In May 1942, 80 years ago, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church in France sent a leaflet to the entire population about World War II. The leaflet which follows, unearthed by International Association of Freethinkers’ spokesperson Keith Porteous Wood, commanded allegiance to Marshall Pétain, a puppet of Hitler and the Nazis. There are few left who are even aware the Church intervened while WWII was raging, far less what form that intervention took. Current and future generations need to be informed what the Church which claims to be the guardian of France’s conscience and its moral authority did during France’s darkest hour.
YOUR BISHOPS SPEAK TO YOU
Some believe that a Catholic has, in conscience, the free choice in his conduct towards the government of Marshal Pétain and that the religious authority has refused to take a position on this subject.
Without wishing for the moment to recall the doctrine of the Catholic Church on obedience due to legitimate power, we have simply sought to unite the teachings given to their diocesans, clergy and lay people, by the Bishops of the occupied area.
The texts cited were collected mainly in the Semaines Religieuses [weekly newsletter] of each diocese.
We present them here as is, without comment, simply following the alphabetical list of dioceses, having only given first place to Our Lords Cardinals and Archbishops.
Bureau de Documentation
Cholet – May 1942
His Eminence Cardinal SUHARD, Archbishop of Paris:
“The necessity of the moment is union among French people. However, the need to unite implies their duty to gather closely around the legitimate leaders, to listen to them, to accept loyally the instructions they give …
“Who would deny trust to a man who brings out the admiration of all French people, as much by the lucidity of his intelligence and the righteousness of his character as by the devotion that at all times he has shown to his country, and of which he has given in these unprecedented circumstances, the supreme testimony?”
(November 20, 1940.)
His Eminence Cardinal LIENART, bishop of Lille:
“We must not despair, let us have confidence in the leaders who guide us and who hold such heavy responsibilities. Let us ask God that he enlightens them …
“Let us all close around those who have the difficult task, in these wretched times, of carrying the flag of France and preparing for its destiny.”
(Speech delivered in the Church of the Rite of Heart of Roubaix on October 27,1940.)
His Eminence Cardinal BAUDRILLART, Rector of the Catholic Institute:
“Let us close around the Leader and the father who today embodies France. Let’s follow our Leader, his orders, his advice. Let us thank God for giving him to us at a time when everything seemed lost. No, all is not lost, as long as we know in time to choose, want, obey.”
(Declaration to Inter-France agency, November 30, 1940)
His Excellency BISHOP DUBOURG, Archbishop of Besançon:
“Refusing to follow the Maréchal would be to recklessly accuse him of betraying the Fatherland, when his whole life was a life of honor and dedication in the service of France and he gave himself to her, on the day she was defeated to save her from total ruin.
“When a man assumes such a burden, well-qualified by his experience and by the feeling that he has of his responsibility, he is entitled to the recognition and dedication of the country, and those under his command must follow him, even at the cost of their personal convictions.”
(Semaine Religieuse of 19Thr1941)
His Excellency Archbishop FELTIN of Bordeaux:
“Catholics faithful to the doctrine of the Church must therefore, better than all others respect the authority legitimately established in the Fatherland. And when the one who holds it received the official investiture of a National Assembly, when he was freely chosen; when he has given displayed, in the past, a heroic courage, and, in the present, a wise political sense, who could deny him respect. loyal obedience and trust?”
(Semaine Religieuse, February 28, 1941)
His Excellency Mgr FILLON, Archbishop of Bourges:
“It is up to the Head of State to address the citizen. Follow him, he is a sure guide, far-sighted and of great nobility of soul; a leader who is not afraid to take responsibility before history. It is up to the Bishop, in the light of the Faith, to direct the Christian conduct of his faithful. “
(Speech at the Cathedral on November 1, 1940.)
H. E. Mgr GUERRY, coadjutor of Archbishop Chollet of Cambrai:
“Affirmed by Our Lord himself, taught by the Apostles Peter and Paul, the doctrine of submission to legitimate authority is traditional in the Church.
