The head of a prominent French archdiocese said Thursday that he had presented his resignation to Pope Francis, but strongly defended his turbulent six-year tenure.
At 65 years of age, Archbishop Luc Ravel is a decade away from the customary retirement age for diocesan bishops.
In an April 20 statement, he gave no reason for offering to resign but appeared to hit back at claims that he had governed in an aloof and authoritarian manner.
He said: “Peace being the supreme good, as we have entered this magnificent time of Easter, I have presented my resignation to the Holy Father, for whom I pray every day.”
“I have always acted as closely as possible to the law and to my conscience, having consulted extensively on each decision, in order to take difficult measures, but which I would have been reproached for not having taken later, in view of the elements in my possession. The penal implications of a certain number of cases fall within the jurisdiction of the judiciary.”
“For the rest, the pontifical secret, which we must respect, is the responsibility of the apostolic nuncio.”
Ravel added: “This concern for peace is combined in my heart with the concern for truth and justice that I have always sought with regard to priests, the faithful, and in particular the victims, whom I will never forget.”
“I believe that I have acted to resolve the problems in a spirit of transparency and respect for confidentiality.”
The Vatican did not refer to Ravel’s resignation in its April 20 daily bulletin, but it could be officially accepted by Pope Francis in the coming days.
The French Catholic weekly Famille chrétienne said that Ravel’s resignation, “demanded for several months by Rome, is expected to be ratified very quickly.”
Ravel, previously head of the Diocese of the French Armed Forces, was named Archbishop of Strasbourg in 2017.
The archdiocese, which traces its roots to the 4th century and is exempt to the Holy See, is located in Alsace, a historically disputed region of eastern France bordering Germany.
It has a distinctive status, thanks to the Concordat of 1801, according to which its archbishop is jointly appointed by the French president and the Vatican, and priests are paid by the state.
According to the French Catholic daily La Croix, which reported that Ravel’s resignation was imminent on April 19, the archdiocese is seen as “difficult to manage, given its 500 priests and 250 lay employees.”
In June 2022, the apostolic nunciature in France announced an apostolic visitation of the archdiocese. It gave no reason, but local reports suggested it was triggered by complaints about Ravel’s governing style.
The results of the visitation have not been published, but tension increased significantly in the archdiocese in recent weeks.
The regional newspaper Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace reported that on March 23, Strasbourg auxiliary Bishop Christian Kratz was informed that he had been removed from his post of vicar general. On March 30, he was reportedly told that he was also excluded from the bishop’s council.
Kratz told La Croix that he was given the news in a letter slipped under his office door. He said that Ravel indicated that the step followed Kratz’s alleged mishandling of abuse allegations that led to a former priest’s suicide.
Kratz defended his response to the case, saying: “I am stunned, I don’t understand what the archbishop is accusing me of. It’s unbelievable.”
Dernières Nouvelles d’Alsace reported April 18 that Ravel had dismissed a second member of the bishops’ council, Fr. Hubert Schmitt.
Ravel didn’t attend the French bishops’ March 28-31 plenary assembly in Lourdes, reportedly for health reasons.
The French bishops’ conference (CEF) issued a brief statement April 20 acknowledging that Ravel had submitted his resignation.
“In this trying time for all the Catholics of Alsace, the CEF wishes to assure Archbishop Ravel, the priests and all the faithful of the Archdiocese of Strasbourg, of its prayer and fraternal support,” it said.
Protesters gathered to demand Ravel’s resignation before the April 4 Chrism Mass at the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg.
A message beneath Ravel’s resignation statement on Strasbourg archdiocese’s website said: “Our diocese is going through a serious crisis that affects each of its members.”
“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Christ, praying insistently to overcome the divisions, to work for the peace and unity that he wanted.”