The sanctuary of Lourdes is going to receive canonical status: the text which would raisne Lourdes to a national sanctuary was presented to the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF) in a “virtual” meeting in plenary assembly on November 6, 2020, and was adopted the next day.
Behind this change, of an essentially legal nature, there is the Roman desire to put an end to the old governance of the sanctuary - exercised until 2019 at the diocesan level - accused of “insisting on the financial aspect too much.”
A Little Background
In order to redress an increasingly alarming financial situation, given the slow but steady decline in the number of pilgrims, the Bishop of Tarbes and Lourdes, Mgr. Nicolas Brouwet, in 2016 made an appeal to Guillaume de Vulpian, former director of human relations at Renault.
The former executive carries out his duties competently, helping to “restore financial balance from 2018,” according to La Croix. Good results obtained at the cost of “aggressive management” which led to much “tension” among staff unfamiliar with business management methods.
Not to mention the controversies surrounding the new votive light stands or the increase of one euro - per day and per pilgrim - in the contribution requested for organized pilgrimages.
The discontent dates back to Rome when on May 31, 2019, the Pope, in order to ensure the direct management of the sanctuary, appointed an apostolic delegate ad nutum Sanctae Sedis, in the person of Mgr. Philippe Hérouard, auxiliary bishop of Lille. Bishop Hérouard who did not conceal that he had received from the Pope the mission to “reflect on a canonical statute.”
In fact, there are three possible types of statutes. A diocesan statute: which is the current status of the Sanctuary, even if it is not canonically defined, and which can lead to conflicts of jurisdiction. Further, the diocese of Tarbes and Lourdes does not always have the ability to provide chaplains and a rector to operate the Sanctuary. Finally, the life of the Sanctuary extends beyond diocesan life.
The second possibility, chosen and voted on, is that of a national sanctuary. The Church of France consequently has a responsibility towards Lourdes and is more involved in the internal life and governance of the Sanctuary. So, the statutes will be voted on by the CEF.
A final possibility would be an international sanctuary. But oddly enough, the existing international shrines around the world are rather small, for example, Fatima or Aparecida are national sanctuaries. Further, the international sanctuaries are managed directly by Rome: there would then be two bishops, one for the diocese and one for the Sanctuary.
The New Situation of the Sanctuary
In the new governance adopted on November 7, the diocese cedes a good part of its former prerogatives: from now on, the rector of Lourdes will be appointed by the permanent council of the CEF, on the proposal of the bishop of the diocese.
An episcopal advisory council will be created, made up of bishops also appointed by the CEF, under the presidency of the local ordinary, in order to “outline the activity of the Sanctuary.”
The shrine's economic affairs council, which was already set up in January 2020 to “bring together” local “other actors” around the diocese, is included in the new statutes.
These now only have to be sent to the Vatican for approval, which should not pose a problem, since they were in fact written in collaboration with the departments of the Roman dicasteries concerned.