Contrary to reports that Br Roger Schutz had converted to Catholicism, the Taize founder, who received Communion from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger at John Paul II's funeral, found his own Christian identity reconciling his Protestant origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, his successor says.
Br Alois, Prior of the Taize community and personally chosen successor of Br Roger, was responding to claims by a French historian, Yves Chiron, that Br Roger had converted to Catholicism.
The religious affiliation of Br Roger became a subject of speculation in April 2005, at the funeral of John Paul II, when the Taize leader received Holy Communion from then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Although he had been extremely sympathetic to Catholicism, at the time Br Roger was still identified as a Protestant minister.
The mystery deepened after Br Roger's death when Cardinal Walter Kasper presided at his Catholic funeral service after he was killed last year by an apparently mentally-disturbed woman at an evening prayer service.
Writing in the historical journal, Aleitheia, editor Yves Chiron claimed to have solved the mystery based on testimony from Bishop Raymond Seguy, retired bishop of Autun, the diocese where Taize is located, who said that Br Roger had converted in 1972.
Subsequently, Br Roger kept his conversion secret, in order to avoid upsetting the ecumenical harmony of the Taize community, Chiron claimed.
Endeavouring to clarify the issue in an interview with the French Catholic newspaper, La Croix, Br Alois, explained that Br Roger's path was "progressive and totally new" and therefore "difficult to explain and understand".
"It is easy to interpret it wrongly," Br Alois told La Croix.
"To speak of 'conversion' in this regard is to fail to understand the originality of what Br Roger was looking for. The word 'conversion' is full of history, it implies a break with one's origins. Br Roger accepted that for some people an individual conversion could be the way but for him and for our community, he preferred to speak of 'communion'", he continued.
For Br Roger, entering full communion with the Catholic Church centred on two points that he never kept secret, namely receiving the Eucharist and the need for a ministry of unity exercised by the Bishop of Rome."
It was in this sense that Br Roger was able to say "I have found my own Christian identity reconciling in myself the faith of my origins with the mystery of the Catholic faith, without any rupture whatsoever," Br Alois explained.
Inside the Church's "circle"
Shedding further light on what exactly happened in Br Roger's 1972 meeting with the Bishop of Autun, Br Alois said that the Bishop of the time, Mgr Armand Le Bourgeois, "simply gave him communion for the first time without asking any more from him than the Credo recited during the Eucharist and which is common to all Christians."
"Several witnesses were present, three of my confreres, a married couple, and they can all confirm this," he added.
"The date was chosen because Br Roger was preparing to receive the life commitment of the first Catholic brother of the community and he felt that it was unthinkable not to share the Eucharistic table with him. A few months later, Bishop Le Bourgeois came to Taize and he also gave communion to all the brothers in the community," Br Alois continued.
"After John XXIII and Vatican II, he felt that the time for reconciliation had arrived. He often told us how during his last meeting with John XXIII in 1963 he had listened to what he understood as the Pope's spiritual testament and he questioned him on the role of Taize in the Church.
"John XXII answered with a circular gesture of his hands: 'The Church is made up of larger and larger concentric circles.' The Pope didn't say to which circle he felt Taize belonged but Br Roger understood what the Pope meant. In other words, you are already inside, just keep going. And that's what he did," Br Alois concluded.
Frère Roger ne s'est pas "converti" (La Croix, 6/9/06)
Brother Roger of Taize - Catholic since '72? (Amy Welborn Blog, 6/9/06)
Was Taizé founder a secret Catholic? (Catholic World News, 6/9/06)
US women Benedictines launch Taize -style ecumenical community (CathNews 6/7/06)
Catholic funeral for Taizé ´s Brother Roger (CathNews 23/8/05)
Pope shocked at slaying of Taizé´s Brother Roger (CathNews 18/8/05)
Was Taizé founder a secret Catholic? (Catholic World News 6/9/06)
Murdered sect leader 'was secret Catholic' (Independent 6/9/06)
4 Jan 2007