How a Bishop Is Deposed: The Latest Case

Author: Farley Clinton

Bring out the Champagne!! . . .


by Farley Clinton

The Vatican announced on Jan. 13th that Pope John Paul II had removed Bishop Jacques Gaillot from the Diocese of Evreux, in Normandy, France, and transferred him to the titular see of Partenia.

The Vatican released the following statement, which had no signature.

"I) Bishop Jacques Gaillot bishop of Evreux since June 29th, 1982, for the last ten years has never paid attention to advice and observations dealing with his way of fulfilling his ministry as a bishop in doctrinal and pastoral communion with the Church.

"2) On three occasions, at Nancy in 1987, and at Rome in 1992 and 1995, the cardinal- prefect of the [Sacred] Congregation for Bishops spoke with him at some length, so that he might understand the questions, the concerns, the negative reactions, which had come up on account of his positions, and his frequent journeys outside his diocese.

"3) The Holy Father did not fail, on the occasion of the visit, to offer him a strong warning against acting in future apart from the ecclesiastical community.

"4) In their role as presidents of the French Council of Bishops, Albert Cardinal Decourtray in 1989, and Archbishop Joseph Duval in 1994, one after the other, set out before Bishop Gaillot his duties as a bishop of the Catholic Church.

On Feb. 15th 1989 in a declaration issued with Cardinal Decourtray, Bishop Gaillet pledged himself in regard to certain points which involve faith, the teaching authority of the Holy Father, and canonical discipline.

5) Regrettably, the prelate did not show himself prepared to carry out the ministry of unity which is the first duty of a bishop."


What does a bishop have to do nowadays, to be deposed as unfit for his position?

At the age of 46, Bishop Jacques Gaillot was assigned to the Diocese of Evreux in 1982. Almost at once it was recognized that somehow a terrible mistake had been made, a permanent conflict set up, institutionalized, as this bishop kept publicly contradicting the Pope and the other bishops.

Hundreds of letters about this bishop's un-Catholic ideas reached the Vatican, most of them for the first several years coming from the Catholics in his diocese.

But as Bishop Gaillot, ambitious for all the world to understand his positions, made many appearances on French television, and constantly made startling assertions, grotesque on the lips of a bishop, letters of protest flooded in to Rome from all of France.

He was like a modern Pascal, warning all France, in a style that was at first serious and dignified, that the Catholic Church has no idea any more of the simplest teachings of Christ which are the basis of the Christian religion: taking of this or that controversy to warn that the Pope and the bishops faithful to the Pope are not really Christians at all, but teachers of falsehood whom he had to denounce, with whom he would have nothing to do. He was a good Catholic, he would say, but always a good Catholic in his own way, who does not see the Pope or even the whole Church as reliable, as protected by God from serious error.

Heresy in the classic French style (exactly as in Pascal's ). Fierce attacks on the sincerity and integrity of all Catholics; especially their chief spokesmen, with a clear implication that the Pope, the ordinary Catholic, the orthodox bishops, are just hypocrites, professing a religion whose spirit they have never tried to understand.

For practical purposes, a warfare against everybody and everything that is Christian.

He stops short of saying that the Catholic Church is and always was a lie, that no one is less Christian than a true Catholic, but his arguments point in that direction, and every day he has a new reason to denounce the Church and her authorities.

What are you supposed to think about a religion if you are told all the time that one of its own bishops has the moral duty to denounce it, whatever it does, whatever it says?

It is only permissible to be Catholic at all if you are Catholic in a most exotic and rarefied fashion, in a way that Catholics never were and bishops, up until now, have never wanted them to be.

This sort of thing seems always in the air in France and has been since Protestantism did not catch on there and was replaced by the Jansenist groups. "Catholics" united against everything Catholic, against the use of the confessional; against the titles the Church gives to the Blessed Virgin in her authorized devotions and pilgrimages; against the crucifix; against the idea that the Pope can correct bishops and theologians. It has been very much in the air for the last 40 years, first in France, then all through the Western countries. Bishop Gaillot only exaggerated it, and in the end vulgarized it.

