Did Brother Roger Schutz Convert?

by Yves Chiron
(Translated from the French by Michael J. Matt)

Brother Roger Receives Communion

from then-Cardinal Ratzinger

(www.RemnantNewspaper.com) Editor’s Note: Since the following article was recently sent to us by Yves Chiron directly, it seems fair to assume that the respected French author may have had The Remnant in mind when he lamented the fact that certain American and French reviews had criticized Cardinal Ratzinger for having given Holy Communion to “a Protestant”—the late Brother Roger Schutz. In the following article, Mr. Chiron sets out to prove that Brother Roger—the founder of the Taizé Community in France—had, in fact, made a profession of Catholic Faith some years ago and wasn’t Protestant at all.  According to Mr. Chiron, this conversion was “discreet,” and was not generally known until after Brother Roger’s controversial reception of Holy Communion at Pope John Paul’s April 2005 funeral, after which even Cardinal Kasper, when questioned directly, reportedly had to admit that Brother Roger was “formally Catholic.” 

We are publishing the following report (from ALETHEIA Lettre d’informations religieuses VIIe année - n° 95 1er August 2006) for two reasons: 1) It contains a most encouraging account of the recent conversion and profession of Catholic Faith by a Lutheran pastor that took place in the Society of St. Pius X’s magnificent Saint-Nicholas-du-Chardonnet in Paris and 2) the account of Brother Roger’s alleged conversion, while less than completely convincing in our opinion, is nevertheless something readers should carefully consider.  Mr. Chiron is, after all, a highly acclaimed author with a sound reputation for accuracy in his research.

If Brother Roger did convert then the fact that that conversion was kept more or less secret (presumably because it might upset the ecumenical apple cart) is still an unnerving sign of the times in which we live.  Since when does the Catholic Church cover up conversions of high-profile Protestants? After Brother Roger’s reception of Communion at Pope John Paul’s funeral even Vatican spokesmen seemed unaware of this alleged conversion, insisting as they did that the incident had been an unfortunate mistake and that “the Catholic rule against shared Communion still holds, and inter-Communion is not practiced at Taizé.”  Is it any wonder that Bishop Tissier de Mallerais would recently suggest that conversion is something of which the “conciliar Church is embarrassed”?  Indeed, if the following report is accurate, it would seem that the “conciliar Church” is practically hiding it these days. 

Still, if it is true—and we pray that it is— this is good news indeed, not only because of the obvious benefits for the man's immortal soul, but also because it places Pope Benedict’s controversial eulogy of Brother Roger in a slightly different light. On August 24, 2005, L’Osservatore Romano quoted Pope Benedict XVI as saying the following of the founder of Taizé: “Brother Roger Schutz is in the hands of eternal goodness, of eternal love; he has arrived at eternal joy.”  It is our hope and prayer that these words referred in fact to a Catholic...not a Protestant...for obvious reasons.  Finally, when taking into account the bizarre secrecy surrounding the alleged conversion of the late Brother Roger we believe one can be forgiven for having raised objection to what looked to all the world like a scandalous case of a Protestant receiving Holy Communion at the Pope’s funeral. 

The following translation is my own and has not been approved by Mr. Chiron.  Michael Matt

Sunday, July 30, 2006, in the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris, a Swedish Lutheran pastor, Sten Sandmark, and another Protestant, solemnly abjured “all error, heresy and sects contrary to the holy, Catholic, apostolic and Roman Church.”  Pastor Sandmark had made, last July, a “public declaration” explaining the reasons for his “return to the Church.”

This conversion attracted the attention of the Swedish and German media.  The solemn ceremony of abjuration that took place yesterday contrasts with the discreet conversion of Pastor Schutz, founder of the Taizé Community in France.  The conversion was so discrete that it was not made apparent until the day of the funeral of John Paul II when Cardinal Ratzinger, today Benedict XVI, gave him communion.  Some became indignant, and are still indignant, that the future Benedict XVI would give communion to “a Protestant.”  This is because they did not know that Brother Roger Schutz had made, many years ago, a profession of the Catholic Faith.

The Abjuration of Pastor Sandmark

Pastor Sandmark announced his intention to join the Society of St. Pius X.  In addition, yesterday’s abjuration ceremony  was presided over by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, assisted by Father Schmidberger and Father de Cacqueray—District Superior of the Society of St. Pius X in France.

The ceremony of abjuration took place before the Mass.  After a presentation by Bishop Tissier de Mallerais, Pastor Sandmark knelt before the bishop and pronounced a Profession of Faith that included a solemn renunciation of his previous errors and a solemn profession of the Catholic Faith.  Then his companion did the same.

