By Xavier Sartre
On the occasion of the centenary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See, French Prime Minister Jean Castex, and the Vatican's Secretary of State met at the Villa Bonaparte for a roundtable discussion.
100 years later
Cardinal Pietro Parolin, decorated with the Commander's Cross of the Legion of Honour, recalled the centenary of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between France and the Holy See in May 1921, after an interruption of 17 years. "This is the last straight line in a very long history," he began, recalling the tumultuous history of these relations at the turn of the 20th century until the First World War.
Cardinal Parolin noted that since 1921, "a climate of cordiality" has characterised relations between the two. This, he said, is proof of the "constant and undoubtedly reciprocal esteem over time" between the Holy See and the French Republic. It is also a different approach by the Church in France towards the State and its secularity. Without wishing to go into further detail on this issue, Cardinal Parolin preferred to insist on the many "consequences of our relations, today": respect for human rights, promotion of peace and stability, protection of religious minorities, and promotion of inter-religious dialogue. Not forgetting the environment, Cardinal Parolin noted that the encyclical Laudato si' had done much to support France's efforts during COP 21.
On Middle East relations
But it is perhaps in the Middle East that collaboration between the Vatican and French diplomacy is most fruitful, with France and the Holy See sharing "the same desire to contribute to peace and stability in a multi-faith Middle East, respectful of religious freedoms and the fundamental rights of the human person. "Each of us, operating in our own field of competence, wants to make our contribution to the reconstruction of the countries of the region, sorely tried by war and violence, where various religious communities have lived together for centuries," said the Cardinal, underlining the special place that Lebanon holds in this context. "Basically, France and the Holy See share global responsibilities in the world, even if we exercise them by different means and with different objectives," he added.
The roundtable discussion did not ignore the issue of abuse, in the wake of the publication of the Sauvé Commission's report. Cardinal Parolin affirmed that the Church's commitment in France "will be even stronger and more determined, in full collaboration with the civil authorities, respecting the nature, the mission and the sacramental structure of the Church which are proper to it". To this, the French Prime Minister replied that it is now up to the Church "to find the necessary answers. But the separation of Church and State is in no way the separation of Church and Law".
Jean Castex, who met Pope Francis in the morning, nevertheless stressed how much the Holy See for more than a century, has consistently avoided fostering, "even indirectly, in France the seeds of hatred and division". He also recalled Leo XIII's 1892 invitation to French Catholics to join the Republic.
While Cardinal Parolin did not wish to go into the question of secularism in-depth, referring instead to the words of Pope Francis, who dreams of "a soundly secular Europe, where God and Caesar are distinct but not opposed".
The head of the French government, however, returned to the issue at length, explaining that the 1905 law had in fact put an end to seven centuries of Gallicanism, thus restoring the Church's total freedom. For Jean Castex, "secularism does not need any qualifiers. Far from being, as some people pretend to believe, a means of excluding religion from the social space and public debate, it simply delimits the areas of intervention of the State on the one hand and religion on the other. There is no question of a conflict of transcendence but simply of giving back to the Republic what belongs to the Republic and to God what belongs to God". He was also keen to reassure his interlocutor about the consequences of the law on the principles of the Republic, affirming that the status of religious and diocesan associations has been modernised and strengthened.