Synodalist Bishop made penitents strip during confessions

Michel Santier's "strip-confessions", too much for the Church?

The former bishop of Créteil has admitted to having asked young men in the 1990s to strip for every sin they confessed to. If he was sanctioned in 2021, believers are now outraged by the silence that surrounded this decision.

Last October, the Trombinoscope des évêques, co-authored by the author of these lines, was published, revealing the particular confessions of Michel Santier, Bishop Emeritus of Créteil (2007-2021), in the 1990s. In mid-October, the weekly Christian Family revealed the canonical sanctions taken against this clergyman in October 2021, in the greatest secrecy, causing a new shock wave with heavy repercussions in the Church in France.

Michel Santier is a priest from the Diocese of Coutances-Avranches (Manche). In 1977 he co-founded a new community (Réjouis-toi!) and in 1989, at the request of the bishops of the West, he also created the Coutances School of Faith, which "is aimed at young people aged 18-30 who want to give a year of their life to follow a formation in faith and apostolic life in the Church".

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In June 2001, when he had just turned 54, he was appointed Bishop of Luçon (Vendée), before being transferred in 2007 to the see of Créteil (Val-de-Marne). This prelate is rather well received: in the Vendée, for example, he initiated, at the end of a Diocesan synod, a process of repentance towards remarried divorcees and LGBT+ people, even though the context was unfavourable. In the Val-de-Marne, he set up a pastoral programme for homosexuals and their families, making Créteil a leading Diocese when many bishops remain closed to these issues.   

No bishop more Synodical


But tongues are wagging: the crisis of clerical abuse and rape, and the creation of the Independent Commission on Sexual Abuse in the Church (Ciase), are freeing up the victims' voices. And some boys from the School of Faith confide that in the 1990s they experienced "strip-confessions" led by Michel Santier. He invited them to strip naked in front of the Blessed Sacrament for each sin they confessed.

One of these young people, who had become a priest in the diocese of Tours, confided in his Cistercian archbishop Bernard-Nicolas Aubertin (2005-2019) in 2019, who disowned him. But this priest then decided to talk to Michel Aupetit, still Archbishop of Paris (2017-2021), who took the matter very seriously.

The facts are authentic: Michel Santier acknowledges them and presents his resignation to the Pope in June 2020, when he is not yet 75 years old, the age at which clerics normally retire. He then announced his departure from Créteil, notably for health reasons - a departure that was finally made official at the beginning of 2021. It then took Rome more than six months to replace him with Dominique Blanchet, until then Bishop of Belfort-Montbéliard and Vice-President of the French Bishops' Conference (CEF).

Michel Santier then settled in a parish in the Manche region until October 2021, when the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith pronounced "disciplinary measures" against him. He was sanctioned for "spiritual abuse for sexual purposes" and condemned, so to speak, to "reside henceforth within a religious community, with a ministry restricted to the life of that community". This penance outraged many Catholics, who felt that the bishops were ultimately disregarding religious life.

A crushing blow

No communication was made about this decision, until the revelations of the last few weeks, because the victims did not want it. A few days after the submission of the Sauvé report and the CEF's stated desire to "make the Church a safe house", the French bishops kept quiet about the conviction of one of their own for serious offences. It is also true that the 1983 Code of Canon Law makes it difficult to communicate the sentences pronounced internally against a cleric. It is also true that, apparently, not all the bishops were aware of this sanction.

But already scandalised by this never-ending crisis, French Catholics have received these revelations like a blow. On social networks, many of them have expressed their sense of revolt and deep disgust at the fact that they have been kept in the dark and lied to. One Facebook post even refers to the anthology series American Horror Story, produced by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, as an "Ecclesial Horror Story".

The forums calling for a change in the governance of the French episcopate, including that of Promesses d'Église, a "collective of Catholic organisations" born in 2018 with the support of the CEF after the "letter to the people of God" written by the Argentinean pope, are multiplying. The weekend before All Saints' Day, rallies coordinated by the lay collective Agir pour notre Église (Acting for our Church) took place all over France under the slogan #SortonsLesPoubelles (Let's get out of the trash), a catchword created after a delirious tweet by the former Archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, the day after the revelation of Michel Santier's sanction.

