Many French dioceses are experiencing increasing difficulties in meeting their expenses, reports the Paris-based Catholic daily La Croix (Oct. 3).
In 2003, resources of the French Catholic Church amounted to 446 million Euros (US $ 570 million), which corresponds to an increase of 1.92 percent (slightly above inflation rate of 1.59 percent). However, despite a rise in donations, many French dioceses have been in the red for years, explains La Croix‘s Bernard Jouanno. Those dioceses which manage to keep a balanced budget sometimes reach it only by special sources of income, such as legacies or sales of properties.
The Catholic Church in France owns many properties, but they can act more as financial drains than resources. Consequently, several bishops have launched plans to improve the situation. In the diocese of Dijon, several employees have been fired due to financial reasons. The diocese of Montpellier could not afford to renovate its centrally located diocesan house and sold it in order to build modern facilities. However, the French Bishops’ Conference seems confident: that despite severe difficulties experienced by some dioceses, there is greater willingness among the faithful to support their Church.
More than finances, a major concern for the Roman Catholic Church in France as well as in other European countries seems to be the growth of a secular spirit often perceived as anti-Catholic. This has been brought to light by the recent controversies surrounding the proposed nomination of Christian Democrat politician Rocco Buttiglione as the next European Union’s justice commissioner. His statements about homosexuality being a sin and about traditional family structures were met by angry reactions, described by a Catholic cardinal as “secular Inquisition.” Some leading Catholics feel that their Church is becoming increasingly marginalized.
According to religion editor Henri Tincq writing in Le Monde (Oct. 20), Roman Catholicism has indeed lost much of its authority when it comes to pronouncements on issues pertaining to public life in Europe (October 20). The Catholic Church, Tincq observes, has not yet reconciled itself to the fact that it is increasingly seen as just one lobbying group among many others in a secularized context. However, Tincq considers the Vatican’s reactions as “disproportionate” The struggle between “clericalism” and “secularism” belongs to the past, and the future European Constitution — while not expressly mentioning the Christian roots of Europe — grants a quite favorable status to religious bodies, he concludes.
Not all Catholics will probably be convinced. Following the implementation of the new French law regarding the wearing of “ostentatious” religious signs in schools, five Roman catholic chaplains were forbidden to enter school grounds in the Department of Var (Southern France) because they were wearing a cassock, according to the news agency APIC (Oct. 10).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer