Strasbourg Archbishop Luc Ravel is apparently resisting mounting criticism of his management style and a reported papal plan to replace him by insisting on his French region’s special status that Napoleon signed with the Vatican in 1801.
The former military bishop, 65, whose isolated decisions have irritated many priests and parishioners, abruptly demoted his popular vicar general and barred him from the episcopal council last month. Bishop Christian Kratz said he was informed of this in a letter slipped under his door.
“I don't know what scores the archbishop wants to settle with me,” he told a local newspaper. His demotion recalled the archbishop’s surprise firing of the archdiocesan treasurer last year six weeks before his contract expired.
The reason cited to Bishop Kratz was the cover-up of a clerical sexual abuse case several years before the archbishop was appointed in 2017. The bishop says then Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet, now under civil and canonical inquires after recently admitting “inappropriate gestures” to a woman, was responsible.
The case reemerged after Emmanuel Walch, a defrocked priest accused last year of the 2008 rape of a female student at a Catholic school, committed suicide in January by throwing himself and his mother under a passing train.
At Strasbourg’s Chrism Mass last week, about 15 lay Catholics demonstrated outside the cathedral with posters saying "Ravel resign” and “It’s dark in Strasbourg diocese.”
They also criticise his decision to welcome traditionalist priests from Fréjus-Toulon, another diocese under Vatican scrutiny for its lax recognition of “new communities”. Their Missionaries of Divine Mercy group works to evangelise Muslims, at odds with Strasbourg’s long tradition of interfaith dialogue.
Archbishop Ravel has not commented publicly on the criticism.
The cloud over the archbishop and link to the disputed diocese of Fréjus-Toulon further burdened the embattled French Church, which has struggled with repeated cases of clerical sexual abuse and mismanagement.
While there is no official confirmation, several media reports say the Vatican wants to replace Archbishop Ravel but he has delayed this by insisting he has to be terminated by the pope and the French president.
That procedure is based on the 1801 concordat, still in force in the Alsace and Moselle regions because they belonged to neighbouring Germany when France legally separated church and state in 1905.
Reports say the Vatican, still silent on the report of an apostolic visitation last summer, does not want to force the issue. Under French law, Paris says, the government only rubber stamps decisions made in Rome.