Controversial new French archbishop wants to bring healing
By Mélinée Le Priol
La Croix International
December 21, 2020
|Archbishop Olivier de Germay succeeds Cardinal Philippe Barbarin as Archbishop of Lyon.|
Photo by JOËL PHILIPPON
Exclusive interview with Archbishop Olivier de Germay of Lyon, successor to Cardinal Philippe Barbarin
Archbishop Olivier de Germay has officially taken over as the head of the Archdiocese of Lyon, one of France's oldest and most important local Churches.
The 60-year-old native of Tours, whom Pope Francis appointed last October to succeed the scandal-damaged Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, was formally installed last Sunday in Saint Jean Cathedral.
He served the last eight years as Bishop of Ajaccio on the island of Corsica. He now takes up the reins in Lyon, which, since 2016, has been seen as the epicenter for the clergy sex abuse crisis in France.
Archbishop de Germay spoke with La Croix's Mélinée Le Priol about his desire to work for the unity of his new archdiocese.
La Croix: When you were named Bishop of Ajaccio in 2012, the diocese was going through a difficult period, like Lyon today. How did you try to ease tensions?
Archbishop Olivier de Germay: I arrived in Ajaccio in a painful context: the former business manager had been sentenced by the courts for embezzlement and a priest was in open conflict with the bishop, which had led to divisions.
I am not a hero, but I had the advantage of coming from outside and being neutral in this case.
Little by little I was able to rebuild a relationship of trust with this priest, which helped turn the page.
Today, you are also coming to Lyon "from the outside". Will this be an advantage, to help the diocese to heal the wounds of the abuse saga of former priest Bernard Preynat, which has become the Barbarin saga?
I believe so.
But the difference here is that I am not starting from scratch.
Bishop Michel Dubost did a great deal of work to calm the situation down during his term [as apostolic administrator].
Several people in the archdiocese told me about this at the end of November when I spent three days in Lyon.
The other thing that I felt when I met these Catholics from Lyon, who have suffered in recent years, was a desire to move forward.
I am going to encourage this movement, and we will not go back to this controversy.
But moving forward does not mean erasing everything.
There are, of course, lessons to be learned from what has happened, especially the consideration of victims and the prevention of abuse.
How will you do this in concrete terms? Do you plan to put priests or the faithful around a table to encourage a new dialogue?
From what I have heard, this does not seem desirable, because the people of Lyon want to move on.
Rather, I intend to listen.
Some people have experienced painful things and need to talk about them.
To do this, I will have to get out and around the archdiocese as much as possible.
Above all, I believe that we must start from what unites us: Christ. It is through the movement of the mission that unity is achieved.
Rather than putting ourselves in front of one another and looking at our differences, let us each refocus on Christ and let us turn together to the mission.
Looking in the same direction will help us realize that diversity is desirable and that we are not in competition with each other -- far from it.
The people of Lyon do not yet know you, nor do many French people. What kind of bishop are you?
I sometimes ask myself that question!
The answer that comes to me is this: I try to let myself be guided interiorly by the Holy Spirit.
I have convictions, of course, but I don't arrive with a ready-made idea of the role of the bishop.
I don't know today what directions I will give tomorrow.
To tell the truth, I believe that this attitude should be further developed in the Church, not only for personal but also pastoral life.
We should allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and not simply to observe a rule.
This is, moreover, the specificity of our Christian religion.
Your appointment to Lyon provoked some negative reactions. Some say you are too young. Others, too conservative. How have you reacted to these criticisms?
My brother bishops, in any case, encouraged me.
Some even thanked me for having the courage to say "yes", which worried me somewhat! (laughs).
But I also received criticism, especially in certain media. I was even called a fascist, a homophobe, etc.
I try to distance myself from all this, whether it's the compliments or the attacks.
The criterion for my action is not what people think, it is what the Lord asks.
Although it is necessary, of course, to know how to listen to constructive criticism and to be careful not to shut oneself up in an assurance that does not come from God, but from oneself.
The refusal of the new mayor of Lyon, Grégory Doucet, to take part in the traditional Vow of the Aldermen ceremony on September 8 has irritated some of the Catholics of Lyon. What did you think of it?
I am quite familiar with the matter since there is a rather similar ceremony in Ajaccio: the Vow of the Magnificent Elders.
I don't think we should give too much importance to the new mayor's decision.
Like me, he has just arrived in Lyon.
I understand that it can be quite complex for elected officials to situate themselves in relation to this type of ceremony, at the crossroads of culture and religion.
Above all, I would like to encourage Catholics to combine a form of humility with a form of self-confidence: we have a treasure to pass on, and a real service to render to this society!
Let us not be afraid to do so, but let us do it with humility, without placing ourselves above society.
As Pope Francis invites us to do, let us be missionaries, in one way or another, since there are a thousand ways to be missionary.
The Church is there to evangelize, but Jesus tells us that divisions are a hindrance to mission. Working for unity is the duty of Christians.