Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with cardinal Paul Poupard about fighting secularism in France

WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: – On 20 December 2007 Priest Cardinal was present in the palace on Lateran and could hear the speech of president of France Nicolas Sarkozy personally during a ceremony of granting him the title of Honoured Canon of the Basilica of St. John. Today, from the perspective of the past years, there appears a question: why did France decide not to go in the direction indicated by Sarkozy and became a country of fighting secularism again?

CARDINAL PAUL POUPARD: – I met with president Sarkozy a few months before the ceremony at the basilica of St. John on Lateran, during a funeral of cardinal Jean-Marie Lustierg, which was held in the cathedral Notre Dame in Paris on 10 August 2007.
Because he knew me, after his speech, he came up to me and asked: ‘What does Eminency think about my speech?’. I said that as a descendant of the victims from Wandea (a region in western France, at the Atlantic, in which in the end of XVIII the republican army committed a massacre on the local people), I am grateful to him for admitting publicly that my ancestors had been the victims of the French Republic. As for his speech, I would like to emphasize one thing – its content was considered as novelty, but it was not so. When John Paul II had a meeting with Jacques Chiarc on 20 January 1996, the president said: ‘When in the presence of His Holiness we are going to celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the baptism of Chlodwig, the king of Franks (Pope was to visit France in September that year), this even will show power and richness of the relation between the Holy See and France, the oldest daughter of the Church’. Before that gen. de Gaulle spoke about that relation when he was paying a visit to pope John XXIII – on 27 June 1959.

– Why is France called the oldest daughter of the Church?

– When pope Alexander VI had a meeting with Carol VIII in 1495, he greeted him as ‘king of France, the firstborn son of the Church’. For ages popes addressed kings of France in this way. And then, from ‘the firstborn son’ we moved to the expression of ‘the oldest daughter of the Church’ which referred to France.

– But after the presidency of Sarkozy ‘the oldest daughter of the Church’ clearly began to fight with the Church and Catholicism in order to eliminate these values from the public space…

– At this moment we must say about complicated history of ‘two Frances’ (deux Frances): France of Christian roots and France of Enlightenment. These two Frances have been fighting with each other through centuries. During his visit in the European Parliament, John Paul II said on 11 October 1988: ‘Since on its area (of Europe), thinking trends have developed, making God more and more incomprehensible for the world and the man, the two contradictory visions maintaining the tension between the point of view of believers and followers of agnostic humanism, and, sometimes, even atheistic one. The first ones think obedience to God is the source of real freedom, and freedom, not being arbitrary or aimless, is freedom leading to the truth and good, that is, two values, which can be understood not with purely human possibilities. This basic attitude is expressed in the ethical sphere through accepting principles and behavior norms dictated by the reason or resulting from seriousness of God’s word, which the man – as the individual and as a group – cannot arbitrarily revoke under the influence of fashion or changeable interests. The second attitude is based on the fact that having rejected any kind of dependence of creation on God or on transcendent order of the good and the truth, the man is thought to be the beginning and the end of all things, and the society – with its norms, laws and practical solutions – as an absolutely sovereign creation of this man. Ethics has not got any fundament beside the social contract, and the freedom of the individual - other inhibitions than these which the society considers to be necessary for protection of freedom of other individuals. According to some opinions, civilian and political freedoms, once fought on the way of throwing down the old order, based on religion, also today are inseparably connected with marginalization, that is, fighting religion, in which one sees the system of alienation’. In France we are still to deal with these two contradictory visions of the world and the man. And because various political groups gain the authority, after Sarkozy a new president appeared, Hollande, and people with him who have different opinions on the reality.

– For this governing group, history of France began with the French revolution…

– These people forget that it is impossible to blur history. Who think so, has got an ideological vision of history. Unfortunately, some groups were promoting and are still promoting secularism on behalf of secularism, and these are two different things. I think that secularism is a legal guarantee of freedom of conscience of all citizens and secularism is acceptance of ideology and concept of life, which exclude the others. Unfortunately, people, who are holding the authority in France now, also forget that the first task of a politician is working for the sake of the unity of the nation, not raising antagonisms.

– France was established as a secular country resulting from the French revolution, whose motto and symbol were the words: freedom, equality, fraternity (‘Liberte’, ‘Egalite’, ‘Fraternite’). But these lofty ideals contrasted with methods of implementing them in life, and revolutionists committed a terrible crime in the very beginning which is thought to have been as the first genocide in the modern times. Robespierre and other members of the Committee of Public Liberation planned extermination of Wandea inhabitants perceived as the Catholics and monarchists. Over 20 percent of Wandea inhabitants – including pregnant women, children, the elderly and priests – were killed in a cruel way (for example, they were drowned in Loara massively). As Priest Cardinal mentioned – you are a descendant of victims from Wandea, so you know this history well. How did the genocide, the origin sin of the revolution, and also the famous saying of Robespierre: ‘There is no freedom for its enemies’ influence the fate of secular France?

