France: Half of the Priests of the Diocese of Arras Are Over 80 Years Old

June 02, 2021
Msgr. Olivier Leborgne, Bishop of Arras

The Diocese of Arras represents an emblematic case, but unfortunately not unique, of the inevitable aging of the clergy in Europe. It should be an opportunity for the bishops to ask the right questions, rather than practicing an ostrich policy, tantamount to actual suicide.

Msgr. Olivier Leborgne was appointed Bishop of Arras (Pas-de-Calais), in October 2020. On the site of April 27, 2021, he admits, faced with the vocations crisis and de-Christianization: “I'm afraid of heights, it's unsettling, but I'm not worried,” adding “never having believed in the myth of the golden age. We navigate between nostalgia for what we have never been and the fantasy of what we will never be!”

But he adds: “Beware of the denial of reality. Yes, it’s complicated. Half of the priests in this diocese are over 80 years old.” The bishop announces: “I will not manage in the psychosis of regression! Let's stop crying and shift our gaze.”

He has a method for this: “I have in mind this sentence from Saint Paul: ‘You lack none of the gifts of God.’ This means that everything is already there! It's up to me to find it. We may have treasures to unearth. For that, I need ‘truffles’!” He said with a smile.

Does he consider that the two-thousand-year-old tradition could well be this treasure buried for several decades? It is not certain.

Msgr. Leborgne affirms: “The crisis of vocations is first of all a crisis of commitment. If we think of alleviating the number of priests by redeploying their missions to the laity; we are wrong. First, the crisis of commitment also affects the laity. When you've had a responsibility for 40 years without a replacement, you have to worry.”

This concern is an admission: there is no more succession among the laity than among priests.

So what are the solutions? Msgr. Leborgne declares: “We must rediscover what a priest is, he is not the one who manages everything. The deployment of baptismal responsibility is obvious, but with missions entrusted to the laity that might be surprising.”

And to recognize his interest in the pastoral project launched in the diocese of Reims by Msgr. Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, on the theme “on the way to the mission!” They are proposing itinerant missions, teams of diocesan missionaries, local fraternities… Many words, but for what reality?

Msgr. Leborgne says he does not want to “manage in the psychosis of regression,” but there is a real fear that he will be reduced to managing the shortage.