The canonical situation of abbé de Nantes
Our Father established us on the Rock, that is to say, the Heart of the Church, by carefully protecting us from all heresy and all schism, ever since the beginning of the Council. This is how his Counter-Reformation fight, his confrontation with Rome in view of obtaining a doctrinal judgement on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council always took place under the protection of the laws of the Church.
According to Canon Law : « By virtue of the primacy of the Roman Pontiff, every member of the faithful may freely defer to the judgement of the Holy See, or bring before it any contentious or penal case at no matter what degree of jurisdiction or moment of the trial. » (Canon 1417)
This is what the Abbé de Nantes did on 16 July 1966, shortly after the close of the Council, by his letter to Cardinal Ottaviani (no 231). In full conformity with Canon Law according to which:
« All members of the faithful, each according to his own station, will endeavour to lead a holy life and to foster the continual growth and the sanctification of the Church. » (Canon 210)
In witness whereof: « The members of the faithful are free to make known to the Pastors of the Church their needs, especially their spiritual ones, as well as their wishes. » (Canon 212 § 2)
Furthermore: « According to their knowledge, competence and prestige, they enjoy the right and sometimes the duty to tell the sacred Pastors their opinion on matters concerning the good of the Church and to make it known to the faithful, while maintaining the integrity of the faith and morals and the reverence due to Pastors, and with regard for the common utility and for the dignity of persons. » (Canon 212 § 3)
Finally according to Canon 221 § 1: « It belongs to the faithful to demand legitimately the rights that they enjoy in the Church and to defend them before the competent Church tribunal, according to Canon Law. » Now, the first of these rights, and the duty, of the baptised is to keep the Catholic faith received in baptism.
Thus, our Father most certainly had the right as a priest and theologian to expound publicly his opinion and to question the authorities in order to obtain all the necessary clarifications in order to keep the faith of his baptism.
This is why the suspension a divinis that Mgr Le Couëdic imposed on our Father on 25 August 1966, with the sole aim of barring him from exercising these rights recognised by the canons that I have just quoted, by impeding their execution, was illegitimate on account of « abuse of power ». I hasten to point out that our Father, rather than lodging an appeal « before the competent Church tribunal », preferred to submit to this unjust measure,
1o in order to show his horror of all schism,
2o in order not to draw attention away from the only important issue: the doctrinal question.
THE OPENING OF THE CANONICAL TRIAL
The Abbé de Nantes was summoned to Rome in April 1968. On that day, he received a shield that has protected us right to the present. So, it is very important to keep it in mind. This shield is that of Canon Law, according to which « the members of the faithful have the right, if they are called to stand trial by the competent authority, to be judged according to the dispositions of the law, which must be applied with equity. » (Canon 221 § 1)
Thus, since this day in 1968 when he was called into judgement, he has an absolute right to be judged according to the dispositions of the law, that is, to being condemned possibly after the matter has been examined, but only to being condemned to the penalties named in and according to the procedures provided for in Canon Law.
In other words: a trial that has been opened must be brought to a conclusion, except for those cases provided for in the law. But a judge has no right to refuse to conclude a trial that has been opened; he must end it by passing a sentence.
When he was summoned to Rome in 1968, our Father had to confront his judges in several hearings. But the conclusion of this confrontation deserves to be recalled, for today it is quite forgotten. Unable to prove him guilty of error, the judges asked him, on an order from above, to sign a recantation… of « all his errors ».
– What errors?
– All of them?
– Which ones precisely?
After twenty-four hours of reflection, our Father accepted… but on the condition that he be provided with the list of his errors.
Our Father had an absolute right to stand up to the tribunal of the Holy Office in this manner, with all deference to Dom Gérard: for Canon 221, in its third paragraph, provides « that the faithful have the right that no canonical penalties be inflicted upon them except in accordance with the law. » Now the law provides that « no one can be punished for the commission of an external violation of the law or precept unless it is gravely imputable by reason of malice or of culpability » (Canon 1321 § 1).
In other words, a person cannot be sanctioned before the offence that he has committedhas been established.
Since the judges were unable to establish the offence that the Abbé de Nantescommitted in criticising the Council and the Pope, nothing remained for the Holy Office to do but to recognise our Father’s innocence. But then, this would be tantamount to admitting the cogency of his criticisms! In order to avoid this at all costs, the Holy Office did not pass judgement. Yet one year later, in 1969, a “notification” made it known that our Father was “disqualified”.
