Saturday, May 4, 2013

Catholic Revival?

I think I may have been underestimating the extent of the "Catholic" element in the anti-gay marriage demonstrations. A commenter on a previous post (h/t FrédéricLN) directed my attention to this very interesting piece in Le Nouvel Obs. Among other things, it notes a revival of "Catholic" activism at Sciences Po:
Au 42, rue de Grenelle, le Centre Saint-Guillaume (CSG) abrite l'aumônerie catholique de Sciences-Po, situé à deux pas. Elle accueille près de 200 étudiants, qui viennent déjeuner, travailler ou prier ensemble. C'est la plus ancienne association de l'Institut d'Etudes politiques et, comme la plupart des aumôneries étudiantes, elle est en pleine renaissance.
"L'aumônerie s'est réveillée à l'occasion du débat sur le mariage. Elle s'est radicalisée et est sortie de sa réserve, constate Hugo Lucchino, secrétaire de la section PS de l'école. Cela a même donné lieu à des passes d'armes assez violentes entre ses membres et les forces progressistes, notamment avec les Garçes, l'association féministe de Sciences-Po, qui défend les droits des homos. Ils distribuaient des tracts de la Manif pour tous que le diocèse de Paris avait mis à leur disposition et qu'ils avaient tamponnés "CSG", puisque selon le règlement un tract ne peut être diffusé que s'il mentionne le nom d'une association reconnue à l'institut. Les cathos de Saint-Guillaume se posent en victimes des gauchistes intolérants, mais eux, malgré leurs allures très policées, sont carrément sectaires."
The key to this revival seems to be not religion but identity. Indeed, in nearby St-Germain-des-Prés, this is formulated explicitly by a younger group:
"Tout le monde revendique son identité aujourd'hui, pourquoi pas nous ?" disent de conserve Maxence, Solène, Marine, Eléonore, Bertrand et le Lyonnais Michel, âgés de 18 et 19 ans, si excités de brandir leurs drapeaux roses et bleus lors des manifestations du 13 janvier et du 21 avril.
The gay marriage bill seems to have provided an organizing opportunity for young rightists in search of a differentiating feature other than race or ethnicity. These young demonstrators would probably be horrified to be thought of as racists, but they are keen to set themselves apart from what they see as a "civilizational" challenge to their inherited identity:
Pour Pierre Jovanovic, le clivage qu'on a vu se forger au sujet du mariage pour tous porte moins sur l'homosexualité que sur une vision de l'homme et de la société, "entre ceux qui pensent qu'hommes et femmes sont interchangeables et ceux qui veulent bâtir la société sur des bases immuables, la différence des sexes consacrée par le mariage". Pour le président Jovanovic, on ne discute pas la ligne de l'Eglise, vaillamment défendue par Mgr André Vingt-Trois : "Reconnaître l'autorité des évêques est le premier devoir des chrétiens."
The new right youth movement thus lays claim to nothing less than "a vision of man and society" founded on affirming that "the first duty of Christians is to recognize the authority of bishops." Of bishops, notice, not even the Pope. This signals a throwback to the 19th-c. Catholic reaction, which rejected centralized authority in all its forms, papal as well as statist, and insisted on a rigid hierarchy and strict sexual norms in the name of "defense of the family." It is rather astonishing to see a resurgence of this ideology in the 21st-c., but it seems to have some basis in reality. Needless to say, such a "Christian" society, obedient to its bishops, has no place for accommodating "outsiders." The racial angle does not need to be articulated; it's implicit in the definition of the group, which at this stage has and needs no explicit acknowledgment that the actual society in which it is embedded is a multiethnic, multiracial, multireligious one.

This "identitarian reaction" seems to have been brewing for some time prior to the eruption of opposition to the Taubira law. It would be interesting to learn more about its evolution.


MCG said...


I'm puzzled that when nothing reported sounds racist, you reach for that characterization.



ED PERLMAN said...


FrédéricLN said...

Thank you for the quotation!

