Obituary: Bishop Daniel Pezeril

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The Independent Online
AMID a French Catholic hierarchy that has grown steadily more conservative over the past decades, Daniel Pezeril was a reminder of the reforming days of the Second Vatican Council. He presented the Church's open face in reconciliation with the Jews and with Freemasons, as well as offering support and pastoral care to immigrants. As assistant bishop of Paris from January 1968 until his retirement in October 1986, he was a highly visible and approachable public figure.

Born in Chile, Pezeril was ordained priest in Paris in 1937. During the Nazi occupation he issued more than a thousand false baptism certificates to Jews, escaped prisoners and to others at risk. His actions to save Jews eventually led to his being recognised in 1996 as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

In 1973, as assistant bishop of Paris, Pezeril was one of three leading clergymen to issue a document on the Church's relationship to the Jews which went beyond the position then held by the Church. It spoke of the "eminent and permanent" place accorded the Jewish people and called for Vatican recognition of the State of Israel. Praised by France's chief rabbi, Jacob Kaplan, the document was heavily criticised by others, especially on the left.

Pezeril's attempts to bring reconciliation with the Freemasons were equally delicate. In 1971 - at the invitation of Pierre Simon, grand master of the Grand Lodge of France - he became the first bishop since 1789 to address a Masonic Lodge. He came in for sharp criticism, but merely responded: "I have only done my duty as a bishop."

While he was still a parish priest in the capital, Pezeril was instrumental in establishing the Interdiocesan Service for Immigrant Workers, which offered practical support for immigrants, such as helping those with no papers to gain documentation. His own birth in Chile perhaps contributed to his lifelong interest in Latin America and he frequently expressed his solidarity with those suffering under the dictatorship of General Pinochet and concern over the fate of the "disappeared" in Argentina, as well as championing of the cause of Archbishop Oscar Romero, assassinated in El Salvador in 1980.

A writer of numerous books himself, Pezeril took a lively interest in France's cultural life and was particularly close to Georges Bernanos as well as other writers like Francois Mauriac. In 1991 Pezeril published Bernanos's notebooks for his last novel, Monsieur Ouine.

Immediately after the Second World War Pezeril had served as chaplain to the Centre for French Catholic Intellectuals, and had established an informal parish in the heart of Paris's Latin Quarter in 1948.

Daniel Pezeril, priest: born La Serena, Chile 5 October 1911; ordained priest 1937; Assistant Bishop of Paris 1968-86; died Paris 22 April 1998.