Wasn't the "liturgical reform" inspired by the idea that the better Catholics people were, the less they were Christian? That they understood the sacraments all the wrong way, under the influence of the Pope, and you had to re-educate them, to force them to "participate" in new rituals understood in a totally new way? They must think like Protestants. Or they must simply be driven away. That, surely, is what the anti-Roman types, liberal priests, the liberal nuns, were up to? And it flourished in France, in the sort of French seminary that produced Bishop Gaillot and the self-righteous cranks who admire him.

He writes and speaks as though he is separated from other people by his moral superiority. He is always saying or, rather, implying that it is painful to be the only sincere Christian in the world.

"There are so few Christians," he says, in effect, "and I am so lonely . . ." (the very tone of Pascal's ).

His claim to great holiness has come to rest chiefly on his Communist sympathies and his heroic love for those whom he calls "the excluded"-the term Gaillot uses for homosexuals and those dying of AIDS.

On a few points a French heretic shows himself stricter than the bishops, the pastors, the theologians, and indeed than almost all the saints of the "official" Church, and he insists upon these high standards to justify his campaign against ordinary bishops, ordinary Catholics.

Endorsement Of The Abortion Pill

The political ideas Gaillot has championed against all the other bishops are not very original. They are almost always the ideas of the Communists.

When the French bishops decided in favor of the strong military deterrent desired by the French government, he refused to sign their joint statement. He condemned it. When the bishops collectively made a-statement about Christianity and education, Gaillot attacked it.

In 1985 he went to Tunisia, to have his own private meeting with Yasser Arafat. In 1987 he proclaimed his strong support for some figure mixed up with the Communists who was then under arrest in South Africa.

Amazement was caused by Bishop Gaillot's endorsement of the abortion pill. And he denounced the French bishops again when they issued a statement about the Gulf War.

He has refused for years to dress like a priest.

In 1989, the French government rudely insulted the bishops. It voted great honors to Henri Gregoire, the worst enemy of the Pope during the French Revolution. His ashes were to be placed in the Pantheon, a secular canonization as a national hero.

The bishops of France saw a hatred and contempt for the Church implied in the honor given to her persecutor. It was like honoring Hitler or Stalin. Gregoire persuaded France to make it illegal for the bishops to have any dealings with the Pope, to seize the Church's property and give it to excommunicated heretics. Four hundred persons at least have been beatified who were martyred in the religious persecution he unleashed. He called for the trial of the king because the king was loyal to the Pope. He brought the king to his death and the nation into civil war.

But Gaillot attended the ceremony, as if to parade his contempt for the Church, her martyrs, and her bishops, and an unconquerable loyalty to "the left" which will go to all lengths.

The profession of faith asked of him in 1989 was only necessary on account of his evil fame as a foe of Church discipline and of the Magisterium of the Pope.

"The Nightly Blasphemy"

A baffling recent development in Europe has been the terrible attack upon faith by the strange psychoanalyst-priest Eugen Drewermann. This writer and speaker adopts no clear position on religious questions but blandly, condescendingly, treats serious Catholic belief as a neurotic symptom.

He was condemned by the Holy See and so-Bishop Gaillot turned up on television having a friendly conversation with Drewermann. He clearly conveyed that the Vatican's caution counts for nothing, that the Pope is wrong not to welcome Drewermann as offering new light to the Church.

In of Paris, the counterpart there of our or , on Nov. 4th, 1993, Gaillot ridiculed the French bishops for "lack of imagination," that is, for not fighting the Pope to set up a married priesthood in the Western Church.

The implication of his remarks was that the Pope has no right to speak on the matter at all, that the bishops should simply ignore the Pope, and that their not doing so makes them look stupid.

Why has this matter been blocked?, he asked, as though it was strange to let the Pope have any say about it. In other words, why do the French bishops listen to the Pope and not to Bishop Gaillot?

It amounted to a call for schism: though it was not serious, since no bishop would now join Bishop Gaillot in anything.

As European journalists, reviewing his career, have described the situation, it sounds as though he turned up on the air almost as regularly as the weather report, as though the announcer might have introduced him by saying: "And now for our nightly blasphemy, here is Bishop Gaillot...."

