French Catholics Petition Pope Francis Over Suspension of Ordinations in Toulon

The petitioners expressed their ‘serious concern about the lasting consequences on the relations between Rome and the Christian people of France, already shaken’ by Traditionis Custodes and France’s 2021 sex abuse report.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Seds de Toulon In Toulon, France.
Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Seds de Toulon In Toulon, France. (photo: Shutterstock)

A group of Catholics from the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, in southeastern France, has petitioned Pope Francis asking him to reconsider his recent decision to suspend the ordinations of priests and deacons scheduled for the end of this month.  

This measure, made public June 2 by Bishop Dominique Rey of Fréjus-Toulon, followed a fraternal visit of the diocese undertaken by Archbishop Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille at the request of the Vatican. 

Bishop Rey specified that the subsequent suspension of ordinations was requested due to “questions that certain Roman dicasteries were asking about the restructuring of the seminary and the policy of welcoming people to the diocese.”

However, these explanations did not alleviate the consternation of the faithful of the diocese, which is known for its missionary dynamism and the diversity of its communities. 

In an online petition addressed to the Holy Father the day after Bishop Rey’s announcement, the signers say they received the news with “shock and pain.”

“While we welcome [this decision] in obedience to the Church, we do not understand it, especially in view of what we know of Bishop Rey, of his personality and of his action in his diocese for 22 years … that gave a lot of hope for the renewal of the Church of France,” they wrote in the petition, which has so far collected some 8,000 signatures. 

Highlighting the “success of the numerous initiatives launched in this diocese, in particular those that reach the most disadvantaged, or the average age of 55 years of the priests,” the petitioners added that although Bishop Rey “is not perfect,” he is “creative and daring” and “tries to serve the unity of the Church and makes sure that everyone finds a place in it.” 

“The beggars, the excluded of all kinds, the citizens of the peripheries of the world are his friends,” the petition states. “He was the one who, close to his neighbor, went to look for the lost sheep, to welcome the prodigal son.”

While acknowledging that there are certainly reasons for the decision taken by the Vatican, the petitioners expressed their “serious concern about the lasting consequences on the relations between Rome and the Christian people of France, already shaken,” in a reference to the divisions generated by last year’s apostolic letter Traditionis Custodes restricting the traditional Latin Mass, and the report released later in 2021 regarding sexual abuse within the Catholic Church of France.

“Let us not allow the worries of Christians in France to multiply. Let us be in a spirit of fraternity, truth, listening and peace. In hope, we pray,” the petition concluded. 

For Alexandre and Héloïse Massiani, parents of eight who are very involved in the life of the local Church and signed the petition, the aspect of the suspension of ordinations that is most to be deplored is the lack of transparency and clarity for a decision that will have a dramatic impact on the lives of the seminarians involved, some of whom they know personally.

“None of the faithful of the diocese have access to the report that led to this decision. Everything remains unclear,” Alexandre Massiani told the Register. 

“One of the seminarians was waiting for his whole family to come from far away for the ordination. It is so hard. It seems that those who make these decisions have no regard for the suffering of the people,” Héloïse Massiani continued. 

“If they had wanted to simply restructure and put the diocesan seminary in order, they could have asked the bishop not to schedule any new ordinations after the June ones, pending the completion of the investigation,” she said. “Now they are making a lot of collateral victims without even justifying it properly.”

In the couple’s view, this decision looks more like a sanction than a mere precautionary measure, and is partly motivated by Bishop Rey’s openness with regard to the traditional Latin Mass. “After the motu proprio Traditionis Custodes, the bishop was cautious at first, but then he let the parishes that were saying the traditional Mass continue without interfering, and we believe that it really didn’t work in his favor,” Alexandre Massiani said, adding  that he had little hope that their plea to the Pope would be heard, in light of the numerous unsuccessful approaches of the French faithful to Church authorities this past year. 

“We do feel like we have a duty to do all we can to defend the future of our diocese and all the young people of the region who were thinking of entering the seminary in the near future and who may be dissuaded from doing so, or who will have to decide to join a seminary abroad.”

Bishop Michael Burbidge is the shepherd of Arlington, Virginia.

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