“This [sic: sc. This?] doctrine creates, for Catholics, especially for priests, an obligation of conscience.
“Now, what is the legitimate authority in France at the moment? There is only one, that of Marshal Pétain. »
(Directives of S. E. Mar Guerry to the Ecclesiastical Retreats of 1941.)
H.E. Mgr MARMOTTIN, Archbishop of Reims:
“Marshal Pétain has legally held the power to govern the French state since 10 July 1940. So a French Catholic has, in conscience, the duty to obey him, to serve him, to support him. That is, he is guilty of a sin if he does not, if he sets himself against him. No doubt many have no idea because they are not educated about their religion. Yet that is the truth.
“From that time on this Catholic commits a sin, and that can be serious, if he takes the side of the rebels, of those who refuse to recognize the Head of State, and who revolt against his authority. Let us repeat to them the saying of St. Paul: ‘He who resists the legal power resists the order of God; he sets himself up for punishment.’ “
(Notre Journal, January 25, 1942.)
H. E. Mgr ROQUES, Archbishop of Rennes:
“For some times sincere Catholics, who want to faithfully follow the teachings of the Church, ask us to clarify whether, in the midst of the general chaos, a definite attitude is needed in the face of the Power and especially towards the current Government of France personified by the Maréchal Pétain.
“The answer to this question naturally arises from the principles of the Gospel and the doctrine of the Church and the solution of the difficulty, if difficulty there is, is found in the recent Declaration of Cardinals and Archbishops, who have expressed themselves recently with such clarity that only those who would let themselves be guided by whim instead of following reason could remain in doubt. “
(Semaine Religieuse, September 6, 1941.)
H.E. Mgr PETIT DE JULLEVILLE, Archbishop of Rouen:
“We must pay a tribute of respect and gratitude to our Leader, to his selflessness, to his burning love of our country, to his faith in his destiny. He could have wrapped himself in his glory and looked down on events. On the contrary, he wanted to take upon himself the humiliations and sufferings of the Fatherland, and to be the chief architect of its physical and moral restoration. Such a gesture of self-sacrifice earns Marshal Pétain the recognition of an entire people. “
(Semaine Religieuse, January 11, 1941.)
H.E. Mgr LAMY, Archbishop of Sens:
“I urge my dear clergy to maintain a whole and devoted loyalty to the legitimate authority of the Head of State, to avoid the spirit of denigration and criticism, discouragement and disunion.”
(Letter to his clergy.)
H.E. Mgr GAILLARD, Archbishop of Tours:
The French citizens are not only friends, but the subjects of Marshal Pétain, to whom the French Parliament, holder of legitimate authority, has handed over power. Recognizing the Marshal as Head of State, obeying his orders is a duty of conscience.
(Semaine Religieuse, January 10, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr MARTIN, Bishop of Amiens:
It would seem so simple, since we do not have certain information about the events that are taking place, to trust the legitimate leader placed by Providence at the head of the country, who knows what it is, what he wants and where he leads us. Unfortunately, everyone stands as a judge, thinks he himself is practically infallible, insists on his idea and refuses to try to understand the thought of others. But is it really loving our country and wanting to raise it only to contribute through our divisions to divide it into two hostile camps, set against each other? Didn’t the Marshal warn us: ‘A beaten country, if it divides, is a country that dies. A beaten country, if it knows how to unite, is a country that is reborn. ‘ Distant but faithful echo of Christ’s warning: ‘Any kingdom divided against itself will perish.’ ”
(Pastoral Letter for the Carême 1942)
H. E. Mgr COSTES, Bishop of Angers:
“Keep your fidelity to the Fatherland, and through it and for it, to the revered Head of the State that God arranged for it in its misfortunes… a leader worthy of the respect and obedience that Providence rose up on the night of our defeat.”
