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Jean-Marie Lustiger

Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger

Jean-Marie Lustiger (born September 17 1926, French clergyman, usually referred to as Jean-Marie Cardinal Lustiger, has been Archbishop of Paris since January 1981, and has been a Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church since February 1983.

(Note that Lustiger pronounces his surname in the French form Loo-sti-zhair.)

Table of contents
1 Career
2 Opinions
3 Controversy


Lustiger was born Aron Lustiger in Paris, of a Polish Jewish family who had settled in France before World War I. When the Germans occupied France in 1940, he was sent to live with a Christian family in Orléans. He converted to Catholicism, despite the objections of his parents, and received baptism on August 21 1940. His parents were deported, and his mother died in Auschwitz extermination camp (his father survived).

Lustiger was educated at the University of Paris (the Sorbonne), where he graduated in arts, and at the Catholic Institute of Paris. He was ordained on April 17 1954. From 1954 to 1959 he was an aumônier (chaplain) at the University of Paris. From 1959 to 1969 he was director of Richelieu Centre, which trains university chaplains. From 1969 to 1979 he was Pastor of the Church of Sainte-Jeanne-de-Chantal, in an inner suburb of Paris.

In November 1979 Lustiger was appointed Bishop of Orléans. In January 1981 he was promoted to the metropolitan see of Paris. He was made a Cardinal in February 1983, becoming priest of the Church of Saints Marcellino and Pietro in Rome. He became a member of the Académie Française in 1995.


Like all the senior prelates appointed by Pope John Paul II, Lustiger is conservative in his views on theology and morals and upholds the authority of the Pope in these areas: "There are opinions and there is faith," he said in 1997. "When it is faith, I agree with the Pope because I am responsible for the faith."

On the other hand Lustiger's background has made him an outspoken opponent of racism and anti-Semitism. He has been strongly critical of Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French National Front. He has compared Le Pen's anti-immigrant views with Nazism. "We have known for 50 years that the theory of racial inequality can be deadly.... It entails outrages," Lustiger has said. "The Christian faith says that all men are equal in dignity because they are all created in the image of God."


Lustiger is the only Catholic prelate in modern times who was born Jewish, a fact which has inevitably made him a controverisial figure. He says he is proud of his Jewish origins and describes himself as a "fulfilled Jew." On becoming Archbishop of Paris, he said: "I was born Jewish and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many. For me, the vocation of Israel is bringing light to the goyim. That is my hope and I believe that Christianity is the means for achieving it."

(In this statement Lustiger was using the word "Israel" in the sense of "the Jewish people" and not as a reference to the State of Israel.)

Remarks like this give offence to some religious Jews, who regard Lustiger as an apostate. Some Jews say Lustiger has no right to call himself a Jew. Under Jewish religious law Lustiger is not a Jew, despite being born of a Jewish mother, because he has converted to another religion. Others say that "Jew" is an ethnic designation as well as a religious one, and that Lustiger is entitled to call himself a Jew in this sense. They point out that he was classed as Jewish under the anti-Semitic laws of Nazi Germany and Vichy France. His strong support for the State of Israel, which is at odds with the Vatican's officially neutral but in practice anti-Israeli position, has also won him some support from Jews.

In 1998 Lustiger was awarded the Nostra Aetate Award for advancing Catholic-Jewish relations by the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding, an interfaith group housed on the campus of Sacred Heart University, a Catholic university at Fairfield, Connecticut in the United States. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organisation, protested against the award, saying it was "inappropriate" to honour Lustiger, who was born a Jew but left the faith. "It's fine to have him speak at a conference or colloquium," said the league's national director Abraham Foxman. "But I don't think he should be honored because he converted out, which makes him a poor example."

Lustiger has always been a favourite of Pope John Paul, partly because of his background (he speaks Polish as well as Yiddish and French), and partly because he has staunchly upheld the Pope's conservative views in the face of much hostility from liberal Catholic opinion in France and general French anticlericalism. This has led to some speculation that Lustiger may be a candidate to succeed John Paul as Pope. He always refused to discuss any such possibility.

Since Lustiger is already 77, the longer the Pope lives the less likely is the chance that Lustiger will succeed him. Most observers of Vatican politics think it unlikely that the College of Cardinals would risk the political and diplomatic complications that might arise from electing a pro-Israeli Jewish Pope.