Skip to content

French bishops’ conference blueprint revised after Vatican scrutiny

A revised blueprint for streamlining the French bishops’ conference will be submitted to Rome after the Vatican raised “unexpected” objections to an earlier plan.

Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the French bishops’ conference. G.Garitan via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0).

Speaking at a plenary assembly in Lourdes March 22, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort said that the bishops had expected the Vatican to approve new statutes for the French bishops’ conference after they endorsed them last November. 


“But the Holy See sent us some unexpected comments,” the French bishops’ conference president said. “We had to take them on board, and we did so wholeheartedly.” 

Moulins-Beaufort indicated that Rome had called for the bishops’ collegial responsibility to be emphasized more clearly in the new structure.

The intervention is notable given current tensions between Rome and bishops across the border in Germany over plans to create a decision-making body of bishops and lay people that the Vatican fears could dilute episcopal responsibility.

The French bishops approved the revised bishops’ conference statutes at their March 19-22 meeting and will resubmit them to Rome for recognitio, or formal approval.

The process of overhauling the French bishops’ conference apparatus began in 2021, the year that an independent commission published a devastating report on abuse in the Catholic Church in France between 1950 and 2020.

In November 2021, Moulins-Beaufort announced that the bishops had approved “a vast program of renewal of our governance practices at the level of the dioceses and at the level of the Church in France.”

In March 2023, the bishops approved a blueprint calling for the replacement of most of the current 17 bishops’ conference councils — dedicated to topics such as ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, and liturgy — with  three “mission clusters” and three “support clusters.”

The “mission clusters” will be dedicated to “proclamation of the faith,” “common good dialogue and solidarity,” and “Church workers”. The “support clusters” will focus on “temporal affairs,” “communications,” and “institutional and international affairs.”

The bishops’ permanent council will be expanded from 10 to 16 members, enabling greater regional representation.

Summarizing Rome’s objections, Moulins-Beaufort said: “The Holy See insists that a bishops’ conference should include several bodies or forums for joint work and decision-making by the bishops, and that not everything should be concentrated in the hands of the permanent council alone.”

“The mandatory existence of a doctrinal commission is not enough to meet this requirement. In these times of synodality, it’s important to remember the reality of collegiality: it’s the joint, equal work of the bishops, participating in the episcopal college that succeeds apostolic college, and their common agreement that guarantees that the Church remains, throughout time and despite events and their mark on her, the Church that the Lord Jesus entrusted to his Apostles and sent out into the world.”

Leave a comment

The Archbishop of Reims added: “We will therefore be entrusting three of the clusters to a commission, made up entirely of bishops, which will be able to function, as and when appropriate, in ‘enlarged formation,’ and three others to a council, made up of bishops and other persons, the clusters whose fields were already managed in this way, with the possibility for the bishops to meet in episcopal format.” 

Moulins-Beaufort said that the bishops had elected chairmen of the clusters and that other bishops would soon be allocated as members of the new bodies, which will begin their mandates July 1.

“All this may seem very internal and technical to those of you who read or listen to me,” he noted. “The challenge of our transformation, however, is to make our conference more flexible, more responsive, and more economical, it has to be said, in terms of people and resources, so that we can be more and better in tune with the world that is changing around us and with the universal Church, which is itself undergoing significant change.” 

“We are aiming for greater synodality, to be better able to support the mission of the dioceses, more capable of expressing the distinctiveness of Christianity for a searching humanity.”

The current permanent council will be replaced in March 2025, when it reaches the end of its mandate. Moulins-Beaufort’s second three-year term as bishops’ conference president will run out at the same time. 

Moulins-Beaufort said: “The [French] bishops’ conference, like all bishops’ conferences, has a modest role. It is by no means the main focus of the Church’s reality, which is lived first and foremost in the particular Churches, especially the dioceses, celebrating and proclaiming the mystery of the Lord.” 

“But, as the conference animates the common work of the bishops in the service of the mission of each particular Church and of the whole Church, the three dimensions of synodality (all the baptized live from the Holy Spirit), collegiality (some are chosen and associated with the sending of Christ, the Son sent by the Father), and primacy (Peter and his successors guarantee unity throughout history) necessarily resound here, and they must be perceptible here.” 

“As you can see, the reconfiguration underway is a series of changes that are modest in themselves, but they express our common and shared responsibility to live better according to the full dimensions of the Church, and to enable those who work with us to live them too.”

At their plenary assembly at Lourdes, the French bishops also approved a statement expressing “great concern” at a new end-of-life bill announced by President Emmanuel Macron, which could pave the way for assisted suicide and euthanasia.

They also discussed the ongoing fight against abuse, asking the permanent council to draw up “an ad hoc mechanism” to ensure that “a path of recognition and restoration” is open to adult victims.

The bishops also called for a consolidation of French Catholic radio and television outlets, “at the service of the Church in France.”

Subscribe now

Comments 3