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Retired French archbishop admits 'inappropriate' behavior toward woman in 1980s

Former Strasbourg Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet is facing both civil and canonical invesigations.

Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet, pictured in 2013. Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0).

A retired archbishop has admitted to inappropriate behavior toward a young woman in the 1980s, in the latest setback for the French Catholic Church.

In a statement dated Nov. 15 but released on Wednesday, Archbishop Jean-Pierre Grallet said that he was facing both canonical and civil investigations into his actions.

The 81-year-old Franciscan, who retired as Archbishop of Strasbourg in 2017, said: “At the end of the 1980s, when I was a Franciscan religious, I acted inappropriately toward a young adult woman, behavior that I deeply regret.”

“A canonical investigation is currently underway and a report to the civil justice system has been made. In the summer of 2022, I learned of this woman’s testimony and immediately wrote to her to tell her that I had failed her and to ask her forgiveness.”

He continued: “I wish, through this public declaration which I am handing to the president of the French bishops’ conference, to contribute to the process of truth and assume my responsibility.”

“From now on, while awaiting the conclusions of the canonical and civil investigations, I am withdrawing from public speaking. I have gone astray and I have hurt a person. The forgiveness that I have asked for, I also express to all those close to her, as well as to all those who, today, will be bruised, under the shock of this revelation.”

Grallet’s statement was issued on Nov. 16 by French bishops’ conference president Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, who noted that Grallet was one of the three unnamed bishops who he announced last week were facing civil and canonical investigations.

Moulins-Beaufort said at the French bishops’ plenary meeting in Lourdes on Nov. 7 that a total of 11 French bishops had faced scrutiny by the secular or ecclesiastical justice systems on suspicion of committing or covering up abuse.

“In the name of all the bishops of France, Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort wishes to express his compassion to the person who was the victim of this serious behavior on the part of a religious who later became a bishop,” said a Nov. 16 communiqué from the French bishops’ conference. “It will be up to the investigation to determine the exact nature of the facts.”

Archbishop Luc Ravel, Grallet’s successor in Strasbourg archdiocese, said on Wednesday that Grallet’s admission related to events in the fall of 1985.

“These facts were brought to my attention by the victim in December 2021,” he said. “I reported the matter to the Strasbourg public prosecutor in January 2022. The Roman authorities have also been informed. These investigations are ongoing.”

Grallet is the third French Church leader to face scrutiny since mid-October, when it emerged that Bishop Michel Santier had been allowed to resign in 2021 citing health reasons when he was facing claims of spiritual abuse dating back to the 1990s.

Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard admitted on Nov. 7 that he had behaved “in a reprehensible way” toward the girl when he was a pastor in the Archdiocese of Marseille in the late 1980s.

The Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (CIASE) estimated in 2021 that as many as 330,000 children were abused from 1950 to 2020 in the French Catholic Church.

In response, the French bishops promised to undertake “a vast program of renewal” of their governance practices.

The French bishops approved a series of resolutions concerning clerical abuse at their Nov. 3-8 plenary assembly.

They took a further step toward establishing an interdiocesan canonical penal tribunal. They also approved the creation of a monitoring board to advise bishops on the application of the 2019 motu proprio Vos estis lux mundi, which set out new norms for combating abuse and holding Church leaders accountable for their handling of cases.

A delegation of French bishops is expected to travel to Rome to meet with the prefects of the Vatican Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith and Dicastery for Bishops.

A bishops’ conference communiqué said that the visit’s purpose was to “improve the follow-up in the French dioceses of the procedures relating to bishops or archbishops who have been the subject of a report.”

Grallet was born in Rozelieures, northeastern France, in 1941. He made his solemn profession as a Franciscan in 1968 and was ordained a priest the following year.

He served as a university chaplain in Besançon from 1977 to 1985, and then in Strasbourg from 1985 to 1988. He was appointed an auxiliary bishop of Strasbourg in 2004 and archbishop of the ancient archdiocese in 2007.

Br. Michel Laloux, the Franciscan provincial minister of France and Belgium, said in a Nov. 16 statement that he had learned of the canonical and civil investigations into Grallet’s actions on Sept. 30.

“I immediately contacted the competent authorities — the apostolic nunciature — in order to discern what action to take,” he said. “In fact, from the point of view of the internal law of the Church, it is not up to the leader of a congregation to take canonical measures against a bishop, even one who is a member of that congregation. Since his episcopal ordination, Archbishop Grallet has been under the sole jurisdiction of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome.”

But Laloux said that he suspended Grallet from a role within the province on Nov. 4, pending the results of the investigation.

He added: “We Friars Minor are shocked by the latest revelations in the Church, as are all the people of God. The mistakes made and the generalized climate of distrust towards the institution call for great prudence and high standards.”

“In spite of legitimate anger, let us keep in mind that each case is unique. The case of Archbishop Grallet is different from that of Bishop Santier and Cardinal Ricard, which has been reported in the press in recent weeks. It will be up to justice to precisely determine the facts and their gravity.”

Archbishop Philippe Ballot of Metz said on Nov. 16 that Archbishop Grallet was living in retirement with a small community of elderly Franciscan friars in Danne-et-Quatre-Vents in northeastern France and had “a limited ministry in the service of this community.”

“The moment that the Church in France is living today, in the dioceses, is very trying," Archbishop Ballot said. “In this situation, I invite us to be attentive to each other, to allow exchanges, to welcome the word of each and everyone, to take initiatives in this direction. It is together that we must live this painful moment.”

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