They had retoqué a first reform five years ago but this time, they had to resolve. The bishops of France voted, Friday, March 31, during their Plenary Assembly in Lourdes, a vast restructuring of their episcopal conference. This national body which federates all the bishops in exercise, allows them to exchange and launch impulses on the questions of announcement of the faith in the French dioceses, as well as on societal, social, ethical subjects…
The Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) also has a role of representation with public authorities and the media. However, his hierarchical authority over bishops and dioceses is limited. A bishop answers directly to the pope and remains the highest jurisdiction of his diocese.
“The missionary travels light”
The restructuring of the CEF is intended to save money for the Church of France, against the background of worrying financial scenarios for the institution. According to information collected by La Croix, in 2031, a third of the dioceses would be in cessation of payments if they kept the same expenditure trajectory. The CEF, which employs a certain number of lay people and sustains many national services, must like the dioceses, reduce its sails.
“The missionary travels light”, philosopher a bishop, for whom the restructuring of the CEF is welcome, as the current structures no longer correspond in any case to the “evangelical mobility” expected of the leaders of the Church. “Certainly, we are giving up useful things, but there are also new needs to be met”. Among which, the many recommendations against sexual and spiritual violence, sometimes costly to put in place, voted during the Spring Plenary Assembly which ended in Lourdes, Friday, March 31.
Abolition of all national services
The episcopal conference has been preparing this reform since 2021. To be sure to involve all the bishops in the reflection and to see the restructuring voted this time (a first draft had been rejected in 2018 by the bishops), an external cabinet (Nexus) has been working in groups since 2021, to develop four reform scenarios, including a radical one called “field hospital”. In this hypothesis – the most extreme – the permanent council, communication, advice and service of the CEF were entirely suppressed to make way for an ultra-light structure co-directed by a layman and a bishop.
Finally, among the four scenarios prepared, a median but consistent hypothesis was retained. Among the main axes of the reform of the CEF: the rise in power of the ecclesiastical provinces – which bring together several dioceses of the same geographical area – and the reduction of the national structure. This will make it possible in particular to pool, in the long term, the means of the dioceses on the scale of the province.
Given the enhancement of the ecclesiastical province, a representative of each will now be a member of the permanent council of the CEF, in addition to its president, the two de facto vice-presidents representing their provinces, as well as the archbishop of Paris. , ex-officio member. The Councils which until now brought together bishops and experts to animate the work on a specific area (health, liturgy, family, etc.) are abolished with the exception of those dedicated to Catholic Education, canonical and legal questions and in the fight against child crime. The national services, in charge of the operational work of these councils, will also disappear.
Upcoming job cuts
In place of this organization, six poles will be created, which will be led by five bishops and four lay people. Three dedicated “to the mission”: Announcement of faith, Dialogue Common good and Solidarity, Actors of the Church. Three other support centers will also be set up: Temporal Affairs, Communication, Institutional and International Affairs. Finally, it will also be for the CEF to make its headquarters more profitable, located in the 7th arrondissement, avenue Breteuil.
Currently underoccupied, this 5,000 m2 building purchased from a religious congregation in 2004, will be reorganized so as to rent part of it to other Church structures or to companies, such as France 5. Finally , on the occasion of the press conference, Mgr Eric de Moulins Beaufort evoked the delicate question of the staff, part of which will have to be made redundant: “over time we will have to reduce the number of people hired. The permanent council will accompany the general secretariat in this meticulous and delicate work”, underlined the president of the Conference of the bishops of France.
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