21 February 2024, The Tablet

Bishop resigns on health grounds amid missionary order scandal

Gilles Reithinger is known to have suffered from an unpublicised heath problem for years, which sources say could worsen under pressure.

Bishop resigns on health grounds amid missionary order scandal

Gilles Reithinger, a former superior of the Foreign Missionaries of Paris, is implicated in abuse investigations in the society.
Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons

Bishop Gilles Reithinger, an auxiliary in the Archdiocese of Strasbourg, has stepped down from his position aged 51, citing health issues and denying any link to investigations into complicated charges of sexual abuse and cover-ups at the Foreign Missions of Paris (MEP).

Reithinger is the second of two former superiors general of the MEP, a missionary society founded in 1658 and still active in evangelisation in Asia, implicated in the latest scandal of misdeeds and secrecy besetting the French Church. Both flatly deny the charges against them. 

The first, Bishop Georges Colomb of La Rochelle, stepped down from his diocese last year respond to both judicial and canonical inquiries against him. Reithinger is subject only to canonical scrutiny.

The scandal dates from 2011 when Colomb – then MEP superior – quietly posted to the society’s headquarters a missionary whose diocese in Japan had expelled him because of a gay relationship with a layman.

Reithinger, who became superior in 2017, then transferred the priest to the Diocese of Angers, where he was arrested in 2023 on charges of aggravated rape of fragile adults.

Colomb allegedly attempted to rape a young man at MEP headquarters in Paris in 2013. The man later denounced him to judicial authorities and said both he and Reithinger, then the MEP vicar general, covered up the case.

In 2022, another alleged victim said that another missionary expelled from Japan had raped him. He claimed the priest had said Reithinger had introduced him to sex and lies in the MEP during his seminary studies.

The following year, Fr Vincent Sénéchal, the current MEP superior general, ordered a full external report on sexual abuse cases in the society since 1950. It was for publication by the end of last year, but has been postponed until mid-2024 and may not be finished until December.

Reithinger is also known to have suffered from an unpublicised heath problem for years, which priests who know him say could have worsened under pressure.

His resignation came almost 10 months after the Archbishop of Strasbourg Luc Ravel quit following months of criticism of his isolated and authoritarian style of management. His predecessor, Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet, admitted in 2022 that he had made “inappropriate gestures” to a woman in a case judged too far in the past to be pursued.

Archbishop Philippe Ballot of Metz, the neighbouring archdiocese, was named apostolic administrator to temporarily replace Ravel. Fr Jean-Luc Liénard, Strasbourg’s vicar general, said a new archbishop could be named soon.

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