Bishop Michel Santier in 2013 / Benpup1 / Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Rome Newsroom, Oct 19, 2022 / 08:15 am (CNA).

The Diocese of Créteil in France confirmed last week that its former bishop had been credibly accused of sexual abuse and ordered to live a life of “prayer and penance” by the Vatican last year.

Bishop Michel Santier retired in January 2021 at the age of 73, two years before the age at which bishops are required to submit a letter of resignation to the pope.

Seven months prior, in June 2020, Santier had told Catholics in his diocese he would be retiring early for “health reasons,” according to a report by La Croix.

But the real reason for the early retirement — confirmed by Créteil’s new bishop, Dominque Blanchet, in a press release Oct. 14 — was that Santier was credibly accused in late 2019 of committing sexual abuse as a priest more than 20 years prior.

Blanchet’s press release, read also at Masses in the diocese over the weekend, was published after the French Catholic magazine Famille Chrétienne reported on the disciplinary measures against Santier on Oct. 14.

Famille Chrétienne reported that Santier was ordered to lead a life of prayer and penance by the Vatican in October 2021, 22 months after he was credibly accused, in December 2019, of committing sexual abuse against two adult men in the 1990s.

Another Catholic bishop was recently revealed to have been quietly disciplined by the Vatican for sexual abuse.

Bishop Carlos Filipe Ximenes Belo, a Nobel laureate and bishop from the Southeast Asian nation of East Timor, had restrictions placed on his ministry for sexual abuse of minors in September 2020, Matteo Bruni, director of the Vatican Press Office, said in a Sept. 29 statement.

The Vatican’s confirmation came after a Dutch magazine, De Groene Amsterdammer, published on Sept. 28 an investigation into allegations of abuse, including rape, allegedly committed by Belo against teenage boys, both before and after he became apostolic administrator of Dili in 1988. 

In Bishop Santier’s case, the abuse occurred in the Diocese of Coutances, where Santier, then a priest, served as director of the School of Faith, a one-year prayer training school for young adults aged 18-30, Famille Chrétienne reported.

Santier is reported to have used his influence as a spiritual leader over two young adult men for sexual purposes; the sacraments, in particular the sacrament of confession, were also instrumentalized in the abuse.

Bishop Blanchet, who succeeded Santier as head of the Diocese of Créteil in January 2021, said the Vatican was immediately informed of the accusations in late 2019 and disciplinary measures were taken in October 2021, requiring Santier “to move from his place of retirement to reside in a religious community.”

Santier’s ministry is restricted to the life of that religious community, Blanchet added.

Before October 2021, Santier was living in a parish in his home Diocese of Coutances and Avranches, with a request from the local bishop not to have any direct contact with people under 30 years old, La Croix reported.

Santier is now living at the Saint-Sauveur-le-Vicomte Abbey, the mother house of the Sisters of Christian Schools.

La Croix reported that the allegations were sent to Archbishop Michel Aupetit, then archbishop of Paris, because Créteil is a suffragan diocese of Paris. Aupetit then spoke to Santier and sent a report to the Vatican in December 2019. 

Santier is reported to have then sent a letter of resignation to Pope Francis with an acknowledgment of his abusive actions.

The French bishop announced to his diocese in June 2020 that he would step down in January 2021 with the pope’s permission, citing lung problems. He also mentioned that he had “gone through other difficulties” but did not specify what those were, La Croix said.

According to La Croix, Catholics in the Diocese of Créteil were shocked to learn that the real reason for their former bishop’s retirement was due to historical acts of sexual abuse and that the Vatican’s disciplinary measures against Santier were kept from them for more than two years.

Officials in the diocese said the delay was due to respect for the privacy of the victims and because the case was not finalized until October 2021, La Croix reported.

Santier was ordained a priest in 1973. He led the Diocese of Luçon from 2001 until he was named bishop of Créteil in 2007.