Vatican: Pope Francis meets with previously shunned liberal bishop
Jacques Gaillot, a French bishop who was demoted by Pope John Paul II for his liberal views – he has been nicknamed “the Red Cleric” — met with Pope Francis on Friday, reports David Gibson for Religion News Service. According to a report by Agence France-Presse, Francis initiated the meeting.
The meeting came just one month ahead of a highly anticipated global meeting on family life at the Vatican, which the Church’s more liberal members hope will result in a softening of the centuries-old institution.
“I don’t want to ask anything of you, I told the pope, but a whole people of the poor are happy that you are receiving me, and feel acknowledged too,” Gaillot said.
“I spoke to him about… the sick, the divorced, gay people. These people are counting on you.”
The 79-year-old said he had told the pope how he had recently blessed a divorced couple as well as a homosexual couple, saying “he listened, he is open to all those things. He said that to bless is to speak well of God to people.”
Gaillot said he now devotes much of his time to helping and defending migrants and the pope, he said, told him “continue, what you do (for the downtrodden) is good”.
A story in Ouest France quotes Gaillot talking about blessing the union of a gay couple:
”I am in civil clothing and I just bless them. This is not a marriage, it is a blessing. We have the right to give the blessing of God, after all we also bless houses! The pope listened, he seemed open to all that. At that particular moment, he specifically said that to bless people also involves to speak well of God to those people,’ said the French prelate.”
Francis DeBarnardo at New Ways Ministry reports that Gaillot had been scheduled to give the closing speech at a conference on religion and homosexuality at the first World Pride event in 2000. But on the day before the conference, the Vatican ordered him not to give his speech. That was not the first time Gaillot had drawn negative attention from John Paul II, as Gibson notes:
After years of tensions with the Vatican, and with his fellow bishops in France, John Paul in 1995 removed Gaillot – nicknamed the Red Cleric – from Evreux and, in a near parody of exile, named him titular head of Partenia, a defunct diocese in the desert of modern-day Algeria that has not existed as an actual Catholic community since the fifth century.
Paradoxically, that exile freed Gaillot to continue his activism – and irk Rome – as he moved in with squatters in Paris and advocated for a host of reform causes in politics and the church.
This article, published by ‘Religion Dispatches’, gives evidence of Pope Francis’ willingness to listen to advocates of the outcast and marginalised in the Church. In this case, the Pope seemingly was the instigator of a meeting with the liberal, former Bishop of Evreux, in France, The Rt. Revd. Jacques Gaillot, demoted by Pope John Paul II to a now defunct titular diocese in Algeria, but still active on matters of promoting justice in the Church.
The fact that Bishop Gaillot was given an audience by Pope Francis, who listened to his plea on behalf of the disenfranchised in the Church, is a sure sign of this Pope’s willingness to ‘hear the cries of the poor’ – in a unique departure from the Vatican’s former disdain for those in the Church who seemed in any way to seek out and minister to the outcast marginalised of society.
Early in his papacy, Pope Francis declared his solidarity with the outcast of society, when he opened up a space in St. Peter’s Square for destitute wayfarers to obtain toilet and shower facilities at no cost. He has also declined to use the luxurious papal apartments, preferring to use the simple facilities of St. Martha’s Guesthouse in the Vatican.
This Pope’s movement towards the Holy Year pardoning of women who have had abortions was no doubt a cause of heartburn to his more conservative colleagues at the Vatican; while his statement of sympathy for divorcees and honosexuals has surprised even those in the Catholic Church who happen to be sympathetic towards divorcees and the LGBTQ community.
His Jesuit colleagues have long been considered more liberal in theology than many other religious orders in the Church, but this Pope’s solidarity with Saint Francis of Assisi (signalled by his preference for that honoured name for his own papacy) has marked him out already as a prime mover towards the ethos of Love over Law that has long been seen as a mark of the Gospel.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand