The last three pastors were known for their progressive views. Duigou, in particular, extoled the virtues of the experiment at Saint-Merry and its form of governance in a 2018 book entitled “Lettre ouverte d’un curé au Pape François” (“A pastor’s open letter to Pope Francis”.)
According to a well-informed source inside the parish, the poisonous climate was caused by a hard core of the community -- about 20 people, mostly aged over 70 -- whose “intolerance” and “sectarian mentality” also led to the departure of lay people, many of them young.
The source told CNA: “These people were all in their twenties in 1968 [a period of civil unrest in Paris] 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.”
The source said that the group’s aggressiveness was mainly directed towards their pastors, who they regarded as unwelcome authority figures.
“It was not the person who was contested but his very office. They refuse the institution itself and they wanted the pastor to be quiet,” the source commented.
“During the pastoral meetings, they were systematically against the pastor’s ideas and opinions. They thought they were the only ones who understood what the Church of today should be and were incapable of questioning themselves.”
CNA asked the lay people concerned about these allegations, but they did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.
In an interview with the French daily Le Monde, Guy Aurenche, a long-time member of the pastoral team, denounced the “radicality of a brutal and unilateral decision” by the Diocese of Paris, but noted that the last pastor “may have been challenged aggressively.”
Aurenche suggested that the decision to close the center might have been motivated by the diocese’s hostility towards a place of “unconditional welcome, for example, to homosexual Christians and remarried divorcees, the participation of men and women in the preparation of the liturgy and the co-responsibility of lay people and priests.”
This accusation, however, was vigorously denied by the diocese, which argued that if that were the case, then the archbishop could have ended the experiment a long time ago.
(Story continues below)
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“We are aware that, behind all this, there were sincere people who used to go to that church regularly and did not understand the archbishop’s decision as they were not part of the heart of the group and did not experience the methods of governance from the inside,” Dalle told CNA.
While not excluding the possibility that the diocese might allow similar pastoral experiments in the future, she said that they could not follow the model of Saint-Merry, with people who reject the very institution of the Church as well as its foundations.
Despite the archbishop’s ruling, the center’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.”