Christian Lepine certainly moved up the ladder fast: the 60 year old cleric was a simple parish priest on Montreal, Quebec, Canada’s French speaking region.
Today, he is Archbishop of Montreal (where he was born), after Benedict XVI chose him this week as successor to Cardinal Jean-Claude Turcotte, who recently turned 75.
Between these two roles, Lepine had held the position of Auxiliary Bishop of Montreal, a post he held for just six months.
As frequently happens with priests who are eventually selected for high profile positions within the Church, Lepine had lived in Rome for a long period of time before going on to study at the Pontifical Gregorian University and then becoming an official in the Vatican Secretariat of State and the Congregation for Divine Worship.
His nomination came just as a fellow countryman of his, Cardinal Marc Ouellet - who had previously been Archbishop of Quebec City – was leading the Vatican Congregation for Bishops.
And yet, Lepine’s promotion did not fail to spark a polemic, particularly due to a very controversial episode in his recent past. In Canada, Lepine is seen as a representative of the more conservative wing within the Church.
In 2009, as parish priest of Notre-Dame-des-Champs, Lepine authorised the development, in his parish, of a programme to help parents “cure” the suspected homosexual tendencies of their children.
The courses, whose efficiency and validity were doubted even within the Church, were interrupted after controversy exploded in the media.
In a press conference straight after the nomination, Lepine seemed to want to keep his distance, at least partially, from the initiative.
Asked about the incident, he said that “The Church does enter into debates about the causes of people’s sexual orientation. It wishes merely to accompany homosexuals and its number one aim is to accompany them wherever they are. We do not wish to force anyone.”
“What I am concerned about - the prelate added - is that there are people who lead a homosexual life style and have suffered because of it, they have found the strength to live in Jesus Christ.”
Lepine, who had also been secretary to Cardinal Turcotte from 1996 to 1998, is an expert in Pope John Paul II’s “theology of the body”, which aims to present Catholic doctrine on the body and sexuality, in an organic and positive way. His conferences on this were frequently packed.
The new Archbishop of Montreal has probably already broken a record: he took over canonical possession of his diocese just one hour after the announcement of his nomination in Rome.