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Jacques Gaillot

His Excellency
Jacques Gaillot
Titular Bishop of Partenia
Church Roman Catholic Church
See Partenia
In office 1995–present
Predecessor José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán
Successor Incumbent
Ordination 18 March 1961
Consecration 20 June 1982
Personal details
Born (1935-09-11) 11 September 1935
Saint-Dizier, Champagne
Previous post Bishop of Évreux
Styles of
Jacques Gaillot
Reference style The Right Reverend
Spoken style Your Excellency
Religious style Bishop
Posthumous style not applicable

Jacques Jean Edmond Georges Gaillot (born 11 September 1935;    ; generally known in French as Monseigneur Gaillot) is a French Catholic clergyman and social activist. He was Bishop of Évreux in France from 1982 to 1995. In 1995, by decision of Pope John Paul II, he was demoted to be Titular Bishop of Partenia, an extinct diocese, for having expressed too controversial and heterodox positions on religious, political and social matters.

In reason of these views he earned the popular nickname of The Red Cleric.[1]


  • Education and early career 1
  • Media attention and controversy 2
  • Removal from Évreux 3
    • Reaction to removal 3.1
  • After Évreux 4
  • Literature 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Education and early career

Jacques Gaillot was born in Saint-Dizier, Haute-Marne. As a teenager, he already desired to become a priest. After his secondary studies, he entered the seminary in Langres.

From 1957 to 1959, he carried out his compulsory military service in Algeria during the war of independence.

From 1960 to 1962 he was sent to Rome to complete his studies in theology and get his bachelor's degree. He was ordained a priest in 1961. From 1962 to 1964, he was sent to the Higher Institute for Liturgy in Paris, while teaching at the major seminary in Châlons-en-Champagne.

From 1965, he was a Professor at the regional seminary of Reims. He chaired many sessions to implement the orientations of the Second Vatican Council.

In 1973, he was appointed to the parish of St Dizier, his hometown, while becoming co-manager of the institute for the training of the educators of the clergy (IFEC) in Paris.

In 1977, he was appointed vicar general of the diocese of Langres. In 1981, he was elected vicar capitular. In May 1982, he was appointed bishop of Évreux, being consecrated into the position on 20 June.[2]

Media attention and controversy

As soon as Bishop Gaillot had taken his place in Évreux he began to engage in activities that may be said to have cost him his position. During his first Easter message he wrote: "Christ died outside the walls as he was born outside the walls. If we are to see the light, the sun, of Easter, we ourselves must go outside the walls." Following this he then stated that: "I'm not here to convince the convinced or take care of the well. I'm here to support the ill and offer a hand to the lost. Does a bishop remain in his cathedral or does he go into the street?. . .I made my choice." Within months Gaillot had begun to act on his word.[3]

In 1983, he supported a conscientious objector before the court in Évreux. During the yearly assembly of the episcopate, he was one of the two bishops (of a total of 110) voting against the episcopate's text on nuclear deterrence, which supported having nuclear arms as a legitimate deterrent.[3]

In 1984 he angered numerous Catholic authorities by refusing to support the movement in defence of French parochial schools.

In 1985, he supported the French Communist Party. This proved to be highly controversial, bringing about the start of a right-wing campaign against Bishop Gaillot. Within his own diocese, Le Figaro spearheaded the campaign. At this point Bishop Gaillot was described as being "a tool of the church's worst enemies".[3]

In 1987, he went to South Africa to meet a young anti-apartheid militant from Évreux sentenced to 4 years in prison by the South African régime. There he also appeared at a demonstration where some Communist militants were also demonstrating. In order to accomplish this trip, he had to renounce going with the diocesan pilgrimage to Lourdes, a move that attracted criticism. Further, in the same year he also announced that the French Bishops "remain too preoccupied by the correct functioning of the church and its structures."[3] This only ensured that the responses to Gaillot when he later attacked the right wing French political party, the National Front, were even stronger. Also in 1987 Gaillot traveled to Athens to show solidarity with a boatload of Palestinian refugees.

In 1988, during a closed-door session of the assembly in Lourdes, he advocated the ordination of married men to the priesthood. After the proceedings had finished Gaillot spoke to the press about the discussions held and also promoted his own viewpoints. By promoting a revision of clerical celibacy and the use of condoms, he caused considerable tension with the French bishops' conference, the situation being exacerbated by the fact that in speaking to the media about the session, Gaillot had violated convention regarding assembly conclaves. He later defended his previous actions, remarking that "I never broke the vow of celibacy ... I only questioned it. But that's worse."[3] Also that year, Gaillot took the unprecedented step for a Roman Catholic bishop of blessing a homosexual union in a "service of welcoming", after the couple requested it in view of their imminent death from AIDS.

