The Society of Saint Plus X’s District of France was founded on August 15, 1976, and entrusted to Fr. Paul Aulagnier (born in 1943), who had been ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Lefebvre in 1971. In 1974, Archbishop Lefebvre had already purchased a house on the rue des Carrières, in Suresnes (near Paris) to serve as an outpost for his activities in France. That same August 15, he blessed the Priory of St. Anne in Lanvallay (Brittany), a quite recent acquisition. The next day, August 16, the deed was signed for the purchase of the Priory of Notre Dame du Pointet (Auvergne) which would serve for the next two years as the residence for the District Superior before becoming a house for spiritual exercises. Lastly, at the same time, the priory of St. Michel in St.-Michel-en-Brenne (Central France) was founded. The following year it was to become the Mother House of the Sisters of the Society of Saint Pius X. At the end of this first year, 1976, the district of France numbered at most four houses, of which only one was fitted out with the bare essentials.
Now, a little more than thirty years later, the District of France numbers 39 houses with resident priests (not including various chaplain’s houses), and 130 active priests. (The second largest district is that of the United States, with 16 houses and 55 priests.) To reach the same number of houses and priests as the District of France, one would have to combine the US District with the third largest district, Germany (14 houses and 41 priests), as well as the fourth largest district, that of South America (11 houses and 34 priests).
These astonishing figures are not the only ones worthy of consideration. In the Society of Saint Pius X, priests of French nationality alone make up a third of the priest members. Besides, it must be noted that in Tradition at large, almost all of the male congregations and a great part of the female congregations are of French origin: the Benedictine monasteries of Santa Cruz, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Notre Dame de Bellaigue (stemmed from the Monastery of Sainte Madeleine of Barroux, founded by Dom Gérard Calvet, 1927-2008)1; the Society of the Transfiguration of Mérigny2 (founded by Fr. Bernard Lecareux, born in 1933); the Capuchins of Morgon3 (founded by Fr. Eugène de Villeurbanne, 1904-90); the Dominicans of Avrillé4; the Sisters of the Society of Saint Plus X,5 founded by Mother Marie-Gabriel Lefebvre (1907-87); the Carmels of Tradition,6 founded by Mother Marie-Christiane Lefebvre (1908-96); the teaching Dominican Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus7 (Brignoles and Fanjeaux); the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Le Trévoux; the Benedictine Nuns of Lamairé8; the Little Handmaids of St. John the Baptist in Le Rafflay9; the Poor Clares in Morgon; the contemplative Dominican Sisters in Avrillé,10etc.
On a different plane, we would also note that the other congregations attached to the Traditional Mass (associated with the Ecclesia Dei Commission) are also mostly of French origin, or connected with France. For instance, you have the monastery of Fontgombault and its foundations (Randol, etc.); the Little Brothers of the Sacred Heart of the Abbé de Nantes, the Monastery of St. Madeleine of Barroux and its foundation (St. Marie de la Garde); the Abbey Notre Dame de l’Annonciation; the teaching Dominican Sisters of the Holy Ghost (founded by Fr. Victor-Alain Berto, 1900-68); the Abbey Saint Joseph of Clairval (founded by Dom Augustin-Marie Joly, 1917-2006); the Institute of the Holy Cross in Riaumont (founded by Fr. Albert Revet, 1917-86); the Society of Saint Vincent Ferrer in Chéméré; the Institute of Christ the King the Sovereign Priest; the Fraternity of Saint Peter (seven of the twelve founding priests were French); the Canons of the Mother of God in Lagrasse and the Canonesses; the Society of the Missionaries of Divine Mercy in Toulon, the Benedictine Nuns of Jouques; the Victim Sisters of the Sacred Heart in Marseilles; the Institute of the Good Shepherd in Bordeaux, etc.
How can this rapid growth of the Society of Saint Pius X and more generally of Catholic Tradition and the Traditional Mass in France be explained? “It is in our dear homeland, France, that resistance is most strongly opposed to subversion in the Church,” observed Archbishop Lefebvre in a sermon given at Saint Michel School in Niherne on October 2, 1983.
One of the historical causes can certainly be found in the “fertile soil” which existed in France long before the arrival of the first priests ordained by Archbishop Lefebvre in Ecône. The following lines will be devoted to telling and describing (although briefly so) the period which preceded the arrival of the Society of Saint Pius X.
Persons and institutions are mentioned and described at the time when they intervened in the combat for Catholic Tradition. Their later evolutions have been very diverse, but we will not deal with them here. If many have remained faithful up to the end, some may have given up the fight, or come to terms with the Council, or sunk into aggressive sedevacantism. That they may have later strayed from their course (and the first signs of their misguided ways may have begun to be manifest already in the period we are going to deal with) does not belong to the history recounted in this text. We will mention here exclusively interventions in favor of Catholic Tradition as they occurred in France between 1958 and 1976, regardless of later developments.
To understand the emergence of the Catholic resistance in France from of the death of Pope Pius XII, we must first take a leap back into the past. Indeed, for more than two centuries, French Catholics had been confronted with so violent and so numerous attacks that they had developed quite a peculiar capacity for resistance. If the French were the spearhead in the resistance to religious and political revolution, the reason is that, sadly enough, France had served too often as the laboratory for this revolution. As Fr. Franz Schmidberger observed in Fideliter of January, 1984:
The fact that Archbishop Lefebvre is French caused great resonance in his own country. And besides, since the separation of Church and State, it has become a constant necessity for the French to fight, to see to the defense of their own affairs. For several generations, they have had to take upon themselves the upkeep of their priests, their churches and chapels, their schools. Consequently, the crisis from which the Church is presently suffering did not catch them completely unawares. The French are used to fighting to defend their faith.
In the intellectual and political field France came across revolution very early, and consequently has been able to develop a rich counter-revolutionary doctrine in parallel.
The first offensive occurred in the 18th century, the century of the “Enlightenment” with the so-called “Philosophers.” Rousseau, Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu, D’Alembert, Holbach, Helvetius, Condorcet, Condillac, and so on, launched a systematic and concerted assault against the natural and supernatural order, against Christ and His Church. To confront this flood there arose apologists of the Faith, of the Church, of society, and of common sense: Barruel, Freron, Nonotte, Patouillet, Palissot, and so forth. Even though they were derided by the “Philosophers” and their henchmen, they nevertheless established the groundwork of a salutary reaction.
The end of that century saw Revolution break loose in France. Essentially anti-clerical, anti-Catholic, and anti-religious (according to its various phases), it destroyed the monarchy because this latter was linked to the Church, and devastated the French people because it did not want to fit into the mold of “the new man.” A military and political reaction (Vendée, the Chouans) rose against this cataclysm. But there was also an intellectual reaction (Burke, Clorivière, Bonald, Maistre, Rivarol, and so on) which was to set up the blueprint of “counter-revolutionary” thought. Two sentences from Joseph de Maistre can give us the general tone: “There is in the French Revolution a satanic character which distinguishes it from all that has been seen up to now and maybe from all that will ever be seen;” “Counter-Revolution is not an opposite revolution, but the very reverse of revolution.”
After the Revolution (and its continuation, the Napoleonic Empire), the Restoration tried to tie some political and religious threads to the Old Regime, but the machine was broken, the spirit lost. However, this period witnessed a Catholic renaissance in France, especially under the literary influence of Chateaubriand, who inaugurated a renewed form of apologetics (The Genius of Christianity, The Martyrs).
At the same time, a priest, Lamennais, proposed a more conquering and audacious attitude to confront modernity, which was supported by a novel doctrine of “common sense” (Essay on Indifference in Matters of Religion). However, Lamennais, especially together with his friends Montalembert and Lacordaire went from a strongly anti-revolutionary mind set to an attempt to unify the Church and the Revolution. Centered around the newspaper L’Avenir (The Future), he created “liberal Catholicism,” whose offspring were numerous. Lamennais evidently met with contradictions, opposition, and criticism, including from people within his own school (Dom Guéranger). From 1850 up to the war of 1914, French Catholicism was divided into two camps, which were in constant opposition: the liberals and the anti-liberals, and these latter developed into a doctrinal and polemical corpus which is unmatched.