I see that some bloggers criticized this report (Authueil, who is a liberal Protestant, or the Catholic opinion leader koz on twitter . Of course, some journalists may make much mistakes when they discover a topic or social group which is new to them; but I don't think taking into account these criticisms would change the substance of the paper.

I feel quite in agreement with your inferences from this report (Art) and protesters could be classified as "far right" under this respect, in the same meaning maybe as a part of the Moral Majority or Tea Party movement (that I don't know well, for sure).

My previous comment was to highlight that this is not connected with the French extreme right of the 80's-90's-00's-10'. Granted, there are some convinced Catholics at FN (I know in person two of them, so I can use the plural form ;-) ) but as a whole, I think it's easier to find ideological connections between FN and nazism or fascism, than between FN and catholic identity. By the way the Le Pen family, who is after all the substance of FN as a policital force, never identified itself as catholic (or religious in any way), as far as I know.

The reference to "bishops" may indeed suggest some worry of traditionalist Catholics towards Pope Francis. There have been papers on this very topic.

I will also add that the reference to "democracy", coming from "anti" protesters who consider democratic principles has been undermined in this Taubira process, is not without any ground, see on koz's blog (and mine ).

Robert said...

I wonder to what extent this revival of right-wing Catholic activism finds its sources in the de facto alliance between senior Vatican hierarchy and the U.S. Republican party (refusing communion to politicians who back Roe v. Wade, a "reasonable people can disagree" stance on the Iraq war, etc.). The French moderate and far rights have taken their talking points from their counterparts in the U.S. for as long as I can remember.

Lisa Rendall said...

I found this piece on gay marriage in Texas and France insightful and, since it refers to de Toqueville, I'd be interested to know what you think of it.

Lisa Rendall (Les Barthes, France)

Art Goldhammer said...

Lisa (related to Steve, I presume),
Rob Zaretsky is a friend of mine, so I of course noticed this article. I didn't entirely agree with its premise and told him so. Here is what I wrote: " I don't entirely agree with your assessment, though. For one thing, I don't believe that opposition to gay marriage is stronger in France than in the US. Polling that I have seen shows roughly equal levels of opposition. And in both countries, the opposition is religion-based. True, the French mounted larger public demonstrations, but the Tocquevillean interpretation, I believe, would start from different traditional means of exercising political voice in the two countries. The mass manif is the French way. What was interesting about the recent manifs was the recruitment of many young people from the beaux quartiers (even though youth in general support gay marriage more heavily than their elders, just as in the US) who had never demonstrated before. And then various violence-prone groups of the extreme-right latched on to the mobilization." Rob responded that according to polls he has seen, youth support for gay marriage is much lower than in the US, so I may be wrong about this, or we may have looked at different polls. In any case, my view is that I need to think more about the whole phenomenon, which I find somewhat mystifying.

FrédéricLN said...

Just adding a link to the very dense post by koz about this paper in nouvelobs:

(the title refers to a sentence in the original paper, "on les croyait effacés", smthg like "they were supposed to have been wiped off" / "to have disappeared").

All in one, the concept of "zombie catholicism" may be relevant in many ways!

FrédéricLN said...

New quali feedback without a link! This has been posted on Facebook by an Arab-European friend. I translate.

-- Heard yesterday on the town market of Argenteuil, I was with my friend X [a Arab-European far left militant many people know as such], a woman of North African origin soutint with a strong accent from there: "we must vote Marine [Le Pen]!". I wonder and ask her "Why?". She answers me "Because she is against marriage-for-all". --

(Which is, by the way, quite exaggerated. But it seems "Marine" can be credited as being the strongest opponent to anything any Administration does?…)

James Brown said...

Not to downplay the Catholic element in the Manif pour tous, but the most significant movements in Catholic France concern spirituality, liturgy, & parochial events, etc...Politics - whichever persuasion one opts for - is part of a bigger picture, but it is only just one element. The biggest recent news for Catholics, IMO, is the election of the new pope, Francis.
The media are focused on the big events & demonstrations that take place in Paris, or the goings-on at Paris-based academic institutions, which is only natural in a Paris-centric country but, still, it provides merely a partial picture.