In 1989, he participated in a trip to French nuclear testing. He also participated in the ceremony of the transfer of the ashes of the late bishop Baptiste-Henri Grégoire (1750–1831) to the Panthéon, a necropolis for the great men of France. Grégoire had been instrumental in the first abolition of slavery, and the end of discrimination against the Blacks and the Jews during the French Revolution. The hierarchy of the Catholic Church had refused to give him the last sacraments because of Grégoire's acceptance of the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. Gaillot was the only French bishop participating in this ceremony. By this stage in his career, Bishop Gaillot had earned an impressive reputation, both positive and negative. The French journalist Henri Tincq wrote in Le Monde that "[Bishop Gaillot] has the merit of saying out loud what many people in authority in the church think down deep."[3]

Throughout 1989, Gaillot continued to cause considerable tension within the French Bishops' Conference, to the extent that the members of the episcopate voted to censure him. This disciplinary action came after Gaillot gave an interview to the publication Lui, the French equivalent of Playboy. Furthermore, he also gave interviews to leading gay magazines and lambasted the incompetence of the Roman Catholic hierarchy to judge the circumstances of homosexuality. At this point, the bishop offered his resignation to the Pope, should he feel it necessary to remove him; no such action was taken however.[3]

Toward late 1989, he attempted concilatory movements, signing an agreement in which he promised "loyalty" and "docility" to the pope. This agreement did not last long however; within a week, Gaillot had distanced himself from the majority of other bishops by appearing on television to criticise the "feeble state of internal debate in the church" and express his feelings of grief that progress had not been made since the Second Vatican Council.[3]

In 1991, he opposed the Gulf War, publishing a book called Open letter to those who preach war, but let it be waged by others. He also condemned the embargo on Iraq. By the end of 1991, the French Bishops' Conference had censured Gaillot three times, most recently for his intervention in Haiti, rousing support for Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Bishop Gaillot also caused controversy with a number of other actions. He was frequently condemned by others for his numerous television appearances, but justified them by claiming that if people still found a Bishop interesting, then they clearly still found the church interesting.
Cover of one of Bishop Gaillot's books

As well as this, Bishop Gaillot also took a lenient stance with regard women who have had abortions, claiming he was not qualified to judge a woman who found herself in such a scenario.

By 1994, Archbishop Joseph Duval of Rouen, the President of the French Bishops' Conference was attempting to convince Gaillot to cease in his actions; Gaillot however responded by withdrawing his offer of resignation, desiring that the scenario not be reduced to the same response given by the Vatican in the case of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen.

At the height of the controversy that Bishop Gaillot caused during his tenure as Ordinary of Évreux, he was the target of a bitter campaign to disparage his name. Unsubstantiated allegations of homosexuality, racism, anti-Semitism, and psychosis and neurosis were all made by highly placed authorities in the French clergy.[3] Bishop Gaillot countered in kind. He branded Archbishop Duval an "ayatollah" seeking to impose "ideological uniformity" within the French Bishops' Conference. Further, he also compared the leadership style of Cardinal Gantin to those of the East German political police the Stasi.[3]

Testament to Gaillot's strong yearning to reach out to the 'exiled' is the fact that by the time he left office at the Diocese of Évreux he had visited more prisons than any bishop in France's history.

Removal from Évreux

On 13 January 1995, Jacques Gaillot was summoned to a meeting with Bernardin Cardinal Gantin, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops at the Vatican City. He was offered the choice of resigning his see and becoming bishop emeritus of Évreux, or being removed from the see. In the latter case, he would be assigned to the titular see of Parthenia. Gaillot chose not to resign; instead, he left the Vatican and returned to France to give a press conference, providing one short press release to explain the events:

Cardinal Gantin, Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, summoned me to be in Rome on January 12, 1995 at 9:30 am. The threats that were hanging over me for a while came into effect. I had met the deadline. I was told that I had been removed from my function as bishop and that the See of Évreux would be declared vacant starting tomorrow from noon onwards. I was asked to hand in my resignation, which I thought I had good reasons to refuse.
— Bishop Jacques Gaillot, Diocese of Partenia

The See of Parthenia, now located in the desert of Algeria, has not existed in reality since the 5th century when it was in the Roman province of Mauritania. This function is a kind of sinecure with no pastoral responsibilities. Gaillot still continues to reach out however, this time on the internet, as a "virtual bishop".