During the pontificate of Pope Leo XIII, this quarrel was rekindled as a consequence of the politics of “Ralliement” (“cooperation with”) to the (anticlerical) Republic launched by the Sovereign Pontiff in 1892. A new generation of anti-Liberals worked out a doctrine which recalled in particular that among the acts of the pope some deal more with politics than with religion, and hence do not have a right to the same immediate obedience. This nuance added to an often massive “ultramontanism” would take on more significance during some of the next episodes.
Under St. Pius X, a new battle emerged around the modernist issue. France was at the front of the battle lines: Loisy, Hébert, Blondel, Le Roy, Houtin, Laberthonnière, Turmel, and many of the leading modernists and modernizing men were French. This offensive caused a third generation of anti-liberals to enter the ranks.
These latter fought on two fronts: the ecclesiastical front, against the modernists and semi-modernists; and the political front, against the destruction of what remained of Christian France. Indeed, since 1879, all the powers had been in the hands of anticlerical Republicans who applied systematically the politics of de-Christianization, which first brought about the exile of tens of thousands of religious and forced the religious who remained in France to don secular clothes. (For instance, the teaching Dominican Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus did not wear their religious habit during the first 40 years of the 20th century.) Lastly, in 1905, Church and State were radically and brutally separated by a former seminarian who had become a Freemason, Emile Combes. All the churches, parsonages, bishops’ residences, seminaries were confiscated, and the State suppressed any financial support to the Church. Thanks to the vigilance and the energy of St. Pius X, the reaction of French Catholics was unanimous, and they mobilized to defend their Church, thus learning how to live on their own resources and support their priests and churches out of their own pockets. Such an experience would prove invaluable later on.
In 1926, a new drama occurred in the Church in France: brutally and inconsiderately, Pope Pius XI condemned Action Française, a counter-revolutionary movement which was secular in itself, but in which there were many of the most anti-liberal Catholic militants. Judging the condemnation to be unjust (and this with some grounded arguments), the majority of the leaders and members refused it: they were excommunicated (they disputed the validity and existence of the excommunication), and the censure was lifted only in 1939, by Pius XII, at the beginning of the Second World War. After this condemnation, French bishops and other Church authorities (the press, Catholic Action, etc.) were methodically purged in favor of Catholics who were more liberal and leaning more to the Left.
In 1940, the French Army was crushed in a few weeks by the German forces. A hero of the First World War with immense prestige, Marshall Pétain, was appointed by the Chamber of Deputies (for the most part composed of leftists) to conclude an armistice with Germany. French bishops massively and publicly sided with the government of Marshall Pétain, and incited the Catholics to support his action. But in 1944 and 1945, the government of Pétain found itself in the “camp of the defeated”, and those who had supported it fell victims to a bloody “purge.” In the meantime, the bishops had cleverly changed sides, and the Catholics who had obeyed them four years earlier found themselves alone to assume the consequences of their acts. A lasting mistrust towards the hierarchy, at least in the field of politics, struck its roots in some French Catholics. On the other hand, the direction of the Church in France underwent a new purging to the benefit of a Catholicism leaning more towards the Left.
The aftermath of these events was tragic after the Second World War. In the theological field, France was at the heart of the “New Theology” with Fathers Jean Daniélou, Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, Marie-Dominique Chenu, Henri Bouillard, Gaston Fessard, Yves de Montcheuil, without forgetting the fact that the works of Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin were clandestinely flooding France, especially the seminaries. On the political and social level, France experienced a strong deviation of Catholic institutions towards the Left. In many cases, it resulted in the elimination of all association with Catholicism (for instance, Christian trade unions became simply “democratic” trade unions). In the religious realm, the Church in France made a choice in favor of “the missionary option,” which essentially consisted in neglecting practising Catholics (considered as “obstacles to the mission” with their “bourgeois and routine habits”) in order to go to the non-practising, the non-believers, and the non-religious. Evidently, this implied reducing the Christian message to its humanitarian dimension. Lastly, in the liturgical domain, France was at the forefront of the “liturgical experiments” and trivialized the concept of “liturgical pastoral care” (which would prove devastating) through the National Center of Liturgical Pastoral Care (Centre National de Pastorale Liturgique or CNPL).
In 1954, a new drama began in France which would have significant repercussions on its religious evolution: the Algerian War. Algeria had been a French territory for over 120 years, where “Pieds noirs” (people born in Algeria of various European origins, especially French, Italians and Spaniards), Jews, and natives were living together. The war was waged by “Algerian nationalists” of the Front de Liberation Nationale (FLN) according to terrorist methods (bombs in public places, murder of hostages, mass killing of civilians), whereas the Algerian population, democratically consulted, was clearly in favor of a pacific political development in union with France. Hence, the war against the FLN looked perfectly legitimate. But it was conducted by a French government which at the time was socialist, and young Frenchmen were on the ground. The Catholic press, together with Catholic Action for the most part, sided with the FLN against the French Army. Even worse, a number of progressivist Catholics went so far as to actively support terrorism. They became “porteurs de valises” (suitcases carriers) for the FLN, (i.e. they were involved in its logistics). Such an attitude of “betrayal” scandalized numbers of more traditionally minded Catholics. But with the evolution of mindsets in France, and finally the independence of Algeria in 1962, (ratified in France by a referendum massively in its favor), these traditional Catholics who once again had trusted their government (General de Gaulle, head of the government, had declared in 1959: “As long as I live, the flag of the FLN will not unfurl over Algeria”) were wronged politically speaking and felt betrayed by churchmen.
In such conditions, the period of time which started in France with the death of Pius XII, and especially after the opening of the Council, was a disaster. A veritable tidal wave, something like a wind of folly swept away all that was still traditional in the Church in France. The cassock disappeared in a few months to be replaced by lay clothes. Confessionals, stations of the cross, statues, reliquaries, communion rails, liturgical vestments, kneelers, etc., were all taken out of the churches and trashed or, in the best of cases, sold to antique shops. The craziest liturgical experiments became a daily occurrence. The teaching of the catechism was laid waste, with traditional catechisms banished to the advantage of the “fonds obligatoire” (compulsory collection of texts) which no longer taught what is necessary for salvation. The clergy supported the most rash political opinions (and those leaning most towards the Left). By the thousands, priests abandoned the priesthood and got married.
The climax was reached during the revolutionary events of May 1968, during which Cardinal François Marty, Archbishop of Paris and President of the French Bishops’ Conference, declared: “God is not conservative.” The next decade, until the death of Pope Paul VI, was calamitous for the Church in France, which was emptied of its substance (drop in Church practice, massive diminution of the clergy and of vocations, collapse of the religious life, beginning of the financial problems which would only get worse). The wildest experiments were carried out, the most heterodox and absurd statements were defended and broadcasted everywhere.
When confronted with this crisis that placed every Catholic in the “tragic necessity of making a choice,” French Catholics attached to Tradition (priests as well as laymen) were less unprepared than many others. They had the advantage of having a counter-revolutionary and anti-liberal literature of quality, which was both abundant and easy to obtain. Given the “Ralliement” they knew that Rome could err in certain matters. Since the condemnation of Action Française they had realized that ecclesiastical sanctions could be both without basis and unjust. During the Second World War they experienced the cowardly backing down of their bishops, which was for them a forewarning. The recent trauma of Algeria opened their eyes to the subversion rampant in the so-called Catholic press, in Catholic Action, and in a good part of the clergy. Massive “secularization” had alerted them of the near danger of seeing the disappearance of Christendom in its most concrete and immediate aspects. The storm which was unleashed over the Church of France from 1962, and which touched them in their immediate and personal religious lives (liturgy, catechism, clerical garb, lives of the priests, preaching, Catholic schools, and so on) showed that they could not escape crucial choices. Lastly, for 60 years, French Catholics had been getting used to supporting with their money (“denier du culte”) their priests and churches. They had acquired a wealth of experience to confront the crisis which was beginning to break out.
These general historical conditions do not suffice to account for such a massive Catholic Resistance in France. More immediate dispositions contributed to prepare it after World War II, especially through two symbolic works: the “Cité Catholique” and Chabeuil.
It is impossible to understand the vitality of Catholic Resistance in France if we do not study first the Cité Catholique. Most of those who reacted at the end of the 1960’s in France had been formed within this organization during the two preceding decades.
