03 May 2022, The Tablet

Pope chose steady ally for Paris archdiocese

“At my age, I didn’t imagine I could think about a nomination like that,” said Archbishop Laurent Ulrich.

Pope chose steady ally for Paris archdiocese

The Archbishop of Lille, Laurent Ulrich, has been appointed the next Archbishop of Paris.
CNS/François Richir, Archdiocese of Lille

He is experienced, moderate, synodal and not Parisian: that profile made Laurent Ulrich, until now the archbishop of Lille, the man Pope Francis chose last week to head the leading archdiocese in France.

It will not be an easy task. Shaken by the surprise departure of his predecessor Archbishop Michel Aupetit in December, Paris needs a prelate who can speak with authority, run a difficult archdiocese, deal with national politicians and still relate to ordinary Catholics.

Only a few months younger than Aupetit, Ulrich, 70, has already been archbishop of Chambéry (2000-2008) and then Lille (2008-2022) as well as vice-president of the bishops’ conference (2007-2013). 

The Dijon native, who will be installed on 23 May, has also served the conference in leading positions in finance and in evangelisation. Another task was leading France’s religious radio network RCF based in Lyon.

“When the nuncio told me bluntly ‘the Pope has appointed you Archbishop of Paris,’ I said ‘oh my God’,” he told KTO television. “At my age, I didn’t imagine I could think about a nomination like that.”

Ulrich was said to be considered for the Paris post in 2017, the year Aupetit was chosen for the archdiocese still marked by the vigorous 1981-2005 leadership of the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger.

Apart from his experience and non-Parisian status, the new archbishop has stood out for his support for synodality and opposition to clericalism, two themes Pope Francis has stressed.

In 2013, Ulrich launched France’s first synod of an ecclesial province. Appointed by the Pope to the 2015 Synod on the Family, he argued there for a balance between Roman rules and local customs. “We will need to hone our acrobatic skills,” he said. 

He has spoken out against clericalism and for lay participation in Church affairs, something more needed in provincial dioceses where priests are fewer than in Paris.

“There is room for different positions in the Church: priests, deacons, lay volunteers and missionaries, consecrated lay people (and) religious” he said last year. “I hope that this diversity can be expressed.”

Another point is Ulrich’s support for migrants, including an appeal last November with three other bishops from the Channel coast for joint European action after 27 migrants drowned trying to cross from Calais to England. 

Reactions to his nomination have been positive. “He follows issues closely, listens to all opinions but knows how to decide. He has a natural authority without being authoritarian,” an aide told Le Figaro

His moderation is a change from his three predecessors, who tended towards more conservative positions, and commentators saw him as pragmatic rather than ideological. 

Since retirement age for bishops is 75, Ulrich’s appointment was seen as a time of transition to a more moderate Paris archdiocese. 

The Catholic weekly La Vie called it “a choice of calming after a storm”. Ulrich “knows how to reconcile a distraught diocese.” 

One analyst judged that Ulrich was quite “Francis-compatible” while another opined that he was also “Macron-compatible,” referring to France’s recently re-elected centrist president. 

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