(Semaine Religieuse of October 26, 1941and Pastoral Letter of February 11, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr MEGNIN Bishop of Angoulême:
“Marshal Pétain, the great Frenchman, who did not want to hear in this hour, for him particularly tormenting, that his love for France, gave with absolute clarity wise and compelling instructions which everyone must obey. Who does not feel the mortal peril that would immediately lead to a division between the French?…
We would not know how to omit in our wishes and in our prayers, the one who for eighteen months assumes with a heroic spirit of self-denial the mission and the task of saving, with the help of God, the existence, the future and the greatness of France. Let us ask for him the divine assistance that is necessary to all those who govern the peoples, but whose need is especially paramount in the midst of the tragic difficulties that our Fatherland is experiencing.”
(Semaine Religieuse s of June 30, 1940 and December 28, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr DUTOIT, Bishop of Arras:
“The government of Marshal Pétain is the legitimate government of France. He received the official investiture of a National Assembly.
It has not been imposed by violence, it results from a choice freely agreed. The circumstances appointed Marshal Pétain and it was the representatives of the country who elected him…
“We have one government and there can be no other. We are bound to pledge to his office our duty of respect and obedience prescribed by the Christian conscience …
“Our duty is simple as well as serious: to follow and support Marshal Petain with our trust.
“Let’s ask if there is a Frenchman who feels in a big mood to give lessons in patriotism to the victor of Verdun and the saviour of the faltering army of 1917?
“To this favor that God has given us of an undisputed and indisputable leader, let us respond with an inviolable fidelity to the duty of obedience.
(Pastoral letter of December 22, 1940.)
H. E. Mgr LEBRUN, Bishop of Autun:
“They need above all, the French of 1941, to forget their quarrels and divisions, to join fraternally in surrounding the hero and soldier who leads the destiny of the Fatherland, to work with him, with the same heart, at the difficult task – the immense task – that has fallen to them: to remake a France more beautiful and more worthy of its glorious past, a France once again made faithful to its calling as a Christian nation.”.
(Pastoral letter of May 25, 1941)
H. E. Mgr PICAUD, Bishop of Bayeux:
“God is preparing for the renewal of France. Let us pray that he will enlighten and guide the Marshal.”
(Semaine Religieuse of January 4, 1942)
H. E. Mgr VANSTEENBERGHE, Bishop of Bayonne:
“Stand close to the Chief whose noble character commands the respect of all and for whose dedication we cannot acknowledge too much.”
(Semaine Religieuse, December 29, 1940)
H. E. Mgr ROEDER, Bishop of Beauvais:
“When the Apostle said to the Romans, ‘All power comes from God… Resisting power is resisting God,’ the head of state was called Nero. What would Saint Paul say today, when our Chief is an old man loaded with glory and years, of honour and merit, with the purest and most upright intentions?
“His power is the only one; the flatus vocis [babbling] of a foreign radio station is not a power. Catholic morality dictates that we obey in conscience Marshal Pétain. “
(Speech delivered at the Cathedral on November 23, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr AUDOLLENT, Bishop of Blois:
” … the Head of State, the one who embodies, at this hour, the destiny of the Fatherland, the one who gave everything to France and whose portrait I will simply outline by applying to him the words of our Saint Louis: ‘Valiant in war, just in peace’.”
(Speech at the Cathedral on September 28, 1911.)
H. E. Mgr TISSIER of Châlons:
“In the other war, a happy phrase, the reifying of which ensured for a large part the final victory, made France thrill from one border to another. May this ‘sacred union’ of yesterday still bring us all together and we are closely united in the providential hand of the one who brings all his dedication and authority to repair this wreckage “
(Pastoral letter of February 11, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr HARSCOUET, Bishop of Chartres:
“We are, thanks to God, neither English nor anything else: we are French …
“Today, as a valiant soldier wants to put right and renovate France, it is easy to see the dire effects of institutions and mores. It’s about uplifting each other. We want to change the institutions that corrupted men. It is the business of statesmen to consider carefully and then set out the manner of this transformation. A noble task for which they know without doubt the possibilities, and we must give them credit for the opportunity of the hour.
