New revelations that the Vatican quietly sanctioned Bishop Michel Santier to a life of prayer and penance last year have caused a stir in a French Church already in deep crisisFrench bishop retired last year without revealing sex abuse sanctions
By Benoît Fauchet and Félicien Rondel | France
The Catholic Diocese of Créteil (France) has confirmed on Friday October 14 that it’s former bishop, Michel Santier, had been credibly accused of sexual abuse in late 2019, leading to his retirement more than a year later, in January 2021, at the age of 73. Catholic bishops normally submit their resignations at 75.
The news left people of the diocese, which is located in the southern suburbs of metropolitan Paris, surprised and saddened. A press release from Bishop Dominique Blanchet, Créteil’s current ordinary, was read out at all Masses over the weekend indicating that “two people revealed that in the 1990s they were subjected” by his predecessor “to acts of such a nature as to bring the matter before the canonical justice of the Church”.
It is a matter of “spiritual abuse for sexual purposes” for which the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith – informed of the matter in 2019 – eventually took disciplinary measures against Bishop Santier in the autumn 2021, La Croix has learned from corroborating sources. The sources confirmed reports that were published in Golias and Famille Chrétienne, two French weeklies.
“A big shock”
“Really, it’s difficult,” said Marie-Thérèse, former diocesan head of catechesis in Créteil, as she burst into tears. “We are often asked to bear witness to the Gospel: I want to do that, but if the testimonies of our bishops do not correspond to their mission, it’s no good.”
Bishop Laurent Le Boulc’h of Coutances and Avranches, the diocese in the northwestern region of Normandy where Santier became a priest, described the news as “a great shock”. The then-Father Santier is alleged to have committed the acts while he was directing the School of Faith, a training program for young people aged 18-30.While the acts can be likened to “voyeurism”, they were perpetrated in particularly serious circumstances, said Bishop Le Boulc’h. The priest used his spiritual authority and the sacraments, especially confession, to achieve his ends.
Reporting to Rome
It took nearly 30 years before the victims, two young men of legal age, managed to speak out in 2019. In the meantime, Santier had already been appointed bishop in Luçon in the Pay de Loire region of Western France (2001-2007) and then bishop in Créteil (2007-2021).Since Créteil is a suffragan see of the Archdiocese of Paris, the allegations were sent to Archbishop Michel Aupetit, who was still ordinary at the time. He spoke with Bishop Santier about the matter and reported it to the Vatican in December 2019. Around that same time, the bishop sent Pope Francis a letter of resignation in which he acknowledged what he’d done.
Even with this acknowledgement, it took Michel Santier more than a year to effectively leave Créteil. And when Santier announced to the people of Créteil in June 2020 that the pope was going to allow him to step down the following January (2021), he said it was because of “health reasons” (lung problems). The now 75-year-old bishop, who has been a prominent member in Charismatic Renewal in France, also said cryptically in his announcement that he had “gone through other difficulties”.
After his retirement, he moved to his home Diocese of Coutances and Avranches and took up residence Saint-Pair-sur-Mer Parish where he offered “occasional services”, according to the diocese. It emphasizes that Bishop Le Boulc’h asked Bishop Santier “not to be in direct contact with people under 30”.
Once it became known that Rome had placed sanctions on Santier, including that he live a life of prayer and penance, the retired bishop was asked to move to Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte Abbey, which is the mother house of the Sisters of Christian Schools (St Mary Magdalen Postel).He did not take up residence there until the beginning of 2022, since time was needed to carry out “some work” to accommodate him. There, he celebrates Mass for the sisters of the community and visits elderly priests, “but does not exercise public ministry”, according to the diocese.
Church authorities say Santier’s case is now closed. “The penal precept taken by Rome closes the procedure, unless new elements lead it to be reopened,” said aides of Bishop Le Boulc’h. But questions remain, such as: why was the real reason for the resignation of Bishop Santier kept quiet for more than two years?
“This lack of transparency shocks us,” said a woman named Marianne who attended Mass on Sunday in Créteil’s cathedral. “As we discuss the matter, we’re all surprised, especially at this delaying tactic, since the Church is committed to being more transparent.”
Créteil diocesan officials insist that the delay was due to the timing and respect for the victims. Before October 2021, the case was still ongoing. They argued that once the sanctions were decided, and with “Bishop Santier being sidelined”, it was “not considered necessary to inform the people of the Diocese of Créteil, especially since the victims did not want their story to be publicized”.
The bishops of the three dioceses where Santier carried out his priestly and episcopal ministry say the most important thing is that the victims have been recognized and informed of the outcome of the case. Bishop Le Boulc’h in Coutances, Bishop Blanchet in Créteil and Bishop François Jacolin in Luçon have all expressed their “compassion” to any people Santier may have harmed.