Not only is a “notification” not a judgement, but the “disqualification” is a penalty unknown in canon law. A defendant cannot “disqualify himself” any more than a football player: either he is in the wrong, in which case he must be judged and sanctioned… by the referee, or he acted according to the rules and must be held innocent.
Thus, everyone can see that Rome, after having summoned our Father for judgement, refused to make its decision, in contravention of Canon 221.
This is the reason for the status quo, to which the authorities resigned themselves. Knowing that they were guilty, they gave themselves a semblance of having taken the necessary measures by the suspension in 1966 and the “notification” in 1969. A clever amalgam gave the impression that Rome had reprimanded the Abbé de Nantes and, therefore, had “confirmed” the measure of suspension a divinis imposed on him by the bishop of his diocese. Nevertheless, between 1969, the date of the “notification”, and 1996 no authority in the Church canonically censured our Father for having continued his activities in spite of the sanction that had fallen upon him. Why was there such tolerance? Because the Roman authorities knew full well that the opposite attitude would force them, before all other considerations, to settle the fundamental doctrinal question that illegally remained pending.
In the meantime, our Father, confident in his rights, could continue his work of Catholic Counter-Reformation and exercise his ministry, except for what requires the powers of jurisdiction.
THE ACCUSATIONS ARE MAINTAINED
Since the Holy Office had not passed its judgement, our Father had good grounds for addressing himself directly to the Pope. He did so three times: in 1973, 1983 and 1993 in his three Books of Accusation against Paul VI, John Paul II and the Author of the so-called Catechism of the Catholic Church (C. C. C.), by virtue of Canon 1417:
« Every member of the faithful has the right to address himself to the Common Father, who must deal with the question or address it to one of the congregations that assist him. »
But since neither Paul VI nor John Paul II agreed to receive these Books of Accusation, our Father could but remark their dereliction of duty. Each time this refusal gave further justification to his legitimate suspicion of heresy against them. His right and duty to continue to publish the CCR, to govern the Community and the Phalangist Communion, to organise camps, sessions and retreats became ever more clearly apparent… in order to defend the Catholic faith that was put in jeopardy by those who are charged to watch over it.
This is quite understandable: we are Catholics who want to remain faithful to the Catholic faith, and in order to do so we appeal to the infallible powers of the hierarchy. Dom Gérard commits a grievous slander by accusing our Father of challenging « the authority of the supreme judge » to whom he has not ceased to appeal for forty years now!
As for this authority, it is not free to exercise or not exercise the power it has to judge. It is obliged to do so; and the canons quoted above are but the judicial transcription of a truth that is inextricably connected with the divine constitution of the Church.
Thus, if the authorities refuse to answer the question that has legitimately been posed, the right of the members of the faithful is not abolished for all that. In our particular case, these denials of justice strengthen the legitimate suspicion of heresy for, until there is proof to the contrary, they can only be explained by the impossible situation in which the hierarchy finds itself with regard to judging our Father in accordance with the law without finding itself in the wrong.
This is why all the sanctions incurred by the Abbé de Nantes seem to be attempts on the part of Church authorities to dissuade our Father from demanding a judgement on the substance of his plaint. But he did not fall into the snare, not in August 1966 at the time of the suspension a divinis fulminated by Mgr Le Couëdic, nor thirty years later, in August 1996, when Mgr Daucourt ordered him to leave the diocese.
Here again, as in 1966, he could have refused to obey, for the bishop had no right to act in this manner. Once more, our Father, always concerned about the doctrinal debate that must not be lost from sight, did not want to intermix this fight for the truth with a defence against disgusting slander. Thus he preferred to obey.
Once our Father was gone, we were able to continue his work of Catholic Counter-Reformation because his canonical situation continued to protect us. The trial that opened in Rome in 1968 was never concluded, and that covers the legitimacy of the Catholic Counter-Reformation with a canonical shield, and gives us the right not to comply with Mgr Daucourt’s ukases, the aim of which was to stop us from continuing to defend the faith. We always have the right to claim to be followers of the Abbé de Nantes insofar as his complaint has not been judged, and therefore, in conscience, we can make his legitimate suspicion of heresy our own and continue to make it public in order to defend the faith.
THE SWORD OF THE TRUTH
In January 1997, we went to fetch our Father for, at that time, Mgr Daucourt’s hostility towards the community had become patent; our bishop strove to obtain its dissolution in order to dispose of the CRC, which was contrary to all his commitments. On 3 January 1997, our Father was back, and the life of the community, as well as the activity of the CRC, received a new impetus.
