How Catholic Is France?

You Might Be Surprised

The four-day papal journey to France in September came off seamlessly. Benedict XVI arrived at Orly on Friday, September 12, and was received at the Elysée by President Nicolas Sarkozy. Later, he gave a much-anticipated talk to 640 French intellectuals in the great hall of the newly inaugurated Collège des Bernardins. At the end of the full day, he preached a homily and sang vespers at Notre-Dame.

On Saturday, September 13, Benedict spoke briefly to another group of French érudits, including the members of the Institut de Sciences morales et politiques, to which he himself had been elected in 1991. He then celebrated Mass on the esplanade of the Invalides before 260,000 people. On September 14, he journeyed to Lourdes as a simple pilgrim, but on the following day, he resumed the mantle of Supreme Pontiff to deliver a no-nonsense address to the assembled French episcopacy. That evening, he returned to Rome.

In 2005, if the hundred-odd bishops of France had been entrusted with the election of a new pope, Joseph Ratzinger would not have garnered many votes (notwithstanding the enthusiastic support of the late archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, for his German “brother”). But times have changed, and today he would do significantly better; indeed, he might almost win. And if this is so, it is mostly attributable to a noteworthy external development: the unprecedented ...

To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.

About the Author

Steven Englund, a longtime Commonweal contributor, is the author of Napoleon: A Political Life (Harvard University Press), which won the American Historical Association’s J. Russell Major Prize. He is currently writing a comparative study of political anti-Semitism in Germany, Austria-Hungary, and France.