The cross : When you were appointed Bishop of Ajaccio in 2012, the diocese was going through, like that of Lyon today, a difficult period. How did you try to ease the tension?
Bishop Olivier de Germay: I arrived in Ajaccio in a painful context: the former treasurer had been condemned by the courts for financial embezzlement and a priest was in open conflict with the bishop, which had generated divisions. I’m not a hero, but I had the advantage of coming in from the outside and being neutral in this matter. I was able to gradually renew a relationship of trust with this priest, which made it possible to turn the page.
Today, you are also arriving in Lyon “from outside”. Will this be an advantage to help the diocese heal the wounds of the Preynat case, which has become the Barbarin affair?
Mgr O. D. G. : I believe him. But the difference here is that I am not starting from zero: Mgr Michel Dubost carried out a great deal of appeasement during his interim. Several people involved in the diocese told me so at the end of November, when I spent three days in Lyon.
The other thing that I felt when I met these Lyon Catholics, who have suffered in recent years, is a desire to move forward. I am going to encourage this movement, and we will not go back to this controversy. But moving forward doesn’t mean you erase everything. There are of course lessons to be learned from what happened, in particular taking into account victims and preventing abuse.
How will you do it concretely? Are you planning to bring the priests or the faithful around a table to encourage a resumption of dialogue?
Mgr O. D. G. : From what I heard, this track does not seem desirable to me, because the Lyonnais want to move on. Instead, I intend to tune in: some people have been through painful things and need to talk about it. For that, I will have to circulate as much as possible in the diocese.
I believe above all that we must start afresh from what unites us, Christ, and that it is in the movement of the mission that unity is achieved. Rather than putting ourselves in front of each other and looking at our differences, let us each refocus on Christ and turn to mission together. Looking in the same direction will help us realize that diversity is desirable and that we are not in competition with each other, far from it.
The Lyonnais do not know you yet, nor a large part of the French. What type of bishop are you?
Mgr O. D. G. : I sometimes ask myself this question! And the answer that comes to me is this: I try to let myself be guided inside by the Holy Spirit. I have convictions, of course, but I do not come with a clear idea of the role of the bishop. I do not know today what directions I will give tomorrow.
To tell the truth, I believe that this reflex should be further developed in the Church, and not only for personal but also pastoral life: to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and not simply to observe a rule. This is also the specificity of our Christian religion.
Your appointment has aroused, among other things, negative reactions, some consider you too young, or too conservative. How did you react to these criticisms?
Mgr O. D. G. : My brother bishops, in any case, encouraged me. Some even thanked me for having the courage to say yes, which worried me a little! (laughs) But I also received criticism, especially in certain media: I was even called a fascist, a homophobe …
I try to take some distance from it all, whether it’s the compliments or the attacks. The criterion of my action is not what people think, it is what the Lord asks. Even if it is of course necessary to know how to listen to constructive criticism, and to be careful not to be locked into an assurance that does not come from God but from oneself.
The refusal of the new mayor of Lyon Grégory Doucet to participate, on September 8, in the traditional ceremony of the Vow of the Aldermen annoyed some of Lyon’s Catholics. What did you think of it?
Mgr O. D. G. : I am quite familiar with the matter since there is a fairly similar ceremony in Ajaccio: the Vow of the Magnificent Ancients. I believe that we should not give too much importance to this reaction of the new mayor who, like me, has just arrived in Lyon. I understand that it can be quite complex for elected officials to situate themselves in relation to this type of ceremony, at the crossroads of culture and religion.
I would especially like to encourage Catholics to combine a form of humility with a form of assurance: we have a treasure to pass on, and a real service to render to this society! Let’s not be afraid to do it, but let’s do it with humility, without placing ourselves in an overhang in relation to society.
As Pope Francis invites us, let us be missionaries, in one way or another, since there are a thousand ways of being so. The Church is there to evangelize, yet Jesus tells us that divisions are an obstacle to the mission. To work for unity is the duty of Christians.