The bishops distraught by the Santier affair


“When I learned the truth, I felt cheated. And I thought if that was the case for me, it was the case for so many and so many people,” confides a bishop who has been in office for years. Disgust, weariness, anger… Feelings are mixed in the hearts of the bishops of France, after the belated revelation of the condemnation of one of their number, Mgr Michel Santier, by the Vatican, for » abuse spiritual for sexual purposes”.

On condition of anonymity, about fifteen of them agreed to engage in The cross, while the new report in Rome made against him, on October 20, by Mgr Dominique Lebrun, archbishop of Rouen and responsible for the province of Normandy, was not yet known, due to new testimonies. Beyond the culpable behavior of the former bishop of Luçon and Créteil when he was a priest, questions arise about the way in which the institution manages the communication surrounding these “businesses”. To the point of casting doubt on his solemn commitment to transparency made when the Sauvé report was published on October 5, 2021.

A few days after the presentation of this report, the sanction of the Vatican enjoined Michel Santier to lead a life of prayer and a restricted ministry. It ended the procedure initiated by the report sent to Rome in December 2019 by Mgr Michel Aupetit, then Archbishop of Paris. In June 2020, Bishop Santier announced that the pope had accepted his resignation « for health reasons » – he was ultimately going to stay on until January 2021.

In fact, the bishop of Créteil had been hard hit by the Covid. To the point that a colleague then wished him a speedy recovery. Except that, on October 14, the reason for this exclusion was made public: the dioceses of Coutances and Créteil confirm that disciplinary measures have been taken for acts of voyeurism, aggravated by the instrumentalization of the sacraments, against two victims in the 1990s. “The Covid, I believed in it…, deplores a bishop. That he was able to lie, it is not the face that I knew of him, I was deeply upset when I learned the facts of which he was accused. » A confrere, a young provincial bishop, did not expect to » such revelations. Did the bishops of Île-de-France know? »

If, at the end of 2019, Michel Santier acknowledged the facts to Bishop Aupetit, he took care not to give the other bishops the real reasons for his resignation. One of them remembers having had lunch with him alone: « I knew his weakened health, but he said nothing to me during our meeting », he confides. The abusive behavior but also the silence shock this bishop from the West: “It is the credibility of the Church and even the credibility of the Gospel that is undermined with such stories…” Pierces a feeling of helplessness in the face of the locking of information: “Perhaps we bishops don’t have to know everything, but who is in contact with the faithful? Who has to explain themselves in the field? »

Information circulates, however, in a minor and often very partial mode. During the November 2021 bishops’ assembly in Lourdes, a month after the Ciase report, a list of names of bishops emeritus under a Roman investigation is given orally in plenary, without detail on the alleged facts. , according to concurring sources. At the headquarters of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) as at the nunciature, we know a little more but we say nothing. By cult of silence? « In fact, there was no decision not to say », notes a source familiar with the matter.

Some still think these cases need time and discretion: « We must be careful not to overdo it and let justice be exercised », hammers a bishop. “We try to control everything, whereas we need to professionalize the handling of cases and establish binding procedures, comments another, angrily. We can then do our job, which is to announce the Gospel. »

Rebound, October 20. Bishop Lebrun announces that other victims have come forward. “I express my determination to report to the faithful and to our society for the existence of unacceptable acts”he writes, recalling that“there should be no exceptionsfor bishops. Another, surprised by the announcement, urges caution: “As long as the case is at the investigation stage, secrecy must be absolute, he insists. On the other hand, as soon as the decision is taken, whether by national justice or the canonical tribunal, it must be accessible to all. »

Like the latter, several draw attention to the need to rely on proven facts, and mention the discretion required by canonical procedure. To the point that the decisions made by the Vatican are often kept secret, leaving the victims like the other faithful in the dark. However, “there is no desire to hide”insists one of them, acknowledging all the same that « not saying things adds to the trouble ».

A bishop returns the ball to the permanent council of the CEF, which has remained silent. A week after the revelations, the episcopal conference published, on Friday, October 21, a statement by its president, Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort. “The feeling of betrayal, the temptation to discouragement are all emotions that I understand and which go through us, just like the incomprehension and anger of many in the face of the acts themselves. I also hear and receive the criticisms formulated around the lack of communication of the Roman measures when they were enactedhe wrote. We need to reflect on changes in our procedures, in our way of carrying them out and of communicating the results. »

Vice-president of the CEF, Mgr Dominique Blanchet believes that“between transparency and opacity, we need to work at the right level of clarity so that everyone feels protected and respected, so that the people of God also feel heard”. Convinced that« no institution can be its own judge », the archbishop of Poitiers, Mgr Pascal Wintzer, goes further. “If the facts in question had been shared, discreetly, with a team of people made up of people other than bishops, I think that silence would not have been appropriate, we would have been called upon not to stick to them. », he wrote in a letter to his diocesan.

» It’s necessary (…) that we trust the faithful, thinking that they can assume the truth, abounds the Archbishop of Rennes, Mgr Pierre d’Ornellas, at the microphone of Radio Vatican. It may be painful, but at least they won’t feel betrayed. » At the next Plenary Assembly, from 3 to 8 November in Lourdes, the subject will be the subject of a « serious study », assured Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort. Media management of the Santier dossier « will be on everyone’s mind »confides a bishop, while another, ready to do battle, does not hide his exasperation: “We will have to explain ourselves. »


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