Mgr Daucourt then had the choice: either admit defeat and return to the status quoprudently observed by Mgr Fauchet, his predecessor, or seek to find our Father in the wrong in order to be able to sanction him. This explains his letter of 10 March 1997 that asked our Father « to cease his stubborn rejection of the doctrine pronounced by the Pope and the Second Vatican Council in matters of faith or morals, even if they had no intention of pronouncing on each point by a decisive act, and to retract all statements to the contrary, recognising in the doctrine of the Council an expression of the true Catholic faith. »
Our Father replied to him by a letter on 19 March, recalling that this was precisely the entire question! Thus, when the Bishop added: « Finally, I ask you to cease all your activities. », our Father simply observed that he did not have the right to obey this demand as long as the doctrinal debate had not been definitively settled by the competent authorities. These documents can be found in Catholic Counter-Reformation no 296, May 1997.
MGR DAUCOURT’S UKASES
On 9 May, Mgr Daucourt signed a penal precept, sanctioning our Father by an administrative act, yet it was ineffectual for resolving the doctrinal dispute.
On 13 May, within the time-limit provided for in law, our Father sent him a soundly argued response in order to request him to modify his penal precept.
Mgr Daucourt did not reply within the time-limit provided by law. Our Father then presented a hierarchical recourse to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to the dispositions of the law. This recourse, which is very long (Catholic Counter-Reformation no 298, pp. 5-31), can be summarised in one sentence, a question posed to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith:
« Is it legitimate to bring before Rome accusations of heresy, schism, and scandal against the conciliar novelties and the Reformers? »
The response is yes, obviously, by virtue of canon law. Not that our Father wishes to make himself judge on behalf of Rome. He accuses and asks Rome to judge. And it is just as obvious that, as long as he has not received from Rome a canonical response, his bishop cannot force him to rally to what forms the object of an accusation of heresy, even less sanction him. Whence the predicament of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith…
Now, while our Father was preparing this recourse, Mgr Daucourt made an additional blunder by enacting a second decree before the first one had become definitive as a result of the elapsing of the time-limit for appeal or as a result of a response made to the hierarchical recourse.
This second decree, however, is very interesting. This time, Mgr Daucourt went to what is essential; he must have realised that to use calumnies to justify his sanctions, passed without judgement in defiance of the rights of the defence, as he had done so in his first decree, was not admissible, and that his decree could be annulled. On the contrary, he would have to admit without circumlocution the true motive, for in this case the Roman Congregation would be unable to decide in favour of the Abbé de Nantes without at the same time blaming the Pope!
This second decree of 1 July 1997, imposed a suspension and an interdict on the Abbé de Nantes for the reason that he « has created and does create grave scandal among the faithful, as much by his attitude as by his writings in which he obstinately denounces as stained with heresy certain texts promulgated by Pope Paul VI and the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council, reproaching them for having introduced the religion of man who makes himself God in place of the authentic Catholic faith, and in which he brings accusations of heresy, schism and apostasy against the Council, the Pope and the bishops in communion with him, even lodging books of accusation against Popes Paul VI and John-Paul II. »
Furthermore Mgr Daucourt excuses himself for not hearing our Father’s defence by seeing in it « nothing but a mask and a delaying tactic, since he immediately states that the certitude of (his) Catholic faith remains unchanged, unchangeable and non negotiable, which shows in advance the futility of all discussion. » The reasoning is dishonest because he truncates our Father’s profession of faith. He in fact stated that his Catholic faith was « non negotiable, by reason of its divine perfection » Moreover, the assertion is absolutely ridiculous: as though a judge were to say to a lawyer that it is useless to plead since he, the judge, knows in advance the arguments that the lawyer is going to develop! In this case, Mgr Daucourt purely and simply abolished the rights of the defence!
AN IRREMEDIABLE DERELICTION OF DUTY
Since this decree of July 1997 was also deferred to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, our Father enjoyed, while awaiting a response, the suspensive effect of all hierarchical recourses.
The Congregation had a three month time-limit to reject the recourse on the grounds of a procedural error. Three months passed. There was no reaction. Thus our recourse had been accepted. We found ourselves once again in the situation of 1968… For a second time, our matter was called into judgement before the competent authority… Thus that authority was obliged to see it through to completion.