"Why do so many people like to rummage through rubbish? To get their fill of bad smells or to cover up their own rubbish? I feel more and more drawn to Heaven to revel in the good smell of Christ"

The anger of Catholics is growing daily. For these revelations have led to others. A few days after the announcement of these sanctions, the Archbishop of Rouen, Dominique Lebrun, admitted in a press release that he had referred the matter to the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith after other victims had made themselves known to him. In the dioceses of Luçon and Créteil, an email address has finally been created for potential victims to make themselves known ( for Créteil; for Luçon).

The Diocese of Coutances-Avranches, to which Michel Santier was assigned until his appointment as bishop, has not seen fit to create one, relying on the Réjouis-toi! community, which has launched a call for witnesses. For the time being, the latter has only contacted the first twelve classes and former students have still not been contacted, according to our information.

Reactions that are at best clumsy

What also feeds this anger are certain comments made by the bishops themselves about this affair. The Archbishop of Rouen ended his statement with a "[Michel Santier] remains my brother for whom I pray". The Bishop of Luçon issued two communiqués: in the first, he referred to Michel Santier as "a benevolent pastor" before, in a call for testimonies, asking how his predecessor had been able to accept the office of bishop.

As the Internet has a long memory, some Christians also remembered the statements made by the Bishop of Créteil when the Sauvé report was presented on BFMTV. Dominique Blanchet maintained that "the Church did not cover up these crimes", even though he was aware of the canonical investigation into his predecessor at the time he replied. Moreover, he even invited him to concelebrate the Chrism Mass in the spring of 2022. As if nothing had happened.

More and more of the faithful are calling for the collective resignation of the French episcopate. The problem is that this would lead to other worries, especially about recruitment.

In Tours, Archbishop Vincent Jordy, who is also vice-president of the CEF, caused an uproar after he allowed his Communications Department to promote a day of prayer for the sick entitled "Let yourself be touched", just as the Santier affair was breaking out. The statement by the President of the CEF, Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, Archbishop of Rheims, also raised questions among Christians: it took him seven days to react to the revelation of this affair.

At the same time, two parishes in Versailles, where he used to minister, learned of the secret funeral of an octogenarian priest condemned by the Church's justice system for "rape and sexual assault on adults". Here again, there was no call for testimony and no press release from the Diocese of Versailles when the sanctions were pronounced in 2019.

Weapons that do exist

More and more of the faithful are calling for the collective resignation of the French episcopate. The problem is that such a collective resignation would lead to other concerns, notably recruitment. On the other hand, it is difficult to imagine that the bishops of Créteil and Coutances-Avranches, after their calamitous management of the Santier affair, could be kept in office.

Of course, only the Pope can resign them, since it is from him that they hold their office. But in the face of these damning facts, which affect the entire French episcopate, it is difficult to imagine the plenary assembly which is due to begin on Thursday 3 November not addressing this subject and not encouraging these bishops to take their responsibilities. Furthermore, during this plenary assembly, the bishops should reflect on canonical sanctions and their management, and receive a representative of the Dicastery for the Doctrine of the Faith who will enlighten them on these issues.

This last point raises questions: since 2002 and the publication by the CEF of the regularly updated brochure "Fighting against paedophilia", and then the Ciase report last year, it was thought that the French bishops had enough elements in their hands to fight against this scourge, which no longer affects only the ecclesiastical hierarchy but the very message of the Gospel.

Restoring trust

They will also have to consider the advisability of a national synod, like the German and Australian synods, which were convened following the revelations of sexual abuse in those churches. This would be a way out of this bad situation by relying on the laity, who actively wish to change the mode of governance and participate with their talents in the life of the Church. It could take place in parallel with the synod on synodality, extended until October 2024.

Finally, beyond the necessary reform of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which solves nothing but creates more problems, and that of the sacrament of reconciliation, which has become for many aggressors a place for the worst kinds of turpitude, they should also begin to reflect on these new communities, which promise a renewal that we are still waiting for, and whose structures favour, more or less, the reception of corrupt and manipulative personalities.

The task is arduous for the bishops, who must re-establish the totally broken trust of Christians after so many lies. But it is imperative that they take action to emerge from the turbulence that the Church in France is experiencing.


See such scandals are hardly surprising in a Church which promotes Erotic Masses and try to ban the Latin Mass.


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