Everybody agrees that Roman Catholicism has lost followers in France over the past decades, but how many? According to a survey published in the magazine Le Monde des Religions (January-February), only 51 percent of the French identify themselves as Catholics, with 8 percent of them going to church at least once a week and 9 percent more at least once a month 52 percent of self-identified Catholics never go to Mass, except for weddings or funerals. However, in another survey published by the weeklyLa Vie (March 1), 64 percent of the French say they are Catholics or “close” to Catholicism, while 27.6 percent answer that they have no religion.
What both surveys show is that, despite the erosion of belief, some level of attachment to traditional religious institutions remains. Seventy six percent of the Catholics in France express a positive opinion about the Church. But there is little doubt that the level of religious knowledge is low: only 33 percent of French Catholics know what Pentecost is; 58 percent believe in the resurrection of Christ, and no more than 37 percent accept the doctrine of the Trinity. This is unlikely to improve. Recently released statistics show that only 30 percent of French children between 8 and 12 attend catechism; in 1945, they were 90 percent, and the percentage still reached 45 percent in 1993 (Le Figaro, Feb. 12). On the other hand, 10,000 adults a year convert to Catholicism every year in France.
According to French political scientist Jean-Marie Donegani, the turning point took place in the 1950s. Those developments reflect a wider trend of subjectivism, liberalism and privatization, France being only the most secularized of Western societies. Even where there is still a link to the church, most people are not willing to let religion rule their daily lives. Donegani observes that the trend has an impact on all religions in European societies, including Islam (Le Monde, January 20).
— By Jean-Francois Mayer, RW Contributing Editor and founder of the website Religioscope (http://www.religion.info)