Alas! in April 1998, nine months later, the Bishop’s office in Troyes communicated to our Father a decision « concerning the reply it [the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith]gave to the appeal that you lodged with it, » dated 24 March 1998. Being careful not to say that it had refused our appeal, it declared only that it had not accepted it and confirmed the measure of suspension, but without further mention of the interdict, after having vaguely expounded the motives that had been brought to its attention but that had not been judged. They were not the motives that had been invoked by Mgr Daucourt.
By this decision, the Congregation, in defiance of its obligations, instead shirked them in order not to reply to the precise question that was posed to it both by the episcopal decree of July 1997 and by our Father’s recourse: « Is it legitimate to bring before Rome accusations of heresy, schism, and scandal against the conciliar novelties and the Reformers? »
This is why he brought his appeal before the Apostolic Signatura in May 1998. This supreme tribunal of the Church does not judge the substance of disputes, but it judges to determine whether the law has been respected. The aim of such a recourse is to establish all the abuses of power of which our Father was the victim and which prevented him from seeing his doctrinal recourse judged. If the Apostolic Signatura accepted this canonical recourse, it would not be to reply to the doctrinal question, but to order the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith to do so, by judging our Father’s complaint in accordance with law.
Since this recourse before the Apostolic Signatura has the same suspensive effect as any other appeal, our Father retained all his rights behind the “canonical shield”: we are in the Church and her law protects us.
In the first three months the Secreatary of the Apostolic Signatura examines the recourse from the procedural point of view. If all the time-limits have been respected, if the decisions of the Roman Congregation are indeed attached to the dossier, and if all is correct, he begins the examination of the recourse. Since at the end of the three months, our Father had not received announcement that the recourse had been rejected, legally it was accepted and the examination had therefore begun.
For two and a half years there was no news. This is not normal since the procedure provides for an exchange of correspondence between the tribunal and the different parties: the Secretary of the Apostolic Signatura reads the recourse, then sends it to the office of the Bishop of Troyes and to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. They reply. The secretary reads these replies and sends a copy of them to the Abbé de Nantes in order for him to reply to them in turn.
This exchange continues until the secretary considers that the question has been dealt with from all angles. Then he summarises the arguments and transmits the recourse to the Tribunal, which is obliged to render a judgement.
Thus, it was not normal that our Father had not received any news from the Apostolic Signatura during such a long lapse of time.
Now, on 8 January 2001, he received directly a copy of the declaration wherein itssecretary rejected the recourse, refusing to transmit it to the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in order for it to be judged. What was the reason? As we have said, this supreme tribunal of the Church can only take into consideration the decisions of Roman Congregations. Now, the Secretary observes that no decision had been taken by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. In order to come to this view of the facts that saves the Pope, it accepts without saying a word, what this Congregation declares in its reply to the recourse, a reply that it did not communicate to our Father, in defiance of the rights of the defence, and according to which its decision of 24 March 1998 was only a personal letter to the Bishop of Troyes to confirm him in his judgement. This is a blatant lie. To convince oneself of this, it suffices to read the last paragraph of this letter: « Would you be so good as to inform the interested party of the decision of this Congregation and to bring it to the attention of your diocesan faithful in the manner that appears most opportune to you… » (CCR no 308, editorial, April 1998)
But since the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that it did indeed deal with the Abbé de Nantes, in accordance with Article 51 of Pastor bonus, the law that regulates the functioning of the various Roman congregations, and that it insinuates in its letter of 24 March 1998 that there are certainly errors in the Abbé de Nantes, « consisting in a sensualist conception of the Eucharist and in the notion of a presumed “mystical marriage between Christ and Mary” » – it must pass judgement. In fact, this is what our Father has been demanding since 1966, and Article 52 of Pastor bonus expressly states: if there is an error, the offence must be judged and the Congregation must impose the necessary canonical sanctions.
If the Secretary said that the Congregation refused to judge the Abbé de Nantes, he would find the Congregation in the wrong; he was obliged to transmit the recourse to the Tribunal, and it must force the Congregation to judge on the substance of the case. As this is what they want to avoid at all costs, the secretary acts as though the judgement was still in process. There is no decision on the part of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in reply to our recourse, there is no judgement on the substance of the case because it is an active case; therefore, our Father’s recourse cannot be transmitted to the Apostolic Signatura.
And it is too bad if we have been waiting for this judgement for thirty-eight years! And too bad if neither the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith nor the Secretary of the Apostolic Signatura respected the three month time-limit for the rejection of the recourse. What is essential is that no one, in Rome, is forced to accede to the Abbé de Nantes’ petition against the Pope and the Council.
