The Reawakening of the Church of France

Unites Catholics and Non-Catholics in
Support of Marriage

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.

Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois

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.

Copyright © Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso Spa for www.chiesa. Posted with permission.

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