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La France Catholique Renaissante: Get Religion, August 14, 2012 August 14, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Get Religion, Press criticism, Roman Catholic Church.
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Everything is at root dependent on politics

Jean Jacques Rousseau

The Feast of the Assumption of Mary — August 15 — will be marked by the Catholic Church in France by the revival of prayers for the eldest daughter of the Church (France).

Reuter’s report on the prayers characterizes them as:

opposing the same-sex marriage and euthanasia reforms planned by the new Socialist government.

The prayer, to be read in all churches on Aug 15, echoes the defense of traditional marriage by Pope Benedict and Catholic leaders around the world as gay nuptials gain acceptance, especially in Europe and North America.

King Louis XIII decreed in 1638 that all churches would pray on Aug 15, the day Catholics believe the Virgin Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven, for the good of the country. The annual practice fell into disuse after World War Two.

While there may be more to the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary than its being of benefit to France, overall this article is nicely done — tight, balanced and precise. Yet I cannot help but wonder if an American political lens is the one through which this prayer is being viewed. The Reuter’s article demonstrates there are political ramifications to the prayers — but should these be the focus of the story?

The article states the prayer that children “cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother” is a rejection of gay adoption, while the prayer that Catholics pray for government leaders “so that their sense of the common good will overcome special demands” is a rejection of the Socialist government’s plans to authorize gay marriage and euthanasia.

The article notes:

The prayer is unusual for French bishops, who usually keep a low political profile. Church spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said they wanted to “raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices.”

The article also ties the story into a wider global political context citing Pope Benedict XVI’s January statement that gay marriage threatened the “future of humanity itself” along with the political push to legalize gay marriage in the U.S. and the U.K.

A front page interview in Le Figaro printed on 14 August with the Archbishop of Lyon, Mgr. Phillipe Barbarin entitled: «Il ne faut pas dénaturer le mariage» may strengthen a political interpretation of these prayers. In response to questions from Le Figaro about their political nature, Mgr. Barbarin stated:

Politics is not a “dirty word”! Prayer has a political dimension, but it is primarily a spiritual act. We turn to God with confidence, asking his help for our loved ones, especially those living in hard times. Nothing is more natural than to pray for our family or our country. [Catholic] prayer has never ignored the issues of social life, let alone human suffering. We can say that our prayer is marked by the living conditions of the society in which we find ourselves.

Nicely said — I would almost characterize this as an American response that defends the place of religion in the public square. American in that, as Reuters notes, the French hierarchy has a reputation of being politically supine.

Le Figaro responds by asking whether the church’s intervention crosses a line, violating the secular nature of the state. And Mgr. Barbarin again pushes back:

Secularism prohibits prayer? Is that what you are asking? Do we live in tyranny? Must  we submit our rituals and our formularies to the dictates of group think? … The situation is serious. … But the primary mission of the church is prayer, and I hope she will be faithful to that calling and speak regardless of public opinion.

But when we get to the text of the prayer, through a question from Le Figaro asking why the church would use the occasion of the Assumption Day prayers to express its opposition to “gay marriage and the adoption of children by such couples”, Mgr. Barbarin changes tack.

Have you read this prayer? None of the phrases you use is there. We can pray for the commitment of spouses, children and youth so that they “fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother” without being accused of homophobia I hope! These are the intentions that rise spontaneously in the heart of believers.

Perhaps the archbishop is being coy in decrying any specific reference to gay marriage/adoption, but he has no problem in a forthright rejection of euthanasia. “A law which would justify euthanasia supports the idea that some lives are not worth living,” the archbishop said, adding that speaking out against Euthanasia on the Feast of the Assumption of Mary was a duty for the church.

The archbishop also appeared to be pleased by the harsh reaction from secular quarters, saying the Catholic Church will no longer be

the doormat on which [French intellectuals] wipe their feet. This suggests that, in these reactions — paradoxically and happily — some seem to be afraid of prayer. Prayer is powerful, indeed!

Let me say I am not criticizing the Reuter’s story not developing the context and providing an analysis of what these prayers mean for France. In the space allotted and in the format of a wire service story, it does a great job.

Yet, I would argue that taken in conjunction with the Le Figaro interview, we are seeing new things — a politically resurgent Catholic Church in France (as Reuter’s points out), but also an intellectually and theologically confident Catholic Church in France.

Do others see this confidence in these reports? And if so, how should a reporter tell this story? Should this story even be touched by a secular reporter? Is this primarily a political story or a religious one? Must everything be reduced to politics and the political, or is it possible for journalists to address a changing intellectual and moral world?

First printed in Get Religion.