In 1946, in the Sacred Heart Basilica of Montmartre, three men founded the future Cité Catholique, under the temporary name of Centre d’Études Critiques et de Synthèse (Center of Critical Studies and Synthesis). Their objective was to create an organization of lay people who, in their civic capacity, would work toward the advent of a Christian social order. This lay organization sought to profess and make known the social doctrine of the Catholic Church rather than any personal doctrine. Since the Church allows any Catholic the right to make his own political preferences, the Cité Catholique made use of this liberty to diffuse its method and action. The principal leader and organizer of the Cité Catholique was Jean Ousset (1914-94).
The method of the Cité Catholique is founded on the “cell,” a small group of militants who meet regularly and methodically study doctrine, especially that of the papal encyclicals, either directly or through the books published by Jean Ousset, of which the principal and most known is entitled Pour qu’Il Règne (That He Might Reign). It is a methodical synthesis of the “Catholic counter-revolution” and its characteristic is its great wealth of diverse quotations.
In 1963, as the Cité Catholique was (already) under virulent attack from the progressivists, its leaders decided to change its name. They chose the title “International Office of Works of Civic Training and Doctrinal Action in Accordance with Christian Natural Law,” a name purposely impossible to use (it was usually shortened into “The Office”). They also modified its structure and created a multitude of affiliated associations gravitating around a unique center so as to adapt their strategy to the evolutions of the combat.
At the time, the Office had a great influence in France as well as internationally. Its first Congress took place in Sion, in Swiss Wallis in 1964, and from 1965 to 1977 in Lausanne. Between 2,500 and 4,000 people from all nationalities would meet for three days. This gave the organizers of very diverse movements an opportunity to harmonize and organize their actions (movements, associations, Catholic groups and newspapers of traditional orientation all had their booths). At this yearly international meeting you could listen to a Catholic intellectual elite: Marcel De Corte, Jean Madiran, Marcel Clement, Louis Salleron, Gustave Thibon, etc. In 1977, the journalist of the daily Le Monde still observed: “During three days the Palais Beaulieu in Lausanne probably contained the most important counter-revolutionary documentation in all of Europe.”
The Cité Catholique (or Office) had its own publication: first Verbe, mostly concerned with pure doctrine (most of the main books of the Cité Catholique were first published there in installments); and later Permanences, which gave more space to a critical analysis of current events.
The Cité Catholique enabled thousands of French Catholics to acquire a thorough knowledge of the social doctrine of the Church (together with all its presuppositions and all its consequences), to be brought into contact with the counter-revolutionary doctrinal corpus, and to be made sensitive to the ever increasing progressivist subversion.
But behind the doctrinal, militant, and lay organization of the Cité Catholique (or the Office) there was a spiritual reality which is absolutely essential to understand the fertile soil in which Catholic Resistance in France was born and developed: the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius condensed into five days by Fr. Vallet and preached by the CPCR (Parish Cooperators of Christ the King) in Chabeuil.
François de Paule Vallet (1883-1947), a Spaniard, joined the Jesuits in 1907 after a retreat according to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, which had deeply moved him. As of 1923, he adapted these Exercises to the circumstances of modern life, condensing them into five days. Upon this basis, he launched an apostolic campaign of great scope in all of Catalonia. In five years, over 12,500 men experienced these Ignatian retreats.
Fr. Vallet’s objective, however, was not exclusively “spiritual” in a narrow and restricted sense. As a matter of fact, he desired to extend the reign of Christ by evangelizing adult men so that these would later become a ferment in their parish communities. Consequently, he founded the Organization of Parish Exercises (Oeuvre des Exercices Paroissiaux–OEP) to stimulate the perseverance and apostolic spirit of the retreatants engaged in their respective parishes.
In 1927, Fr. Vallet, devoured by his evangelizing zeal, saw his health give way. His superiors imposed upon him a long rest during which he was inspired to found the Congregation of the Parish Cooperators of Christ the King (CPCR).
On May 3, 1928, Fr. Vallet left the Society of Jesus to undertake his new foundation. He began in Uruguay but soon went to France where he opened the “Nazareth House” in Chabeuil (diocese of Valence). From then on, the five-day retreats according to the Exercises of St. Ignatius were preached without interruption, especially by Fr. Ludovic-Marie Barielle (1897-1983), a former parish priest from Marseilles (who would end his life in Ecône). The movement of the Anciens Retraitants Paroissiaux (ARP–Former Parish Retreatants) was founded to carry on the work of the Exercises in the parishes.
Jean Ousset and his friends discovered the work of Fr. Vallet and became attached to it. The CPCR were teaching a strongly Catholic and anti-revolutionary doctrine and spirituality. So, quite naturally, they encouraged their retreatants to adhere to the Cité Catholique, the only clearly counter-revolutionary Catholic lay organization in France. The leaders of the Cité Catholique became accustomed to follow the retreats in Chabeuil and incited their militants to do likewise.
Thus thousands of French Catholics would henceforth come regularly to profit from the strong spiritual truths of the Exercises and thanks to these were protected from the deadly confusion of progressivism.
Yet all the Catholics with traditional leanings were not necessarily members of the Cité Catholique or people following the Exercises in Chabeuil. And even those who were, needed nourishment and intellectual protection between their retreats or their cell meetings. Hence the importance of a truly Catholic and counter-revolutionary press. Now, France’s characteristic at the beginning of the 1960’s is that Catholic mainstream press was essentially represented by two groups (Bayard Press and the group La Vie Catholique) which had both fallen into the hands of progressivists. “Conservative,” “traditional,” “fundamentalist” Catholic reviews were already opposed to the predominant thought–they were fighting, they were dissident. Consequently they imbued their readers with a spirit of critique, of reaction, of attention to the subversive movements in the very bosom of the Church. This prepared minds to react when confronted with the ecclesiastical revolution that was to break out soon. We give here below the main reviews read by traditional Catholics even before the beginning of the Second Vatican Council.
La Pensée Catholique (Catholic Thought) was founded in the fall of 1946 by four priests: Frs. Lucien (Luc) Lefèvre (1895-1987), Henri Lusseau (1896-1973), Victor Berto (1900-68), and Alphonse Roul (1901-69). It was a bimonthly theological review and represented the tradition of the French Seminary of Rome (of which the four founders were alumni) and of Fr. Henri Le Floch (1862-1950). Its principles can be summed up in three words: Romanitas, Thomism, and anti-liberalism. This review was fighting the good doctrinal fight, but being essentially theological, it was especially read by priests.
In 1954, two laymen keenly interested in sound doctrine, Charles-Pierre Doazan and Lucien Garrido, founded a bulletin which was first duplicated and later printed: Nouvelles de Chrétienté (News of Christendom). At first, it was devoted to religious topics of general interest: pontifical documents, various news updates, commentaries, religious history, and so on. But a man whose name never appeared (for easily understandable reasons of discretion) gave life to this publication with his spirit and his pen from the beginning of the Council: Dom Edouard Guillou (1911-91), a monk of the Benedictine Abbey of La Source (founded by Solesmes) in Paris. From the very beginning of Vatican II, Dom Guillou understood the revolution which was underway. Day after day, in Nouvelles de Chrétienté, he analyzed the progress of the Council. The fact that the review was published every week was precious to react quickly and not leave minds unarmed. The pen of Dom Guillou was erudite and well argued, sharp and lucid, ironic and polemic, and worked wonders to enlighten its readers. For instance, we can find, buried in dusty issues of the review, texts which are still remarkable today on the question of religious liberty or the liturgical revolution.
In March 1956, Jean Madiran, a philosopher and journalist, born in 1920, founded the monthly Itinéraires (Routes). At the beginning, it was, to be sure, a Catholic and traditional review, but especially concerned with cultural topics and analyses. As time went on, Madiran made of it the meeting place of French Catholic thought, thanks to the collaboration of (among others) Fr. Berto, the Charlier Brothers, Fr. de Chivré, Gustave Corçao, Marcel De Corte, Fr. Dulac, Fr. Guérard des Lauriers, Dom Guillou, Louis Jugnet, Charles De Koninck, Archbishop Lefebvre, Henri Massis, Gustave Thibon, etc. During the Council, the review strove to enlighten Catholics and help them to “remain sane,” but it remained relatively aloof. On the other hand, from September 1967 onwards (with the reprint of the Catechism of St. Pius X), Itinéraires successively became engaged in the battle for the catechism in opposition to the “Fonds obligatoire” of the French bishops, and in the battle for the traditional Mass (January 1970) and finally it ardently supported Archbishop Lefebvre and Ecône (The Wild Condemnation of Archbishop Lefebvre, 1975). During all those years, the review was a guiding light for traditionalists. Thus, on December 1, 1985, Archbishop Lefebvre wrote to Jean Madiran to thank him for “the review Itinéraires which you founded and which has become symbolic of fidelity to the Catholic Faith.” And on August 19, 1988, in the last letter he addressed to him, he said again: “Your opinion and your judgment during these twenty years of combat were of the utmost importance to support and direct those who were fighting.”
