The relations between the popes related to the Apostles of Infinite Love is a complicated matter. The first pope, Clement XV, asserted that he from 1950 onwards assisted Pius XII and that he continued to support John XXII under his pontificate. To him, both Pius and John were true popes, though enemies in the Curia hindered them from acting freely. In short, they needed help from Pope Clement.
First with the election of Paul VI, in 1963, Clement claimed that he was the only true pope, moving the Holy See to Clémery, the small French town where he lived. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Apostles were divided into several groups, and a Canadian cardinal declared that he had been divinely chosen to replace the founder and took the name (John) Gregory XVII. Several other splinter groups appeared, and after Clement’s death in 1974, at least two other men have claimed to be his papal successor.
Michel Collin (Clement XV, 1950 (1963)-1974) was born in 1905 in Béchy, French Lorraine. He studied at the priest seminary in Metz and at the Faculty of Theology in Lille. From an early age, Collin claimed to receive frequent private apparitions from Christ and the Virgin. Their messages foretold an extraordinary ecclesiastical career: from priest via bishop to pope. He also asserted to have been born with the stigmata.
Before ordination to the priesthood, Collin became a member of the Congregation of the Holy Heart of Jesus (Sacré Coeur de Saint-Quentin). He was ordained a priest in 1933 by the archbishop of Lille, Achille Cardinal Liénart, and served in the parish of Loubilé in the 1930s, but soon left to work in a chain of other parishes in France. Collin had no stable position and many colleagues regarded him as a difficult person, not least as he maintained to have continuous direct encounters with celestial beings.
On 28 April 1935, Collin experienced that Christ consecrated him a bishop, but did not make the news public at the time. On the same day, he founded the Apôtres de l’Amour Infini—the Apostles of Infinite Love. It was a kind of religious order or brotherhood but did not receive any ecclesiastical authorization. During the Second World War, Collin continued to serve as a priest in several parishes. In 1943, the diocesan bishop forbade the work of the Apostles and Collin, therefore, established a Crusade for the Rosary–“La Croisade des Disciples du Rosaire et du Magnificat”, whose mission was nothing less than to work for the conversion of humanity. In fact, it was very similar to the Apostles. The members formed Foyers-Cenacles, small house communities. During the last years of the war, Collin and other members were persecuted by the Nazi occupiers. They managed to hide on various occasions, but in September 1944, Collin was arrested and brought to a concentration camp. He faced execution but managed to flee at the last moment.
After the war, most of his followers had either left the group or died. According to Collin, Pope XII blessed the work Apostles of Infinite Love at a private audience in 1946, thus removing the bishop’s ban. In the next couple of years, Collin provided the Holy See with documentation that he hoped would lead to a formal ecclesiastical authorization. He also travelled around in France and neighbouring countries, trying to convince bishops of his mission.
Nevertheless, Collin’s life would soon enter a new phase, which meant that it became utterly impossible to get any recognition from the Roman Catholic Church. On 7 October 1950, Collin claimed that the Trinity had crowned him pope, and he took Clement XV as his papal name. Still, the French pope did not think that he had replaced Pius XII but merely assisted him. The news about the mysterious coronation leaked out and Collin was interrogated by Vatican authorities.
Following an investigation, in 1951 the Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office issued a decree that reduced Collin to layman status. In the same document, the Congregation banned the Apostles of Infinite Love. The condemnation was reiterated five years later, as the Institute still existed and Collin’s activities had not diminished. Nevertheless, Collin was convinced that he had continued support from Pius XII, but that the Roman pontiff was hindered to make it public, due to powerful modernist forces in the curia. Collin also accepted Pius’s successor, John XXIII (1958-1963), as the true pope, but just as in the case of his predecessor, he thought that Pope John could not work freely as he was opposed by communists and freemasons.
However, since Pope John did not make the third secret of Fatima public, which was Collin’s greatest wish, in 1961 he went public with his papal claims and established the Eglise Catholique Renovée, the Renewed Church of Christ, sometimes also called the Church of Glory or the Church of Miracle. Still, to him, this church was nothing else than the only true Catholic Church. After the announcement, Collin was formally excommunicated by the bishop of Nancy. It was a severe form of interdict—Collin should be avoided by all Catholics. Nevertheless, he continued to claim that he only assisted the Roman pope, and maintained that he was in secret contact with him, both through letters and tape recordings. By this time, his group of followers was still small.