Gaillot made no coat of arms or episcopal decide for himself either in Évreux or after his removal from that see. He found that to be more in the realm of heraldry and nobility. Asked whether he could yet name a suitable device, he quoted a verse from the Quran (2, 256): En religion pas de contrainte, In religion no coercion.[4]

Reaction to removal

This removal sparked an emotional response from thousands of people across France and the rest of the world. Twenty thousand people, including Gaillot's own mother, attended Bishop Gaillot's last mass at the Cathedral in Évreux and stayed on the streets protesting the Vatican's decision. Protestors united under the leadership of the Communist mayor of the region and marched on the streets during the rain. With the Cathedral full, many people stayed outside for the bishop's last mass. Still being a bishop he left his cross, mitre and staff behind in Évreux.

The choice to remove Bishop Gaillot as ordinary of Évreux was widely seen as a mistake by both lay people and clergy, and also by many non-religious people who had come to view Gaillot favorably. After his removal, a reported forty thousand people wrote letters to the Cathedral office at Évreux, with more being sent to the Vatican and eminent prelates. He was perceived favorably by a significant number of people, particularly due to his ministry to all people without distinction. In addition, he had become a national figure after the sanctions taken against him.[5]

Official polls taken at the time consistently revealed the French public to be against the punishment brought upon Gaillot. One CSA survey showed that total of 64 percent of the public were against the firing of Jacques Gaillot as bishop of Évreux, with only 11 percent approving of his firing and a remaining 25 percent being undecided.[6] Some later polls showed that support for Gaillot might even have been as high as 75 percent.[3]

Reaction from the French clergy varied. While no French bishop expressed public support for Bishop Gaillot, Monsignor Jean-Michel Di Falco, the official spokesperson for the clergy hierarchy, reported that both Cardinal Coffy of Marseille and Archbishop Duval were "visibly troubled" by the actions taken against Gaillot. Duval later released an official statement saying that "I pleaded for patience in Rome". Only weeks later, Duval was on record as saying that he "regretted" the manner in which Rome had dealt with Gaillot. Duval later came to summarise the actions as being "an authoritarian act which cannot be accepted by society, even if it is carried out by the Church".[7]

As well as this the Archbishop of Cambrai, Jacques Delaporte, defended Gaillot saying that "This is a wound for our church... It is a source of misunderstanding for the poor and for all those who seek the truth and who put their trust in the church."[8]

After Évreux

After being removed from his position as prelate of Évreux, Bishop Gaillot wrote the following comment:

I had a dream: to be able to accompany the poor, the excluded, the ignored, without having to explain myself or justify myself to the rich, the secure, or the comfortable. To be able to go where distress calls me without having to give advance notice. To be able to show my indignation at destitution, injustice, violence, the sale of weapons, and managed famines without being considered a meddler in politics. I dreamed of being able to live my faith within the church, but also in society, in my time and with my times. I dreamed of the freedom to think and express myself, to debate and criticise, without fear of the guillotine. I dreamed of the being different within the unity of faith, and remaining myself, alone and yet in solidarity with others. Ultimately, I hoped to be able to proclaim a Gospel of freedom without being marginalised.
— Jacques Gaillot, Voice From The Desert

After leaving the Bishop's Palace, Gaillot immediately moved in with illegal squatters in Paris' infamous Rue de Dragon street. Since then he has shown similar solidarity with the homeless. Bishop Gaillot continues to defend human rights and engage in activism, regularly publishing information about his activities on the website of Partenia.

He remains active as a pastor to the excluded. He also travels throughout France and also internationally, spreading the word of the Christian Gospel and defending those who are considered "outcasts" (namely immigrants). He is an avid anti-war protester and is considered by many to be a strong socialist. Jacques Gaillot had a strong friendship with Abbé Pierre.

