Sunday, December 21, 2014

Monsieur Dileut's Story

My father and mother were both French. So am I, although I was born in London. My elder sister was born in Paris but I scarcely remember her. She died quite young of leukemia. My younger brother was born in London like me but was killed in the war, fighting for the Free French.

My father was the London agent for a Parisian manufacturer of costume jewelry. It did not make him rich but we lacked for nothing. We had our own freehold house in Islington. In those days it was not fashionable. I took over my father's business about fifteen years ago.

Father was a practicing Catholic. It was he who taught us our catechism and took us to Mass each Sunday. We thought that he was, perhaps, a bit scrupulous or Jansenistic as he never went to Communion. However, he always went on retreat with the Jesuits during the first week in Lent, when we presumed that he made his Easter Duties. He was fairly strict but immensely gentle. I do not remember my father ever being angry.

Mother was very different. She was a good mother to us and I don't want to say anything against her. But she was bitterly anti-Catholic and anti-clerical. Poor dear, she was a bitter woman altogether. She subscribed to several anti-clerical French rags. She used to cut out any particularly scandalous tit-bits and put them on Father's plate for breakfast. He always read them carefully, thanked Mother for keeping him informed and stuck them in an album. I have found it. It's the thick album on the bottom shelf over there.

Mother died in October 1964 without seeing a priest. She was buried civilly as she had wished. Father immediately sold the house. I was married, of course, and was already living in my present house in Bayswater. Father simply vanished. Once he sent me a postcard from Paris but with no address. That was all. A year later, in November 1965, he sent me a charming letter to say that he had built himself this bungalow at Chalfont and hoped that I, wife and children would call on him on Christmas afternoon as he could not give us a meal.

We turned up. You may have noticed that this bungalow has a surprisingly large hall for so small a house. To save us the trouble of trying the doors, he pointed out that they were locked! It was the same when we came at Easter and All Saints – la Toussaint is a big feast in France. In fact I never saw the inside of this bungalow until after my Father's death. While we were there for the Toussaint he invited us back for Christmas. He said that he hoped to have something very important to tell us.

However, three weeks later, on November 23rd, the police rang up. It was fairly early in the morning as I had not yet gone to the office. The milkman had reported that the milk had not been collected at the bungalow for a couple of days and there was no answer to the bell. The police had forced the door and had found my father dead. They would like me to see the body as they had found it before they did anything else. I shot out to Chalfont straight away, fortunately without Mary, my wife. I called at the police station. A very amiable sergeant accompanied me. For the first time I penetrated the bungalow beyond the hall. The sergeant unlocked that little door over there and switched on the lights. As you probably noticed, the room has no window. It was a tiny chapel. Crouched over a prie dieu in front of the altar, fully vested in chasuble and the rest, was a priest. It was the corpse of my father.

You can imagine my sentiments better than I can describe them.

I shall not bore you with the details except to say that he had finished Mass when he died. The veil was on the chalice, the corporal was in the burse, the cruets were empty and the candles had been blown out. He must have felt too weak to unvest, have gone straight to the prie dieu and died.

Later I found on his desk a thick envelope addressed to me. The top page was a very affectionate letter postdated the Christmas which never came. The rest was a precis of his life. It was doubtless what he had referred to on All Saints' Day. The precis is not without interest.

My father was born in 1883 and was therefore eighty-three when he died. His real name was du Teil, of which Dileut is an anagram. His family was traditional and very devout. From earliest childhood he, like his parents, took it for granted that he would become a priest.

Already at St. Sulpice – his seminary – his piety had veered toward activism. He says that he was not strictly a "modernist" but was deeply affected by the works of Laberthonnière. He kept this to himself so as not to be expelled.

He was ordained just before his twenty-fourth birthday at Pentecost, 1907. The decree Lamentabili against modernism was issued in July that same year. A little later the works of his hero, Laberthonnière, were placed on the Index.

With the fervour of a young man he wrote articles attacking the whole policy of Pius X in Naudet's Justice Sociale and Dabry's La Vie Catholique. Both were condemned in the following year, 1908.

He then joined up with Marc Sagnier and Le Sillon. By this time he thought of himself as a "christian Socialist" rather than a "socialist Christian."

When Le Sillon was condemned in 1910 he took to writing under diverse pseudonyms virulent attacks against Pius X in the non-Catholic press. Some of these were eventually pinned down to him. Upon his refusal to retract he was defrocked and excommunicated in 1913.

He lived by his pen until he was called up for the war. Incidentally, all those reviews in the book-case over there contain his articles. The rest of the books must form the most complete collection of modernist and Sillonist literature in private hands. It had been stored in Paris. Doubtless we had not been allowed in the bungalow in case we saw it.

He married mother, civilly of course, in 1916. She was an ex-Trappistine nun. They had met at a sort of club for defrocked priests in Paris, rue des Écoles. My sister was born the next year.

By the end of the war and after a year at Verdun, Loisy, Laberthonnière, Dabry, even Marc Sagnier all seemed very far away. He was also helped by his sergeant, who was a distinguished Jesuit. He regained the piety of his childhood. But he was excommunicated and had a wife and daughter.

On demobilization he found that he could not live in Paris. Thanks to a cousin he got his job in London. I was born there in 1920 and my brother in 1923.

When mother died father set about rehabilitating himself as a priest. It took endless time. Paris, his diocese of origin, passed the buck to Aylesbury, his diocese of domicile, and vice versa. I have found all the correspondence. I shall not bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the delay was not caused by difficulties over his excommunication and marriage. It was caused by my father's own obstinacy. Indeed, he was as stubborn as he was gentle.

He had been excommunicated under two principal headings: firstly for maintaining modernist propositions; secondly for using the vernacular and innovating in the rite of the Mass. Father refused to accept the lifting of excommunication unless he abjured its causes: he insisted that he take an anti-modernist oath at the hands of the bishop and that he celebrate Mass according to the rite in use prior to his excommunication.

As you can imagine, there was much pooh-poohing. The anti-modernist oath had been abolished and the immemorial Mass was undergoing monthly changes. Finally, however, in view of father's age, the bishop of Aylesbury had the courtesy to give in. He came to Chalfont and administered the oath in front of two witnesses on Wednesday, November 16th [1966].

Knowing my father as I do, I am certain that he would have prepared himself scrupulously for his second "First Mass." He would not have presumed to jump to the altar, but waited for the Lord's Day. (Besides, only one host was missing from a box of fifty.) The Mass after which he died must have been the first he had said in fifty-three years. God rest his soul!

—Bryan Houghton, Judith's Marriage, 1987, pp. 197–200.