Here is the den of a particularly nasty group of individuals, the Fraternity of Saint Pius X, founded in 1970 by the traditionalist ecclesiastic Monsignor Marcel Lefebvre after he had decided to break with the Pope over the Vatican II reforms. The Fraternity seized control of Saint Nicolas du Chardonnet illegally in 1977. Since then they squat the church, which has become a focus point for the extreme right. (Ironically, it is sited right beside la Mutualité, a large meeting hall usually used by left-wingers to launch their latest cause).
Among the funerals celebrated at Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet were those of notorious collaborators with the Nazis during the Occupation such as Paul Touvier (condemned for crimes against humanity), Maurice Bardèche (see XXth arrondissement) and Pierre Tixier-Vignancour, under-secretary of information for the Vichy government, passionate defender of l'Algérie française and the most visible face of the extreme right in France before the rise of Jean-Marie Le Pen. Indeed, Algeria - like North Africa in general - features prominently among the Fraternity's concerns. "The War in Algeria is not over," said recently one former 'parish priest' of Saint Nicolas. "What's happening there will soon happen here." And another traditionalist priest remembers the good old days when France was "la lumière qui, grâce aux Croisades, éclairait tout l'Orient."
The local "parish bulletin", Pacte, has been attacked for libel and the encouragement of racial hatred in articles that refer to a "Judeo-Muslim plot to colonise the West". The occupants of the church were excommunicated by the Pope in 1988. Frequent visitors there include Bruno Gollnisch, secretary general of the National Front. Of Le Pen, l'Abbé Laguerie, once "parish priest" at Saint-Nicolas, had this to say: "The streams of abuse directed against Jean-Marie Le Pen is encouraged and organised by a clique of Jewish bankers who have controlled France like a dictatorship for the past 45 years."
Churches in France are the property of the local authorities, so it should be easy to put an end to the illegal occupation of Saint-Nicolas by the lads from the Fraternity. But "The Catholic church's internal affairs are none of our business" is all the pinko mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë, had to say about the affair - the sort of comment that makes one wonder. The Fraternity is said to benefit from the protection of people in high places, and the name of Bernadette Chirac, wife of the president, is often mentioned. Possible, not probable.
Inspired by their conquest of Saint-Nicolas du Chardonnet, the Fraternity has also launched commando raids on other churches in Paris and elsewhere - sometimes in the middle of Mass! On Sunday, July 1, 1999, for example, a pitched battle took place in the pews of the cathedral of Saint-Maclou between 150 traditionalists eager to take over the place and a number of "loyalists" present at the time. No doubt, the fear of simply displacing the problem to another church also explains why the authorities have not moved in on Saint-Nicolas.
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