Among the collaborators of Itinéraires, it is fitting to mention two men in particular with respect to the reaction against the new Mass. First of all, Fr. Roger-Thomas Calmel (1914-75), a Dominican, the author of the vibrant “Declaration” of fidelity to the traditional Mass by which the review made manifest its commitment in the battle in January 1970. In articles, magnificent for their doctrine, clarity, and literary quality, Fr. Calmel developed his “apology for the Roman Canon” and his strong denunciation of the “liturgical revolution.” This true Dominican remains one of the greatest characters of Catholic Resistance and his writings are still astonishingly up-to-date.
Next, we must mention the name of Louis Salleron (1905-92), a jurist, economist, and a writer. As of September 24, 1969, in the weekly journal of general interest Carrefour (Crossroads), he took a clear stand against the Novus Ordo Missae. In this review and in Itinéraires, he developed high-quality canonical and dialectical argumentation, which in December 1970 was gathered in a book which left its impression on minds and launched an expression, La nouvelle messe (The New Mass). This book was re-printed and enlarged several times.
French reaction to the crisis in the Church could not be explained without the many-faceted action of a priest born in 1924, Fr. Georges de Nantes. In October 1956, he began the monthly publication of his Lettre à mes amis (Letter to My Friends), in which he denounced progressivism and gave an emergency critical analysis of the Second Vatican Council and its texts. In October, the review was replaced by La Contre-Réforme catholique au XXe siècle (The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the 20th Century). This latter had up to 30,000 subscribers–a considerable number. Fr. de Nantes completed his action as a journalist and writers with conferences and public meetings which drew a large audience. Even if his interventions were often marred by excesses inherent in his personality, even if his practical position concerning the new Mass eventually remained ambiguous (since he advised his followers to attend Mass in their parishes on a regular basis), we must acknowledge that, at the time, Fr. de Nantes had dazzling intuitions concerning the revolutionary process which was then being set up. He spoke loudly–very loudly–and clearly to warn Catholics and enlighten them as to their duty.
In the period preceding the conciliar liturgical reform properly so-called, we must not forget the influence of Catholic reviews which Anglo-Saxons call “conservative.” By principle, they were determined to submit to the hierarchy. Nevertheless they have their place in the atmosphere of reaction against the errors and impostures which were beginning to be massively diffused in French Catholicism. Among these, we can name the review Défense du Foyer (Defense of the Home) run by Pierre Lemaire, who led a virulent campaign against the errors of the new catechism, on the one hand, and on the other hand, against the moral deviations of the progressivist press. Mention must also be made of France Catholique-Ecclesia. Created in 1924, it was the former review of the Fédération Nationale Catholique founded by General de Castelnau. Also worthy of being noted is L’Homme Nouveau (The New Man), created in 1946 by Fr. Fillere and Fr. Richard with a clearly anti-communist orientation, and which at the time was run by Marcel Clement (1921-2005), a former redactor of Itinéraires. It is fitting to recall the action of Jean Daujat (1906-98), a collaborator to France Catholique and L’Homme Nouveau, who in Paris, in 1925, founded the Centre d’Études Religieuses (Center of Religious Studies) where thousands of Catholics received a good formation in sound Thomistic doctrine.
At last, the time had come for a massive crisis in the Church of France. Certainly, the soil had been prepared, but was it going to be able to produce the expected fruits? Other countries at that time (we may simply think here of Italy) apparently possessed a fertile soil, which nevertheless did not produce the fruits which could have been expected. Now, French soil would, in fact, be fertile during this whole period of time.
Whilst the institutions and reviews already in existence before the Council continued their action (under diverse forms), new personalities came forward, specifically in reaction to the crisis which was beginning to be unleashed. We give here the most prominent men, without however keeping strictly the chronological or honorific order, because their interventions overlapped often with one another.
In this panorama of the great resistance fighters, it is fitting to name someone whom we would not necessarily expect here and who yet played a major part: a writer and a novelist, Michel de Saint-Pierre (1916-87). A cousin of the writer Henry de Montherlant, a Resistance fighter (he received the Légion d’Honneur, the Military Medal, the Rosette de la Résistance Française, the Croix de Guerre avec étoile de vermeil 1939-45 and the Croix du Combattant Volontaire), Michel de Saint-Pierre wrote abundantly and successfully (in 1954, 25,000 copies of his novel Les aristocrates were sold; in 1955, he was awarded the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie Française). In 1964, he published a novel entitled Les nouveaux prêtres (The New Priests) which “portrayed” the crisis in the Church. This book was as public as a well-known scandal because it pointed out the very bases of the crisis which was just beginning to break out. The progressivists were furious that they had been uncovered; bewildered Catholics found themselves enlightened and encouraged to resist; and the general public was informed about the true situation of the Church. The author complemented this novel with other books on the crisis of the Church, such as Sainte colère (Holy Wrath), in 1965; Ces prêtres qui souffrent (These Priests Who Suffer), in 1966; Eglise en ruine, Eglise en péril (Church in Ruin, Church in Peril), in 1971; Les fumées de Satan (The Smoke of Satan), in 1976 (co-written with André Mignot); Le ver est dans le fruit (The Worm Is in the Fruit), in 1978; etc. Michel de Saint-Pierre brought his unfailing support to Archbishop Lefebvre and Ecône. Among other things, he founded the Association Credo, in 1975, to organize the SSPX pilgrimage to Rome on the occasion of the Jubilee Year.
It is almost impossible to understand the vitality of traditionalism in France if we do not mention the figure of Fr. Louis Coache (1920-94), who was at the heart of the main initiatives of resistance to the tidal wave of the conciliar revolution. Ordained in 1943 for the diocese of Beauvais, Fr. Coache, a doctor in Canon Law, was appointed, in 1958, as parish priest of Montjavoult (near Gisors, at the south-west end of the department of Oise). Since 1955, confronted with the increasing ravages caused by progressivism, he had been making notes in view of writing a book on the subject. But the advent of the “spirit of the Council” made the book a much greater priority so that, on Christmas 1964, Fr. Coache sent to his confreres of the diocese of Beauvais a Lettre d’un curé de campagne à ses confrères (Letter of a Country Parish Priest to His Confreres). On September 8, 1965, a Nouvelle lettre d’un curé de campagne (New Letter of a Country Parish Priest) was released and even more widely distributed. That same year, under the pseudonym of Jean-Marie Reusson, he published at Table Ronde Editions a book entitled La foi au goût du jour (The Faith according to the Taste of the Day).
In June 1966, in the monthly Le Monde et la Vie (a large-size illustrated magazine competing with Paris Match) an article was published by Fr. Coache entitled “The New Religion.” This article of four large pages was used for the cover page of the issue (with a striking photo of Pope Paul VI), and André Giovanni, the editor, introduced it in his editorial. The article had such a considerable impact that it earned its author scorn from his bishop, and the review a condemnation from the Permanent Council of the French Bishops’ Conference (together with Défense du Foyer, Lumière, and Itinéraires). In June 1967, a Dernière lettre d’un curé de campagne (Last Letter from a Country Parish Priest) was released, with the printing of 150,000 copies, thus proving the fame the author had obtained in a few years.
At that time, Fr. Coache was fighting with his pen to oppose the landslide of modernism. As the parish priest of Montjavoult had no intention of becoming a writer, his pamphlets should have had only a limited echo. But in the complete rout of the Faith, faithful Catholics gave widespread acknowledgment to those modest writings. Encouraged by this daring voice, some priests took heart and contacted one another; lay people gathered together–in short, a traditional resistance began to be organized.
At the time, although Fr. Coache was already poorly thought of by his bishop, his canonical situation was perfectly regular, and, apart from his writings, he had not yet undertaken anything which could jeopardize it. Things changed radically on February 28, 1968. On that day, Fr. Coache, who had planned a solemn procession of the Blessed Sacrament in his parish on the occasion of Corpus Christi to close the Year of Faith, sent Bishop Desmazières an invitation to come and preside over the ceremony. The bishop of Beauvais, who was already looking for an opportunity to oppose Fr. Coache, immediately opened fire. Two days later, he told him that he was asking for an explicit act of submission. Not being satisfied with Fr. Coache’s response, on March 19, he gave him the order to discontinue all his publications and to cancel the procession of the Blessed Sacrament.
