Photo: Protesters hold a banner saying ‘we want Mass’ outside Saint Sulpice Church in Paris November 13 (Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

A French bishop has criticised the Catholic uproar against the COVID public Mass ban in the country, lamenting that “it does not send the right signal for our Church”.

– Instead of demonstrating against restrictions, Catholics should take World Day of the Poor as “opportunity… to understand where we are called”

“I share their sadness and disappointment but for all that I do not support their initiative”, Pierre-Yves Michel, the bishop of the Valence diocese in the south of France, told La Croix November 14 of the protesters with whom he met who were planning demonstrations against the restrictions for this weekend.

Of the growing protest movement against the Mass ban during France’s second lockdown – which began November 2 and is due to last until at least December 1 – Michel added that “I think it does not send the right signal for our Church, which, in my opinion, should take the path of service rather than that of confrontation”.

“I would prefer Catholics to show that they are bearing their share of suffering in these difficult times and that they are overcoming this feeling of injustice”, the bishop said.

Referring to the World Day of the Poor that was celebrated this Sunday in the midst of the demonstrations, Michel said “I believe that we should see it as a sign and an opportunity for Christians to understand where we are called”.

– “The situation is serious… that’s why we accept this temporary limitation of our freedom of worship”

The Bishop of Valence acknowledged that Catholics unhappy about the ban “express something faithful and beautiful” in their opposition to the restrictions and in their desire to return to in-person worship. “This sincerity is real”, he recognised.

Nonetheless, Michel said, “I tried to show them another perspective”: that “on the health level, the situation is serious and that explains why we accept this temporary limitation of our freedom of worship”.

The bishop also questioned whether the protests were not out of proportion since the demonstrators “know that I am vigilant and clear in my dialogue with the authorities” about returning to in-person Masses.

“Discussions continue between the religions and the State – it is important to underline this”, Michel stressed in that sense.

He added that yet another argument against the anti-Mass ban protests is that “access to the sacraments is not as limited as during the first confinement”, which lasted in France from March to May.

Though public liturgies are not permitted during the second lockdown, churches will remain open and Michel said that he was making sure as a bishop and in concert with his priests that there are “fixed times for confession [and] times of adoration”. “On an individual basis, upon request, it is possible to receive the Eucharist”, he added.

– A calling to follow Christ, “who accepted injustices and walked resolutely towards the Passion”

Turning to the broader lessons the Church can learn from the pandemic, Bishop Michel encouraged Catholics to look past the “suffering” and the “incomprehension” and to ask themselves “important questions”, such as: “How can we situate ourselves as Christians with our convictions in a world that is no longer Christian?”

Michel said that question is emerging with the COVID situation “in a context that is already sensitive for some Catholics, who believe they perceive a disregard for spirituality on the part of civil authorities in general”.

But he added that answers to Christian identity in the France of pandemic times, and beyond, must necessarily begin from the place to which as a bishop he said he tries to the point the faithful: that is, “the way of Christ, who accepted injustices and walked resolutely towards the Passion”.

More news on Novena on the French Church:

French archbishop criticises “irresponsible” rhetoric of Catholics who claim COVID public Mass bans are an attack on religion

40+ groups in French Church coordinate to push for path of Catholic reform

“Priests are not superheroes, but men”: In wake of clerics’ suicides, French Church tackles thorny problem of clergy mental health

French Bishops’ head ‘gets it’ on rights for women, laity: “The Church cannot act as if humans were children who must be held by the hand”

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.