France: Sociology’s Difficulty in Determining the Exact Profile of Catholics

Source: FSSPX News

A precipitous fall in the number of practicing Catholics is made glaring in a recent survey of French Catholics published earlier this year.

The survey on French Catholics (cf. DICI no. 350 dated March 3, 2017) conducted under the direction of sociologists Philippe Cibois and Yann Raison du Cleuziou and published on January 12, 2017, by the daily newspaper La Croix and the weekly Pèlerin, gave rise to many reactions and disagreements: this study emphasizes the divisions; the criterion of faith does not agree with this set of sociological classifications; the survey mixes the practice of the faith, political opinions and openness to the world; these are reductive, pejorative labels, etc. And so Yann Raison du Cleuziou responded to question from La Croix, given the objections that have been expressed.

The six profiles in the typology “do not describe persons but collective sensibilities"; this would explain why people do not recognize themselves in them. “At least it is better than the most popular binary typologies: liberals/intransigents; left/right; openness/identity; traditional/progressive, etc.” and it is “no doubt still capable of being perfected”, he adds.The criterion of whether or not one attends Mass and practices the faith, “does not allow us to take into account the different religious sensibilities that coexist among Catholics". And so, he continues, why not study “Catholics when they express different expectations with regard to the Mass, the Church, their way of looking at Jesus? Besides, it is more interesting and significant than simply counting the frequency of Mass attendance”.

Is Attending Mass Enough?

For readers who found the designations of the profiles offensive, Yann Raison du Cleuziou explains that he named them “in terms of the way in which the Catholics concerned describe themselve". “Many, many Catholics” answered him:

You question persons who rarely go to Mass and pick and choose among Magisterial teachings; those are not Catholics, they are in fact Protestants.

He calls them “observant Catholics” and defends himself: “there is nothing pejorative about that”. Likewise for the “conciliar Catholics”, since they “make Vatican Council II a key element in their generational identity”. As for the “seasonal” Catholics [in French: “festifs”], this is a label devised “by the Dominican sociologist Serge Bonnet in the late 1960’s for those who practiced less often"; the Dominican friar, he explains, “wanted to relieve them of the opprobrium by redefining them as ‘seasonal'. Indeed, there is nothing unworthy about resorting to Christian rituals to celebrate the major steps in life”.

The sociologist adds that he is interested “in the Frenchmen who call themselves Catholics” while trying “to understand and to describe what that means for them”. When readers question the ability of sociology to describe Catholicism pertinently, Yann Raison du Cleuziou answers that Bishop Félix Dupanloup, Bishop of Orléans, had asked his priests to count “weekly Mass-goers", thus allowing him to evaluate the decline of the practice of the faith and to remedy it. And even though the map of French religious practice drawn up by Canon Fernand Boulard gave rise to many missionary initiatives in the de-Christianized areas, the sociologist declares that “counting weekly Mass-goers or determining the social factors in religious practice does not say all there is to know about religion".

In fact, at the initiative of Gabriel Le Bras (1891-1970) and Canon Boulard (1898-1977), about ten million people took surveys about their practice of the Catholic faith from 1946 to 1966, and censuses taken at Sunday Masses involved more than four million Catholics from 1949 to 1970. These studies remain today unequaled in their numerical extent, allowing us to certify a precipitous fall in religious practice.