Faced with such an attitude, Fr. Coache decided to have recourse to the Roman tribunals to obtain justice. Thus began a long and tortuous procedure: no less than 80 letters were exchanged between Fr. Coache, Bishop Desmazières, and the Roman authorities (Cardinal Wright, Bishop Palazzini, Cardinal Seper, Cardinal Villot, etc.) At long last, on June 10, 1975, a commission of cardinals officially approved the destitution of Fr. Coache by the bishop of Beauvais. The priest accepted to submit to the Roman decision, as he had said he would, and he left the presbytery of Montjavoult, where he was residing, to retire to Lacordaire House in Flavigny, which he had purchased in the meantime. But during all those years, the Corpus Christi processions in Montjavoult were one of the main annual rendezvous of traditionalism.
In February 1968, Fr. Coache founded the Combat de la Foi (Combat for the Faith), a monthly bulletin destined to relay his action. But more importantly, he wrote, with the help of Fr. Noël Barbara, the text which was going to have the most significant influence in the constitution of traditionalism: the very famous Vade mecum du catholique fidèle (Companion of the Faithful Catholic). This short pamphlet, which recalls the essentials about prayer, confession, communion, the Mass, readings, catechism, the Catholic press, and morals, proved to be a veritable tidal wave. Published at the end of 1968 by Ferrey Printing Company, it had already sold 150,000 copies by the end of January 1969. In 1975, its fourth reprint (still available from the Editions de Chiré) brought the total number of copies printed to 360,000, a considerable number.
Besides the precious advice it contains, what gave its worth to the Vade mecum were the names of 400 priests who signed the first edition (others would join later on), thus sketching the map of France’s Catholic fidelity. It obtained its full effect especially in 1969, with the introduction of the “New Mass,” which Fr. Coache rejected publicly without delay. Catholics confused by the liturgical rout had only to consult the Vade mecum to find the priest who was still saying the true Mass close to their homes. Moreover, Fr. Coache did not spare himself to support the Vade mecum with public meetings in the Mutualité and the Wagram Hall (one of them gave birth to the pamphlet Evêques, restez catholiques [Bishops, Remain Catholic!] of which 120,000 copies were printed), and with pilgrimages. The most important of these latter were obviously the “Marches to Rome” of 1970, 1971, and 1973. These international pilgrimages to the heart of Catholicism were meant to bring about the restoration of the Faith and liturgy of the Church, and they gave evidence of the vitality of Tradition. They were brought to their conclusion, in 1975, by a great pilgrimage presided over by Archbishop Lefebvre on the occasion of the Jubilee Year. Soon after, Fr. Coache created the pilgrimages to Lourdes in an atmosphere of spiritual combat.
All these initiatives were of primary importance in encouraging faithful Catholics, supporting them, and enkindling their zeal. Fr. Coache was at the very heart of the heroic combat of the first hours.
Many other of Fr. Coache’s activities must also be mentioned. There was the campaign of destruction of bad newspapers in churches, which resulted in several lawsuits. There were some “commando-type” actions, especially against sacrilegious emblems. There were various fights against modernists, either on the occasion of scandalous ceremonies, or with meetings of protesting priests. There were his interventions in the media, for instance the Radioscopie (a famous radio program) with Jacque Chancel on May 5, 1975. And last but not least, Fr. Coache was a decisive factor (under the leadership of Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget) in the take-over of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet Church and in its remaining a bastion of Tradition.
Fr. Coache was one of the front-line soldiers who sacrificed to hold the front-line while young recruits were being trained in the rear. How could we not ascribe the magnificent religious efflorescence we can see today in Tradition to the difficult fight led by Fr. Coache during the “terrible years.”
In 1967, while the liturgy was decaying, especially in France, a bimonthly bulletin printed on a duplicating machine, and entitled Courrier de Rome (Mail from Rome), was created. Its main organizer was Fr. Raymond Dulac (1903-87), an alumnus of the French Seminary in Rome, and a doctor in theology and canon law. The Courrier de Rome, in the clear and cutting style of Fr. Dulac, specialized in analyzing the juridical and canonical aspects of the new liturgy, proving, on the one hand, that the Traditional Mass had never been forbidden, nor could it be (Fr. Dulac introduced the public to the Bull Quo Primum, which he had translated from Latin); and, on the other hand, that the New Mass was not compulsory, since the texts put forth to the contrary were either non-existent, or falsified, or without coercive power. To these canonical considerations, Fr. Dulac added pertinent theological as well as historical and liturgical observations. It was characteristic of the Courrier de Rome to intervene very early, with unparalleled force and clarity. It contributed to enlighten, bring together, and galvanize priests and faithful who wanted to keep Tradition but who at the time were feeling lost and isolated.
Fr. Noël Barbara (1910-2002), a priest repatriated from Algeria, played a definitive role in the Resistance, mainly with his talents as catechist and author of books for ordinary people. As he had belonged to the Parish Cooperators of Christ the King for a time, (he left before taking his final vows), he had received the tradition of the Spiritual Exercises according to the method and spirit of Fr. Vallet, especially from Fr. André Romagnan. He retained from this a powerful sense of doctrine, and a clarity of exposition which characterized his apostolate in the crisis. In 1963, he made himself known by the publication of a remarkable Catholic Catechism of Marriage. Later, faced with the doctrinal and catechetical crisis, he gave numerous conferences everywhere in France to enlighten, warn, and encourage people to keep the Faith. In 1967, in order to extend his action, he founded Forts dans la Foi (Strong in the Faith), a bimonthly review of Catholic catechesis, in which his crystal-clear style and sense of the concrete worked marvels. In 1968, together with Fr. Coache, he was at the origin of the monument of French traditionalism: the Companion of the Faithful Catholic.
The New Mass was promulgated on April 3, 1969. Cristina Campo (1923-77), a writer and poet and instigator of Una Voce Roma, together with her friend Emilia Pediconi, immediately gathered five or six priests to prepare a critical study to be presented to Pope Paul VI before November 30, the fateful date of the implementation of the new Mass. In April and May, on the premises of Una Voce, and often during nocturnal sessions, Msgr. Renato Pozzi (a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education and former peritus at the Council), Msgr. Gerrino Milani (likewise a member of the Congregation for Catholic Education), Msgr. Domenico Celada (a renowned liturgist), and a few others prepared a draft. The redaction was entrusted to Fr. Michel Louis Guérard des Lauriers (1898-1988), a Dominican and professor at the Pontifical University of the Lateran. From his notes in French, Fr. Guérard dictated a text to Cristina Campo, who translated it into Italian and minutely brought it to completion under the title Breve esame critico del Novus Ordo Missae (A Short Critical Study of the Novus Ordo Mass), and dated it June 5, 1969, the feast of Corpus Christi.
Campo and Pediconi having access to influential ecclesiastical circles, in particular via Cardinal Ottaviani’s office, it was decided to seek prestigious “signatures” for the document. But things dragged on because one after the other, Italian prelates backed out. Eventually, only Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci signed the introductory letter of the text. Tired of waiting, Fr. de Nantes published the letter signed only by Ottaviani in the Contre-Réforme Catholique on October 15, 1969. Since all was uncovered, they could not wait any longer. Consequently, the letter by the cardinals was dated September 3, the feast of St. Pius X, and delivered to Paul VI together with the study on October 21, 1969.
In the meantime, the study had been translated into French by Fr. Guérard, into German by Elisabeth Gerstner, into Spanish by Don Luigi Severini, and into English by Prof. Anderson (under the title The Ottaviani Intervention). It was very widely distributed, especially in France, and remains a landmark in Catholic Resistance. As Cardinal Alfons Maria Stickler (1910-2007), who always celebrated the traditional Mass, wrote in a public letter dated November 27, 2004,
The results of the [liturgical] reform are judged as devastating by many today. It was the merit of Cardinals Ottaviani and Bacci to discover very early that the modification of the rites resulted in a fundamental change in doctrine....The analysis of the Novus Ordo by these two Cardinals has lost nothing of its value, nor, unfortunately, of its timeliness.