“Since the new regime wants as we do to protect Work and the Family, let us be the first to help it through our conduct and by our examples.”
(The Voice of ND. de Chartres of July 20, 1940.)
H. E. Mgr LOUVARD, Bishop of Coutances:
“Forgetting all that divides, embracing the noble Head of State, let us keep invincible our hope to see France great and strong by becoming Christian again.”
(Letter to his priests and imprisoned seminarians, November 1941.)
H. E. Mgr SEMBEL of Dijon:
“Catholics must understand that it is for them a duty of conscience to obey the Head of State who has been legally and properly invested with power by the vote of the National Assembly …
“Instead of listening complacently and spreading criticism that divides and risks hindering the country’s recovery, let us trust the magnificent dedication and wisdom of our Leader, let us help our sympathy and courageous cooperation to the common good by faithfully fulfilling our providential duty, each in our place.”
(The Diocesan Life, July 5, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr GAUDRON, Bishop of Evreux:
“We have a legally constituted legitimate government. At his head is a leader whose past commands respect and recognition from all, This Leader accepted power out of devotion in the most painful circumstances, and he exercises it in the midst of the greatest difficulties, with the same courage he showed in Verdun to save us.”
(Semaine Religieuse, December 28, 1940.)
H. E. Mgr CHIRON of Langres:
“Make France’s soul again. It is the task that has fallen to us. It is great and is sacred to us. All of us will bring to it a strong resolution in a spirit of respectful loyalty to the legitimate authority
of our country and to each other, in a spirit of sincere and fraternal unity. This is not difficult: who would refuse our present Leader his trust, and what divisive passion would set apart grieving brothers? “
(Pastoral letter of February 11, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr RICHAUD of Laval:
“Our first civic obligation is to grant the Head of State and those who represent him our loyalty and confidence of in our [his?] good sense…
“The Church sees only the respect of God himself in the legitimate power to whom Providence has given authority, allowing him to establish himself. Everything else is in the eyes of the Faith only human intrigues that do not interest religion directly. The believer goes straight to the divine side of people and things. Thus, when the circumstances and authority of the spiritual leaders are there to clarify his duty of submission, he would think he would succumb to a temptation of pride or egoism by allowing himself to indulge in a mentality or acts of dissent.”
(Pastoral letter of November 24, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr CAZEAUX, Bishop of Luzon:
“At a time when the bruised country is slowly recovering from the ruins, when a huge work of reconstruction and renovation requires the understanding and energies of all its children, when by increasingly, by his lucidity, his calm courage, his absolute devotion, his down-to-earth honesty, the miraculous Leader whom Providence has given us, calls for respect and universal admiration, to unify behind this Leader is the most sacred of duties for all French people.”
(Autograph letter of January 31, 1942.)
H. E. Mgr GRENTE, Bishop of Le Mans:
“The duty of all the French is to show their confidence in the admirable soldier who, despite his glory and his age, after being, in the difficult hours, the precious ambassador of France to Spain, assumed, in the fracas of the impending catastrophe, the presidency of the Council, and who was chosen French Head of State by the National Assembly…
“Disciplined and anxious to give the example of patriotism, Catholics will remember that it is with Marshal Pétain that the Holy Father has his representative, in the person of Mgr the Nuncio, dean of the Diplomatic Corps. There is no confusion. The Gospel teaches us that any kingdom divided against itself will perish. Is this the time for discussion and discord?
“France first! Union first 1 Duty, sacrifice, fidelity, these are the words and instructions of today.”
(French and Christians, August 6, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr DEBRAY, coadjutor of H. E. Mgr EVRARD, Bishop of Meaux:
“In his broadcast to the people of France on August 13, 1940, Marshal Pétain declared: … ‘For all of us, patience is perhaps, today, the most necessary form of courage.’
