The Reawakening of the Church of France
Its public opposition to the law on homosexual marriages is finding agreement even among non-Catholics and nonbelievers. The archbishop of Paris at the lead of the new course. The experiment of the “creative minority”
by Sandro Magister
ROME, December 7, 2012 – No one would have bet on it. But after decades of invisibility and torpor, the French Catholic Church has returned vigorously to the public scene.
It was a minority and a minority it remains, in a country where less than 5 percent of the population goes to Sunday Mass, and where baptisms of children are increasingly rare.
But it is one thing to give up, to and another to be creative. That of “creative minority” is the future that pope Joseph Ratzinger himself has assigned to Catholicism in secularized regions. The Church of France is putting this to the test.
The turnaround came all of a sudden. One sign of foreshadowing was, in mid-August, the prayer that the archbishop of Paris, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois (in the photo), had raised to Our Lady of the Assumption: “May children and young people cease to be the object of the desires and conflicts of adults, in order to enjoy fully the love of a father and mother.” A furious controversy exploded, in a France on the path to legalizing marriage between persons of the same sex, with the possibility of adopting.
But the newspaper “Le Monde” also made a stir by entering the fray in defense of the archbishop, with a commentary signed by a famous literary critic who converted to Catholicism, Patrick Kechichian. “L’Osservatore Romano” reproduced the article on its front page.
The impression, however, was that everything could be reduced to the initiative of the cardinal. And that no one would march behind him.
But in the fall, everything changed. On November 7, gay marriage obtained the approval of the council of ministers. Cardinal Vingt-Trois protested to President François Hollande, Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, and Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, and made public what he had objected to them in private.
The archbishop responded to what the minister had told him, namely that “what is at stake is a reform of civilization,” and said that he too thinks this way, that the issue is precisely this, of a radical change of the nature of man, of the sexes, of procreation. And therefore one cannot get carried away with an act of tyranny of such impact, deciding everything by a majority with a margin of 1 or 2 percent.
To Minister Taubira, who told him: “We are not touching the Bible,” the cardinal rebutted that not even he was bringing this into discussion: “It is a question that concerns man, and this is enough.”
And this is precisely what is new. Against the law on gay marriage a resistance is mobilizing that is not confessional, but humanistic, of men and women with the most varied visions of the world.
On Saturday, November 17 in Paris, and in a dozen other cities, hundreds of thousands of people marched through the streets. The demonstrations were organized by three unexpected figures: the gossip columnist and director of a satyrical newspaper known by the pseudonym of Frigide Barjot, spokeswoman of the “Collectif pour l’humanité durable,” the socialist Laurence Tcheng, of the association “La gauche pour le mariage républicaine,” and Xavier Bongibault, an atheist and homosexual, founder of “Plus gay sans mariage.”
Of the three, only the first is Catholic. No Church association hoisted its banners. The Catholics simply blended into the demonstration. But the official Church blessed everything. That same morning, in Rome, Benedict XVI urged about forty bishops from France on their ad limina visit to “take care to pay attention to proposed civil legislation that could undermine the protection of marriage between a man and a woman.”
Also siding with the Church and against the “reform of civilization”is the feminist philosopher Sylviane Agacinski, wife of the socialist (and Protestant) former prime minister Lionel Jospin.
The archbishop of Paris is no longer a general without an army. The bishops are with him too. They have elected him president of the episcopal conference, something that had never happened with his predecessor Jean-Marie Lustiger, a man of pope Karol Wojtyla but always left alone.
The Church of France was once called the “eldest daughter of the Church.” As a creative minority, it could become that again. Even if it is defeated in the kingdom of this world.
This commentary was published in “L’Espresso” no. 38 of 2012, on newsstands as of December 7, on the opinion page entitled “Settimo cielo” entrusted to Sandro Magister.
Here is the index of all the previous commentaries:
On the crisis that preceded the current reawakening of the Church of France, it is illuminating to read the discussion that was opened in 2005 on the book by Danièle Hervieu-Léger: “Catholicisme, la fin d’un monde,” in which the famous sociologist decreed the definitive removal of French Catholicism from the dominant secular culture.
