Murdered sect leader 'was secret Catholic'

John Lichfield
Wednesday 01 April 2009 11:54

A year after being murdered in his own church, the secret of Brother Roger, apostle of Christian unity, has been made public: the Swiss Protestant monk, who founded an ecumenical community at Taizé in eastern France, was an undeclared Catholic for 33 years.

Just over a year ago, Brother Roger, aged 90, was stabbed to death in public by a deranged Romanian pilgrim in the community he founded to promote unity in the Christian Church. The following week he was given a funeral service according to Catholic rites, fulfilling a wish he expressed before he died. Many Protestant supporters were taken aback - even annoyed.

Now a former Catholic bishop of Autun, whose diocese includes the village of Taizé, has said Brother Roger made a Catholic "profession of faith" in 1972. "Brother Roger himself told me he was a Catholic," Monseigneur Raymond Séguy said. His Catholic allegiance was never made public as Brother Roger did not want to destroy his ecumenical achievements at Taizé.

Mgr Séguy's revelation - first to a historian and then to the French press - has caused a storm. Brother Alois, the new head of Taizé, said it was "incorrect"to suggest the world's most successful apostle of Christian unity had "converted".

"In the bishop's palace at Autun in 1972, he took communion in the Catholic eucharist for the first time without anyone asking him to convert," Brother Alois said. "Brother Roger was looking for a way of communion with the Catholic Church, not a 'conversion', which would imply rejection of his origins."

The Taizé community was founded by Roger Schutz in 1940 to try to heal the 400-year-old rift between the Catholic and Protestant churches. His father was a Protestant pastor, but his grandmother, whom he loved dearly, was Catholic. She survived bombardment near the front line during the First World War and asked her grandson to do all he could to heal the divisions of war. Taizé's message - and its music, based on plainchant - became a beacon for post-war young Christians.

However, some Protestant leaders, while backing Taizé's work, became disturbed by what they saw as Brother Roger's drift towards Catholicism. At the funeral of Pope John Paul II last year, Brother Roger was seen to take communion from the hands of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. The future Pope Benedict XVI had always opposed proposals that, in the name of Christian unity, Protestants should be allowed to participate in the Catholic mass.

The mystery of how the "Protestant" Brother Roger came to receive the host from Cardinal Ratzinger's own hand has now been solved.

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