“… Every day brings us a new confirmation of the correctness and expediency of these words of the revered Head of State. “
(Semaine Religieuse of January 31 and February 7, 1942.)
H. E. Mgr GONON, Bishop of Moulins:
We will not end these lines without giving you one last and important advice to practice what Our Lord seemed particularly preoccupied with on the eve of his death, while he begged his Father that his own ‘be one’. Let us put aside our ideas, our opinions, our personal views, there is only one French head of state, let us follow him unanimously, let us follow him all: ‘let’s be one’.
(Pastoral Letter for The Careme 1941.)
H. E. Mgr VILLEPELET, Bishop of Nantes:
“When a chief commands, the duty of subordinates is to obey. The desired result is obtained only at this price. Now, the respected leader who, in these difficult times, with as much courage as wisdom, presides over the destiny of the Fatherland, has indicated in three months the program of national recovery that is imposed on every Frenchman: Work, Family, Homeland. We would have bad grace to propose other instructions than those that make up such a trilogy…
“True patriotism requires the union of citizens among themselves and obedience to the legitimately established power. Frank and sincere loyalty is not an optional attitude that everyone would adopt according to their feeling or sense of opportunity: it stems from the traditional teaching of the Church.”
(Pastoral letter of February 11, 1941.)
So what is our duty, here and now, to save France?… When it comes to the our duties toward the Fatherland, it is to the Leader who alone has the responsibilities for it, that we must turn. The first duty is obedience to the Leader. At the moment, however, there are those who hesitate to obey and, because of this, there are divisions, which go as far as hatred among the French. And yet no hesitation is possible. All power comes from God is the fourth commandment1. We all owe obedience, respect, loyalty towards the present leader of France: Marshal Pétain, he is the legitimate leader of France since, in fact, he is the only French leader who governs France, preserves it from a foreign leader, keeps it in unity and peace and guides her towards her recovery.
(Semaine Religieuse, September 28, 1941)
H. E. Mgr FLYNN bishop of Nevers:
“No hesitation is allowed today in the face of a legitimate government, the best we have known for a long time, the only one able, by its standing and dedication, to raise again a bruised France, the only one that has begun to take into account the rights of the Catholic conscience. Surely nothing and no one is perfect here, but it is enough that the [sun’s ?] rays carry him over the shadows so that a duty not only of submission but of trust and cooperation prevails”
(Semaine Religieuse, January 25, 1941.)
Bishop COURCOUX, Bishop of Orleans:
“The Bishop of Orleans, in all circumstances, asks his diocesans the spirit of loyal and constant submission to the directives of the Maréchal Pétain. He keeps repeating that unity with the Leader whom Providence gave to France was never more necessary.”
(Autograph letter of March 1, 1942.)
H. E. Mgr MESGUEN, Bishop of Poitiers:
“Let us not be seduced or abused by adventurous, if not chimerical, solutions. Let us position ourselves, without turning our backs, behind the Head of State, Marshal Pétain. Undoubtedly, the man of honor, the renowned soldier whom the Diplomatic Corps includes in its number, legally represents the principle of order and authority without which a great country like ours would not be able to pursue its destiny, No sterile regrets that would serve no purpose, nor a dreary apathy. It would have as a result a fatal collapse.”
(Pastoral letter for the year of grace 1941.)
H. E. Mgr DUPARC, Bishop of Quimper:
“Let us follow the great soldier who has agreed to lead us into the work of salvation and renewal imposed on us … The growing prestige that haloes his person, his message, the actions of his government, all these help to inspire confidence. Self-interest as much as duty push us to stand by him. Today, he embodies France. It is France in him that must be defended, that must be served and loved, as he himself, more than anyone, loved, served and defended France.”
