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ROME – In a pastoral letter to his diocese, Bishop Dominque Rey of Toulon identified several reasons, including the practice of the Traditional Latin Mass, for the Vatican inquiry that culminated with the postponement of this year’s priestly ordinations.
Rey also outlined several action points he will be taking in the coming weeks and months to address other problems related to governance, including a closer monitoring of the communities and movements present in the diocese, greater efforts toward integrating groups with “different liturgical sensitivities,” as well as a cycle of “pastoral visits” throughout the diocese beginning with the next school year.
When Rey announced earlier this month that the diocese’s priestly ordinations, scheduled for the June 29 Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, would be postponed indefinitely it came as a shock to many, given that the diocese of Toulon is considered to be among the most flourishing in France.
Toulon generally has a youthful clergy, annually yields numerous vocations, and is known as a hub for welcoming communities, movements, and priests from other areas and with varying backgrounds and charisms.
The diocesan seminary of the Immaculate Conception in La Castille, where the young men who were to be ordained at the end of the month are studying, is the third largest in France in terms of numbers and is celebrating its centenary this year.
It is also home to priests and seminarians from various backgrounds and liturgical preferences, which has apparently posed challenges in terms of fostering a sense of unified brotherhood and community in the facility.
In his original announcement of the postponement of ordinations, Rey said Archbishop Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille, the metropolitan overseeing the province, had conducted a “fraternal visit” of the Fréjus-Tolone diocese at Rome’s specific request in 2021, and that ongoing conversations were being held with Rome – specifically Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet, who oversees the Vatican department for bishops – about “the restructuring of the seminary and the policy of welcoming people to the diocese.”
In his latest letter to his diocese, published June 26, Rey said it was “the origin of vocations and the plurality of training paths that may have raised questions in Rome,” but that it was not a problem of morals.
“The diversified composition of our presbyterium,” meaning the entirety of priests in the diocese, and the presence of different communities “with sometimes the difficulty for the diocese to accompany and integrate them,” were also causes of concern for Rome, he said.
Rey said that one of the other “sensitive points” raised by Rome was “the place of the traditionalist world in our seminary and in the Diocese,” following Pope Francis’s restriction of the Traditional Latin Mass last year.
In the past, Rey – who was appointed to Toulon by Pope John Paul II in 2000 – has ordained priests for Toulon using the old 1962 missal and has also used the older rite for ordinations within religious communities in his diocese.
He appeared dubious after Pope Francis’s decision to restrict use of the Traditional Latin Mass, publicly voicing concern about the impact of the decision on priests and communities in his diocese that still celebrate according to the Old Rite.
In his letter, Rey said Toulon has always been distinguished by “the presence of candidates belonging to communities of liturgical sensibilities and various ecclesial charisms,” and that both the harmony of the ensemble, and its challenges, were flagged during the 2021 visitation of his diocese.
The recommendations given in this regard, he said, are being implemented and include establishing an affiliation with the Catholic faculty of Lyon, an inter-seminary training program within the province, and the improvement of follow-up and discernment in terms of the seminarians who are accepted.
Rey insisted that he has “always sought to integrate” the preference of some for the Traditional Latin Mass “within a true ecclesial communion, in fidelity with the Holy Father, and with the Roman magisterium, in particular the Second Vatican Council.”
“The diversity of sensitivities and charisms of our communities participates, with your active contribution, in instilling a real dynamism for the proclamation of the Gospel,” Rey said, insisting that his decisions have been in step with the pastoral choices made by his predecessors.
Noting that the ecclesial composition of Toulon is “quite dense,” especially given the presence of many young clergy, Rey said the presence of different religious communities, including some which come from abroad, are a source of “evangelical witness and an edifying and stimulating missionary breath” for the diocese.
Pointing to several individual communities, including religious sisters from Argentina and Brazil, who he said offer priceless contributions, especially in service to the poor, Rey said all communities in the diocese “must be monitored even more regularly,” and that there is an episcopal delegate for consecrated life with this task.
“The weaknesses, the failures, the difficulties observed in some of these communities require us to be ever more vigilant,” he said, and admitted to having made “errors in discernment” in the reception and accompaniment of the various communities present in the diocese.
“To all those who have had to suffer, I sincerely ask for forgiveness,” he said, adding that “With your help, we certainly need to move forward and improve our way of balancing audacity and prudence, freedom and responsibility, and take all the necessary measures.”
While awaiting some final decisions from Rome, though he did not specify what those decisions involve, Rey said the diocese will move forward “in prayer and trust,” and will continue to “serve the Church faithfully.”
On a personal level, Rey said he will be moving forward on three different fronts to improve governance in the diocese. The first will be to “strengthen the methods of monitoring the various communities received,” more closely adhering to a charter outlining the conditions for reception and follow-up of priest and communities from other areas.
Rey said he will also work “to fluidify relations between the different liturgical sensitivities,” and will promote “unity and communion around the magisterium of the Church.”
He said he will also seek to promote “a greater fraternal presence” among the 250 priests in the diocese. To this end, he announced “a large cycle of pastoral visits” throughout the Var region, which will begin at the start of the next school year.
Rey closed his letter voicing his “unwavering attachment to the Holy Father” and his trust in Divine Providence, and asked that God would guide the Diocese of Toulon “and allow it to deploy its mission with joy and perseverance for the service of the People of God and to reach those who do not yet know the joy of following Christ.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen