FaithWorld

Pope balances church and state in Paris speech

President Nicolas Sarkozy and Pope Benedict arrive at Elysee Palace, 12 Sept 2008/Philippe WojazerThe French are a tough audience to please and speaking to them about church-state relations is a tall order. Pope Benedict got right down to it at the start of his visit to France, using his courtesy call on President Nicolas Sarkozy to outline his view of the role religion should play in the public sphere. Fluent in French and well-read in the country’s history and culture, he made several interesting points in his short speech.

Here’s the part on church-state relations:

During your visit to Rome, Mr President, you called to mind that the roots of France – like those of Europe – are Christian. History itself offers sufficient proof of this: from its origins, your country received the Gospel message. Even though documentary evidence is sometimes lacking, the existence of Christian communities in Gaul is attested from a very early period: it is moving to recall that the city of Lyon already had a bishop in the mid-second century, and that Saint Irenaeus, the author of Adversus Haereses, gave eloquent witness there to the vigour of Christian thought. Saint Irenaeus came from Smyrna to preach faith in the Risen Christ. This bishop of Lyons spoke Greek as his mother tongue. Could there be a more beautiful sign of the universal nature and destination of the Christian message? The Church, established at an early stage in your country, played a civilizing role there to which I am pleased to pay tribute on his occasion. You spoke of it yourself, during your address at the Lateran Palace last December. The transmission of the culture of antiquity through monks, professors and copyists, the formation of hearts and spirits in love of the poor, the assistance given to the most deprived by the foundation of numerous religious congregations, the contribution of Christians to the establishment of the institutions of Gaul, and later France, all of this is too well known for me to dwell on it. The thousands of chapels, churches, abbeys and cathedrals that grace the heart of your towns or the tranquility of your countryside speak clearly of how your fathers in faith wished to honour him who had given them life and who sustains us in existence.

Pope Benedict listens as President Sarkozy speaks at Elysee Palace, 12 Sept 2008/poolMany people, here in France as elsewhere, have reflected on the relations between Church and State. Indeed, Christ had already offered the basic criterion upon which a just solution to the problem of relations between the political sphere and the religious sphere could be found. He does this when, in answer to a question, he said: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mk 12:17). The Church in France currently benefits from a “regime of freedom”. Past suspicion has been gradually transformed into a serene and positive dialogue that continues to grow stronger. A new instrument of dialogue has been in place since 2002, and I have much confidence in its work, given the mutual good will. We know that there are still some areas open to dialogue, which we will have to pursue and redevelop step by step with determination and patience. You yourself, Mr President, have used the expression “laïcité positive” to characterise this more open understanding. At this moment in history when cultures continue to cross paths more frequently, I am firmly convinced that a new reflection on the true meaning and importance of laïcité is now necessary. In fact, it is fundamental, on the one hand, to insist on the distinction between the political realm and that of religion in order to preserve both the religious freedom of citizens and the responsibility of the State towards them; and, on the other hand, to become more aware of the irreplaceable role of religion for the formation of consciences and the contribution which it can bring to—among other things—the creation of a basic ethical consensus within society.

Breakaway Catholics hope Lourdes changes pope’s views

Prayer candles at Lourdes, 5 Nov 2006/Regis DuvignauThe arch-traditionalist Fraternity of Saint Pius X, which broke with Rome two decades ago and saw its bishops excommunicated, hopes Pope Benedict’s visit to Lourdes this weekend will inspire him to roll back the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The SSPX rejects the Council’s opening to other religions and upholds strict adherence to Catholic traditions such as the old Latin Mass. It was encouraged when Pope Benedict allowed wider use of the Tridentine liturgy last year. But in recent talks on possibly reentering the Roman fold, it once again baulked at accepting the authority of a pope who defends the 1962-1965 Council. Many ailing Catholics turn to Lourdes as their last hope for healing after all else fails. Is this a sign the SSPX might see Lourdes as its last hope too?

Rev. Régis de Cacqueray Valmenier, superior of the SSPX’s district in France, stressed in a communique that the breakaway Catholic group welcomed his visit and maintained an“unswerving attachment to the Apostolic See.”

But the rest of his statement made clear it was still at odds with Benedict:

“Let us pray the rosary to the Very Holy Virgin Mary so that the successor of Peter, in this terribly difficult epoch when he must govern the Church, may find at Lourdes the lucidity and the strength to recognise, denounce and extirpate the Council’s errors which are essentially the origin of the crisis in the Church.

The Pope and Carla – a photographer’s dream

Pope Benedict at a recent general audience at the VaticanDuring a Vatican briefing this week on Pope Benedict’s trip to France, a television producer got up and asked the question that surely was foremost in the minds of many photographers and television crews struggling to hold back yawns as subjects such as France’s secular history were discussed:

Will Carla Bruni be at the airport to welcome the pope?

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi smiled. He said Carla Bruni’s husband — who happens to be Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France – had made it known that he might be at the airport. But he said he did not know if Bruni would be there. Heads of state usually wait for popes at their palaces but sometimes, to show their added respect for the pontiff, they also go to the airport.

In Paris, government officials confirmed Sarkozy would break protocol and greet Benedict at Orly airport, something he is not required to do because this is an official visit rather than a more formal state visit. They said they expected Carla to be there … but didn’t want to be quoted on that.

What’s said and unsaid in French pre-visit pope cover

Le Canard enchaîné front page, 10 Sept 2008France wouldn’t be France if it didn’t satirise the high and mighty — especially when the target is none other than head of the Roman Catholic Church which once held so much power here.canard-headline-2.gif

With Pope Benedict due to arrive on Friday for his first official visit, the French satirical press is having a field day poking fun at him, Catholics, Church doctrine and anything else to do with religion. Being militantly anti-Catholic is a badge of honour for a certain type of secularist French intellectual, so this week’s editions of their favourite journals were bound to zero in on Benedict. But there’s an interesting twist…

Le Canard enchaîné (picture above), a weekly that mixes satire and investigative journalism, something like Private Eye in Britain, leads its front page with a spoof story claiming Benedict (Benoît XVI in French) has been listed in a controversial classified police registry dubbed Edvige. Pretty tame stuff. Its main scoop — the Canard is a must-read for Parisian political gossip — is the claim that President Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to attend just about every important event during Benedict’s stay in France. Like many other anonymously sourced Canard scoops, this may or may not be true. Sounds likely, though…

1.5 million euro bill for 24 papal hours in Paris

Altar for papal Mass being built outside Les Invalides, 9 Sept 2008/Tom HeneghanOne and a half million euros ($2.1 million) for 24 hours in Paris? No, we’re not talking about some luxury visit, but the stopover that Pope Benedict will make on Friday and Saturday on his way to the shrine at Lourdes. The pontiff apparently did not even plan to visit the capital on his first trip to France, meant to mark the 150th anniversary of the apparitions of the Virgin Mary there. But the city’s archbishop, Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, argued for a stop in the City of Light and Benedict agreed.

The Archdiocese of Paris has offered an interesting peek into the costs of a papal visit as part of a public appeal it made to Catholics to help foot the bill. The archdiocese expects to cover all costs without having to dip into its own funds. At a media briefing on Monday, it presented pie-charts (which the French call “camemberts”) breaking down projected expenditure and income. The costs for security, which must be considerable, are assumed by the state and not included in these totals.

On the cost side, the largest chunk of the 1.5 million euro budget — 52% — will go for 15 giant screens that will be set up along the left bank of the River Seine on Friday to show live broadcasts of the pope’s activities during the day. They will then be switched to the Espalanade des Invalides, a spacious green in western Paris, to transmit his Mass to the crowd of 200,000 expected there on Saturday morning.

French Ramadan trial story revives church-state debate

A Ramadan soup kitchen in Paris, 16 Oct 2006/Charles PlatiauShould a court delay the opening of a trial because a Muslim defendant is weak due to the Ramadan fast? A dispute has broken out in France about this because a court in Rennes allowed just such a delay for a French Muslim accused of armed robbery. His lawyer had said his client would be in “great physical and psychological weakness” due to the fast. Critics promptly cried foul and accused the court of violating laïcité, France’s separation of church and state. The Rennes public prosecutor denied the decision was made for religious reasons, citing other complicating factors he said must be resolved before the trial could start.

The case looks like the “virginity lie” dispute back in June. In both, a court is accused of wrongly taking religious considerations into account to give a ruling favourable to Muslims. The court denies the charge. In the end, it turns out that the lawyer involved got the desired ruling without formally arguing for it on religious grounds. It all seems legitimate but leaves the impression with the public that exceptions are being made for Muslims.

A lawyer for one of the seven men on trial in Rennes on the armed robbery charges further complicated things by saying the real issue was discrimination. “I don’t understand this uproar in the media when it’s normal procedure to obtain a delay because of Jewish or other feast days,” Yann Choucq said. “And there are no court hearings on Christmas or Easter.  Are some religions more respectable than others?”

Low-key “first” as cardinal attends Paris iftar dinner

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois and Rector Dalal Boubakeur, 3 Sept 2008/Tom HeneghanSome “firsts” take place amid crowds and television cameras, others happen more quietly. The Grand Mosque of Paris chose the low-key approach when it received Cardinal André Vingt-Trois on Wednesday evening for an iftar dinner. It was the first that a Roman Catholic archbishop of the French capital had visited its leading mosque for the traditional meal breaking the Ramadan fast. After a short prayer by an imam and introductory remarks, they sat down to an North African-style dinner of spicy chorba (soup), chicken and olives and dessert of honey pastries and mint tea.

France is home to Europe’s largest Muslim minority, about five million, and interfaith contacts often depend on the personalities involved, especially at the local level. Pope Benedict will meet a delegation of French Muslims — some national leaders such as the cardinal’s host, Paris Grand Mosque Rector Dalil Boubakeur, and some local leaders active in Christian-Muslim dialogue — when he visits Paris next week.

Grand Mosque of Paris courtyard, 3 May 2008/Tom HeneghanBoubakeur thanked Vingt-Trois for the support the Church had given its “immigrant brothers” over the years, especially help to integrate young Muslims. In one such project, the Catholic Institute of Paris offers courses on French politics, law and secularism for future imams studying Islamic theology at the Grand Mosque.

Paris archdiocese restores medieval college as faith forum

Main hall of the College des Bernardins in Paris, 1 Sept 2008/Charles PlatiauOne of the largest medieval buildings in Paris reopens this week as a forum for discussion about faith in the modern world after more than two centuries being used mostly as a fire station and police training centre. The Collège des Bernardins was founded in 1247 by the English Cistercian monk Stephen of Lexington as a residential college for the order’s monks. After the French Revolution, it was taken over by the city.

The Roman Catholic archdiocese of Paris bought the building and spent five years renovating it to house its theology school and host debates, conferences, art exhibitions and evenings of film and music. Its first major event will be a speech on faith and culture by Pope Benedict, who will address an audience of 700 personalities from the world of French culture on the first day of his Sept. 12-15 visit to France.

The college, whose name comes from its original designation as St. Bernard’s College, stands on the Left Bank just off the Boulevard Saint Germain. The five-year restoration highlighted the building’s simple Gothic architecture while adding modern comforts such as heating, air conditioning and WiFi (see video). The college aims “to serve mankind in all its dimensions — its emotions, its intelligence, its liberty, its relations and its faith”.

Dalai Lama gets almost top treatment in France

Dalai Lama and Carla Bruni-Sarkozy at Lerab Ling temple in Roqueredonde, southern France, 22 August 2008/Philippe LaurensonSensitive about possibly upsetting Beijing, President Nicolas Sarkozy decided not to meet the Dalai Lama during the Tibetan spiritual leader’s current visit to France. But he sent an envoy who got just as much media coverage (if not more) than he would have — his wife. Carla Bruni-Sarkozy (left), the pop singer and former supermodel Sarkozy married in February, attended the consecration of a Tibetan Buddhist temple in southern France on Friday. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, Human Rights Minister Rama Yade and former prime minister Alain Juppé were also at the Lerab Ling temple, but French media made only fleeting references to their presence.

Read our report by correspondent Estelle Shirbon here.

Segolene Royal and Dalai Lama, 16 August 2008/poolEven before any comment came from China, France’s opposition Socialist Party criticised the meeting as “a serious slide into celebrity- mania (“peopolisation”) in political life” and rapped the two ministers for taking a secondary role at the ceremony. “They should have received the Dalai Lama in a secular and official setting,” a party spokesman said.

Not that the Socialists are opposed to meeting the Dalai Lama. In fact, former Socialist presidential candidate Ségolène Royal (above) held talks with him last week and said afterwards that she wanted to visit Tibet soon.

Did Saddleback “faith quiz” cross church-state divide?

John McCain, Rick Warren and Barack Obama at Saddleback Civil Forum, 17 August 2008/Mark AveryDid Rick Warren’s Saddleback Civil Forum with John McCain and Barack Obama violate the separation of church and state? Was it right for a pastor to ask U.S. presidential candidates about their belief in Jesus Christ or their worst moral failures? Will the success of the Saddleback Civil Forum mean that major televised interviews or debates about faith will become a regular fixture in American political campaigns?

I didn’t think questions like this got enough of an airing in U.S. media before Saturday’s event. The fact that Warren made it such an interesting evening made me think the fundamental question — should there be a televised “faith quiz” at all? — would be crowded out of the public debate. The initial reactions angled on the winner/loser question or the “cone of silence” issue seemed to bear this out. But some commentators and blogs are now zeroing in on the deeper question.

Obama and Warren, 17 August 2008//Mark AveryIn the New York Times, columnist Willian Kristol (Showdown at Saddleback) applauded the event and said: “Rick Warren should moderate one of the fall presidential debates.” That says a lot about the quality of the usual televised debates but little about the church-state question. Ruth Ann Dailey’s op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette put her answer about the church-state question right in the headline: At Saddleback, the wall stands firm.