After the sung Miserere (Psalm 50), Bishop Tissier de Mallerais absolved the two converts of the canonical penalties that are applied to heretics and schismatics. Then he conferred on them the sacrament of Confirmation, after which they received Communion during the Mass which followed.

The ceremony, solemn and moving, took place in a packed church.  It is the first time that a public ceremony of abjuration by a Protestant pastor took place in a church of the Society of St. Pius X.

 “The conciliar Church is embarrassed by conversions,” declared Bishop Tissier de Mallerais in his opening address at the ceremony.  The polemical expression is exaggerated.  On the other hand, it is true that the same abjuration ceremony like the one that took place yesterday at Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet no longer exists in what Bishop Tissier de Mallerais calls “the conciliar Church.”  The conversion of pastors Max Thurian and Roger Schutz, the two founders of the Taizé Community, attest to this.

The Conversion of Brother Roger Schutz

These conversions happened in a discrete manner and were not made known at the moment when they took place but rather upon the occasions of other events.  It was when the priestly ordination of Max Thurian was made public in 1988 (the ordination having been conducted by the archbishop of Naples the preceding year) that his conversion to Catholicism became known.  It was when Roger Schutz received communion during the funeral of John Paul II in April 2005 that one became aware of his membership in the Catholic Church.  This was so astonishing that Cardinal Barbarin, Archbishop of Lyon, after the funeral, questioned Cardinal Kasper, President of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, about that communion ubi et orbi. Cardinal Kasper responded: “Brother Roger is formally Catholic.” 1

After having questioned the Bishop of Autun, the pontifical Council for Christian Unity, and the Prior of the Taizé Community, one can attempt to establish the sequence of events that led to the discreet conversion of Roger Schutz.

The semi-monastic community that Brother Schutz founded in 1940 at Taizé is a community dedicated to a rapprochement between Christians, which only included Protestants at the beginning. Beginning in 1949, Roger Schutz and Max Thurian were regularly received at the Vatican by Monsignor Montini first (the future Paul VI), then by the popes beginning with John XXIII.  The two pastors of Taizé were among the non-Catholic “observers” invited to the Second Vatican Council, at the first session (1962).  Max Thurian would also be, beginning in 1967, among the six non-Catholic observers at the Consilium charged with preparing the liturgical reforms that resulted, notably, in the promulgation of a Novus Ordo Missae.

Beginning in 1969, the Taizé Community welcomed Catholic “brothers” then, in 1971, an accord was made to institute a “representative” from the Taizé Community near the Holy Sea. The “representative” had as his mission “to negotiate questions between Taizé and the Catholic Church in harmony with the thinking of the Holy Father; to promote more collaboration in the ecumenical activities between Taizé and the Catholic Church; and to encourage the establishment of an organic relationship between them.” 2

This accord, made public at the time (L’Osservatore Romano, 9-10 August 1971), prepared the way for passage into the Catholic Church of the two founders of Taizé, Roger Schutz et Max Thurian.  This “passage”, this conversion, took place in 1972, in the chapel of the Bishop of Autun, the diocese where Taizé is located.  There was a profession of the Catholic Faith then Communion was given by Mgr. Le Bourgeois.

No written certificate remains, it seems, of that event, but Brother Roger has given oral testimony of it and of his adherence to the Catholic Faith to the successor of Mgr. Le Bourgeois, Mgr Séguy.

Later on, Catholic practices like Eucharistic adoration and the Sacrament of Confession were established in the Taizé Community.  Roger Schutz, having become Catholic, evidently no longer celebrated the Protestant service at Taizé or anywhere else and, since he did not become a priest, he received holy Communion only from a Catholic priest.  “For that which concerns the ministry of the Pope, he declared and wrote that the unity of Christians centers on the pastor of the Church of Christ, who is the Bishop of Rome.” 3

Roger Schutz liked to say: “I have found my proper Christian identity in reconciling in myself the faith of my past with the mystery of the Catholic Faith, without rupturing communion with anyone.” (from an allocution of Pope John Paul in 1980 at the time of his Meeting with European Youth in Rome). The expression, repeated again in his last book (God Can Only Love), could be judged to be very unsatisfactory because it says nothing of the retractions necessary for a conversion.  But Roger Schutz was not a theologian.

It is true that this secrecy of his conversion has not the limpidity and the solemnity of an abjuration.  But who dares to doubt his sincerity?  Cardinal Ratzinger, in giving him Communion in April 2005, certainly acted with full knowledge of the facts.  And it is bad form to accuse him still today of “having given communion to a Protestant.”



1 Testimony written by Mgr. Seguy, former bishop of Autun, to the author, January 19, 2006

2 Letter from Mgr. Johan Bonny, of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, to the author, May 13, 2006

3 Ibid

4)  The accusation surfaces in the process of speaking against Benedict XVI on French and American web sites and certain traditionalists reviews.