality.But there has been friction between some of the center's long standing lay members and the more recently assigned priests.
The charismatic Father Daniel Duigou, a former journalist who became a priest later in life, served just a little more than three years as the community's priest. He left in 2019 when the people felt he no longer suited the project.Archbishop Aupetit then assigned Father Alexandre Denis, another charismatic priest who is well-known in France as a magician, as Duigou's successor. However, he was also given the mandate to be the pastor.
The two positions had previously been divided.In fact, the Saint-Merry community brings together Christians from all over the Paris region who come together each Sunday morning for the 11:15 Mass.
An online petition against the closure
But the community never really established a good relationship with Father Denis.Because of some painful misunderstandings and some health issues, the priest resigned last December.Archbishop Aupetit said this was the final straw that led to his decision to disband the Saint-Merry Pastoral Center."It is my responsibility to deal out the consequences for these profoundly sad and unjustifiable events," he insisted in his February 7 letter."
The disagreements that may be expressed do not in any way justify the meanness, the absence of charity and the desire to destroy that what has been manifested against your pastors," he said.Those in charge of the pastoral center said they were "surprised and saddened" by the archbishop and the fact that he made the decision without even consulting them.
They launched an "appeal" to keep the center open and in the first 48 hours it was online some 2,000 people had signed it."While we can be sorry that there has been aggressive behavior on the part of some, there is no justification for condemning the community," one member of the congregation said indignantly."
But is that the only reason? If it is really the Saint-Merry experience that is being targeted, it should be said," this person insisted."It is the proclamation of the Gospel to a complex and diverse world that is at stake. Beyond the petty priest-laity quarrels, is there a place in the diocese for a community that takes seriously the pope's invitations to come out of our closed spaces?" the person continued.
Many members of the community were shocked at the timing of the announced closure."A few days before Lent, we are being deprived of this path that leads to Easter," said one.The archdiocese has remained quiet on the issue."The decision is obviously not arbitrary," said Karine Dalle, director of archdiocesan communications."The Archbishop of Paris has received many testimonies and the situation has been complicated for several years," she said.Archbishop Aupetit has appointed his vicar general, Bishop Benoist de Sinety, to manage the continuation of activities related to the Saint-Merry Pastoral Center.
As for the community itself, its days are numbered unless dialogue is re-established.