– Not such a long time ago did history books show facts connected with the war in Wandea only in the political and military categories. But as for the 200th anniversary of those events, I have written books in which I prove that motifs of the genocide of Wandea inhabitants were basically religious ones. When I was investigating archives of my family, I discovered that my ancestors, like other people, had been for the revolution in the beginning, because farmers wanted lower taxes and more freedom. But the situation changed when some priests got succumbed and paid a vow for the civic constitution and stopped acknowledging the pope. People did not want those priests. A woman in my village was beheaded on a guillotine because she did not want ‘the new priests but the old ones’, that is, she did not want the priests who had betrayed the pope. I am grateful to the Holy Father John Paul II that he beatified this woman.
The history of Wandea is also the history of my family, because Jacques Cathelineau, called ‘a saint from Anjou’ who began a revolt against the republicans, was the ancestor of my aunt. Ordinary people revolted who did not have any weapon, but had great faith instead. Napoleon called the war in Wandea a war of the giants; he said that if the army of Wandea inhabitants had not stopped in Nantes, and gone to Paris, it would have overthrown the Republic.

– It was not accidental that I reminded the history of the revolution. After Sarkozy Holland was given the authority and he elected Vincent Peillon for the post of the education minister, the author of the book ‘La revolution francaise n’est pas terminee’ (French Revolution is not completed), in which he states, among the others: ‘We have basically caused a political revolution, not the moral or spiritual one. Therefore we have left morality and spirituality to the Catholic Church. We must change it (…) . We must create republican religion, and this new religion is secularism’. And he goes on: ‘Revolution means forgetting everything which precedes it. Therefore an important role is played by school which must free a child from its all pre-republican bonds and teach him how to become a citizen. This is like new birth, like transsubstantation which takes place at school, like new Church with its new priests, its new liturgy, and new Tables of Law’. Is Priest Cardinal concerned about this idea of ‘creating a citizen’ of the French Republic which reminds an attempt of creating ‘homo sovieticus’ in the communist Soviet Union?

– One of the revolution slogans was: ‘In the name of freedom one can kill enemies of freedom’. This way of thinking is just the source of totalitarianism. It was so later in the case of gulags – all historians point to the relation between the French and bolshevick revolutions – as well as concentration camps. Some politicians think that because the scientific opinion on the world is the only important one, those who do not accept it, are insane and they must be forced to keep silent. So, the election of the ideologist Peillon for the post of the education minister was something terrible. In France, since the years 1905 there has been obliging famous law of separation the state from the Church, because the school is to form ‘a new man’. It is tragic that after two centuries from the French revolution, after tens of millions victims of this wrong opinion on the world laic totalitarianism is coming back. Now secularism is trying to achieve what communism did not manage to realize.

– A lot of observers of the French political stage point to the fact that ‘the cultural revolution’ of the socialists is induced by freemasonic lodges. Why is the public life in France so influenced by freemasonry?

– A bit of history should be recalled. Freemasonry appeared in England and in the beginning it had a spiritual character – the Supreme Being was worshipped. In Anglo-Saxon countries there are also lodges of believers. Whereas French freemasonry is mostly anti-cleric, and also anti-Christian. It used to be a concealed authority but now it is s strong that it is not concealed any more – ministers of the Republic openly introduce themselves as freemasons. Some of them – I would prefer not to mention their surnames – think that it is necessary to eliminate enemies of freedom, that is, us, the Catholics. But history has not ended yet and we will see what will happen in the future. Thanks to God, the French nation remained far away from those ideologies. It is proven by manifestations in defence of the traditional family, when over 2 million people went out into the streets of French cities.

– People are far from ideologies of secularism, but they are often governed just by secular ‘elites’…

– It often happens so. These are perverse results of democracy. How to explain that in the country like Malta Dom Mintoff, elected for the post of the prime minister by citizens, of whom 95 per cent are the Catholics, had persecuted the Church? Even in Catholic Mexico it was not a long ago that the authorities were persecuting believers. I remember that before the visit of John Paul II in Mexico the authorities of this country asked him for his passport to stamp a visa on it. Certainly, the Pope did not have a passport, and when he arrived in Mexico, the president gave the shortest welcome speech, which I had ever heard before: ‘Good morning to you. I wish you good luck among followers of your religion’.

– In Ploemer city a monument of John Paul II was removed because it allegedly breached law about secularism of the country, and in Publier town in Upper Sabaudia the administrative court ordered to remove a statue of Madonna from a public park. Beside these administrative decisions there were also acts of vandalism towards places of cult, Christian symbols, as well as towards priests. Now there are open discussions about an attempt of eliminating all Christian symbols from the public sphere. In an article which appeared on it in the journal ‘Le Figaro’, Delphine de Mallevoue called this phenomenon ‘laic jihad’. What shall we think about it?

– People who identify themselves with this absurd ideology, use every occasion to manifest their secularism, that is, forbid any form of showing religious message in the public sphere. But there are also positive signals. When in some cities it was forbidden to expose a Nativity crib, the French Council of the State (Conseil d’Etat) decided that the Nativity crib is a part of our culture, so, it can be exposed as a cultural element. Also in Italy there were attempts to remove the cross from schools and hospitals but the Tribunal in Strasburg decided that the cross is the element of tradition which cannot disturb anybody. However, the war is still going on and we must be aware of it!


„Niedziela” 07/2017

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