Fr. Henri Madelin, S.J. to Le Figaro: “Faith is becoming a counterculture”

Source: FSSPX News


 The recent survey published by Le Monde des Religions of January-February 2007 (see DICI no. 148), has aroused several reactions. According to this CSA inquiry, 51% of the French declared themselves Catholics and only half of these believe in the existence of God. Amongst Catholics, 52% never go to church apart from ceremonies such as baptisms, marriages and funerals, 17% go “regularly” of whom 8% attend Mass every Sunday. Among those who consider themselves Catholic, 81% are “very” or “quite” favorable to marriage for priests and 79% are for admission of women to the priesthood. Finally, 71% have a good opinion of Benedict XVI.

Here is an interview which Fr. Henri Madelin, S.J., former editor of the revue Etudes, member of the Catholic Office for Information and the Initiative on European problems (OCIPE), gave to the January 10, 2007 issue of Le Figaro. The evidence of the secularization of society, in other words its de-Christianization, is clear and regrettable, nevertheless, Fr. Madelin blames “the monopoly of regency on consciences” for a long time exercised by the Church; the outlook for the future is: the image of God developing according to culture, and becoming emancipated from its European guardianship, the ordination of married men and the admission of women to the diaconate… Emphasis below ours.


Is France still Catholic?

 Judging by the figures, we would have to say no. However, I recall these words spoken by Sartre after the war, affirming that “we are all Catholics.” This allows us to escape from the ambiguity of this survey. Is it a matter of a cultural membership – if so, France is still mainly Catholic – or of a believing membership? In the latter case the figures are worrying. They express a veritable collapse and Sartre’s words become less certain. The sociologist Danièle Hervieu-Léger speaks of an “exculturation” of the values of the Church: the great reference points of life are opposed by a plurality of cultural approaches.

 We can see this, for example, with homosexual parenthood or the question of the masculine and feminine genders. All of the values which have kept France going, which go beyond religious membership and which the whole of society has made its own, are today under attack. If we continue along this road, the practice of the Catholic faith will become a counterculture.


Could we talk of a minority culture?

 Without doubt, if we consider the Catholics who put their faith into practice. But for me living in Brussels, it is not something specifically French. A Belgian bishop recently said that his Church would soon find itself as much in the minority as the Church in Turkey, in a configuration where the influence is no longer that of primeval mold.


Are you worried?

 It grieves me for Europe and for Catholicism. In his book God and Europe, Jean Boissonnat broaches this situation lucidly. But if Christians no longer see the extraordinary gift which has been made to them historically from the Orient, then other continents, other churches are going to take possession of these riches, considered here as poverty. I am thinking of Africa, or Vietnam and India, and also without doubt, in the future, China. They will know how to invest in it! The Catholic religion does not belong to the Europeans or the French. They received it but if rejected it, it will go elsewhere. The image of God could develop according to cultural tastes, becoming emancipated from its European guardianship.


How do you explain the fact that Catholics, impervious to dogma according to the survey, remain very attached to the pope?

 The number of children catechized has fallen to a very low level in France. This point, absent from the survey, and over which the Church draws a discreet veil, is nonetheless crucial. It explains why, as we are of the second un-catechized generation, French Catholics do not adhere to dogmas. They simply no longer know them! But I also think that society makes the Church pay for the monopoly of the regency she long exercised over consciences. As the British sociologist Grace Davie confirms, European Catholics are henceforth in a logic of “believing without belonging.” As for their having a good opinion of Benedict XVI, which is highlighted in the survey, it is typical of “cultural Catholics.” The Pope defends the values they believe in: humanitarian, humanistic… He is also reaping the fruits of the preceding papacy. But in a world threatened with a clash of civilization, Benedict XVI is also considered as a bastion against forces such as Islam.


However, the survey shows a stability of Islam, at 4%…

 Here again, we must make a distinction between culture and practice. This survey does not say everything. In particular, for Catholics, the birth of a strong Catholicism, ready to evangelize modern society, and which considers this crisis as a divine purification.


Do you think that the Church ought to follow the opinion of those faithful in favor of married priests or women priests?

 The Church will probably ordain married men. But this is a simple question of planning. The problem is much more profound. As for women, change is desirable, especially as regards the diaconate. The faithful will have to get used to seeing them progress in sacred areas and get rid of archaic fantasies concerning impurity for example. But the future also belongs to the laity. And I am impressed today by their capacity to gain admittance to debates in French society.