So Original

Gaillot might have found some difficulty in getting welcomed back all the time to TV shows. But in recent years he has found a way to keep himself in front of the cameras as much as he liked-announcing that he had discovered a special vocation of his own, to urge sodomites always to wear condoms, in the hope of escaping the plague of AIDS. That is truly original, isn't it? So beautiful. It is a pity that he is the only bishop in the world with a kind heart. And it had the merit of being just what the talk-show hosts wanted to talk about. It was perfect, and he felt it was impossible to say too much on this important subject.

In this way, the bishop proved to France that he has the integrity, the seriousness, and the moral stature of a talk-show host. Well, almost. For of course he was really not so much like a TV star, say, Ricardo Montalban, but more like the strange, sad little man whom Ricardo Montalban would use as a foil. It is as though he had worked his way up to playing Tattoo on .

He was the one offering naive excitement, such as you might expect in a dwarf living on a desert island, while the host or star must have seemed detached and superior by comparison.

The viewer was apparently supposed to conclude that the Church was much, much less interesting than Bishop Gaillot was. This belief, that the Church is nothing, while individual whim, fancy, and posturing are of infinite importance, may be the closest thing to an idea about religion that he ever came up with. The way he worded it was:

"A bishop should not hide behind collegiality." Instead, he asserted, the bishop should say: "I...." Indeed! "I.... I.... 1...." And he did say that. He is so brave.

The ideas of a bishop, he thinks, are all the better if they are disavowed by the other bishops, and don't unite him to the Church but cut him off from it: if they seem trivial, unimportant, empty, untrue, unhelpful, shocking, dangerous, wicked, to those second- rate bishops who "hide behind collegiality."

He offered his new version of religion to the masses by letting himself be questioned on a popular show called which certainly is never criticized for being stuffy.

The name comes from a slangy French expression meaning some unclear noise, or rumor, agitation, loose, excited talk, confused disputes.... Thus he came across like an entertainer before a bored and jaded public, as a new sort of scandal that might be amusing for a few minutes, a new sort of comedy. This departure allowed him to "discuss" religious questions in a frivolous, sensational, and indecent context. The describes the program as decidedly "racy," and its idea of decency is not so strict as the one we can take for granted with most bishops- but not Bishop Gaillot.

A Matter Of Scandal

Early in 1994, the bishop received an unheard-of public chastisement, from the metropolitan archbishop of his province, Archbishop Joseph Duval of Rouen -who is also the president of the national conference of French bishops.

A letter in which Gaillot was eloquently, pungently, reminded of a few of his sins was mailed by Archbishop Duval to every bishop in France.

"The distance you keep from your brothers in the episcopate," wrote the archbishop, "is for us a source of suffering, and to many Catholics a matter of scandal.

"What are you seeking? Your own personal success or the building up of unity? You cannot go further along the road you have taken." The prelate seemed particularly angry about the appearance on

According to Gaillot's partisans, the public rebuke from Archbishop Duval had the effect of eliciting 40,000 letters of protest. Almost all of these came from priests, nuns, or members of marginal groups openly devoted to some obscure and unpopular kind of left-wing Catholicism.

Unmistakably, the archbishop's cautionary epistle carried a warning that the Pope might remove this ordinary (this extraordinary ordinary). It is the sort of document that could hardly have been written unless Archbishop Duval had fully accepted it as probable, highly probable, most probable, that Bishop Gaillot's days in Evreux, at least as the occupant of the bishop's palace, with the formal approval of the Holy See, would be extremely few.

It was not only written, it was, to all intents, pasted up on every lamppost in France. To be sure, Archbishop Duval did not himself appear on a later broadcast of and read his lengthy polemic to the same multitude that had been edified by Bishop Gaillot quacking away against all things Catholic. But certainly everybody knew, and the handwriting was on the wall.

It did look like the Pope's handwriting. When Duval said to Gaillot that this sort of thing was just not going to continue, that one way or another it would certainly stop, he was making a threat which he personally could not carry out. But the Pope could. And clearly he knew the Pope would. No wise man would release that letter unless the Pope was ready to let the guillotine fall, in fact was starting to move the lever.

