Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Pope Francis appoints coadjutor to French diocese where ordinations were halted

Bishop François Touvet Dominique Rey

Pope Francis has appointed a coadjutor bishop to a French diocese whose priestly ordinations were suspended by the Vatican in 2022 following a “fraternal visit.”

Bishop François Touvet of Châlons will serve alongside the current bishop of Fréjus-Toulon, the 71-year-old Dominique Rey, and will automatically succeed him upon his resignation after he reaches age 75.

The diocese said Touvet had been given “special powers” in the government of the diocese, namely, seminary and priest formation, financial administration, management of the clergy, and support of religious communities.

The diocese will welcome its new coadjutor bishop at a Mass at Notre-Dame-de-la-Seds Cathedral in Toulon on Dec. 10.

The Vatican requested the suspension of ordinations in the diocese in southern France due to “questions that certain Roman dicasteries were asking about the restructuring of the seminary and the policy of welcoming people to the diocese,” Rey announced in June last year.

The Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon had seen a record number of ordinations to the priesthood in France under Rey’s leadership, which began in 2000. But questions were raised about the bishop’s approach to evaluating candidates for the priesthood and to welcoming large numbers of church communities.

Rey, known for his support of the Traditional Latin Mass, has ordained diocesan clerics using the 1962 Roman Pontifical and has used the same book for the ordinations of religious communities, including the Institute of the Good Shepherd. 

After Pope Francis promulgated Traditionis Custodes, the 2021 motu proprio restricting the celebration of Mass in the extraordinary form of the Roman rite, Rey highlighted the concerns of some priests and communities present in his diocese who offered Mass according to the old rite. 

Rey said in a letter to his diocese on Tuesday that he was thankful to God to see them “emerge from the torments,” which began in June 2022.

“This year and a half of waiting [to resume ordinations] was particularly difficult and painful for all of us priests, religious, faithful, and particularly seminarians,” he said. “Despite the temptation of anger or incomprehension in the face of this collective sanction, thanks to prayer and the grace of God, we did not give in to discouragement.”

The new coadjutor, 58-year-old Touvet, studied at the École spéciale militaire de Saint-Cyr, France’s main military academy, where he achieved the rank of naval officer, before entering the seminary.

He became bishop of Châlons in February 2016 after 23 years as a diocesan priest in Dijon.

Since 2022, Touvet also has been the administrator of a private association of the faithful called Communauté du Verbe de Vie.

According to the French newspaper Libération, Touvet is an “assertive conservative from a military family.” Jean-Marie Guénois, the religious affairs editor of France’s Le Figaro newspaper, reported last week that Touvet also shows strong pastoral qualities.

Touvet’s appointment as a coadjutor draws to a close a period of uncertainty for the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon.

The June 2022 announcement that ordinations to the priesthood and diaconate would be halted came after Archbishop Jean-Marc Aveline of Marseille conducted a visitation of the diocese, his suffragan, at the request of the Vatican. 

According to the French publication La Vie, in 2021 the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon ordained 10 priests and eight deacons.

“We welcome this request [to stop ordinations] with both sorrow and confidence, aware of the trial it represents above all for those who were preparing to receive ordination,” Rey said on June 2, 2022.