Michel Aupetit, the Archbishop of Paris, was rather new to his role when the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris fire pushed him into the spotlight. But Aupetit was more than ready to take his place in the public square, says Samuel Gregg. In a book review for The University Bookman, Gregg considers the archbishop’s role in the representing the Catholic faith:
Archbishops of Paris have traditionally been seen as representative of Catholicism in France and setting the tone for how the Church engages with French society, especially since the Enlightenment and the Revolution. Some, like the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, proved a spectacular success. Others such as Lustiger’s immediate predecessor Cardinal François Marty were largely invisible. Some, most notably Cardinal Emmanuel Suhard who served as Paris’s archbishop during World War II, made some significant errors of judgment while navigating the darks years of the Occupation.
During April 2019, however, Aupetit proved that he is likely to be a formidable successor to these men. For one thing, he managed the difficult task of underscoring that Notre-Dame is, first and foremost, a Catholic place of worship while simultaneously conveying the sense that the Cathedral’s history since the 1789 Revolution has also made it a type of metaphorical “parish” of those many Frenchmen who live at several removes from Catholic France. The delicacy with which Aupetit articulated these seemingly contradictory positions permitted him to publicly rebuke President Emmanuel Macron when his official address to the nation somehow failed to mention Catholics among the groups affected by Notre-Dame’s burning, while also speaking about Notre-Dame in a way that even the most hardened French atheist found difficult not to be moved by.
Aupetit’s ability to straddle both worlds may owe something to his background, which is unconventional for a French Catholic clergyman.