At the death of Pope John XXIII, in 1963, Collin asserted that he now was the sole pope. Somewhat later, he was crowned at a ceremony held in his community in Clémery, Lorraine. The French pontiff claimed that Paul VI was a usurper and that the Holy See, therefore, had moved from Rome to Clémery, where he had built his Little Vatican. According to Clement XV, he was the pope of the end-times, who according to several apocalyptic prophecies would not be elected at a conclave, as Rome had fallen into the hands of heretics.
He openly attacked Paul VI as an antipope and at least a forerunner of Antichrist, if not Antichrist himself. In the mid-1960s, members of the Renewed Church were present in the St. Peter’s Square in Rome, handing out leaflets with messages such as: “Opponents of Our Lady of Fatima and Clement XV will be punished by God”. In his new journal Verité, the pope of Clémery declared war against the Roman antipope, whom he excommunicated, and he denounced the Roman Catholic Church, in particular, due to the changes during and after Vatican II. The Renewed Church held a General Council in Lyon in September 1963. According to the final documents, its main mission was to re-establish the Early Church, directly led by Christ, in the person of Clement XV. The pope was seen as almost identical with Christ.
Despite its harsh criticism against Rome, a peculiar aspect of the Renewed Church was the followers’ double religious participation. It meant that they went to mass in the Roman Catholic parish church, but also attended rituals celebrated by the Renewed Church. Despite claiming to be the pope, Clement XV did not become bishop until 23 October 1966, when he was consecrated by Cyprien Damgé de Lannoy, a well-known figure in the world of independent churches, who had been ordained a priest in the Liberal Catholic Church and consecrated a bishop by Henri Engel Plantagenet of the Old Catholic Vilatte lineage. By then, Damgé had become one of Clément’s followers and was consequently made a cardinal. After this, apart from being divinely elected pope, Collin could claim valid apostolic succession, which, at least theoretically, gave him more credibility as a church leader. In practice, however, few would acknowledge him as a Catholic bishop, let alone the pope.
Apart from the pope, the Renewed Church was constituted by cardinals, bishops, male and female religious and laypeople. Claiming to defend traditional Roman Catholic teachings, it is surprising that the Renewed Church ordained women as priests and that the obligatory clerical celibate was abolished. The reason for ordaining women was the pope’s view that Christ ordained the Virgin Mary a priest. Though sources are not entirely clear, it is possible that Clement XV was assisted by a “popess” or “high priestess”. She was a woman in her forties who asserted to have mystically married Christ; she was literally the Bride of Christ.
The growth of the Renewed Church was fastest between 1965 and 1968, the years following the end of the Second Vatican Council. By 1969, about thirty people lived in the Clémery community on a more permanent basis, but most members did not live there, but in other places in France and beyond. Their homes were house communities, where a consecrated host was perpetually on display. The church also had some chapels in France and neighbouring countries.
By 1969, the Renewed Church claimed to have “thousands of members”, some sources even say 25.000, though it is very difficult to assess these claims. Most of them lived in France, Canada and the United States, but quite a number were spread out in other countries. As for Germany, the group reported no less than 300 house communities. There were groups of faithful in Italy and Austria, too, and quite a strong presence in Switzerland, where the church asserted to have founded 120 house communities in little over a year. Most of them were situated in the canton of Luzern. A number of the new church members were ardent followers of the Garabandal and Heroldsbach movements and influenced by the apocalyptically centred Marian apparitions at those places, which were denounced by the Roman Catholic hierarchy.
The Renewed Church held that there are seven sacraments, but their understanding of them differed much from the Roman Catholic teachings. Their masses, for example, were reduced to consecration and the taking of communion, and turns of masses were read. At Clémery alone, there could be hundreds of masses a day. There was also a special “love mass” which just included the words “This is my love”, repeated many times. The pope abolished auricular confession: sins were confessed directly to God and the individual decided his or her penance. The sacrament of confirmation could be repeated various times as a way to get strength from the Holy Spirit. Central devotions in Clémery were the statues of Jesus Pontifex and Our Lady of the Rapture. The latter, small in size, was often carried around by the pope and brought along on journeys.
