Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois has passed his 75th birthday, prompting a wave of speculation about possible successors to head France’s most prominent archdiocese. Even the secular media is asking who might be “episcopabile”, with guessing split between classic candidates and another Pope Francis-style surprise.
Cardinal Vingt-Trois suffered a health setback earlier this year and is not due to stay on much longer. In contrast to his predecessor and mentor Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, he has not noticeably signaled a preference for a nomination that could show how the pontiff sees the French Church’s future.
One name that frequently comes up is Rouen Archbishop Dominique Lebrun, who was hardly known outside Church circles until one of his priests, Fr Jacques Hamel, was murdered in his church in a Rouen suburb last year by radical Islamists.
His sensitive leadership in that crisis won praise from civil and religious leaders including the Pope, who later received him at the Vatican. “The Catholic Church can take up no other arms than prayer and fraternity among men,” was his first response to the murder
Born in Rouen, where he was named archbishop in 2015, Lebrun grew up in northern Paris and has served in parishes there — including at the basilica of Saint Denis where French kings are buried — as well as at local football matches as a referee.
He has been active supporting Middle Eastern Christians and held special vespers with divorced and remarried Catholics late last year. Europe 1 radio said he has been “in the spotlight” since Fr Hamel’s murder and the newsweekly L’Express recounted that he was once seen pushing his compact car to a petrol station during a shortage.
Some speculation on the succession goes further, saying Pope Francis could opt for an even greater surprise by choosing someone outside the ranks of current bishops, such as a head of a religious order.
Since Paris is France’s capital city, others argue for a more mainline candidate able to speak with politicians about leading public issues such as immigration, poverty, ecology and changing bioethical standards.
Two names cited there are Archbishops Laurent Ulrich of Lille, who is head of an episcopal conference committee on evangelisation, and Pierre d'Ornellas of Rennes, the conference’s experts for bioethics issues that will soon be debated again in parliament.
Other names in the running are a local candidate, Paris Auxiliary Bishop Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, and Orléans Bishop Jacques Blaquart, member of a working group against sexual abuse.
Pope Francis has named about one-third of the current bishops now in office. Several appointments were expected but he has shown a preference for more pastoral candidates.
PICTURE: Archbishop Vingt-Trois pictured in 2014 ©CNS