Why the Churches Are Closing
THE previous article has informed you of a situation you may have been unaware of, but it has not dealt with the reasons why so many churches and religious establishments are closing in France.
WHY ARE THE SEMINARIES CLOSING?
Church authorities endeavor to explain away these shutdowns by saying that they reflect a necessary reorganization. Trying to justify the closing down of three big, long-established seminaries in Normandy, the Roman Catholic bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux stated: “A formula was sought which would make it easier to welcome young men who feel they have a calling for the priesthood.”—Ouest-France, February 27, 1970.
But how can depriving two entire dioceses of their training schools for priests be said, by any stretch of the imagination, to facilitate things for young men there who wish to become priests? They will now have to travel to a third diocese whose spacious seminary is also being closed and transferred to another town, where the single seminary for the three dioceses will have to share a building with another Catholic institution. Would it not be more realistic to admit that dozens of seminaries are closing because there simply are not enough candidates for the priesthood?
Commenting on the regrouping of French seminaries, the provincial daily La Voix du Nord admitted that this had become necessary “mainly because of lack of candidates.” A parish magazine in Brittany quotes the local bishop as saying: “One of the bishop’s principal worries for the present, and even more for the future, is the drop in the number of candidates for the priesthood and holy orders. This is something general, not limited to France. All our institutions are affected and all vocations: contemplative, teaching, hospital and missionary.” Illustrating the bishop’s remarks, the magazine printed the following figures for the Quimper seminary:
No wonder the article was headed “Quimper Seminary Is Closing Down”!—Kemper, June-July 1969.
Showing just how serious the situation is, one of France’s most widely read news magazines stated recently:
“Every year since 1961, it [the Catholic Church in France] has been losing the total number of priests required in such average dioceses as Bordeaux, Nice or Clermont-Ferrand, because losses due to deaths [about 900 a year] or desertions from the ministry are far from being made up. . . .
“The French clergy, one of the most numerous in the world, with over 40,000 priests, is an aged clergy. . . . In 1975, one third of its members will be over 60 years of age. . . .
“In a confidential report to his counselors, Cardinal Alexandre Renard, archbishop of Lyons, revealed earlier this month the gravity of this crisis. Last October, only 475 young men entered the [French] seminaries, which is 41 percent less than the year before. For lack of students, the few remaining seminaries are now regional. The big gray barracks-like seminary in Issy-les-Moulineaux groups all the seminarists in the Paris area. . . .
“The way things are going, in less than a century, the clergy will have disappeared.”—L’Express, January 5-11, 1970.
WHY ARE THE CHURCHES CLOSING?
The ecclesiastical authorities try to make out that the closing down of so many churches in France is a natural consequence of the shift of population from the small rural parishes to the towns and industrial cities where, they say, over a thousand new churches have been built during the past twenty-five years. This may be the reason why some small rural chapels have been shut down, but it certainly fails to explain why four out of five churches are closed in towns like Senlis, which has over 10,000 inhabitants! The real reasons lie elsewhere.
One is obviously the shortage of ministers. There are at least 18,000 Catholic parishes in France with no resident priest. A large number of priests have to minister to several parishes, and in many of these the church is opened only once a month or even less often, sometimes just for funerals or other special ceremonies. With the scarcity of priests becoming more and more acute, these days, when a priest marries or leaves his ministry for some other reason, the parish or parishes he was in charge of frequently have no alternative but to nail on the church door a notice saying “Closed until further notice,” and more often than not the “further notice” never comes!
But perhaps the most significant reason for so many churches closing down is the increasing decline of interest in the traditional religions. Catholics who for years thought they belonged to the infallible church of Christ have discovered that things they held sacred because their priests told them to do so are now said, by those same priests, to be unimportant or even harmful. Describing the effect these changes are having on many Catholics, L’Express wrote:
“Observances that were prescribed for generations of Christians are now considered to be out-of-date. By introducing the notion of change, the [Catholic] Church has also introduced the notion of relativity. Since the rules prescribed yesterday are no longer valid today, there is nothing to prove that today’s rules will be applicable tomorrow.”—L’Express, October 14-20, 1968.
General disgust with the part played by the traditional religions in the wars and conflicts between and within the nations is also alienating the people from the churches. Speaking recently in Geneva, Switzerland, Eugene Blake, general secretary of the World Council of Churches, admitted this, saying:
“Religions do not always contribute to peace, and we have witnessed the frightful consequences of modern religious fanaticism linked with capitalism, colonialism, white racialism and ancient feudal or tribal customs. Let us face it, relations between India and Pakistan have been worsened rather than improved by the religious factor. Nor has religion’s role in Northern Ireland brought consolation to Catholics and Protestants.”—Le Monde, April 2, 1970.
Since Eastern religions and the churches of Christendom have failed the people religiously and have even contributed to unrest and wars, it is understandable that they should reap what they have sown. The closing down of many of their churches is a sign that their days are numbered. Soon God will punish them for their crimes. (Read Revelation or Apocalypse, chapter 18, where the world empire of false religion is symbolically called “Babylon the great.”)
TRUE CHRISTIANITY IS NOT ON THE WANE
Let sincere persons take heart! True Christianity is by no means on the decline. It is flourishing as never before, as shown by the following press report printed by the selfsame French Sunday newspaper that announced the news about “18,000 Derelict Churches.” In an article on the “Peace on Earth” Assembly of Jehovah’s witnesses held near Paris last August, it stated:
“This afternoon . . . F. W. Franz will pronounce a closing discourse on the hope of a peace of a thousand years, a peace that will follow the battle of Armageddon and see billions of humans come back to life on a paradise earth. . . .
“Some will be tempted to shrug their shoulders. However, the greater number will be set thinking. The public discovered with astonishment that there are 30,000 ‘Witnesses’ in France, a million in the world, and that during the past twenty years they have grown to an extraordinary extent: some 700 percent. People can think what they will, but this phenomenon merits our attention.”—Le Journal du Dimanche, August 10, 1969.
Yes, the growth, zeal and devotion of Jehovah’s witnesses, in striking contrast with the decline and fall of Christendom’s churches, are making many people have second thoughts about what they used to “describe as a sect.” (Acts 24:14, Jerusalem Bible) Recently, a French Catholic weekly wrote the following:
“Not long ago ‘good Catholics’ felt obliged to . . . get angry when a ‘Jehovah’s witness’ came to their door offering booklets and counsel.
“Today, the sight of these people who have the courage to act for their faith obliges us to think. Although he need not share their opinions, the Catholic is beginning to think and even to say: ‘Hats off’ to these men and women who are not afraid to face sarcastic smiles, name-calling and anger when they demonstrate their faith.”—L’Ami du Peuple, February 15, 1970.
Some Catholics are saying: “The early Christians had no elaborate buildings, yet their communities were alive and faithful to Christ’s teachings.” (L’Express, December 22-28, 1969) Jehovah’s witnesses will be glad to help all sincere people to study the Word of God and will be happy to welcome them to their increasingly numerous Kingdom Halls, where they will find Christian communities that are truly “alive and faithful to Christ’s teachings.”