(Pastoral letter of February 2, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr LIAGRE, Bishop of La Rochelle:
“Our first duty is to show respect and obedience to the government to which our country committed itself the day after the armistice, because it is the legitimate authority. Let us not be misled by fanciful rumours, or pay attention to malicious critics; let us trust Marshal Pétain, who so perfectly embodies the ideal of our homeland. We will thus contribute to maintaining and strengthening French unity, an essential condition for our recovery. “
(Semaine Religieuse, January 16, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr SERRAND, Bishop of Saint-Brieuc
“I am asked: What attitude should a Catholic take towards the government of Marshal Pétain?
“The answer is simple. The Church prescribes to her children to give loyalty to the established power. Now, what is the established power among us, if not that of the Marshal?
It may be that our thoughts do not correspond in every way with his; one thing is certain is that he is better informed than we are; better than we do, he knows what is possible and what is not. Let us trust his love of France and his foresight. Let’s be proud to follow him. “
(Semaine Religieuse, December 13, 1940.)
H. E. Mgr BLANCHET, Bishop of Saint-Dié:
“France is, at present, endowed with a government whose legitimacy appears indisputable, since it holds its existence of the National Assembly, assembled and deliberating in accordance with the strictest requirements of the constitutional law of 1875.
“The attitude of Catholics towards this power must therefore be the one prescribed by the Church towards any legitimate social authority. Now, Church teaches that all power comes from God …
“From this arises the duties of respect and submission towards the legitimate power, duties which have a truly religious character in Catholic doctrine,”
(Notice to his clergy: Ecclesiastical retreat of 1941.)
H.E. Bishop PASQUET, Bishop of Séez:
“Marshal Pétain strives by all means to instill in us, as a necessary remedy, the spirit of sacrifice in discipline and in respect for authority.
“People of France, we must follow him with confidence, also help him in his difficult task and support his action with all our power.”
(Pastoral letter of February 11, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr MENNECHET, Bishop of Soissons:
“This is to tell you, Marshal, that in my diocese you are understood, loved and followed and will be more and more so. My diocesans, moreover, tested by the war 1914-1918 as they were, have since then learned that with unity, order, discipline, it is possible to bring out the most magnificent resurrections from the greatest ruins.
“It is with these sentiments that we want to continue to work under your leadership, each in the place assigned to us, in the much desired recovery of our dear country.”
(Letter to the Marshal of October 24, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr LEFEBVRE, Bishop of Troyes:
“Let us be indissolubly united in a loyal obedience and a firm trust in the legitimate government of our country. When all seemed hopeless, God’s merciful Providence placed the fate of the Fatherland in the hands of a great soldier. Let us follow him, in complete discipline. He keeps his counsel, but he knows where he wants to take us and who would dare doubt that he wants to lead us to a place of honor.”
(Speech of November 2, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr LE BELLEC, Bishop of Vannes:
Cleansed in the crucible of adversity, France will once again become Christian. Already many signs herald the coming of the best days. The government of Marshal Pétain gives the Church unequivocal proof of her sincere desire to restore their true place and meaning to the ‘spiritual forces’.”
(Pastoral letter for Carème 1942.)
H. E. Mgr GINISTY, Bishop of Verdun:
I had the honour of being received by the Marshal, a month ago, in Vichy himself: I admired once again the beautiful and powerful intelligence of this head of government, open intelligence, with perfect lucidity, on all political, economic, patriotic and religious problems. I admired the nobility of his character, the reliable paternal goodness that inclines him to all those who suffer or need help. With wisdom, foresight and authority that everyone recognizes, he makes the necessary reforms and achieves a new France in accordance with her spirit and centuries-old traditions imbued with Christianity and healthy freedom. “
(Autograph letter of December 27, 1941.)
H. E. Mgr ROLAND-GOSSELIN, Bishop of Versailles:
“All the French must unite in a perfect loyalty around Marshal Pétain who took on the recovery of France with an admirable mastery. His glorious past, his recent statements
and the first acts of his government inspire full confidence in us. We could not have, in our present misfortunes, a greater consolation, a hope so well founded… Catholics will all want to help him with their prayers and lend him their efforts; they will be the first to obey him with the most loyal and confident eagerness. “
(Diocesan Bulletin of December 16, 1940.)
