How Catholic Is France? by ProQuest

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                      How Catholic Is France?
                                                       You	Might	Be	Surprised
                                                                         Steven Englund


                     T
                             he four-day papal journey to France                         Last December, at St. John Lateran in Rome, Sarkozy as-
                                                                                         serted that the sacrifices of the underpaid village curé, who
                             in September came off seamlessly.                           served his flock in an ambient atmosphere of semi-official
                             Benedict XVI arrived at Orly on Fri-                        anticlericalism, were greater than the sacrifices of the local
                     day, September 12, and was received at the                          instituteur (public school teacher), who was not only slightly
                                                                                         better paid but also far more appreciated. Further, Sarkozy
                     Elysée by President Nicolas Sarkozy. Later, he                      offered the general view that a citizen who has religious faith
                     gave a much-anticipated talk to 640 French                          is probably “stronger” than one who does not. Such a state-
                                                                                         ment would be unexceptional in the United States, but it
                     intellectuals in the great hall of the newly                        amounts to secular heresy in post-Revolutionary France.
                     inaugurated Collège des Bernardins. At the                          Coming from the president of the Republic, it was seen by
                     end of the full day, he preached a homily and                       many (including, oddly, no small number of Catholics) as a
                                                                                         shocking departure from—if not indeed a formal disavowal
                     sang vespers at Notre-Dame.                                         of—the classic French way of laïcité.
                        On Saturday, September 13, Benedict spoke briefly to                The original plan had been for the pope to go only to
                     another group of French érudits, including the members of           Lourdes, for the 150th anniversary of St. Bernadette’s visions.
                     the Institut de Sciences morales et politiques, to which he         Benedict later decided to extend his trip over the Alps to make
                     himself had been elected in 1991. He then celebrated Mass           appearances in Paris, where he was formally the guest of its
                     on the esplanade of the Invalides before 260,000 people. On         archbishop, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois. This change of plans
                     September 14, he journeyed to Lourdes as a simple pilgrim,          was in large measure an act of gratitude to Sarkozy for those
                     but on the following day, he resumed the mantle of Supreme
                     Pontiff to deliver a no-nonsense address to the assembled
                     French episcopacy. That evening, he returned to Rome.
                        In 2005, if the hundred-odd bishops of France had been
                     entrusted with the election of a new pope, Joseph Ratzinger
                     would not have garnered many votes (notwithstanding the
                     enthusiastic support of the late archbishop of Paris, Cardinal
                     Jean-Marie Lustiger, for his German “brother”). But times have
                     changed, and today he would do significantly better; indeed,
                     he might almost win. And if this is so, it is mostly attributable
                     to a noteworthy external development: the unprecedented
. November 7, 2008




                     détente between church and state in France, occasioned by
                     French President Sarkozy and his idea of “positive laïcité.”
                        Elected in May 2007, Sarkozy is a moderate conservative
                     who has long believed that standard-issue French republican
                     animus against Catholicism, dating from the Revolution, is
                     anachronistic, and that, on the contrary, religion in general
                     and Roman Catholicism in particular not only pose no threat
    Commonweal




                     to the Republic but are a foundational element of French
                     culture. As such, they deserve to play a public role in society.
                                                                                                                                                           uchicago.edu




                     Steven	Englund	is NYU Distinguished Professor of History at the
                     American University of Paris. His most recent book is Napoleon:
                     A Political Life.
                                                                                         Jean-Luc Marion

      12
Lateran remarks. And it was in order to continue the dialogue       you to make heads or tails of this dense and refined talk—it
about “positive laïcité” and perhaps increase the chances of        was quite simply a stunning performance.
improving the role of the church in French public life.                At Lourdes, Benedict expressed contentment that “the
                                                                    ancient mistrust or even hostility” between church and state


T
         he pope was not disappointed. In his welcome to the        in France “is little by little disappearing.” He called for “a new
         Vicar of Christ at the Elysée Palace, Sarkozy stoutly      reflection on the true meaning and imp
								
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