MORE than 1,000 traditionalist followers of Archbishop Lefebvre staged a sit-in at the Church of St Nicholas de Chardonnet in Paris this week.
The sit-in began last Sunday when the protesters marched in procession to the church in an attempt to force the Catholic hierarchy into giving them a church of their own in which to perform the Mass according to the rite of Pius V.
he leader of the occupiers, Abbe Louis Coache, said: "For the last 12 years we have been asking the hierarchy to give us a church in which to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass as it should be celebrated and as we have the right to celebrate it.
"As they refuse us a church we are obliged to take refuge in cellars or even in the Salle Wagram, where thousands of the faithful come every Sunday. On October 20 last year we announced our intention to occupy a church in six months if we did not get our objective.
"Since the hierarchy con
tinues to turn a deaf ear and treat us like pariahs we have decided to act. We have dared to take over a church in order to find ourselves within sacred walls and we are going to stay here as long as the hierarchy will not recognise us."
The sit-in would continue until the church gave the traditionalists some assurance for the future, said the Abbe, who was suspended A Divinis from exercising his functions as a priest in 1969 and has since then led the "Combat for the Faith" movement,
The event has been given more coverage by the popular Press than by the Catholic Press. One newspaper quoted the priest who was saying Mass at the time of the occupation as saying that he was locked in the sacristy after trying to speak.
Whatever happened in the confusion at the time of the occupation things soon quietened down and the all-night vigil which the occupiers kept was punctuated with litanies and hymns in Latin.
he occupiers set up a stand near the door, and have taken thousands of signatures, they say, of people prepared to keep the occupation going.
Many of those in the church are old and they sit quietly in their "pray-in" while sightseers and journalists wander up and down the aisles. "People have come from as far away as Belgium," said one of the organisers. "And we have supporters all over the world."
Their action has been launched to coincide with t he forthcoming elections for the Mayor of Paris. It will be the first time the city has been governed by one elected man for more than a century, and it has become a forum for airing every shade of political rancour in the country.
The technical position of the occupiers has baffled the lawyers. Since the church is one of those belonging to the State it would be possible to have them forcibly evicted if it were
decided to be "in the public interest".
The cure of the church is legally responsible for maintaming order, and he too, it seems, would have power to force an eviction.
It is likely the authorities will want to give the incident as little publicity as possible, and so far there has been no official statement from the head of the Church in France, Cardinal Francois Marty, or even from the leader of the traditionalist movement, Archbishop Lefebvre, himself.
The reaction from the movement's seminary in Fcone, Switzerland, has been slow, and it appears that Archbishop Lefebvre is rather embarrassed by the zeal of his followers. Only the director of the seminary has spoken. Canon Bertoud is reported as saying: "We do not have to answer for the acts of the Abbe Coache. We are not for excesses."
Meanwhile, in Paris, an approach has been made to political figures to intervene in the appeal, and especially to the Minister of the Interior, M Michel Poniatowski. With the elections so near he is extremely unlikely to do anything.
• Pope Paul recently refused to receive rebel Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, because the archbishop has made "no serious act of repentance" for his traditionalist activities, the Vatican said this week.
In a statement from the Vatican press office, the Vatican warned that seminarians training at the archbishop's seminary in Switzerland were preparing fot a "ministry which is in direct opposition to the Church and its legitimate pastors."
The declaration emphasised that Pope Paul "continues to hope that Archbishop Lefebvre will understand finally what is the single path to follow which is worthy of his faith and his episcopal ordination."