EVREUX, France - A rural French priest and his flock are facing excommunication after the Vatican became involved in his two-year battle to remain in the parish, the local bishop told AFP on Wednesday.
Father Francis Michel, 62, has been the priest in Normandy's Thiberville in north-western France for 24 years. The priest, who often says mass in Latin, has the support of his parishioners and local officials, mayor Guy Paris said.
The simmering conflict between the priest and the archbishopric came to a head after the Vatican's Supreme Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura in December rejected Michel's appeal against an order he go to another parish.
"As long as he stays in place and continues to officiate, unfortunately we're heading towards an excommunication, which would also affect his followers," Evreux Bishop Christian Nourrichard told AFP.
On Sunday, the new priest named by Bishop Nourrichard was unable to celebrate mass as the church's locks had been filled with expanded foam.
"His parish was one of the smallest in the diocese, with only 5,000 people in 13 villages, which of course let him be very present but did not correspond to needs," Nourrichard said.
"I have also been notified of more serious things," the bishop said, declining to elaborate.
Mayor Paris said that 4,000 people have signed a petition demanding Michel stay in the village.
"He is very dynamic and has created strong links with the population, locally and beyond: some come from very far away, by coach, to attend his masses," Paris said.