A reply to Hervieu-Léger came from Gianni Ambrosio, at the time a professor of the sociology of religion at the Theological Faculty of Northern Italy and a general ecclesiastical assistant at the Catholic University of Milan, today the bishop of Piacenza. Ambrosio did not neglect to highlight the faults of the French Church itself:
During that same year, 2005, in neighboring Italy there reached its apex a model of political action of the Church very different from, if not opposite to, the submissive one adopted in France by the bishops. The leader of this model was Cardinal Camillo Ruini, in full agreement with John Paul II and then with Benedict XVI.
In 2004, this model of action produced the approval in parliament, on the part of a large majority of believers and nonbelievers, of a law on artificial fertilization that, although far from the moral teaching of the Church, included some of its essential elements.
The following year, the secular political and cultural forces hostile to that law organized five referendums to repeal it. But they succeeded in bringing to the voting booth just one Italian out of four, falling short of the objective. The Church won, having asked everyone not to go vote.
This Italian affair marked an exception in the trend underway in many countries to approve laws antithetical to the Catholic vision, on crucial issues of life and the family.
In in fact, it is not a given that success will smile upon the Church of France as well, in opposing today the approval of a law on marriage between homosexuals and on their right to adopt children.
Just as in the United States it is not a given that the vigorous opposition of the Catholic bishops will prevail over such provisions made by the Obama administration or by individual states on these matters.
But it must be emphasized that the kind of effort set in motion today by the American and French bishops marks in both cases a turnaround with respect to the past, in both countries.
The new path taken by the Church of France under the leadership of the archbishop of Paris was explained very effectively and in highly interesting detail by the archbishop himself at the conference held last November 19 at the Institut Français-Centre Saint Louis in Rome, during the “ad limina” visit of the French bishops.
Here is the complete transcription:
As for one of the secular personalities who are fighting alongside the Church of France in opposing the law on gay marriage, Sylviane Agacinski, “L’Osservatore Romano” of November 26-27 highlighted her remarks at the last “social issues week” in France:
“Particularly applauded was the speech of the philosopher Sylviane Agacinski on the ‘metamorphoses of differences.’ She strongly criticized those gender studies which present sexual differences as a cultural construction, and she warned about the serious consequences that, for example, procreation through insemination in couples composed of two women could have on the child. Such practices – she said – not only impose ‘a pretense of desexualized conception that is not realistic,’ but ‘risk imposing the right of obscuring the other sex in the conception of these children and of preventing them from having access to their own real origin.’ Children who ‘are not represented politically but whose rights must be defended.'”
Clear opposition to the law on homosexual marriage has been expressed by the chief rabbi of France, Gilles Bernheim, and the president of the French council of Muslim faith, Mohammed Moussaoui.
And from Moscow, in a letter to the archbishop of Paris, Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the department for external ecclesiastical relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, expressed his appreciation that the French “have not remained indifferent to an initiative of the authorities that is unacceptable for Christians.”
“With the present letter, I would like to express my solidarity and my support for your consistent and uncompromising position, which presents the truly Christian point of view on this problem.”
A recent survey by the opinion polling group Bva found a reversal in the trend of French public opinion in 2012. While from 2000 to 2011, the proportion of those in favor of gay marriage was constantly on the increase, from 48 to 63 percent, this year those in favor dropped to 58 percent. And those in favor of adoption by gay couples also fell by six points, from 56 percent in 2011 to 50 percent in 2012.
Against the background of the conflict between the Catholic Church and the Hollande presidency, the threat of confiscating housing owned by the archdiocese of Paris to accommodate the homeless, launched on December 3 in “le Parisien” by minister of territorial equality Cécile Duflot, has had a boomerang effect.
There has been generalized criticism of the minister’s words, in a France in which the housing of derelicts is practically synonymous with the activity of the Church and Abbé Pierre a national monument.
While this is the address that Cardinal Vingt-Trois delivered on November 29 before the parliamentary commission in charge of the proposed law on homosexual marriage:
On another sign of innovation in the Church of France, among the clergy:
English translation by Matthew Sherry, Ballwin, Missouri, U.S.A.