France: French Bishops Pore Over the Visibility of the Church

Source: FSSPX News


From November 3 to 9, the French bishops held their fall plenary meeting in Lourdes. One hundred and twelve bishops from French dioceses (metropolis and overseas departments) still in office, seventeen emeritus (retired) bishops, and three bishops from overseas territories met together with the Apostolic Nuncio in France, Archbishop Fortunato Baldelli. Fifteen bishops, representatives of foreign Bishops’ Conferences, the directors of the national services of the French Bishops’ Conference, the officials of the Conferences of Friars and Sisters, as well as representatives from Christian denominations also attended the meeting.

 Among the topics chosen, we could note the future of places of worship, which is today a fundamental problem for the Church of France. During a symposium organized this past June 26 and 27 by the Committee for the church patrimony of the Department for Culture, Bishop Roland Minnerath, of Dijon, had met two major challenges: first, in cities where “confronted with an increasing population” the Church must provide, at her own expense, new places of worship; in rural areas secondly (80% of the French churches), where the buildings which often belong to little villages are seldom used because of the depopulation of the countryside and the drop in religious practice which causes a diminution of the resources of the dioceses. -- No clue was given as to how the French bishops meant to meet these two challenges.

In his opening address, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, president of the Bishops’ Conference, defended the principle of Sunday’s rest, thus opposing the project of President Nicolas Sarkozy to allow work on Sunday. He mentioned the present financial crisis, and invited the bishops to “reflect upon the organization of the economical and social life.” Concerning the social managing of work time, his opinion was that the “projects of numerous legal derogations to Sunday rest were inscribed within the framework of the mutations of our society towards  a norm of maximal output” which does not take sufficient account of the human costs. To extend work to Sunday, “would be an additional measure towards the destructurization of our collective life.”

On the subject of the upcoming revision of the laws of bioethics, Cardinal Vingt-Trois wondered: “Are scientific research and its medical applications made for the good of man, and for which model of humanity? Do we want to allow a mad race for patents, by any means available, in our developed countries? Do we want to let human beings be intrumentalized and become a commercial good without setting any boundary or measure?”

During this work session, the bishops dealt with the visibility of the Church in the context of general indifference characteristic of modern times. Bishop Claude Dagens, of Angoulême, and author, in 1996, of a report entitled “Proposing the Faith in the Present Society”, declared to his peers that the visibility of the Church was to be reached by a better response to the religious expectations of their contemporaries. According to him, there is no question of a quest for identity. The philosopher Guy Coq, who took part in the debate, stated that visibility was a consequence and not an end, and he preferred to speak not of visibility but of  the Church “coming within the scope” of society.

In his concluding address, Cardinal Vingt-Trois spoke again of the future of the churches in France. He was keen to specify: “It is not a matter for us, Christians, to be cautious heirs of memorials of a religion which, in the past, had been the lifeblood of our countryside, but to be the living actors of the present fecundity of this patrimony (…).  Our churches, all our churches will be open and alive if our lives and our prayers give them life, if they are truly the houses where Christians meet to encounter God.” -- The drastic drop of vocations and the worrying diminution of religious practices make the ambitious program of Cardinal Vingt-Trois difficult to apply. He who only wants to see “living actors of the present fecundity of the (Catholic) patrimony.”

Regarding the visibility of the Church, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Paris added: “If we reflect upon the visibility of the Church, it is not to work out a new method of evangelical marketing. We are not working on the image we wish to give of the Church. We are concerned with our mission of making visible God’s Promise and the fruits of grace through each of our lives. The genuine visibility of the Church in the world, is the visibility of the ecclesial body, of the life of each of its members and their communion in a faith which they live and celebrate together.”

 To conclude, Archbishop Vingt-Trois returned to work extended to Sunday as envisaged by Nicolas Sarkozy: “Sunday, the Day of the Lord, will be respected and recognized by all (…) if we live in such a way that it be not an ordinary day among others in our society, because it is not an ordinary day in our own lives.” (Source: Apic)

 Our comment: We can admire the voluntarist address of the President of the French Bishops’ Conference, but we cannot help noticing the gap between words and reality. With less than 6,000 priests in a few years from now, with a rate of religious practice noticeably low, the Church of France no longer possesses the means to carry out a missionary policy. On the humblest level of daily facts, Catholics wonder: “How can they talk about the visibility of the Church when, for ages, the visible sign of the ecclesiastic garb has disappeared? How can they impose respect for Sunday rest, when for decades, Sunday Mass is celebrated almost everywhere on Saturday evening?

An archbishop’s discourse so out of touch with facts belongs either to autosuggestion or to the “box tongue”, a special type of “wooden tongue” or art of talking without saying anything relevant to the topic, and as you know box is the wood rosary beads are made of… The cardinal only managed to convince the faithful of a growing malaise. The lack of visibility of the Church today is not only explained away by contemporary religious indifference. It is also caused by an unprecedented identity crisis; but Bishop Dagens dreaded an “identity quest”… The much reduced visibility of today’s Church is also caused by post-Conciliar contempt for Tradition, evidenced by repeated acts of repentance, etc. Yet, Archbishop Vingt-Trois feared to be the “cautious heir of memorials of a religion which was the life blood of our countryside in the past.”

The true fear of some French bishops is to see the cause of the present situation clearly identified. This would amount -- and they are well aware of it -- to question their disastrous pastoral methods. They waved the specter of Tridentine triumphalism, or the scarecrow of an era akin to that of Emperor Constantine…, in reality, they especially do not want to hear about Christian institutions, which are visible. Thus they wanted to be content with a “presence” in the world, and later they advised “burying themselves” in the world. With the Dagens report, it was a mere matter of “proposing the faith” to the present society. Today they go from the proposal to the Church “coming within the scope” of society. We can imagine other formulae: to suggest the Gospel, to susurrate the Beatitudes, to whisper the Decalogue, to murmur the Apocalypse…