Carcassonne Bishopric
Ecclesiastical Trial of Bérenger Saunière

Sentence of 5 November 1910

On 5 November 1910 Bérenger Saunière was sentenced ‘to enter a house of priestly retreat (Monastery of Prouilhe) to undertake ten days of spiritual exercises for contravening the decree of the charging of fees for masses of Pope Pius X of May 11 1904, entitled ‘Ut debita sollicitudine’, which regulated everything concerning fees for masses, in particular the number of Masses that one can accept and the time within which they have to be said.’

Taken From Jacques Rivière, Le Fabuleux Trésor de Rennes-Le-Château, Le Secret de L’Abbé Saunière (Éditions Bélisane, 1983):

(5 November 1910)

In the name of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, We, Gustave Cantegril, Judge in the Bishop’s Court of the Diocese of Carcassonne, assisted by two assessors from the Bishop’s Court, judging in the first instance and being mindful only of the glory of God, have returned the following sentence:

HAVING HEARD the indictment of the Official Prosecutor enumerating three grievances against Abbé Bérenger Saunière:

1) of having trafficked in fees for Masses for many years and especially since 1896; he has requested fees everywhere and has obtained a very large number of them, the discharge of which he is unable to prove;

2) of having availed himself of these fees in whole or in part in order to carry out building work and repairs at Rennes-le-Château;

3) of having disobeyed the Bishop who, in February 1909, had forbidden him to make requests for fees, offering to provide him with such fees himself, a ban that Abbé Bérenger Saunière had promised to observe and which he has disobeyed;

HAVING HEARD Dr Huguet of the Diocese of Agent, Monsieur Saunière’s attorney and defence counsel, permitted to address the hearing, who has in addition lodged his written statement with the Court.

CONSIDERING that Abbé Bérenger Saunière admits to having requested and obtained a considerable number of Masses, without contesting the figures given by the Official Prosecutor;

That even if we confine ourselves to these figures, there are grounds for surprise that Monsieur Saunière should have gone to so much trouble to obtain fees;

That he puts forward by way of defence that these fees were intended for a certain number of priests which he names, most of whom, whether young or old, are dead and some, even if they are still alive, are unknown; circumstances which are highly suspicious;

That it is peculiar that Monsieur Saunière, if he gives so many fees to other priests, should plead poverty in making his requests for Masses, likewise that he should pretend to be short of fees and prepared to say by himself at short notice those Masses for which he has received fees; statements that amount to falsehoods if one refers to the allegations made by Abbé Bérenger Saunière himself;

That, without oral or written proof of him having actually said the Masses, Abbé Bérenger Saunière is unable, in its stead, to produce a Register of Masses of any kind;

That if, strictly speaking, a priest can be excused, not for failing to maintain but for failing to retain Registers of Masses, when he has only received fees for the number of Masses that he could have comfortably discharged, it is inadmissible that a parish priest who has solicited so many fees intended for others, according to his own statements, should not be concerned to retain the slightest record of both the acceptance and distribution of the Masses.

Considering however that, in spite of all these presumptions, it has not been sufficiently and juridically established that Abbé Bérenger Saunière may have retained in his possession certain fees from Masses, and that juridically the accused must be given the benefit of the doubt, and that having retained such fees, he has dedicated them to the repairs of the church of Rennes-le-Château and to constructions of a luxurious or useful nature or to diverse improvements that are a source of amazement to everyone visiting the village;

That furthermore Monsieur Saunière remarks that the fees that he is accused of having dedicated to the works undertaken by him represent only a small sum compared with the expenditure to which he admits; that there are grounds for taking some notice of this assertion, even though it would not have been impossible for him to attain such a large total merely by collecting fees for Masses;

But that, pretending to have covered this expenditure by means of voluntary or solicited help, he offered during the proceedings a detailed statement of the subscriptions made by various people in favour of what he referred to as his works, and also of the total amount of the personal resources that he has devoted to them;

That a single reading of these accounts is sufficient to be convinced that of the sums, enormous for such a small parish (approximately 200,000 francs), which he has used for the restoration of the church and the erection of various buildings, by far the largest part consist of offerings made by the faithful of other parishes;

That he claims to have interested wealthy subscribers in work of such great usefulness as a retirement home for elderly priests;

