In France, the dispute over the demolition of Catholic churches is not new. They are dilapidated and abandoned. And yet, every time a church is to be razed to the ground, it raises fierce protest from the population. "People feel that more than just some walls are broken. You feel a substantial change in their environment, their culture and thus of their own being,” wrote Claude Villot who is not under suspicion of Ultramontane sympathies.
Recent cases listed the Catholic daily La Croix on: Saint-Blaise du Breuil in Allier, St-Pie-X in Hérault, Saint-Jacques d'Abbeville in Somme (pictured) and Saint-Pierre-aux-Liens in Gesté in the department Maine-et-Loire. The number of demolished since 2000 in France is estimated by the Catholic Church at 20. Another 250 could soon follow. According to a report by the French Senate, the number of churches that are destined to disappear from the French countryside is estimated at 2,800. Most of them are located in rural areas.
"Fewer priests, Fewer Faithful, Less Demand," this is the new mantra of local politicians
"Fewer priests, measuring less and less practicing believers, therefore less need to obtain large churches, when a chapel would be enough." This is the new mantra, wrote Guy Massin Le Goff, memorial preservationist, in his 2009 report La polémique autour de la démolition of églises: le cas du Maine-et-Loire. It is this formula that compels many French communities to use demolition instead of a preferable refurbishment. Through the numerous, revolutionary interventions, which have transpired in the French history on church property, transferring to the state, many churches are owned by the municipalities.
“The use of churches calculating only the use of Masses, Sundays or on weekdays, would not properly represent the reality" the expert said. "A church is not just a place that is open to the Eucharist, or for baptisms, weddings or funerals. That it is used primarily for personal prayer of the faithful. The lit candles prove that there are diverse and numerous reasons to knock at the church door, whether alone or in small groups,” said Massin Le Goff, who sharply criticized the mayor of Anjou, one of the historic landscapes of French Catholicism, because of the ease with which they decide to demolish churches. In some cases, a dilapidated house of God is simply assumed to be able to implement new building projects, in whose way the church stands.
"What Would this Place be Without its Church?" - What Does Not Bring “Profit", Must Go
Massin Le Goff recalled that in most cases, the village was built on the church and not vice versa. Demolishing the church is meant to tear her heart and wipe out its own past. "What would this place be without its church?", such the first question that arises as Massin Le Goff, to whomever will listen. As as example, the preservationist cites the decision of the General Council of Maine-et-Loire, who also provides funds for the renovation of churches that are not listed on the historic register.
For Beatrice de Andia, founder of the Documentation Centre For Religious Heritage what is most disturbing about what happens in France: "For the first time we are destroying places of worship for no apparent reason, to make room for parking lots, restaurants, shops, places or apartments. The message of the demolitions is clear: the religious, the sacred, cultural heritage, which brings no gain, must go away. The destroyers present themselves as worthy managers who are concerned about the municipal treasury, which, according to them, would not bear the cost of the renovation of the church. "Maintenance” is but a duty for the mayor,” said de Andia.
Country Parishes Reduced Dramatically - Fewer priests, More Deacons: Opposite Tendency
One of the reasons for the "light" demolition orders, is the progressive decline of priests in France. In 2001 there were, according to officials of the Episcopal Conference, 24,251 diocesan and religious priests. In 2008, there were only 19,640, of which 15,008 were diocesan priests. Their number on 31 December 2011 (new statistics are not yet available) dropped to 13,822. In 2011, there were 13,630 parishes. In recent years, new parishes were established by the bishops to reflect changes demographic. The new parishes are concentrated in the cities, especially on the edges, while the rural areas became increasingly orphaned. There, the parishes were dramatically reduced by merging two or more parishes. At the top of the large territorial parish is a priest, but increasingly deacons are involved, the number of which grows in the opposite tendency to the decrease of the priests. And in many areas also lay people.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
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