France’s “rebel bishop” Jacques Gaillot, who was removed from his Normandy diocese of Évreux by Pope John Paul II in 1995 after 13 years died of cancer on 12 April aged 87, The Tablet reports.
Transferred by the Vatican to Partenia, an extinct ancient diocese in Algeria that became his internet home, he was received “as a brother” by Pope Francis 20 years later.
As a bishop, he was a strong supporter of the YCW and other Specialised Catholic Action movements. In 2000, he was a guest speaker at the 75th anniversary congress of the International YCW in Brussels.
“In 2009, he came to share and discuss with young people (at a YCW national assembly),” recalled former French YCW national president Stéphane Haar.
“His words, which were full of love and evangelical demand, struck many jocists.
“This should be a Church of the marginalised, not a Church that marginalises,” he told his farewell Mass in Évreux almost two decades before Pope Francis spoke about a Church “going to the peripheries”.
Reflecting his popularity, 20,000 people flocked to the Norman town for the Mass from France, Germany and the Benelux countries. Four French bishops attended it.
He said his 28 months of military service in Algeria in the late 1950s turned him into an activist. “Excess violence pushed me to non-violence,” he said.
After studies in Rome and ordination, he spend the next decade teaching in regional seminaries. He took over Évreux diocese in 1982.
Gaillot was soon defending conscientious objectors, opposing nuclear weapons and supporting anti-apartheid activists. He tried to convince his brother bishops to decide that married men could be ordained priests.
As Church criticism of his activism grew, Gaillot called the head of the French bishops an “ayatollah” and compared the Vatican’s Congregation of Bishops to the East German Stasi police.
After his dismissal, the outspoken bishop moved in temporarily with Paris squatters, published about two dozen books and spoke frequently at conferences or in interviews.
As bishop of Partenia, he continued to work for the rights of the excluded. With Albert Jacquard and Léon Schwartzenberg, he founded the association “Droits devant!” to support undocumented immigrants and Roma, whom he helped to house in gymnasiums or squats in conjunction with the “Droit au logement” (DAL – the Right to Housing).
A defender of the Palestinian cause, he denounced arms sales and nuclear testing (he embarked on a Greenpeace boat to Tahiti), visited prisoners, and more.
He sided with homosexuals, divorced and remarried Catholics, condom users afraid of Aids and other “sidelined” people.
In 2015, he met with Pope Francis who urged him to keep up his activism for migrants and refugees, telling him he was a “gift” for the Church.
Tom Heneghan, French ‘rebel bishop’ Jacques Gaillot dies at 87 (The Tablet)
Claire Lesegretain, France’s “rebel bishop”, Jacques Gaillot, dies at age 87 (La Croix International)