Fr. François Ducaud (1897-1984), a writer and poet who had taken the pen name of Ducaud-Bourget, had founded the literary review Matines (Matins) in 1936. Because of his function as general chaplain of the Order of Malta, he was entitled to be called Monsignor (a title which continued to be given to him even after he had ceased that function). A priest of the diocese of Paris, he was chaplain at Laennec Hospital when the New Mass appeared. He continued to celebrate the traditional Mass in the chapel of the hospital, and as weeks went by attendance at his Mass kept increasing. Expelled from Laennec in 1971 as a result of political pressures from trade-unions, he went from place to place with the congregation of faithful that had gathered around him. Among others, in 1972, he celebrated Mass in a former warehouse in the district of Les Halles, in rue de la Cossonnerie, and also in the Social Museum, in rue Las Cases. He eventually found shelter in Wagram Hall on Sundays, and in a small room adjoining the said Hall during the week. This small adjoining room became St. Germaine’s Chapel. Surrounded by a small group of priests attached to Tradition, in virtue of circumstances Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget found himself at the head of the largest French traditional community, at least in numbers. Several times, he respectfully asked the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal François Marty, for a place of worship for the community, but he met only with refusals and rebuffs.
In desperation, he decided to take an initiative which has since been recorded in history: to provide for Tradition a magnificent church in the very heart of Paris, St. Nicolas du Chardonnet.
Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget, Fr. Coache, Mrs. Buisson (a very active member of the community, involved in all the traditional works and charities in Paris), and a few friends were accustomed to meet on a regular basis in Le Tourville restaurant, near the home of Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget. Already in 1974, Fr. Coache had mentioned the possibility of taking a church in Paris. Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget, more temperate than the hot-headed priest of Montjavoult, always delayed the execution of such a project. On October 20, 1976, a meeting organized by Fr. Coache and presided over by Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget took place in La Mutualité and was attended by 3,000 persons. With Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget’s permission, Fr. Coache announced that in six months they would have taken a Parisian church. The crowd grew enthusiastic about the project.
Five people were let into the secret: Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget, Fr. Vincent Serralda (1904-98), Fr. Coache, Mrs. Buisson, and Mr. Ducaud (Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget’s nephew). Each of the three priests brought his specific contribution to the project: Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget was the “boss,” the Parisian figurehead who gave his moral guarantee. Fr. Serralda designated the church, St. Nicolas du Chardonnet, where he had been a curate, and which was located next to the Hall of La Mutualité. Fr. Coache contributed his daring, his sense of organization, his groups of well-trained men thoroughly drilled by numerous previous operations. The rest of the story is well known: it is abundantly narrated in many books. The large meeting had been scheduled in the hall of La Mutualité, but the crowd of faithful was sent to the nearby church. This peaceful but strong invasion resulted in the celebration of the traditional Mass, the first in many years in this edifice. Since then, the “admirable church of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet” is “world famous,” to quote Archbishop Lefebvre. Msgr. Ducaud-Bourget is buried in the ambulatory.
Fr. Michel André (1915-2000) must be mentioned in this gallery of the great resistance fighters, even if his public activities in France belong to a later period. A Holy Ghost Father, he was a missionary in Argentina from 1962 to 1971. Faced with the crisis of the Church, he began by having 10,000 copies of the Ottaviani Intervention printed in Spanish, and he traveled all over South America to make it known. Upon the advice of, among others, Archbishop Lefebvre, his former Superior General, he left Argentina in April 1971 and came back to France. In 1972, he created the Noël Pinot Association (after the name of a priest guillotined wearing his priestly vestments during the French Revolution) for the defense of the traditional Mass and to help priests faithful to the Mass. This help is also material: every year, the Noël Pinot Association receives some 15,000 Mass intentions which it re-distributes to priests who bind themselves to celebrate exclusively according to the traditional rite. Since its creation, more than 2,000 priests have belonged to the A.N.P. In June 1973, Fr. André founded a quarterly bulletin, Introibo, which gives doctrine and news updates. It is fairly well distributed, since up to 6,000 copies are printed.
In 1946, Luce Quenette (1904-77), for whom “Catholic education was a passion” (to quote Archbishop Lefebvre), bought a farm in the village of Montrottier, in the Lyonese mountains, in order to found a boys’ school. She wanted to give children a taste for Christian and French civilization through the study of classical literature in a family and country environment that was already in a spirit of reaction against progressivism. In 1954, she bought some buildings in a hamlet called Péraudière. In 1969, she founded a girls’ school in Malvières, in Haute-Loire which was later transferred to Saint-Franc, in Savoy, in 1994.
Luce Quenette reacted very early to the subversion, first because of the decay of catechism, next because of the liturgical cataclysm. “During the whole year 1969,” Jean Madiran wrote in his funeral tribute, “with tremendous impatience, Luce Quenette kept urging us to do everything possible, and even impossible, to ward off the threat of the new Mass which had been announced. ‘We’ll see,’ would we tell her. ‘Just wait....’ ‘I cannot wait,’ she would answer. ‘Children cannot wait: we must tell them now, this very day, and once and for all where the true Mass is.’” And Jean Madiran did not hesitate to say during a conference at Ecône on March 19, 1974: “Without her, the review Itinéraires, might not have taken such a strong stand on the Mass so early.” In 1970, Luce Quenette met Archbishop Lefebvre for the first time in Fribourg, and the Archbishop came to visit the school at Péraudière the following year for Corpus Christi.
Luce Quenette first became known in the field of literature in a little professional review entitled Entre Paysans (Between Peasants). In 1967, she began her contribution to Itinéraires. In 1968, she founded the Letter from La Péraudière, which became one of the first traditionalist periodicals in France and enlightened many people concerning the crisis of the Church. In 1974, her texts about education were collected and harmonized into a book entitled L’éducation de la pureté (The Education of Purity) by the Dominique Martin Morin publishing company.
Her testament clearly expressed the fight she had waged:
Only the Tradition of the Church founded by Our Lord Jesus Christ two thousand years ago, and handed down to us, represents the Catholic religion in which we have been baptized, and in which we can work out our salvation. We do this with the traditional Latin Mass, the authentic catechism passed on to children, and Sacred Scripture free of today’s falsifications.
During the years of the conciliar revolution, La Péraudière School was “the school of Tradition” for boys in France. It brought forth many vocations, and was a model and an example for the traditional boys’ schools which began to be founded at the end of the 1970’s. Many of the first priests who worked in those schools were alumni of La Péraudière.
At the same time, the revival of traditional education for girls was underway in Toulouse, in the Congregation of teaching Dominican Sisters of the Holy Name of Jesus, especially under the influence of their chaplain, Fr. Calmel. After mature reflection and painful discussions, a first group of 26 Sisters, under the guidance of Mother Hélène Jamet, a former Superior General, settled in Brignoles in July 1974. A year later, in July 1975, a second group of 21 Sisters, under the guidance of Mother Anne-Marie Simoulin, Superior General in charge, left Toulouse for Fanjeaux.
Among the people who took action against the widespread subversion in the Church in those years, we must also mention those whom we might call “conservatives,” because they did not completely side with Tradition.
Foremost among them was the Una Voce Association, founded in France in 1964, and from which was born the Una Voce International Federation, in 1966, with its chapters in numerous countries. The initiative of the foundation of Una Voce was due to Georges Cerbelaud-Salagnac (1906-99) and his wife Bernadette Lécureux (born in 1913, and the author of the book Latin, the Language of the Church). For 20 years in particular, it was presided over by Henri Sauguet (1901-89), a member of the Institute, and a famous musician.
Founded even before the end of the Council, Una Voce did not have the New Mass in view (this latter was only promulgated five years later). Its objectives were clearly defined: the defense and promotion of Latin, Gregorian chant and sacred polyphony in the Western Roman Catholic liturgy, as well as sacred arts. But the arrival of the New Mass forced Una Voce to take a stand. Whereas most of the national associations (juridically independent) of the International Federation clearly chose the traditional liturgy only, the French association showed more reservations because its members and its leaders did not agree on the attitude to be adopted. Though expressing a definite preference for traditional liturgy, Una Voce France nevertheless accepted the liturgy of Paul VI, and tried its utmost to have it celebrated in Latin and with Gregorian chant. It publishes a bimonthly review and books, and runs a radio program devoted to Gregorian chant.
