Experimental parish closed due to tension between laypeople and pastors

Paris pastoral centre closure

The closure of an experimental pastoral centre in the heart of Paris was reportedly due to years of tension between some of the parish’s lay members and its three last pastors.

Archbishop Michel Aupetit announced his decision to close the Saint-Merry Pastoral Center, in a letter to the community in February. The centre closed on March 1.

The pastoral centre was created in 1975 by Cardinal François Marty, the then archbishop of Paris. Following the Second Vatican Council, the centre was intended to be a place to “invent new modes for the Church of tomorrow”.

The centre quickly became a hotbed of Catholic progressivism.

Activities in the 16th-century Gothic church were overseen by both priests and laypeople. The lay could participate in the liturgy and preach during a Sunday Mass.

According to a well-informed source inside the parish, the poisonous climate was caused by a hardcore of the community. The group numbered about 20 people, mostly aged over 70.

Their “intolerance” and “sectarian mentality” also led to the departure of laypeople, many of them young.

The source told CNA: “These people were all in their twenties in 1968 and they shaped this community together with a beautiful initial intuition.

“But then they grew old together with their own codes, without ever renewing themselves or welcoming new people, cutting themselves off from reality.”

“The youth fled because their proposals were systematically refused and they didn’t recognize themselves in such a Church environment.”

In response to Aupetit’s letter, lay members of the community launched an online petition, which has gained around 12,000 signatures, urging the archbishop to resume dialogue and let them pursue their mission.

Karine Dalle, a spokesperson for the diocese, told CNA that the decision was in no way related to the pastoral nature of the centre, but rather to serious excesses at the parish dating back many years.

She said that the two last pastors of Saint-Merry, Fr Daniel Duigou (2015-2019) and Fr Alexandre Denis (2019-2020), resigned because they were unable to establish a dialogue with key figures at the pastoral centre.

Their predecessor, Fr Jacques Mérienne, left after nine years as head of the parish amid difficulties at the end of his tenure.

The spokesperson explained that the archbishop decided to revoke Saint-Merry’s special status after Fr Denis departed a few months ago in poor health.

“The collaboration between priests and the lay was no longer working. Archbishop Aupetit took a decision of responsibility in the face of a hopeless situation where his priests were falling ill one after the other,” she said.

Despite the archbishop’s ruling, the centre’s former leaders are seeking to reestablish the community. They recently launched the website Saint-Merri-Hors-les-Murs (“Saint-Merry Outside the Walls”), after the diocese regained control of the parish’s official website. They intend to “set up think tanks and look to their ecclesial future.”


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