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Protests follow French bishop's removal.

The sacking of a French bishop by the Vatican touched off protest marches recently in Paris and elsewhere in France. Many Catholics reacted with indignation at the suspension of Bishop Jacques Gaillot, 59, the outspoken bishop of Evreux.

Installed in 1982, Gaillot has shown an independent streak, defending homosexuals, urging a married priesthood and speaking up for the unemployed and homeless of France.

Gaillot announced Jan. 12 that he was to be replaced as bishop the next day.

A Vatican statement gave no specific reason for the action. A Jan. 12 statement rather said he had never borne in mind the counsels and observations regarding his manner of undertaking the episcopal ministry on doctrinal and pastoral communion with the church. ... Unfortunately, the prelate has not shown himself suitable to exercise the ministry of unity, which is the first duty of a bishop."

Gaillot spoke of the move in the French paper La Liberte, saying: "I have been cited to Rome by Cardinal (Bernardin) Gantin, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, on Jan. 12 at 9:30 (a.m.). I have been asked to resign, which I thought I could not do. It has been said to me that my charge as a bishop has been withdrawn from me, and that the see of Evreux would be declared vacant from Friday the 13th at noon."

"The church certainly wants to marginalize me," Gaillot told Associated Press "But I will not keep silent."

Gaillot said he has been named titular bishop of Partenia, an extinct see in Mauritania in North Africa, where every village once had its bishop in antiquity.

As news of the Vatican move spread throughout France, it quickly turned into a cause celebre with Catholics protesting outside numerous cathedrals and churches. Protest marches took place in Paris and other cities.

Gaillot has been a popular figure on French television, speaking out on church issues, challenging some, especially its handling of gays and lesbians. He has advocated a strong AIDS ministry.

Gaillot,s outspokenness has irritated many in the French hierarchy, including Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, archbishop of Paris. His superior, however, Joseph Duval, archbishop of Rouen and president of the French episcopal conference, has supported Gaillot in the past.

Two years ago, Gaillot, according to one news report, came out in support of a proposed French law to recognize same-sex unions and once recited a prayer of "welcome, for a gay couple. In an October 1992 edition of Gai Pied, a now-defunct French publication dealing with homosexual concerns, he explained that he had received a request from a gay couple to bless their marriage.

"Please receive us, although we are pariahs of the church," he said the couple asked him. "I've got AIDS. My life will soon come to an end. Therefore, we would very much like you to bless our union. It would be such a comfort."

Gaillot said he agreed to meet the couple and "to say a prayer, a sign of welcome and understanding."

The bishop went on to say his understanding attitude toward homosexuals developed not from reading about the sexual orientation but from meeting homosexual people, encounters that "made me change my mind and discover situations I had never imagined existed."

"I've lost some ideas that kept me from learning from these excluded persons," he said. "They have taught me that they can love, suffer, relate with those they are close to and that they are faithful to their ideals and their faith. I've learned that they need to be welcomed and listened to."

Some gay Catholics cited Gaillot's views to make the point that diversity of opinion exists within the church on the subject of homosexuality.

Meanwhile, the French bishops, conference remained silent on the sacking. Support, however, came from Bishop Jacques Delaporte, archbishop of Cambral, who said the measures taken by the Vatican were a symbol of failure.

"This is a wound for our church," he said. It is a source of misunderstanding for the poor and for all those who seek the truth and who put their trust in the church."

Another protesting voice was that of Jesuit Fr. Paul Valadier, who called the action a "scandal," saying. "The Vatican has given no reason for their move; there is neither dogmatic nor moral reason for dismissing Bishop Gaillot."

In a telephone interview with NCR, Valadier said he found it sad that it was not possible to be a bishop of the people, but that one was expected to talk exactly the same language as Pope John Paul II.

Still further support came from Abbe Pierre, the noted "ragpicker priest" of Paris.

French Catholics speculated the dismissal could fracture the church in much the same way as did Pope John Paul's excommunication of traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre.

Gaillot has been bishop of Evreux in the lower Normandy diocese for 12 years. Before that he was director of a seminary Chalon-sur-Marne in the Rheims diocese.

Gaillot said the church remains his family and he hopes to "serve it in other ways with other excluded ones."
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Title Annotation:Bishop Jacques Gaillot of Evreux, France
Author:Skinner, John
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Jan 27, 1995
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