France may be a predominantly Roman Catholic country, but it is also officially secular, with separation of church and state one of its most sacred tenets.I have no opinion on this, one way or the other. It's simply interesting to see how other countries handle such issues. I know enough about French society and their governmental system (I read a book; no, seriously, I read one book; well, I've almost finished it) to know that it's a fairly hierarchical system (not unlike the old European empires or, ironically, the Catholic church), and what happens above doesn't just trickle down to the lower levels, but comes down almost as a directive, even when it isn't. No interlocking systems, in other words, of city government, county, state, federal, with school districts and other quasi-governmental or governmental agencies, etc., all over the place. Quite a bit more unitary than ours. So it's no surprise that the article goes on to discuss government offices shutting down, and government officials essentially ordered to go to church.
So while the death of Pope John Paul II has brought widespread mourning, there has also been pressure on the French Republic not to honor him officially.
For the moment, the political instinct to please voters has won out: the government is marking the pope's passing in a variety of ways across France, and President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, will attend the funeral Mass at the Vatican on Friday.
But defenders of the country's republican tradition as well as some foes of the center-right government have charged that by doing so, the French state is violating a 100-year-old law dictating church-state separation. They contend that any gesture that gives the appearance of favoring one religion over another is forbidden.
They have even given the alleged sin a name: "papolatrie" or pope-worship.
"The law is very clear: the state cannot interfere in religious life," Yves Contassot, an adviser to the mayor of Paris and a leader of the left-leaning Green Party, said in a telephone interview. "The government is giving the impression that it is an advocate for one religion, and that religion is Catholicism. And that's an abuse of power."
One question, though: flags all over the place have been at half-mast, presumably (as in France), for the death of JPII. The question is this: how do all those people flying flags know to lower them? Is there some secret communication system for this kind of thing? Because it amazes me how uniformly and rapidly they all go to half-mast, and stay there for days on end.
Anyway, the "money quote" is buried at the end:
The conflict, though, distracts attention from the real religious crisis, both in France and in Europe as a whole: the withering of the Catholic faith.
Only about 12 percent of French Catholics attend Mass every week. Meanwhile, weekly attendance of French Muslims at Friday Prayer is soaring.