At the height of the combat, most of the defenders of Tradition in France were members of Una Voce or read its review because every kind of ammunition was precious at the time. The Opus Sacerdotale, an association of priests providing mutual support for their priestly lives and founded by Canon Etienne Catta, also in 1964, was working in a spirit similar to Una Voce’s.
We must also mention the existence of groups, not at all insignificant, which, while accepting the Council as well as the liturgical reform, were nevertheless active to denounce and combat the increasing doctrinal and liturgical deviations. Among the most active, the Rassemblement des Silencieux de l’Église (Association of the Silent Ones of the Church), founded in 1969 by Pierre Debray (1922-99) worked within the parishes. Pierre Debray extended this action with the foundation of theCourrier Hebdomadaire(Weekly Bulletin), in 1972, and later with a new group called Chrétiens pour un Monde Nouveau (Christians for a New World). Along the same lines, the association Fidelité et Ouverture (Fidelity and Opening), founded in 1971 by Gerard Soulages (1912-2005), was addressed mostly to more intellectual circles.
As it was said above, the mainstream press, be it lay or Catholic, was then in the hands of progressivists and those who were favorable to progressivism. Consequently, the initiatives of traditional Catholics were often silenced. Yet, there were some “resonance boxes” which made it possible to reach a larger audience. We give here below a few characteristic examples.
In the 1960’s, a magazine for the general public entitled Le Monde et la Vie (World and Life)–founded at the beginning of the 1950’s–ran the explicit sub-title: “Learn everything from texts and images.” This magazine, a kind of monthly Paris Match, devoted several dossiers to religious problems from 1962 onwards, thanks to the impulse given by its editor, André Giovanni (who, in 1976, founded Santé [Health] magazine, destined to a fine future). It willingly gave “traditionalists” the opportunity to express themselves. For instance, in December 1962: “Where Is the Church of France Going?” had the following table of contents: “The Gospel Betrayed,” “The Church in Danger,” “Teilhard de Chardin, an Accursed Jesuit or a Future Father of the Church?” “The Battle Between Fundamentalists and Progressivists,” “Why the Mass Back to Front?” “A Former Worker-Priest Speaks.” We can also note at random in old issues: in February 1964, “The Demagogues and Sacred Arts”; in June 1964, “Communist Infiltration Through the Pax Movement”; in August 1964, “Vernet vs. Teilhard”; in January 1965, “Dossier on the New Priests”; in February 1966, “Fr. de Nantes,” and so on. Le Monde et la Vie disappeared at the end of the 1960’s and was revived as a bimonthly in 1972, under the title Monde et Vie, with an openly “traditionalist” orientation.
In the political weekly paper Rivarol, Edith Delamare (1921-93) kept a widely read religious chronicle, clearly favorable to traditional Resistance. In 1967, she went to battle with Contre la liturgie d’après Concile (Against the Post-conciliar Liturgy) and opposed Fr. Georges Michonneau (1899-1983), one of the forerunners of the conciliar revolution, who proclaimed his commitment in Pour la liturgie d’ après Concile (For the Post-conciliar Liturgy) (Berger-Levrault). Together with Léon de Poncins, Jacques Bordiot, Gilles de Couessin, and Georges Virebeau (a.k.a. Henry Coston), Edith Delamare contributed, in 1969, to the collective book entitled, without ambiguity, Infiltrations enemies dans l’Eglise (Enemies Infiltrate the Church) (La Librairie Française). In that same weekly paper, Rivarol, during the 1960’s, Msgr. Carbonnel, a French monsignor residing in Rome, wrote in favor of Tradition under the transparent pseudonym of “Civis Romanus.”
A few courageous small publishing companies, going against the stream, tried to support Catholic resistance, for instance Nouvelles Editions Latines, Dominique Martin Morin, La Librairie Française, Editions du Cèdre, etc.
Catholic resistance could hardly rely on the network of regular bookstores, which were commercially bound to the leading publishing companies, which in turn were in full agreement with progressivist ideas. For this reason, mail-order bookstores developed in France at that time. Several companies were founded; among them it is fitting to make special mention of Diffusion de la Pensée Française (DPF). Created in 1966 by a student at the University of Poitiers, Jean Auguy (born in1942), this mail-order bookstore was soon established in the little Poitou village of Chiré-en-Montreuil, and before long it had its own publishing department under the name of Editions de Chiré. DPF played a major role during the years of combat, essentially by diffusing many works about doctrine and liturgy. The orientation of Jean Auguy’s company can easily be characterized if we remember three books published by Editions de Chiré. As early as 1971, Jean Vaquié published there a remarkable book entitled La révolution liturgique (The Liturgical Revolution), which analyzed the conciliar constitution, on the one hand, and the Novus Ordo Missae, on the other hand. In 1975, Editions de Chiré printed L’Eglise occupée (The Church under Occupation), by Jacques Ploncard d’Assac. This book is a historical analysis of the way the revolution penetrated into the ecclesiastical world. Lastly, still in 1975, the French translation (by Cerbelaud-Salagnac, the founder of Una Voce) of the book of Brazilian Arnaldo Xavier Da Silveira, La Nouvelle messe de Paul VI, qu’en penser? (What Are We to Think of Paul VI’s New Mass?) was released.
In the 1970’s, the daily L’Aurore, nowadays no longer in existence, played a non-negligible role in waking up French Catholics because of it religious chronicles written successively by two “high-powered” Dominicans. Fr. Maurice Lelong (1900-81) was a fairly well-known preacher (not to be confused with Fr. Michel Lelong, a White Father born in 1925, and still alive); he was notably in charge of the Sunday homily on the airwaves of the State-run radio France Culture. In 1971, he published Lexicon de l’Eglise nouvelle (Lexicon of the New Church), a pastiche of the “new ecclesiastical language" written as a dictionary. The following year, he did it again with Le livre blanc et noir de la communion solennelle (The White and Black Book for Solemn Communion) (Maine, 1972), which was a criticism of the organized destruction of this religious ceremony of capital importance in the religious formation of French Catholic youth. This, together with the sound doctrine of his sermons on the radio, earned him the disfavor of his superior and the abrupt termination of his contract with France Culture. In 1972, he was consequently received by L’Aurore, for which he wrote the weekly religious chronicle (collected in Les feux de l’Aurore, [Robert Morel, 1973]), to which, in 1973, he added Puisqu’il fait encore jour (Since It Is Still Daylight [Robert Morel, 1974]), and, in 1974, Les jeudis de l’Aurore (Robert Morel, 1975). Supporting himself upon a very solid and traditional theology, Fr. Lelong, in his chronicles, did not hesitate to take to task the murderers of the Church, especially religious journalists, priests on the binge, and irresponsible and cowardly bishops. In 1976, Fr. Lelong also wrote the preface for Un nouveau piège de la subversion: L’expression corporelle (A New Trap Set by Subversion: Corporal Expression) published by Dominique François with Editions du Cèdre (connected to La Pensée Catholique).
For the religious chronicle in L’Aurore, Fr. Lelong had as his successor Fr. Raymond-Leopold Bruckberger (1907-98), a Dominican absolutely impossible to classify. A former Resistance fighter, a man of letters, a film critic, and a friend of many artists, he led an unconventional life at the very least. Nevertheless, out of a sincere attachment to good doctrine, he contributed to the book Dialogue théologique published in 1947 by Frs. Labourdette and Nicolas, which offered a thorough criticism of the “New Theology” at its dawn. In the post-conciliar era, with great liberty of style and true literary qualities, he began to express his questions and surprises in front of the disturbing evolution of the Church (Lettre ouverte à Jésus-Christ [Open Letter to Jesus Christ], Albin Michel, 1973). The directors of L’Aurore (as well as those of Journal du Dimanche) offered him an opinion column. His critical reflections on the dramatic situation of the Church had a considerable impact, and were collected in L’âne et le boeuf (The Ass and the Ox), published by Plon in 1976 with an introduction by Jean Dutour, and more specially in Toute l’Eglise en clameurs (The Whole Church Is Clamoring), published by Flammarion in 1977. Fr. Bruckberger did not hesitate to dedicate this book to Louis Salleron and Michel de Saint-Pierre. Every Thursday in those years (which were the years of the condemnation of Archbishop Lefebvre and of the taking of St. Nicolas du Chardonnet), worried and confused Catholics were eagerly looking forward to reading the chronicle of “Father Bruck.”
