French Cardinal: Time Is Right for a New Secularism

Notes Religious History of Europe, Anti-Catholicism

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By Anita Bourdin

LOURDES, France, SEPT. 17, 2008 (Zenit.org).- The religious history of Europe calls for the "open secularism" that Benedict XVI promoted in his visit to France, says the archbishop of Paris.

Cardinal André Vingt-Trois affirmed this Sunday in Lourdes during a meeting with journalists. The Pope was in France from Friday through Monday, stopping in Paris and Lourdes, in the context of the 150th anniversary of the Virgin Mary's apparitions there.

During the press conference, the president of the French episcopal conference weighed in on the debate in France regarding the role of religious belief in public life. Some voices have opposed President Nicolas Sarkozy's remarks advocating a "positive secularism," claiming that secularism does not have adjectives.

The cardinal, however, noted how at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, there emerged in Europe a movement whose objective was "to combat Catholicism."

The 1871-1880 Kulturkampf, a conflict led by Otto von Bismarck against the Catholic Church, was not, as the chancellor of the German empire himself said, "directed against Islam or Judaism," the cardinal recalled.

"And in the title of the French law called 'Separation of Churches and State,' as the whole world knew, the Church from which one must separate was, in fact, the Catholic Church," he said. "This question of the secularism of the political system and the state has been lived controversially and from a militant perspective. But the state does not exhaust society's expressions."

Coexistence

"Historical ups and downs," Cardinal Vingt-Trois continued, referring to the history of France since World War I, have led "to progress in a pragmatic practice of secularism, putting militancy aside, and leading, instead, to a coexistence that we can call peaceful."

"The step taken by President Sarkozy," in his conference in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome on Dec. 20, 2007, and in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on Jan. 14, 2008, has made it possible "to present an analysis of social functioning in which religious membership ceases to be a taboo, and is considered as a specific contribution that is useful for the life of society."

"To say that this approach is an 'open secularism' means that we no longer find ourselves in a situation in which one could cooperate with social services on the condition of staying quiet about the motives for such participation. One could be a good citizen 'despite being a believer.' Today one can say that it is not impossible to be 'a good citizen because one is a good believer.' That's not the same thing," he stressed.

"This means that many men and women, who have committed themselves to non-confessional social service activities, such as the 'Restos du Coeur' [Refectories of the Heart, a social service promoted by French musicians and actors], for example, can express at least part of their reasons for doing so and are not embarrassed."

Nevertheless, some views of secularism still maintain that Catholic activities, engaged in for religious reasons, cannot be manifested. The cardinal called for an end to the shadows of the prosecution to which religious congregations were subjected at the beginning of the 20th century in France.

"It is not embarrassing for a Catholic to try to put solidarity into practice," the cardinal said. "It is not a crime that must be punished by the courts."