In a move that some argue is designed to impede an incumbent's episcopal autonomy, Pope Francis will appoint a coadjutor bishop to the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon to monitor pro-traditionalist Bp. Dominique Rey.
The 58-year-old Bp. François Touvet, currently bishop of Châlons in Champagne, will work alongside 71-year-old Bp. Rey and succeed him when Rey retires in the next four years, Le Figaro reported on Thursday.
The unprecedented appointment follows the imposition of severe restrictions on Rey in September 2022, after the prelate reportedly upset Pope Francis by welcoming traditionalist Catholics into his diocese.
Bishop Rey, who was blocked from ordaining six deacons and four priests at the end of June 2022, has revealed that the Vatican's Dicastery for Bishops prohibited him from receiving new priests into the diocese, Church Militant reported.
Rey told diocesan priests in September 2022 that the Vatican had ordered a presbyteral council, not the bishop, to make decisions regarding the reception of new priests, despite the fact that canon 495 prescribes that a council of priests is merely an advisory body to the bishop, not a replacement for his authority.
The Dicastery of Bishops also ordered Rey to stop receiving new communities into the diocese. Rey, who belongs to the Emmanuel Community, has incurred Rome's wrath by offering hospitality to lay and clerical traditionalist and charismatic communities.
Sources in the Fréjus-Toulon diocese tell Church Militant that the bishop had been under "intense pressure from the Vatican to resign voluntarily." But "since Rey chose to remain in his office, the pontiff had no choice but to appoint a coadjutor to put the bishop in shackles."
"It would have been a public relations disaster for the Vatican to
sack Bp. Rey after the backlash itis facing after firing Bp.
Strickland," a priest from the diocese commented. He adds, "This is a
face-saving strategy, but it nevertheless demonstrates the pope's
While canon 301 does make provisions for a coadjutor bishop, the priest claims that such a move was almost always designed to frustrate the autonomy of the incumbent.
"Bishop Rey will be reduced to a dummy bishop who does all the sacramental bits and smiles and waves his hand rather like the Queen of England but has no real authority," he maintains.
Pope Francis reportedly made the decision a month ago, the priest adds. However, French public authorities need to ratify the move according to a procedure in French legal and ecclesiastical tradition before the coadjutor bishop can be appointed.
Speaking to Church Militant, a source close to the seminarians remarks that they had been "traumatized by being put on hold with no end in sight, even though it was no fault of their own."
The source also mentions how worried the seminarians' families are and how several of the seminarians are under serious financial constraints.
While every diocese in France, including Paris, is struggling for vocations, Rey's seminary in Fréjus-Toulon has 50 seminarians. The diocese has 250 active priests, half the number of active priests in the Paris diocese.
Further, the age pyramid of Fréjus-Toulon is the opposite of the other French dioceses, with 75% of priests under 64 years and 30% under 44 years. Almost 50% of priestly vocations come from traditionalist communities.
In 2012, The Guardian, a left-wing British newspaper, reprinted a story from the liberal French news outlet Le Monde that highlighted Rey as a model of active evangelism for "working with different religious communities, whether French or foreign, large or small, charismatic, traditionalist or missionary."