1 For readers not familiar with Catholic theology, this is the one about honouring father and mother; the graven images commandment is omitted, while wife-coveting is separated from coveting other goods to make up the ten.
COMMENTARY BY KPW
The leaflet imposed a religious duty of allegiance to Pétain on whole families, police, justice officials, civil servants and the resistance alike. Given that France then was very much more devout, we can only imagine the damage it must have wreaked at such a crucial time during the war.
It is the very antithesis of the secularism/laïcité codified in 1905; suggesting that in the Church’s mind, laïcité is only to benefit the Church and not to constrain it in any way.
The leaflet needs to be placed in the context of the preceding centuries, and especially the preceding decade. To cite a few centuries-long examples: crusades against Muslims, the cultural genocide of millions in Latin America and persecution of the Jews.
When the leaflet was published in 1942 there was ample incontrovertible contemporaneous evidence about the invasions the Nazis had made into Sovereign territory involving murder and destruction as well as about the murderous persecution of Jews. Or was the latter not a concern because of the Church’s well-known hostility to Judaism, still then justified on Biblical grounds? Until Hitler died, his birthday was celebrated from Catholic pulpits throughout Germany. Almost immediately after the leaflet was published, Pius XII (Eugenio Pacelli) learned of evidence of the Holocaust – and ignored it.
The leaflet and the context raise questions that are crying out for further examination of evidence to be subject to objective consideration. It has prompted the International Association of Freethinkers and associated bodies and publications (including Idée Libre) to launch a call for evidence from around the world about Catholic activities during WWII and the preceding and succeeding decade. Below are some of the questions on which we invite responses. These will inform future articles and publications.
- Why the Catholic Church both in France and elsewhere lent its support to the Vichy and the Hitler regimes in WWII and urged the population to do so. Was its revulsion of Communism and atheism so extreme that they would support any regime opposing them, however repugnant?
- Who decided to take this path, choose the Nazi side, and under what influences;
- What dissent was there – if any – and what befell the dissenters, both in and outside the Church? Did those in the Church report the non-compliant to Vichy/Nazi authorities?
- How did the Church extricate itself when the war ended; and what role did it play in aiding the escape of senior Nazis and rehabilitating those who remained?
- How could clerical child sex abuse on an enormous scale – as described below – evade legal process other than by secrecy enforced by the Church and a complicit legal system?
The more recent revelations of child abuse in the Church echo earlier atrocities. It is unlikely that Child Sexual abuse began only in 1950, the first year considered by the Child Abuse Commission in its enquiries. The French Church itself has estimated that abuse victims in France since 1950 numbered a third of a million. Presumably it follows there were around a million criminal acts of abuse, plus since 2000 countless criminal failures to report it; both have almost entirely escaped Church or secular punishment.
Late in 2021, following these revelations by the Commission, but seemingly oblivious of them, the President of the French Conference of Bishops asserted publicly that canon law concerning the secrecy of the confessional relating to child sexual abuse overrode French law that requires disclosure of child abuse, regardless of any obligations of confidentiality. After being berated by the French President, the archbishop’s “defence” was that he had spoken “clumsily”, rather as if it had been a faux pas to admit publicly what remains the Church’s de facto position, even now.
Responses and suggestions should be sent to [dedicated email address] as soon a possible but will be especially welcome if received by the start of 2023.
Those seeking, despite all, to defend the Church’s leaflet will doubtless point to the undoubted good the Church has done, especially in its education and charitable works throughout the world. But it should not be forgotten that its education been offered only to those prepared to be indoctrinated, and its charitable works have often been hindered by religious dogma, particularly the proscription on contraception, that has fuelled poverty and needless infection.