The Pope in Paris: France and religion

Certainly France under the monarchy was “the eldest daughter of the Church” but its relations with the Church had not waited for the Revolution to become tense. During the Middle Ages, King Philippe IV le Bel (the Handsome), grandson of Saint Louis, had his envoy assault Pope Boniface VIII, who died as a result. Philippe then forcibly relocated the Holy See from Rome to Avignon, in Provence, within convenient reach of French troops in case of a conflict between the monarchy and the Church. The ensuing Popes were French.

Fast forward a few centuries, and Louis XV expelled the Jesuits from France. The Revolution, a few decades later, saw a complete breakup between the Church and the State. Many priests and nuns perished for their faith. Napoleon entered into a Concordat with the Pope, before holding the Holy Father prisoner. Then the early 20th century saw radically anticlerical policies.

I found this interesting Wall Street Journal article on the topic of France’s complex relationship with the Church. Everything in there is true, but I could not help noticing a glaring omission: in France religious schools, many of which are Catholic, are funded by the State.

The rationale is that it behooves the Republic to provide free, or nearly free education for children of religious families. A few decades ago, a Socialist government tried to do away with these subsidies, and people took to the streets to oppose any change. The proposed reform was hastily buried and never mentioned again. Public funding of religious schools is safe.

President Sarkozy has been intent on promoting cordial relations between the State and all religions, in particular the Catholic faith. He invited the Pope, who had initially planned only a trip to Lourdes for the 150th anniversary of the apparitions, to visit Paris.

Benedict XVI landed this morning in Orly, and celebrated Vespers in Notre-Dame tonight. Tomorrow he will celebrate an open air Mass on the Esplanade des Invalides. An enthusiastic crowd of 200,000, heavy security and fair weather are expected. Then the Pope will continue on to Lourdes. For a full schedule, see here.

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