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Together with a stronger voice
Catholics and the 2012 electoral campaign
To what extent do French Catholics play a role in the presidential campaign? While less than 100 days are still to go before the first round of presidential and legislative elections (April 2012), in two books due out in the coming days, card. André Vingt-Trois, Archbishop of Paris, president of the French Bishops’ Conference, Fr. Jacques Turk and MP Etienne Pinte highlight Catholics’ commitment in the public sphere. Past January 11 Catholic daily La Croix issued a special release on the subject pointing out that "differently from other European countries, in France no political party has been capable of uniting the Catholic world".
Something to say. Nonetheless, according to historian and sociologist Philippe Portier, Catholics have long-since integrated existing parties, notably right-winged parties, with a discernment strategy, namely, by introducing their ideas within them". One of many examples is the contribution of Jean-François Mattei and Jean Leonetti to draft laws on bioethical issues. French Catholics, "La Croix" points out, have largely invested in the area of "informal policy" by setting up associations for social and political formation, organizing ad hoc meetings across the country. This interest has grown in view of the upcoming elections. "I was never invited to so many debates as in the present moment", pointed out the chaplain of the political world, father Mathieu Rouge. A new phenomenon is the so-called "Christian identification" that "is coming to the fore". "Under the influence of John Paul II’s pontificate, those Catholics who until then had kept a low profile, owing to social crises and their minority situation, decided to make themselves heard", is Portier’s analysis. Not necessarily by joining a Christian party but by reaffirming their positions and opting for greater visibility. However, warns father Pierre Charentenay, director of Études, "It’s not enough to arrive with a flag to be listened to. It’s necessary to have something to say".
"Enlightening" votes. "Forming conscience", developing Catholics’ political culture is the mission of various organizations such as "La politique une bonne nouvelle", inspired by Saint Ignatius, the "Jeunesse ouvrière chrétienne" that deals with the formation of youth aged 13-30 years old, and also "Chrétiens en Forum" which since the beginning of 2011 has promoted a set of debates on the matters at stake in the presidential elections. Since, explains secretary general Julien Motte, "ignoring the public realm is like ignoring our neighbour". In the background, the "Pacte civique" of economist Jean-Baptiste de Foucauld - a platform joined by 580 associations, most of which are non-confessional- aims at informing candidates. "Rather than proposing measures we want to help them to better understand problems", explained de Foucauld, according to whom "there is too much emphasis on measures and not enough on decision-making methods".
Elected candidates and political activists. According to the French daily, there is a stark fracture between those who openly declare their own "colour" such as the Christian-Democrat party led by Christine Boutin, and those, such as MP Françoise Hostalier, who claim that "faith falls within the private sphere". Conversely, senator Anne-Marie Escoffier, supporter of the left-wing Radical Party, has openly reaffirmed her Catholic identity pointing out that "I was never criticised for this". MP Jacques Remiller, author of a recent petition signed by 57 colleagues, which denounced the "Christianophobia of the Eastern….and Western world", describes himself as someone "who fully assumes his own faith". In the meantime, the new "Poissons roses" intend to create "a Christian current within the socialist party", explains Philippe de Roux. "We don’t have to describe ourselves as Christians to defend our vision of the couple or those who are about to die", he points out, but "we have to be more ’perceivable’ within the public realm’ and by party leaders.
Proposals to candidates. In the meantime, Christian Associations networks are presenting proposals to candidates. As customary, on the eve of elections Alliance Vita will rally in Paris and in some sixty French cities against "the risk of legalizing euthanasia" and "for the child’s right to be raised by his mother and father". Along with the poster campaing "La France est un pays très riche. En pauvres" (France is very rich … with poor people. Ed’s note) Secours catholique is organizing meetings between people in difficulty. Candidates will soon receive also 15 proposals from the Semaines sociales de France aimed at showing Christian’s ability to "project themselves in the long term", underlined the president, Jérôme Vignon, and the ten measures of the Mouvement rural de jeunesse chrétienne. New entry "Audacious 2012" chaired by François Billot di Lochner, "a group of men and women promoting those values that made France and Europe"; the "Chrétiens indignés" and the association "Paroles de catholiques".