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Amid scandal, Strasbourg auxiliary bishop resigns for 'health reasons'

Pope Francis accepted the resignation Wednesday of a 51-year-old French auxiliary bishop. 

But while the local Church has insisted Bishop Gilles Reithinger resigned for “health reasons,” the bishop was also engulfed by a scandal surrounding the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

Bishop Gilles Reithinger, pictured in 2021. Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

The Holy See press office announced Feb. 14 — Ash Wednesday — that the pope had accepted the resignation of Bishop Reithinger from the office of auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Strasbourg. It did not offer an explanation for the step.

The Strasbourg archdiocese, which traces its roots to the 4th century, has a distinctive status thanks to the Concordat of 1801, according to which episcopal moves are jointly approved by the Vatican and the French president.

The French state therefore also announced Wednesday that the president had agreed to Reithinger’s resignation. It did not provide an explanation for the resignation.

Archbishop Philippe Ballot, the Bishop of Metz and the apostolic administrator of Strasbourg archdiocese since May 2023, suggested in a Feb. 14 statement that Reithinger was stepping aside for health reasons.

He said: “As soon as I arrived as apostolic administrator of the Archdiocese of Strasbourg, Bishop Gilles Reithinger informed me of the health problems he had been experiencing for some time. This situation prevented him from fully exercising his episcopal ministry.”

“In these circumstances, he decided to present his resignation to the Holy Father, who accepted it. Within the concordat framework, the public authorities were duly notified.”

He added: “In concrete terms, Bishop Reithinger will no longer exercise the functions of auxiliary bishop as of today. He will become auxiliary bishop emeritus of Strasbourg, still titular of Saint-Papoul. At the end of the necessary time, he will be able to consider resuming some pastoral activities.”

“I invite you to respect his rest and avoid any requests. Even though his name will no longer be mentioned in the Eucharistic Prayer, I call on all members of the diocese to continue praying for him and with him.”

But despite the circumspection from Church and state officials on the reasons for Reithinger’s departure from office, his resignation is the latest twist in a string of events and scandals.


Born in 1972 in Mulhouse, eastern France, Reithinger was ordained a priest of the Strasbourg archdiocese in 1999.

In 2017, he was confirmed as superior general of the Paris Foreign Missions Society, a noted Catholic missionary organization dating back to the 17th century. He held the post for just under four years, before he was named a Strasbourg auxiliary bishop in June 2021. 

At 48 years of age, Reithinger became the youngest bishop in France. Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin presided at his episcopal ordination.

Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin presides at the episcopal ordination of Bishop Gilles Reithinger at Strasbourg Cathedral, France, July 4, 2021. Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

In May 2023, the Paris Foreign Missions Society announced that it had appointed an independent body to investigate “possible sexual violence committed between 1950 and 2023” within the organization. 

Reithinger was reportedly interviewed as a simple witness by police in April 2023 concerning abuse allegations against the missionary Fr. Aymeric de Salvert.

In June 2023, the French Catholic publications La Croix, Famille Chrétienne, and La Vie published a joint investigation containing accusations that Reithinger failed to report sexual assaults committed in 2013.

Reithinger told France 3 Alsace that the accusations were untrue and he had informed the apostolic nuncio to France of the allegations. The bishop insisted that he had shown “absolute intransigence in the face of sexual abuse cases.”

He said: “I have never concealed, minimized, or hidden any reports of possible sexual abuse.”

Reithinger reportedly stepped back from his functions as auxiliary bishop while an investigation took place.

In September 2023, a missionary alleged that he had informed Reithinger in 2020 of another case of clerical abuse but was disappointed with the cleric’s response. Reithinger insisted that he had passed on the information as requested.

Another missionary claimed that Reithinger was “a mentor for me in the area of ​​sex and double life” — an accusation that Reithinger also strongly denied through a lawyer, threatening to take legal action.

Reithinger’s resignation follows years of turmoil in the Strasbourg archdiocese, which is located in Alsace, a historically disputed region of eastern France bordering Germany. 

In 2022, the retired Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet, who led the archdiocese from 2007 to 2017, admitted to inappropriate behavior toward a young woman in the 1980s.

In May 2023, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Strasbourg’s Archbishop Luc Ravel. At 66 years old, Ravel was almost a decade away from the customary episcopal retirement age of 75. Critics had accused Ravel of governing in an authoritarian manner, which he denied.

Bishop Christian Kratz, who has served as an auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg since the year 2000, is reportedly currently absent for health reasons. But the 71-year-old, now the archdiocese’s sole active auxiliary, is expected to return at Easter.

Pope Francis visited Strasbourg in November 2014 to address the European Parliament, one of the European Union’s legislative bodies.

In a Feb. 14 statement, the French bishops’ conference said: “May Bishop Reithinger quickly regain his strength and a new balance in his life of service to the Lord.”

“The Archdiocese of Strasbourg continues to be entrusted to the Bishop of Metz, Archbishop Philippe Ballot, archdiocesan administrator, pending the appointment of a new bishop.”

“His burden is becoming heavier. The bishops’ conference assures Archbishop Ballot and the Archdiocese of Strasbourg of its support.”

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