After this dissimulated dereliction of duty on the part of the Apostolic Signatura what can be done?
THE SHIELD OF LAW SINCE 8 JANUARY 2001
First of all, Canon Law allows us to refute Mgr Stenger who considers that after our recourse had been rejected by the Apostolic Signatura, it is the decree of 1 July 1997, the one that imposes an interdict and suspension on our Father, that applies.
He is wrong for two reasons. First, the rejection of an appeal brings back into force the last decision that was submitted to appeal, and not the preceding ones, at the whim of the authorities. The “decision” that was submitted to appeal was that of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith of 24 March 1998, sent to Mgr Daucourt and through him to our Father on 28 Avril 1998, which confirmed the suspension without mentioning an interdict. This is the one that could be applied henceforth and not that of July 1997, for which the Bishop of Troyes has a preference, since it is more severe.
Assuredly, the Secretary of the Apostolic Signatura would have preferred, as we have seen, that this decision of March 1998 had not been… a decision. But what is written is written: this decision was taken, transmitted and made known to our Father for him to submit to it… The latest decision of the Bishop of Troyes, before the decision of the Apostolic Signatura, is therefore the letter of April 1998, transmitting the confirmation of the “suspension”, and nothing more.
Nevertheless, it must be pointed out that, in any case, neither the suspension nor theinterdict apply in this instance, since both of the sanctions are null ipso facto. This is what is important to understand, for it is the new “shield” behind which our Father can continue to demand a doctrinal judgement and, in the meanwhile, continue to develop the work of the Catholic Counter-Reformation.
To sanction someone without having passed judgement – in judicial terms « without at least partially resolving the dispute » – and without having respected the rights of the defence, is so serious and inadmissible that Canon 1620 provides that such sanctions are not only struck with nullity, but with irremediable nullity, that is to say definitive; not only are these sanctions or procedures annulled, that is to say, considered as never having existed, but it is forbidden to correct them, to go back over it to straighten the matter out. This amounts to saying that the victim is considered as though innocent. This is understandable: if the victim were guilty, there would have been no grounds for not judging him on the substance and not allowing him to defend himself; the legislator therefore considers that the judge’s dereliction of duty, which 1o refuses to examine the affair and 2o deprives the defendant of his rights to defence, proves his innocence and the bad faith of the judge.
In conclusion: Canon Law allows us to assert today that the sanction imposed on our Father is null ipso facto. That is to say that from a canonical point of view, our Father is free from all sanctions. They are null: which means that they do not exist.
Nevertheless, this fact must be recognised. Canon 1621 provides that a complaint of nullity must be proposed. Yes, but what can one do, since the authorities pass the word round not to judge us? There is no way to extricate oneself. Yes, there is! because the legislator has made provision for it!
He provided something absolutely extraordinary. The time-limit for lodging an appeal against a decision is always very short, three months at maximum. In the case of irremediable nullity, due to the gravity of the injustice suffered, Canon 1621 always grants the victim a long time to obtain reparation: ten years from the date of the publication of the sentence. Ten years to propose a complaint “by way of action”. In our case, that gives us until 2008, and the legislator goes even farther: he places no time-limit for presenting a complaint for a judgement of nullity “by way of exception”. What does this mean? Imagine that in 2008, our Father has still not yet succeeded in obtaining justice, and that in 2009 the Bishop of Troyes rouses himself and institutes proceedings against him because he does not respect the suspension or the interdict. Well! our Father could still defend himself by demonstrating the irremediable nullity of this sentence. To defend himself he therefore can invoke nullity in perpetuity. This means that the legislator realises that it is not easy for the victim of such an injustice to have his rights recognised for the time being.
This is our case indeed! Therefore, we are implicitly acknowledged the right to continue acting according to our possibilities, until we obtain a final canonical judgement in the trial that the ecclesiastical authority has itself opened, and that it must legally conclude. As long as this sentence is not passed, no sanction is permissible. That is why our Father has always had us admire the marvel of canon law; in canon law the Church demonstrates her maternal love by being a bar to error and injustice. To prevail, error and injustice necessarily must violate the law, which is the just man’s shield.
In the Church, then, we have the last place. But, this is the best one, and we would not trade it with anyone for the world, because, in that place we enjoy a sacred right, that is protected by the law: the right to “stand fast” in order to keep the Catholic faith until we obtain from Rome the doctrinal judgement our Father has been calling for for forty years.
Brother Bruno of Jesus
Taken from He is Risen! n° 30, February 2005