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Bishop of troubled French diocese welcomes Pope’s pick for eventual successor

EVEQUE DE TOULON

CEF

Mgr François Touvet.

Kevin Tanguy - Agnès Pinard Legry - published on 11/24/23

The current bishop of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon, France, has faced an apostolic visitation and the suspension of ordinations since 2022 due to certain practices.

Bishop François Touvet has been appointed coadjutor bishop of the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon by Pope Francis, to ensure a smooth transition from 71-year-old Bishop Dominique Rey. This decision comes after the suspension of priestly ordinations in the Diocese of Fréjus-Toulon in June 2022, and the apostolic visit conducted in early 2023 by two French bishops.

Welcomed “as a brother” by the current bishop

Bishop Dominique Rey sent a heartfelt message to the faithful of the diocese following the announcement of the appointment. He thanked each and every member of the faithful for having shared with him “this time of trial in trust and prayer.” 

“This year and a half of waiting has been particularly difficult and painful for all of us, priests, religious, faithful and especially seminarians. Despite the temptation to anger or incomprehension in the face of this collective sanction, thanks to prayer and the grace of God, we have not given in to discouragement.”

Bishop Dominique Rey
Bishop Dominique Rey

Bishop Rey has been criticized for having unwisely welcomed certain vocations, while at the same time allowing some aberrations on the part of ecclesiastics to grow. “Our diocesan Church will grow from this in humility, forgiveness, questioning, and trust in God and in the Church,” he stressed.

Welcoming Bishop François Touvet “as a brother,” Mgr Dominique Rey recalled that he himself had suggested the appointment of a coadjutor bishop.

A coadjutor bishop is one appointed alongside the diocesan bishop with immediate right of succession. This decision allows the current bishop to remain in office, while preparing a smooth transition to Bishop François Touvet when Dominique Rey turns 75. 

In this case, the man who will most likely become the diocese’s new bishop has a classic profile. He is neither an assertive “conservative” nor a staunch “progressive.” Born in 1965, he entered the seminary at Paray-le-Monial after completing his secondary studies (baccalauréat) in Paris. After training at the seminaries of Besançon and Lyon, he was ordained a priest in June 1992 for the Dijon diocese.

Scout from a military family 

François Touvet grew up in a military family. In his youth, he was a scout and then a leader with the Guides and Scouts of Europe (a Catholic scouting organization), where he made his pledge in 1977. The bishop is a reserve military officer and the brother-in-law of General Pierre de Villiers, former Chief of Staff of the French Armed Forces.

Initially a priest in the Diocese of Dijon, he served as parish vicar, parish priest of doyennés (a grouping of several parishes), episcopal vicar of the northern zone, and vicar-general. He has made a name for himself through his apostolate among the faithful.

In particular, he launched itinerant youth camps on barges on the canals of Burgundy. Indeed, he was heavily involved in youth ministry, notably as religious advisor to the Scouts of Europe, chaplain to the Scouts Unitaires of France, and diocesan chaplain to the Eucharistic Youth Movement (EYM).

Fr. Touvet joined the diocese of the French Armed Forces from 2011 to 2015, as chaplain to the 61st Artillery Regiment in Chaumont and chaplain to the Departmental Gendarmerie Company in Langres. In the Langres diocese, he also served in parishes and assisted the bishop as episcopal vicar and vicar general, between 2010 and 2015. 

Serving the faithful 

He was appointed bishop of Châlons in 2015 at the age of 50. Jean-Marie Guénois, Le Figaro‘s Catholic Church specialist, explains that Bishop Touvet reshaped the parishes under his care with the idea of “oases” led by open fraternities of priests and laypeople, scattered across the territory to be within reach of all. In a profile piece broadcast on KTO in May 2022, he insisted that the aim was to combat a parochialism “that divides, within a Church that unites.”

Two years earlier, at the start of the COVID-19 crisis, the bishop had had the idea of organizing a huge open-air mass in a parking lot.

Bishop François Touvet takes his role as bishop all the more to heart as he “notes the secularization and paganization of our society,” he said to the media outlet La Nef in June 2023. But, “I’m enthusiastic about it,” he adds.  “A bishop must speak courageously, represent the Church with confidence, and teach the Catholic faith without compromise. […] A bishop is often a martyr, sometimes more so internally than externally. Above all, I hold on to the idea of him as a ‘prophet of hope’ (Saint John Paul II).”

Hope for the future

Bishop Rey was particularly pleased with Bishop Touvet’s appointment. “He knows the missionary spirit that animates our Diocese and its strong commitment to Diaconia in the service of the most disadvantaged,” he said in his words to the faithful. In concrete terms, Touvet’s mission will include clergy management, administration, training of seminarians and priests, and support for communities. 

Bishop Rey added, “I entrust to your prayers and to Holy Providence this new collaboration which, I am sure, will bring new dynamism to our Diocese, for the salvation of souls and the greater glory of God.”

The Mass welcoming Bishop Touvet as Coadjutor Bishop will be celebrated on Sunday, December 10, 2023, in Toulon’s Notre-Dame-de-la-Seds Cathedral.

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