That if he has notified the subscribers of this project in the manner laid down in his statement, there are grounds for surprise that he only revealed this project to his superiors during the enquiry and the present proceeding at law;

That it is therefore absolutely certain that the diverse donations either spontaneous or solicited have been made not to Monsieur Saunière as a private individual, but to the parish priest of Rennes-le-Château for the works of the parish and also, according to Monsieur Saunière, for an old people’s home for elderly priests;

That this is not the time or the place either to examine whether Monsieur Saunière in his various undertakings has genuinely fulfilled the aspirations of his donors, or to prejudge his good or bad faith in his use of the authority that he has granted to himself for the use of the funds;

That it might be thought strange on his part for him to have spent, according to his own whims, sums the size of which he finally revealed only for the purposes of the present investigation;

That again, as with the distribution of the fees, Monsieur Saunière has rendered any form of inspection of accounts impossible by furnishing a list of people who are either unknown or deceased; that from another point of view it is of little importance to know the names of those subscribers whom Monsieur Saunière is unable to name, claiming that they are subject to his discretion; that it is sufficient to take literally the statement and the figures supplied by Monsieur Saunière to be convinced that he has received very large sums for pious works;

That the sums have been spent usefully in the opinion only of Monsieur Saunière himself;

That they are accounted for by diverse goods and objects having the indisputable character of ecclesiastical goods;

That it would be immoral in the extreme to see a collector spending the proceeds of his collections according to his own whims, and attributing to himself under the title of sole owner and sovereign administrator the works that have resulted from them;

That the Bishop in each Diocese is ex officio guardian, auditor and supervisor of the goods of the various benefices of which he has the right of enjoying administration (Council of Trent sen.22 chap.9, de reformatione);

And therefore that, if Monsieur Saunière has made, as he claims, enormous expenditures, not of fees received for Masses, but of gifts received or solicited for the greatest good of the Church and souls, he has always had and he still has a duty to appear before his Bishop to justify the use of the funds, their past destination and the destination that he intends to assign to them in the future, all things that he should have done for some considerable time;

Considering that His Lordship the Bishop had forbidden Monsieur Saunière, as this latter has himself acknowledged, to request fees for Masses as he had done in the past, offering to put him in possession of them via the Secretary’s Office of the Diocese;

That nonetheless Monsieur Saunière has, since then, requested fees for Masses outside the Diocese, indirectly perhaps, but so obviously that several of his correspondents have not been deceived thereby, and they felt that they must forward his letters to the diocesan Bishop of Carcassonne;

Following a close examination of the written statement lodged by defending counsel, and having taken the advice of the assessors of the Bishop’s Court,

On the first and third grievances:

CONSIDERING that Monsieur Saunière has not been sufficiently and juridically convicted of having trafficked in fees for Masses; that there are however grounds for citing and punishing his culpable negligence regarding the accountancy aspect of the Masses;

CONSIDERING that grounds also exist for punishing the grave disobedience of which we acknowledge to be culpable with respect to His Lordship the Bishop of Carcassonne, by his continuing to request Masses in spite of the ban that had been imposed upon him;

We sentence Abbé Bérenger Saunière to withdraw to a house of priestly retreat or into a monastery of his choice, there to undertake spiritual exercises for a period of ten days, requiring him, within a period of two months, to present to us a certificate confirming that he has carried out these exercises.

On the second grievance:

CONSIDERING that Monsieur Saunière himself claims to have spent large sums arising from charitable donations by the faithful, made with a view to the carrying out of pious works;

We impose upon him the obligation to appear before His Lordship the Bishop of Carcassonne or his representative within one month of the effective date of these presents, to render the accounts that he lodged with us via his defence counsel during the discussion of the case, together with the documents in proof, and to receive the instructions of his diocesan Bishop regarding the works executed using the offerings that he has collected, all on pain of being constrained by legal process. A deadline of ten days, effective from the notification of the present sentence, is granted to Monsieur Saunière to make appeal against this judgment.

Done and decided at Carcassonne, at the Bishop’s Court, 5 November 1910.


The Judge in the Bishop’s Court:
G Cantegril, Vicar-General

The assessors:
L Massal, Canon
F Pradiès, Priest

The Clerk of the Court:
L Charpentier, Canon

Bérenger Saunière – not “cleared of Simony”