I was watching a cable program called “Church Secrets and Legends” that told of some Paris priests who, according to the story, inadvertently committed cannibalism (very long story, see below). The upshot is that supposedly today, the “only place” a Catholic can be forgiven for the sin of cannibalism is a Paris church called St. Medard’s. I cannot see how this can possibly be right. This sin is not mentioned in the Code of Canon Law as requiring special circumstances for forgiveness (as far as I can find), and at any rate those sorts of grave sins are usually reserved to bishops or to the Vatican for forgiveness, not to some church building. As far as I know, any priest can forgive this sin in the confessional. I found a few travel websites that repeated the story, one of which says that St. Medard’s is the only place in Paris where the sin of cannibalism can be forgiven. This program had some other sketchy and even outright false information (e.g. it said that excommunication means you cannot go to heaven, which is certainly wrong), so I am sure they did not bother to research this thoroughly. My question is, has anyone heard of this legend, and how much truth is behind it?
The outline of the story behind the legend is this: Suspicion of murder fell on a Paris bakery, whose owners were tortured until they confessed that they had been committing murder and baking the victims into meat pies. The priests at Notre Dame Cathedral were regular customers who ate these pies regularly. Since therefore these priests had been (unbeknownst to them) committing cannibalism, the bishop “had no choice” but to excommunicate them. (Problem #1: how is it a sin if they did it unknowingly?) He gave them permission to make a barefoot pilgrimage to the Pope at Avignon to appeal for mercy. They didn’t make it very far and settled near St. Medard’s where they lived as beggars. Later, the new bishop, entering Paris, was attacked by vagabonds and saved by these priest-beggars. In gratitude, he lifted their excommunications, but it was supposedly “not in his power” to restore them to ministry at Notre Dame (Problem #2: if not the bishop, then who?), so they were allowed to resume their priestly duties at St. Medard’s instead. And that’s why, according to the story, this is now the only place you can receive forgiveness for the sin of cannibalism.