Clement XV defined the dogmas of the Renewed Church “under the dictation of Heaven”. The eschatological parts of Bible remained important, but they were complemented with continuous private revelations. Other Marian apparition traditions and apocalyptic writings from the eighteenth and nineteenth century were significant, too. Among the new doctrines, he taught that the Virgin and St. Joseph were co-redeemers of humanity.
Towards the end of his life, Pope Clément’s teachings became even more original and included frequent references to extra-terrestrials and UFOs. He predicted an imminent nuclear war, which would destroy the entire world. At first, he stated that the war would come in 1965. Later, the date was moved forward to 1969. The explanation for the postponement was that the global war was hindered by “Planetarians”, inhabitants of other planets. Clement XV claimed that 5.000 of them lived on earth. They appeared in human guise, but the pope could see their true reality.
Given the extra-terrestrial connections, in the late 1960s, the Renewed Church attracted UFO-believers, including a few members a Danish Doomsday sect that also predicted that the world would come to its end in 1969. According to the Renewed Church, however, the true believers would be raptured to the Planet of Mary before the destruction of the earth. This planet was a place where no evil existed, a paradise.
The Renewed Church survived its founder’s death in 1974. However, even before the death of the pope, the group had split into various branches. The most numerous dissenter group were the Canadian Apostles of Infinite Love, led by Gaston Tremblay, in religion called Jean-Gregoire de la Trinité, who broke with Clement in 1968. At that time, the Canadian cardinal declared that he had replaced Clement and was made pope under the name John-Gregory XVII. Nevertheless, in October 1969, Clement XV nominated Cardinal Cyprien Damgé de Lannoy as his papal successor, and the decision gave rise to new splinter groups, including a French group who followed the stigmatised Robert Fontaine and an independent community in Cicero, Illinois, led by Bishop John Higgins.
Today, a small community remains at the Little Vatican in Clémery, though nobody there claims to be the pope. At his death, followers thought that Clement would return from heaven before the end of 1982. Therefore, no new pope was elected, as the end of the world was near.
A number of Italian followers remained basically loyal to the spiritual heritage of Clement XV, but there seems to be no formal connection to the French group. They are concentred to the province of Brescia, and since 1974, they have been led by a local farmer, Guiseppe Zani, sometimes referred to as Pope Rabbi or Rabi, who is surrounded by male and female priests, as well as laypeople.
“Antipapi e pretendenti a un futuro ruolo di Papa”, in Massimo Introvigne & Pierluigi Zoccatelli (eds), Le religioni in Italia. (www.cesnur.com)
“Antipapi della Chiesa Rinnovata di Cristo (o coliniti) (dal 1950) e apparizioni mariane di La Salette”, Dizionario del pensiero cristiano alternativo (www.eresie.it)
Antoine Delestre, Clément XV, prêtre lorrain et pape à Clémery, Nancy-Metz, Presses Universitaires de Nancy-Éd. Serpenoise, 1985.
Walter Heim, “Die ‘Erneuerte Kirche’. Papst Clemens XV. in der Schweiz”, Schweizerisches Archiv für Volkskunde, 66/1-2 (1970): 41-96.
Paolo Maggi, “Pseudocattolicesimo e paracattolicesimo nella vita dei fondatori di due nuovi gruppi religiosi”, Religioni e Sette nel mondo, 3:4 (1997): 105-120.
Ernest Milá, “Rivales del Palmar de Troya”, infokrisis.blogia.com, 22 April 2011.
Belgian documentary about Clement XV, 1974 http://www.euscreen.eu/play.jsp?id=EUS_8EDF8CDF2CCF4B379F42F68F8FA781FD
French TV-programme, “Le pape de Clémery”, 1972, http://www.ina.fr/notice/voir/CAF93053162
French TV-programme, “Le pape de Clémery”, 1989, http://www.ina.fr/video/SXC06017411
Official site of the group at Clémery: http://www.asdmel.com/topic/index.html