French priests are being called to account after they were arrested for allegedly illegally entering the country.
Daniel Mestrel, 52, of the St. Ignatius parish in St. Etienne, south of Paris, was charged with being an unregistered alien, illegal immigration and entering without authorization.
He is the latest priest to be charged by authorities in France for allegedly living in France illegally.
According to French authorities, Mestrell illegally entered the country between January 10 and March 12, 2017, when he was a priest at the St Ignatia church in St-Etienne, a suburb of Paris.
According the criminal complaint, Mesterrel, a Catholic priest, allegedly spent about two weeks living in a tent and a van.
According an arrest warrant, Merelle, a French national, told authorities he entered France illegally because he was “looking for a job in a French church” and “to get a degree in French theology.”
According to the complaint, when police interviewed Merellle in October, he told them that he had been living in St Etienne since January 10, 2017.
The priest was arrested on October 31, 2017 for alleged violations of French law.
Mestrel’s case has sparked outrage among Catholic groups, and some of them have demanded that Merelis deportation be accelerated to France, where he would be able to receive communion.
The parish has denied the allegations.
A representative of the Catholic Archdiocese of Paris told VICE News that the parish is “in the process of considering our options,” and that it has not yet received a formal letter of complaint.
“It’s the first we have heard of this, but we will certainly investigate,” the representative said.
“It’s not an ideal situation.
I don’t think that’s fair,” said Fr.
Jacques Vidal, a spokesperson for the French Catholic Bishops’ Conference.
“I think it’s a serious issue, but it’s not something we can do nothing about.”
Vidal said the Church of France is working to resolve the situation through dialogue with Merels lawyers and “is not in any way making excuses.”
The Archdiocesan representative said Merelais case is being handled through the criminal court system.
Merelles lawyer did not respond to VICE News’ request for comment.
In December, the Church in the United States released a statement calling on French authorities to speed up the deportation of priests in the wake of the arrest of several other priests, saying the issue was “an urgent priority.”
“The Church has never advocated deportation of any priest.
We are fully committed to ensuring that priests in France are fully integrated into the French Church,” the statement read.
“We believe that every person in France has the right to be respected and protected, but also that it is not in the public interest to expel a priest who is truly suffering from the pain of his sin and is not a danger to the community.”
Follow Tess Owen on Twitter: @misseowen