In 1995, after his removal as Bishop of Évreux, Gaillot attended a Call to Action conference in Detroit as one of the keynote speakers. He held three sessions, proving to be very popular despite speaking through a translator. He hosted the conference alongside other controversial Catholic Theologians including Professor Hans Küng and Bishop Thomas Gumbleton.[9]

The removal of his responsibility over a specific geographical diocese permitted Gaillot to be even more daring in his activism. Indeed, in 1995 following his removal, Bishop Gaillot engaged in protests regarding the policy of French nuclear testing at Mururoa Atoll in the Tuamotu Archipelago of French Polynesia. Gaillot went with a fleet of protest ships, being on the Greenpeace vessel Rainbow Warrior himself, he was subsequently removed from the ship by French commandos, given that Rainbow Warrior had sailed within the exclusion zone, and escorted back to the atoll.[10]

Gaillot has been so active in his beliefs that he has had to be stopped by the Vatican on numerous occasions, including one time when he was given a direct order by Pope John Paul II to avoid a conference in Italy about homosexuality.[11]

On World Youth Day, in Bonn, 2004, Cardinal Joachim Meisner of Cologne invoked Canon 763, which allows a bishop for some grave reason to prevent another bishop speaking in his diocese, to ban Gaillot from addressing a session of the event on the topic of Being a Christian in the Third Millennium: A Faith which has Hope.[12]

Also in 2004 Bishop Gaillot met with

Preceded by
Jean Marcel Honoré
Bishop of Évreux
Succeeded by
Jacques Louis Antoine Marie David
Preceded by
José Luis Lacunza Maestrojuán
Titular Bishop of Partenia
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New post
Chairman of Droits Devant
Succeeded by
  • Biographical article about Bishop Gaillot
  • Biographical article about Gaillot printed in National Catholic Reporter
  • Biography of Jacques Gaillot, in French
  • Bishop Gaillot's speech at the Call to Action Conference
  • Interview with Bishop Gaillot
  • Official site of Droits Devant (French)
  • Official site of the See of Partenia (English)

External links

  1. ^ Reuters.French Against Vatican Sacking of "Red Cleric" 17 January 1995
  2. ^ Diocese of Partenia. [1] January 2007
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k (subscription required)
  4. ^ Chers amis de Partenia -
  5. ^ Christianity Today. Deposed Bishop Invents Online Diocese, 29 April 1996
  6. ^ La Vie. January 1995
  7. ^ His Holiness pg. 509, Carl Bernstein & Marco Politi
  8. ^
  9. ^ Call to Action. My Option for the Poor 1996
  10. ^ The Militant. Protesters Say `No Nukes In Pacific!' 7 August 1995
  11. ^ BBC News. Bishop's Gay Conference Ban 2 July 2000
  12. ^ Lifesite News. World Youth Day Cardinal Forbids French Dissident Bishop from Speaking in Cologne 2 November 2004
  13. ^ Secretariat of the National Council of Resistance of Iran. [2] 17 August 2004
  14. ^ Diocese of Partenia. Darfur: conscience awakening 1 May 2007


See also

  • Christophe Wargny: Die Welt schreit auf, die Kirche flüstert. Jacques Gaillot, ein Bischof fordert heraus. Herder, Freiburg 1993, ISBN 978-3451230752 (de)
  • Christophe Wargny: Jacques Gaillot : Biographie, Syros, 1.4.1995, ISBN 978-2841461899 (fr)
  • Jean-Marie Muller: Guy Riobé, Jacques Gaillot : Portraits croisés. Desclée de Brouwer, 1.5.1996, ISBN 978-2220038018 (fr)
  • Pierre Pierrard: A nous la parole : Partenia, dix ans. Harmattan 17.10.2012, Kindle Edition, ASIN B00814BKFQ (fr)


In September of 2015, Pope Francis welcomed French Bishop Jacques Gaillot to his Vatican residence. They talked for 45 minutes. Gaillot said the pontiff encouraged him to continue his activism on behalf of migrants and refugees. After the meeting, Gaillot said he was “in love” with Francis.

He has expressed his publical support for euthanasia and same-sex marriage, when it was legalized in France.

Bishop Gaillot has written over a dozen books; one of them, A cry on Exclusion (Coup de gueule contre l'exclusion) got much media attention. The book criticized the French laws on immigration proposed by the then-minister of the Interior, Charles Pasqua. This book was the justification for his demotion by the Catholic hierarchy. Another book released shortly after his demotion was Voice From the Desert: A Bishop's Cry for a New Church. This book was mainly an autobiographical text discussing events surrounding his demotion.

In 2007 Gaillot expanded his use of the internet by posting a video interview on the website Google Video, attempting to bring attention to the escalating violence occurring in Darfur.[14]

Furthermore, Gaillot has also taken position as a well-known public figure in France, fighting for a number of causes; Gaillot serves as the co-chairman of one of France's foremost Human Rights activist groups, 'Droits devant !!' (Rights First), among other groups.


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