Thanks to this whole heritage, to the widely diffused formation, and to the encouragements bestowed by the “stars” of Resistance, French Catholics entered resistance in a manner which was certainly modest in itself, and yet really massive compared to that of the universal Church.
Almost everywhere some priests kept wearing their cassock, teaching the old catechism, celebrating the traditional liturgy, and maintaining the ancient forms of Catholic piety. There were certainly several hundreds of them, maybe even more than a thousand. This means that they represented between 2% and 3% of the French clergy (which at the time numbered between 35,000 and 40,000 priests): in the state of cataclysm in which the Church was, such a figure was far from being insignificant, and must be compared with that of so many other places where there was no reaction or hardly any.
In every diocese (France numbers about a hundred dioceses), priests (and especially country parish priests) maintained Tradition. In one diocese, there was only one such priest. In another, there were two or three. But in some dioceses, there were six, seven, or even ten or more priests who remained faithful to Tradition. All in all, they made up a network, which, though uneven and irregular, was fairly dense. Roughly speaking, any French Catholic could find a traditional Mass less than 60 miles from his home.
It is obviously impossible to mention here the hundreds of names of these resistance priests. On the one hand, it would be long and tedious. On the other hand, to offer an exhaustive “register” of the various local resistance would require a minute and complex research. Indeed, the situations were very different. They happened over various periods of time, in places which at times changed from one week to the next, priests interchanged or succeeded each other, some changed their minds and then returned...
However, to express our gratitude and filial piety to the brave combatants who made it possible for Tradition to survive in France in spite of the storm, we give here, almost at random, some names (which will thus be saved from complete oblivion): Fr. Avril, Fr. Aymard, Fr. de Bailliencourt, Fr. Baillif, Fr. Barcelonne, Fr. Bayot, Fr. Bénéfice, Fr. Bertrand, Fr. Bouteille, Fr. Bovadilla, Fr. Burdin, Fr. de Chivré, Fr. Choulot, Fr. Claisse, Canon Cousseran, Fr. Crespel, Fr. Dirat, Fr. Duboscq, Fr. Dupanloup, Fr. Ehanno, Fr. Emmanuelli, Fr. Etienne de Sainte-Madeleine, Fr. Fellich, Fr. Gérentet de Saluneaux, Fr. Givry, Msgr. Gillet, Fr. Goyenetche, Msgr. Grasselly, Fr. des Graviers, Fr. Grymonpré, Fr. Guerle, Fr. Houghton, Fr. Jamin, Fr. Juan, Fr. Lagarde, Canon Lavigne, Fr. Le Boulc’h, Fr. Le Perderel, Fr. Londos, Fr. Lourdelet, Fr. Magentis, Fr. Mazué, Fr. Montgomery-Wright, Fr. Morandi, Fr. Mouraux, Canon Poncelet, Canon Porta, Fr. Pozzéra, Fr. Reynaud, Canon Robin, Fr. Rohmer, Fr. Rousseau, Canon Roussel, Fr. Sausm, Fr. Simon, Fr. Son, Fr. Sulmont, Fr. Vermeille, Fr. Vinson, Fr. Zucchelli, etc.
This enumeration is partial, and even biased inasmuch as it forgets so many names which would deserve to be taken out of oblivion. It is given here only as part of a global homage to all the priests who have become anonymous and have often fallen undeservedly into oblivion.
These resistance priests were, for the most part, persecuted (and often shamefully) by their bishops and by many of their confreres who had “tacked.” They were threatened, mocked, publicly attacked, deprived of financial resources, deposed, sent away, and often had to face dramatic situations. Many died of grief, suffering, and misery.
However, some spiritual “shelters” allowed them to regain strength. For instance, in Bédoin, in Vaucluse, since August 1970, there had been a fervent Benedictine community under the guidance of Fr. Gérard Calvet, a monk from the abbey of Tournay. In Pontcallec, the teaching Dominicans of the Holy Ghost, maintained the spirit of their founder, Fr. Berto, the peritus of Archbishop Lefebvre during the Council. But, in those days, it was especially the abbey of Notre-Dame de Fontgombault that was one of the main centers of resistance in France, under the guidance of its abbot, Dom Jean Roy (1921-77), who was a “friend and confidant” of Archbishop Lefebvre. Bishop Tissier de Mallerais noted this in his biography of the founder of the Society of Saint Pius X. Thus, in 1973, Archbishop Lefebvre ordained Fr. Jean-Yves Cottard (SSPX) to the priesthood in Fontgombault.
Annoyed by this traditional center, Rome expressly sent the apostolic nuncio to influence Dom Roy. In January 1973, Archbishop Lefebvre still tried to raise his spirits: “Let us keep the Mass, our common objective. We have been increasingly harassed for a few weeks because of the liturgy; to give up is out of the question!” Unfortunately, in 1974, Dom Roy yielded to pressures and the abbey of Fontgombault gave up the public celebration of the traditional Mass (whereas the priest serving the parish of Fontgombault at the time, Fr. Lecareux, remained faithful to it). This major loss considerably weakened Catholic resistance.
For their part, tens of thousands of lay people mobilized. Some were driving many miles every Sunday to attend a Mass celebrated in the traditional rite (guided to the right places by the famous vade mecum of Fr. Coache). Others, who lived near a parish where there was a priest attached to Tradition, would bring him help, support and protection in the face of clerical persecutions. Others still, geographically distant from any traditional priest, gathered together, organized themselves, created associations (the famous “Associations St. Pie V,” which sprung up under various names throughout France), and mobilized in order to go to find a priest available to say Mass for them, even if they had to drive hundreds of miles. They would offer him room and board, and then drive him back in the same incredible conditions. These groups also often taught catechism to the children, since France, at the time, was a desert as far as catechism was concerned.
Dozens of local bulletins began to appear. They were written either by priests or by simple laymen, and were trying, to the best of their abilities, to defend the Faith, Tradition, and the liturgy of all time. These writings left no stone unturned. Anyone could become a self-styled apologist, liturgist, theologian, or historian: the holy city was threatened, they had to hold the fort even if they did not have any specific training for the job. In those turbulent days, such bulletins encouraged, enlightened, and strengthened people of good will.
All these resistance fighters kept in touch by mail, met privately, and organized meetings. A layman, Gérard Saclier de la Batie, even tried to federate the Associations Saint Pie V. The attempt met only with half success, but it did help some less organized persons to take the matter into their hands, and it strengthened the associations already in existence.
Thus France was crisscrossed by a network of priests, groups of lay people, reviews, bulletins, and “Mass centers” which made up the Catholic Resistance. From 1976 onwards, the date of the foundation of the District of France, the priests of the Society of Saint Plus X went on mission in this fertile soil. And this fertile soil largely accounts for the astonishing expansion of the district during the 30 some years which have elapsed since.
Thanks to these first resistance fighters, to these heroes, Tradition did not disappear altogether. Let us think about the priest who kept his cassock while all his confreres changed into lay clothes, and who was the butt of the said-confreres’ jokes because of the “old frock” he was still wearing! That was enough to make his reason vacillate, and to wonder whether he were not a fool to keep a mode of life which all his friends, his confreres from the seminary, and his superiors had joyfully given up in the name of the dawn of a new era.
As for the faithful, they were expelled without any consideration from Catholic associations, before being simply thrown out of their parishes. All this happened to them because they were guilty of attachment to the most obvious Catholic tradition, the very tradition which the priests, who now persecuted them, had been teaching a few years earlier under pain of heavenly chastisement.
These men and women saved the essentials by remaining faithful in the midst of the storm. They have saved from destruction entire sections of Catholic traditions which, but for them, would have disappeared forever.
We must not forget to pay homage to all those priests and lay persons who, by their faith, courage, enthusiasm, and great sacrifices, enabled the traditional Mass to live and to survive, and Catholic doctrine still to be taught and handed down in the midst of the most formidable storm the Church had ever experienced.
1 Since 2005 The Angelus has been running a series of articles featuring the traditional religious orders. The article on these Benedictine monasteries appeared in the April 2008 issue.
2 Ibid., Feb. 2007.
3 Ibid., Sept. 2005.
4 Ibid., Feb. 2006.
5 Ibid., Feb. 2008.
6 Ibid., Dec. 2005.
7 Ibid., Dec.2006.
8 Ibid., Oct. 2006.
9 Ibid., June 2007.
10 Ibid., Apr. 2007.