Santier affair: the spokesman of the Bishops’ Conference of France recognizes “a dysfunction” during the plenary assembly in Lourdes

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The Santier affair struck the bishops of France, who shook the program of their plenary assembly to cope with the urgency of the scandal.

“There were dysfunctions, which this morning began to be addressed”, acknowledged the spokesman of the Bishops’ Conference of France (CEF), Father Hugues de Woillemont, during the press conference organized in Lourdes, at the end of the first morning of the plenary assembly. CEF.

A meeting of the hundred bishops of France shaken by the scandal of the “stripped confessions” of the Santier affair … The former bishop of Créteil, Michel Santier, had admitted that he had asked minors to undress before the Blessed Sacrament for every confessed sin, when he was head of the School of Faith, which he had created in Coutances. After his confession, he was sent to serve in La Manche, in a religious community of nuns. Silence then surrounded this decision, taken in 2021.

A renewed program in the face of the scandal

It was therefore the spokesman of the CEF who was sent to the front, during a press conference that, initially, was not planned. A demining operation decided shortly before the plenary assembly, under pressure from the Catholic community and the victims’ associations, whose anger had been widely reported in the press.

The original program of the assembly actually contained only a sequence dedicated to the follow-up to the Sauvé report: a report on the progress of the nine working groups set up during the previous session. The second program unveiled now provides for three further exchanges between bishops, a “strong expectation” for the latter after the scandal, as well as a follow-up to the progress of the resolutions.

“The bishops knew that further steps had to be taken”

Father Hugues de Woillemont specified: “These working groups join the current theme linked to the Santier affair since they address the question of the following of authors, of the ministry of bishops, of priests, of how to better associate the laity with the work of the Conference, the theme of confession, spiritual accompaniment … “Decisions made a year ago and of which he believes that the Santier affair reveals the relevance. While he qualified a little later:” Even if a step was taken a year ago, the bishops knew that further steps had to be taken “.

To “shed light on the current procedures, on the issues of publication of the communication and on the sentences decided” when a priest or a bishop is involved, three “experts” and external persons were finally invited to testify. A criminal lawyer, canon lawyer and Luc-Marie Lalanne, an official of the congregation of the Doctrine for the Faith. This priest is judge of this organ of the Roman curia, which was competent during the canonical trial of Bishop Santier.

“Transparency” and communication time

These people will address the heart of the Santier story: why so much silence on the part of the Church? Father Hugues de Woillemont indicated: “The questions are starting to make a name for themselves” And to quote “the question of transparency and clarity”, the “silence that surrounded the decisions and reasons for leaving” by Msgr. Santier.

Do we have to communicate? And to mention both the demonstration of the victims when a case is discovered and, sometimes, the request of the prosecutor not to communicate in order not to hinder the investigation. If it is necessary to communicate, at what stage of the procedure? There are many questions on which the assembly must move forward.

Why does a condemned cleric continue to practice?

Another element of reflection, the “sacramental powers”. He acknowledged: “Some victims are shocked and cannot bear that a condemned religious continues to celebrate mass.” On the table, the study of canon law and the opportunity, or not, to ask for a change in Rome.

A work that will also be fueled by the questions posed by Msgr. Blanchet and Le Boulc’h, respectively successors of the bishop of Créteil and bishop of Coutances, diocese where Msgr. Santier. They too recognized “dysfunctions”.

“The shock is also in the body of the bishops”

He insisted: “What has happened must not repeat itself”, adding that “the shock is also in the body of bishops”, who intend to take this assembly to be “up to the challenge that this situation has revealed”.

However, the spokesman of the CEF has evaded the question of the collective resignation of the bishops who have hidden the affair and that in the meantime the press conference has ended. The work of the assembly, which has just begun and will end on Tuesday, should perhaps allow us to answer this question as well.

And to allow the bishops, as the Pope wanted in a message addressed to them, to “persevere” in their “efforts” in the face of the “drama of the abuse of some pastors” of the Church which, “a new times”, “upsets” The Holy Father concluded: “You are more than ever called to bow down on the wounds of the people of God”.

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