An Intrusion Into Haiti

What then would be Bishop Gaillot's response to this plain and open threat that one false move would be followed by his removal?

He insulted the bishops of Haiti.

A modern Gregoire is the unfrocked priest Aristide. Accordingly, Bishop Gaillot flew to Haiti to testify to his high esteem for Aristide. Ignoring a rule to which most bishops attach very great importance, Gaillot neglected even to inform the Haitian bishops that he meant to come into their dioceses.

He not only arrived unwanted in their dioceses but, by interfering when they are fighting for their lives, he was even apt to jeopardize their lives, and those of their flocks: for Aristide says he likes his opponents to be killed, burned alive, and if the American soldiers leave....

After this intrusion into the Church of Haiti, he could bask in the assurance that not one national hierarchy, but two, would not rest until the Vatican had been persuaded to punish him.

Then he announced that he would play host this year, in his diocese, to that great Catholic thinker Eugen Drewermann.

So at last he got the explosion he wanted. He was summoned to Rome, reminded that he had been clearly warned, and invited to resign his diocese.

Resign? Resign? Of course he refused, because in that way he achieved far more publicity. Then he rushed home and called the newspapers so that they could print all the details of his martyrdom.

He met them with a tragic face and a solemn voice. "I do not think about myself," he said. "I do not want to think about my problem. I do not want any effort to defend me. It is of others that we must think-of those who are close to me." Then he spoke at some length about all the messages he received from those who idolized him, and then the messages from those who hated him, but at least were talking about him, talking, talking about the single important subject in religion.

It is consistent with the whole tone of his statements that a Milanese newspaper headlined an article about him with these words: "Rome! Listen to Christ!"

"I implored the Vatican," he said, "I implored the Vatican to listen to the humble people," but because they are not kind and sweet and noble like him, they refused. There are so few Christians! He is so lonely! And then his own flock began to call....

"Some people have been calling to say, 'We brought out champagne to celebrate your dismissal'."

He posed for the photographers, gazing thoughtfully at the floor, so as to express his melancholy, his inner devastation, the heavy weight of this shocking blow that fell upon him so suddenly out of a clear blue sky. They got him away from the phone and the fax with which he was excitedly occupied all day long, and posed him alone, tragically alone, staring at the floor in a setting of the old heavy furniture of a silent, empty rectory....

"I cannot remain long in Evreux," he said, "I do not want to be in the way." And in fact had he not been bored there all the time, had he not twisted himself into knots to engineer his removal from this dim little town?

"Perhaps I will go to a Third World country. Haiti, for instance. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world.

"Sometimes I think I am like Joan of Arc," he said.

She, too, had no vocation to the priesthood.

An Isolated Case?

It all throws a blinding light on the state of the Church, on the presence and power, not only in France, of totally fraudulent bishops, perfectly transparent frauds, on how much a fool or a crook or a Marxist agent can get away with, if he lies or bribes his way into a bishopric. It is hard to believe how much they get away with.

Is this case really isolated?

Isn't it in various ways like a hundred others?

What does a bishop have to do to be deposed by the Pope?

Bishop Gaillot demanded to be removed. He forced the Pope to depose him, forced the French bishops collectively to drum him out of the lodge. If he had not happened to want that, would he not still be the bishop of Evreux? And wouldn't his whole position, his whole life, even the very pretense that there really was a Catholic bishop in charge of that diocese, have been an enormous and obvious lie? A comedy, as absurd as his exhibition of himself on ?

How many such lies, how many such comedies, are going on today, centering around a crowd of men - 100? 300?-who knows?- whose names appear in the , and the Vatican yearbook, the , among the bishops in North American and Western European countries?

(Farley Clinton, a free-lance writer and longtime observer and commentator on the Catholic scene, has written for Triumph, National Review, and The Wanderer.)

This article was taken from the February 2, 1995 issue of "The Wanderer," 201 Ohio Street, St. Paul, MN 55107, 612-224-5733. Subscription Price: $35.00 per year; six months $20.00.