France: Apostolic Visit Decreed in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon

February 13, 2023
Cathedral of Our Lady of Seds, Toulon

The diocese had already been sanctioned in May 2022, by the suspension of ordinations scheduled for a month later, and concerning four priests and six deacons. It had been “visited” by Msgr. Jean-Marc Aveline, Archbishop of Marseille and Metropolitan of the Bishopric of Toulon, in 2020. But this visit was not ordered by Rome, at least not officially.

An apostolic visitation was announced last February 7 by the nunciature. These visits are normally made by at least two bishops – in this case, Msgr. Joël Mercier, former secretary of the Congregation for the Clergy, and Msgr. Antoine Hérouard, Archbishop of Dijon.

During such visits, any faithful of the diocese, as well as all members of the clergy, can be heard at their request by the visitators. Following which, the latter must submit a report to the Curia, to the dicastery of bishops. Depending on their mandate, they may also have immediate decision-making power, if they believe there is an emergency. The duration of the visit is fixed at 15 days.

But why was this visit ordered? Probably not for a matter of morals, for which there would have been an investigation in the manner of an instruction. The grievance is known anyway, because it is regularly agitated, and it concerns the episcopal action of Bishop Dominique Rey, in his dimension of government.

Various Criticisms

According to Jean-Marie Guénois, in Le Figaro, three major criticisms are at the heart of this apostolic visit. The journalist first recalls that the diocese is one of the most dynamic in France: thus, for years, the number of candidates for the priesthood has been one of the highest in the country. In 2019, it stood at 66, behind the Paris seminaries (100) and the Saint-Martin community (115).

The first grievance would be the enterprising and determined personality of the bishop. Coming from the Emmanuel charismatic community, the pastor of the diocese has several points of divergence with the French episcopate, in particular, he is less “timid” regarding a certain number of questions, such as bioethics. Which is also not to the taste of some priests in his diocese.

Second grievance, still according to the Le Figaro columnist, the too broad welcome granted to communities, seminarians, or priests who are not approved in other dioceses. This welcoming policy has its successes and failures. These are pointed out, as proof of a lack of caution on the part of the bishop of the diocese.

Finally, the third complaint, Bishop Rey is criticized for his openness towards “traditionalist” priests or communities. Once the repugnance of almost all French bishops vis-à-vis these communities is known, it becomes clear that this accusation is the most virulent. The diocese of Fréjus-Toulon is considered a kind of foreign body.

The Diocese’s Statement

When the visit was announced, the diocese published a press release on its website. The text affirms that “this apostolic visit will give the opportunity to deepen and continue the work accomplished by Cardinal Aveline during his fraternal visit. Thus, this will allow a broader and clearer vision of the situation in which the diocese of Fréjus-Toulon finds itself.”

It is obviously difficult to make assumptions at this stage, especially since there may be many unknown elements. However, it is reasonable to think that the benevolent welcome of the bishop vis-à-vis the traditional “tendency” is more or less at the heart of this visit.