To me, the priest looked almost like he was being confirmed (during the confirmation ceremony, there's a point at which all new priests lie face down) except this time there was an armored cop clutching one of his arms.
The church was called Sainte Rita and the #SainteRita hashtag was already trending on Twitter although unfortunately (for me) virtually all of the Tweets and links were in French.
I wanted to write about it, in part because at the time, given the paucity of English information on it, the story seemed obscure. There were also many (to me) confusing elements to it. After dashing off a few messages to Catholic friends asking if they knew anything about what had happened, I went back to sleep.
Four hours later I saw that the story had exploded. Videos and pictures of the raid were all over the French media and they had clearly already acquired a symbolic resonance, coming so soon after the murder of Fr. Jacques Hamel in Saint-Étienne. Marion Le Pen tweeted the photographs of the altar boy and the priest being manhandled, adding the simple caption, "France, 2016."
Breitbart London had picked it up and The Washington Post covered it. To my mind the most comprehensive piece was written by Matthew Karmel/Radical Catholic on OnePeterFive.
Among other things, Karmel explicated the somewhat confusing situation of which Catholic group had been occupying the church (and thus who had been ejected). The church had previously been operated by the Gallican Catholic Church - a quirky sect that had been in schism with Rome for over a century. Originally thought of as "liberal" (they had rejected Vatican I), they were now thought of as traditionalist (they also rejected Vatican II). To make things even more interesting, the Gallicans (or at least this particular church) became famous for having an annual blessing of animals and allowing pets to attend Mass (which was celebrated in Latin). As a result, "the animal church" had gained a following among both traditionalist Catholics as well as Catholic and non-Catholic animal lovers.
However, alone among English commentators, Karmel pointed out that the Gallicans had recently yielded the church to another group - the Institute of the Good Shepherd, a traditionalist order that was in full communion with Rome. The priests, altar boys and (presumably) parishioners who were hustled and dragged out by police were not members of a schismatic sect but "normal" Catholics, albeit of the particularly dedicated Latin Mass variety.
Curiously, however, in the midst of the chaos one lay person could be seen carrying an obviously agitated dog. I'm still not clear as to whether this was some sort of accident - the woman and dog had just entered from another area - or whether the Institute had, perhaps counter to what one might expect, continued the "animals allowed" policy of the Gallicans.
Carmel also vividly described the events:
It was a scene with which all who attend the traditional Latin Mass are perfectly familiar – except, perhaps, for the fact that most of the parishioners were standing. They were standing because the pews had been removed in order to form a barricade at the entrance to the church. A group of police in riot gear and armed with truncheons and tear gas was outside preparing to storm the building. St. Rita has been slated for demolition since October 2015.
As the police began ripping the pews away from the entrance, the faithful, arms locked, broke out in song. The priest continued reciting the ancient prayers. The altar boy remained at his side. A second priest led a small group kneeling beside the sanctuary in the recitation of the Rosary. Some of the faithful prepared handkerchiefs for covering their noses in the case that the police decided to put their canisters of tear gas to use.
As the police stormed the church, the faithful quickly retreated to the sanctuary, encircling the steps to the altar, using their bodies to protect the priest and the altar boy, who were still celebrating Holy Mass. One by one, they were forcefully torn away. The priest who had been praying the Rosary was thrown to the floor and dragged from the sanctuary and out of the church. Fr. Guillaume de Tanoüarn, still engrossed in the celebration of the Divine Liturgy, was pulled from the altar by his vestments and forced outside.No one disputes that the planned demolition was legal, at least in some sense of the term. The current owners of the property - a third entity separate from both the Gallican Church and the Institute had decided to raze the church and convert it into a car park.
But in this alleged State of Emergency, where everyone acknowledges a shortage of police and soldiers to protect citizens from Islamic terrorism, it was interesting to see that the French state had seen fit to spare a squad of police for a different sort of job - invading a church during Mass.
And this, precisely one week after another Mass had been invaded, ending with an 86-year-old priest having his throat slit at the altar.
On the sheet metal fence that had been erected outside the Church, someone had sprayed in large letters:
In France, we kill priests and raze churches.And then next to it, the Greek words of the traditional liturgy, "Kyrie Eleison!"
Lord have mercy on us!
Here are some pictures and videos of yesterday's events:
|"We're from the government and we're here to help you"|
|Parishioners on the other side of the fence (notice that it had been used as a stand for plants)|
|Pews as barricades|
|Not all French protesters wear black|
|They weren't preparing for incense|
|"You're coming with us, Father."|
|Mass is over|
|A job well done: Police lounging under graffiti reading, "In France, we kill priests and raze churches."|