French Catholics irked by mishandling of abusive bishop case

La Croix International [France]

October 28, 2022

By Arnaud Bevilacqua

Interview with a member of a network that is organizing rallies this weekend in various parts of France to protest the handling of the so-called Bishop Santier affair.

A group of Catholics in France who are committed combating sex abuse in the Church is coordinating a series of rallies in various cities this weekend to voice their displeasure with the way the so-called Santier affair has been handled.

French Catholics have been angered by recent revelations that Bishop Michel Santier, who took early retirement in 2021 on health grounds, had actually been sanctioned by the Vatican for sexual abuse of two young men. And the Catholic network “Agir pour notre Église” (“doing something for the Church”) is holding the weekend rallies to “send a message to the bishops” before the Church leaders meet later next week for their plenary assembly.

 Alix Huon, a member of the network, told La Croix’s Arnaud Bevilacqua the reasons for the initiative.

La Croix : Several rallies have been announced, especially in Paris and Lyon, before the French Bishops’ Conference (CEF) holds its November 3-8 plenary assembly in Lourdes. What’s the motivation behind this initiative ?

Alix Huon: The Michel Santier affair has provoked a strong reaction. In a spontaneous movement, people said, “Enough is enough, we must go to Lourdes to demonstrate”. Our network “Agir pour notre Église” is trying to coordinate and propose actions. There will indeed be some rallies: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. in Paris, on the Pont au Double, near Notre- Dame, and Sunday in Lyon, Place Saint-Jean at 3 p.m.

We don’t know at all if they will be followed. The objective is to show that the entire “people of God” is scandalized, especially by the gap between the good intentions following the CIASE (Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church) report and reality. To the detriment of the victims, we are still in a culture of silence. This culture of silence must end!

The second phase of the Santier affair, in which several victims were identified after the revelations, was shocking. These victims could have been taken care of and accompanied earlier. This is unacceptable. As is the fact that the diocesan people were not aware of this and that this bishop continued to celebrate Mass and the sacraments. There is a breach of trust with the institution.

Do you feel that this case is more scandalous than others?

We have noticed that a public that is a bit distant from social media and the “cathosphere” (lay Catholic online influencers, bloggers, etc.)… is saying there is a problem and is concerned. This is probably due to the fact that it is a bishop and that it has happened a year after CIASE.

Following the report, we were in an initial stage of shock, some even in a state of denial. Now the reactions are of another order: there is anger and despair. The bishops must hear that there are many of us practicing Catholics, pillars of our parishes for years, who are saying: “Enough is enough!”

What other form will this organizing effort take?

We would like to launch a photo operation on social networks and perhaps physically in Lourdes. We propose that everyone takes their picture with a sign that sends an embodied message to the bishop of their diocese, accompanied by the hashtag #SortonsNosPoubelles (let’s take out our trash). This in reference to Archbishop Michel Aupetit’s very unfortunate tweet, but not only that. If we don’t take out the garbage, if we hide it, it won’t disappear by itself.

[Editor’s note: A few hours after the sanction against Bishop Santier were revealed, the archbishop emeritus of Paris wrote on Twitter: “Why do so many people like to rummage through garbage? To get their fill of bad smells or to cover up their own garbage? I feel more and more drawn to Heaven to revel in the good smell of Christ.”]

We really want people to talk to their bishop. This explains why we are not demonstrating in front of the CEF headquarters. It is a question of addressing the bishops while they are going to meet in Lourdes, by telling them that last year, although they collectively succeeded in putting in place measures and in recognizing the systemic responsibility of the Church, we can see the persistence of a law of silence. We want to tell those who want things to change that we are with them, but that they must stop hiding behind the permanent search for unity.

Through this effort we want to affirm, without taking the place of the victims, that reparation and the fight against abuse is not only the business of the CEF, the Vatican and the bodies for reparation, but that the whole Church is involved.

What do you expect from the next plenary assembly in Lourdes?

First of all, a collective mea culpa. We would like the bishops to recognize that the way the Santier affair was handled is not acceptable. It is too easy to hide behind Rome. If the bishops had wanted to communicate and not cover up the matter, they could have done so. Obviously, I don’t believe that the Church should only be concerned about its own subjects, but how can we be credible if we don’t deal with this first?

We would like to see that when an investigation is opened or when there is a conviction, even an old one, the parish leaders are informed, as well as for all future assignments. We are talking about priests who celebrate the sacraments, who care for our children. Mercy does not exclude protection.