A Franciscan, François Bustillo, in Corsica; a Dominican, David Macaire, in Fort-de-France, Martinique; and today, an Assumptionist, Benoît Gschwind, in Pamiers, in Ariège (1)… A Jesuit himself, Pope Francis does not hesitate to draw on the pool of religious to create new bishops, and not only in the diocesan clergy.
Such a choice is not trivial for these men who were committed to a community life, with their own spirituality. How to move from religious life to responsibility for a diocese? Will they leave a particular mark on the local Church entrusted to them?
It is difficult for Mgr Benoît Gschwind, who will be ordained in his cathedral of Mirepoix (Ariège) on Sunday November 26, to already say how the episcopal mission and the vocation of religious are combined. “The Assumption has always been at the service of the local Church. Our founder Emmanuel d’Alzon asks us to be “in the nave of the Church”, and not in a side chapel,” he comments simply.
Nothing alters the vows of poverty and chastity
For Mgr Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin, bishop of Chartres (Eure-et-Loir) in 1998, then archbishop of Tours (Indre-et-Loire) in 2005, the appointment was a challenge. Ordained a priest in 1972 for the Society of Missionaries of Africa – the White Fathers – he entered Lérins Abbey ten years later, off the coast of Cannes (Alpes-Maritimes). He was abbot of the Cistercian community when John Paul II named him bishop. ” How to say ? It hits you! “, he remembers. The monk admits that he did not know much about running a diocese. “I explained to the nuncio that I had no idea about parish ministry. He then told me that the pope was not appointing me parish priest but bishop. »
Going from the vigil office at 4 a.m. to late diocesan meetings, “I had the impression of changing time zones”, confides Mgr Aubertin who, retired since 2019, took up the habit as chaplain of ‘a community of Cistercians from Maigrauge Abbey, in Switzerland. The archbishop emeritus, however, has no bad memories of it: “In fact, I was imbued with the rule which requires, for example, that the abbot does everything with his council, which I was able to apply by being a bishop. »
Do we really abandon our religious family? It escapes no one that the pope is a Jesuit… If the bishop from the religious world no longer owes obedience to his superior but to the pope, nothing alters the vows of poverty and chastity. “I am a Dominican bishop and not a Dominican bishop,” specifies Mgr Jean-Paul Vesco, Archbishop of Algiers. And I hold on to my white Dominican habit. The bishop’s cassock is inherited from the diocesan priest. »
The search for ecclesial diversity
The appointment of religious at the head of a diocese is more than a sign, it is the search for ecclesial diversity: “This is not trivial, we are making something different heard,” continues Mgr Vesco, which also underlines the importance of community life, which is sometimes lacking in the religious who became a bishop: “We are first of all brothers…”
The exercise of authority is undoubtedly one of the clearest markers of difference between community life and episcopal responsibility. “Religious life is a true sharing of life, common life transforms the being. By becoming a bishop, one can suffer from solitude,” underlines the Archbishop of Algiers.
Bishop of Ajaccio since 2021, cardinal since 2023, Mgr François Bustillo for his part accepted this mission following the Poverello (the “Little Poor Man”) of Assisi. He cites the call received by the founder of the Franciscans: “Francis, repair my Church. » The new cardinal insists: “The Church calls a Franciscan, bearer of a history, of a spiritual heritage, of an experience of simplicity…” A Franciscan, he remains so in particular by being attached to the office of his order. But the cardinal perceives the risk of a Franciscan prism: “I cannot impose my spirituality, everyone knows where I come from and I am bishop of all. »
“When you are a bishop, you are for everyone”
“We remain in the family, but when we are a bishop, we are for everyone,” adds Mgr Michel Dubost. From the day of his episcopal ordination, the man who is now bishop emeritus of Évry (Essonne) no longer signed with the acronym cjm, which until then marked his belonging to the Eudists, a society of apostolic life bringing together priests: “I I am part of the clergy of Évry, I will be buried in my cathedral,” he confides.
If religious obviously have their place in episcopal recruitment, we should undoubtedly also see a sort of diocesan shortage. Coming from old orders, but also from new communities such as Emmanuel for some or very recently Chemin-Neuf with the appointment of Mgr Emmanuel Vetö, these bishops are gradually shaping a more diversified episcopate.