Bishop Jacques Gaillot, who was removed from his diocese in France in 1995, in part for blessing the union of a gay couple, was received at the Vatican by Pope Francis, ending two decades of exclusion from official church activities.
Bishop Gaillot, who has the head of the northern French diocese of Evreux until being demoted by Pope John Paul II, spoke with Pope Francis about many marginalized groups. According to Agence France Presse (AFP), he “defended the rights of homosexuals, divorced people and migrants.”
According to the news report, Gaillot recounted his conversation with Pope Francis to the AFP reporter :
” ‘I don’t want to ask anything of you, I told the pope, but a whole people of the poor are happy that you are receiving me, and feel acknowledged too,’ Gaillot said.
” ‘I spoke to him about… the sick, the divorced, gay people. These people are counting on you.’
“The 79-year-old said he had told the pope how he had recently blessed a divorced couple as well as a homosexual couple, saying ‘he listened, he is open to all those things. He said that to bless is to speak well of God to people.’ “
And Pope Francis affirmed his ministry, according to the French bishop:
“Gaillot said he now devotes much of his time to helping and defending migrants and the pope, he said, told him ‘continue, what you do (for the downtrodden) is good.’ “
Since being deposed as Bishop of Evreux, Gaillot has remained active by maintaining a website, Partenia.org, where he defended marginalized groups. Partenia is the name of a now defunct ancient diocese which existed in the early centuries of Christianity in Algeria. An Ouest-France news report (with an English translation provided by a Bondings 2.0 reader) noted:
“Trying to convey something of the unprecedented nature of the situation and of pope Francis’ sense of humour Gaillot said, ‘the pope told me with a smile: I speak to the bishop of Partenia.’ “
The same news report also pointed out:
“The meeting took place at Pope Francis’ request, who left two messages on Gaillot’s answering machine during the Summer, before writing to formally invite him to the Vatican.”
Perhaps the most significant part of Gaillot’s account of describing his blessing of gay couples to Pope Francis:
” ‘I am in civil cloth and I just bless them. This is not a marriage, it is a blessing. We have the right to give the blessing of God, after all we also bless houses! The pope listened, he seemed open to all that. At that particular moment, he specifically said that to bless people also involves to speak well of God to those people,’ said the French prelate.”
The Wikipedia.org article on Gaillot described some of the actions which lead to his ouster over two decades ago, including the blessing of a gay couple:
“In 1988, during a closed-door session of the assembly in Lourdes, he advocated the ordination of married men to the priesthood. After the proceedings had finished Gaillot spoke to the press about the discussions held and also promoted his own viewpoints. By promoting a revision of clerical celibacy and the use of condoms, he caused considerable tension with the French bishops’ conference, the situation being exacerbated by the fact that in speaking to the media about the session, Gaillot had violated convention regarding assembly conclaves. He later defended his previous actions, remarking that ‘I never broke the vow of celibacy … I only questioned it. But that’s worse.’ Also that year, Gaillot took the unprecedented step for a Roman Catholic bishop of blessing a homosexual union in a ‘service of welcoming,’ after the couple requested it in view of their imminent death from AIDS.”
This Wikipedia article also noted that Gaillot expressed public support for marriage equality when France legalized it in 2012.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bishop Gaillot in Rome in the year 2000. The occasion was the conference on religion and homosexuality at the first World Pride event. I gave the opening address to the meeting, and, saving the best for last, Gaillot was to give the closing speech. Unfortunately, the day before the conference, he received word that the Vatican ordered him not to give the speech. Bishop Gaillot was unflustered.
The unusual thing about this Vatican action was that the hotel which was hosting the conference was a five-minute walk from the Vatican, yet the order, which came from Pope John Paul, was first sent to the Congregation of Bishops, who then called the president of the French bishops conference in Paris, who then called the then-current Bishop of Evreux, who then made a phone call from France to Bishop Gaillot in Rome. Everyone laughed, including Gaillot, that if the pope wanted to give him this order, he could have simply walked a few blocks to speak with him in person.
Fifteen years after this strange communication incident, the new pope in Rome showed how important ordinary communication with a fellow human being is–especially for the necessary Christian act of reconciliation. The Ouest-France news report described the very ordinary, humble and human way Gaillot’s visit with Pope Francis occurred:
“Gaillot, 79, in a black suit but without any pectoral cross, said he was greatly surprised by how informally Francis received him in the Vatican: ‘I was in one of the common room of St Martha’s House (where the Pope resides), a door opened and the pope simply came in. The meeting was carried out as if I was family, without any protocol. He truly is a free man. At one point, he stood up and said: Do you have a photographer? As I had none and there was none around who was available, we took (a photo) with a cell phone.’ “
An ordinary encounter between two human beings. How our church leaders need to do so much more of this!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry