Cardinal Panafieu served as vicar at Saint-Sauveur di Mazamet, and as chaplain of La Pérouse School, Albi, and of the university parish. He was also chaplain of students in Tolosa, parish dean of Brassac and general secretary of the Presbyteral Council of Albi.
He was elected titular Bishop of Thibilis and Auxiliary Bishop of Annecy on April 18, 1974, receiving episcopal ordination on 9 June.
On November 30, 1978 he was transferred to Aix-en-Provence.
He was appointed Coadjutor Bishop of Marseilles with the right of succession on August 24, 1994, and became Archbishop on April 22, 1995.
Cardinal Panafieu has served as President of the Episcopal Committee for Inter-religious Relations and New Religious Trends, President of the Secretariat for Religious Relations with Islam and a member of the Episcopal Commission for the Universal Mission of the Church.
Archbishop emeritus of Marseilles, May 12, 2006.
Created and proclaimed Cardinal by John Paul II in the consistory of October 21, 2003, of the Title of San Gregorio Barbarigo alle Tre Fontane (St. Gregory Barbarigo at Tre Fontane).
- Pontifical Councils: for Inter-religious Dialogue; for Justice and Peace.