Paris’s new archbishop has a very unconventional background

Michel Aupetit, Archbishop of Paris (Getty Images)

“Nobody in my family was practising, except my mother, who went to Mass on Sundays. I have been neither an altar server nor a scout, and I did not go to a Catholic school. My father never went to Church. But my mother taught me and my two brothers to pray,” Michel Aupetit revealed in 2015 to the magazine Paris Match, which usually publishes celebrity lifestyle articles.

“My dream now is to be a country priest”, he added. Two years later, on December 7, the Pope appointed him Metropolitan Archbishop of Paris.

“The wind blows where it wishes.” Michel Aupetit, who was born on 23 March 1951 in Versailles – he is now 66 years old –, yearned to ease the suffering of others and decided to become a doctor. After his secondary studies at the public Lycée Hoche in Versailles, he studied at the Bichat Medical School (University of Paris VII) and he earned a doctorate of medicine in 1978. After that, he worked as a medical professional in Colombes, a small town in the suburbs of Paris, for twelve years. He specialized in medical bioethics and taught this topic in the Henri Mondor Hospital of Créteil.

When he became a doctor, he told his friends: I will work for 10 years, and after that I will take stock. In 1990 – aged 39 –, he decided to enter the seminary of Paris for priestly formation.

“God called me to become a priest as I was a doctor, on the day of a feast of the Virgin Mary,” he said in a recent interview with the French-speaking Catholic TV channel KTO. “I had to fight, because I was thinking of serving others as a doctor and having a family. But God had others thoughts…” Five years later, in June 1995, he was ordained for the Archdiocese of Paris.

The rest of his life was marked by the responsibilities in the Church and the field of medical bioethics. Parish priest (2001-2006), vicar general of Paris and member of the presbyteral council (2006-2013), he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Paris in February 2013 and, only one year later, in 2014, Bishop of Nanterre – a diocese where he had previously worked as a doctor. During that time, he wrote several books about burning questions like “Contraception: the answer of the Church” (Pierre Téqui, 1999), “The embryo: what’s the issue?” (Salvator, 2008), “Death, and after?” (Salvator, 2009). Some months ago, he was appointed president of the “Family and Society” Council within the French Episcopal Conference.

The choice of Mgr Michel Aupetit is a good news for Parisians. In his personality, he is dynamic, simple, spiritual, with a good sense of humour, which is very good for a big diocese like Paris (106 parishes). His clear positions about bioethics and anthropology will be very important in the coming years, especially as the French parliament revises bioethics legislation, as well as the regular attempts to legalise euthanasia, and of the return of abortion to public debate. Because of his age and of his personal history, he will probably give a new spiritual impetus to the Christian faith in the diocese, and force and courage to Catholics.

The inauguration ceremony of the new archbishop of Paris will take place on January 6, 2018 at 6.30 pm in the cathedral Notre-Dame. No doubt: the old medieval building will be completely full!