On August 15, a controversial ‘Prayer for France’ will be read out at French Catholic churches as the Feast of the Assumption is celebrated, reviving a centuries old tradition. The text of the 2012 version has outraged gay rights groups in France.
All Catholic churches in France have received the text of the controversial “Prayer for France” with the intention that it is read out to congregations across France at church services marking the feast of the Assumption, today, August 15 reports France 24.
The reason French gay rights activists are up in arms is that the subject matter of this year’s Prayer for France aims to mobilise Catholics against the French Socialist government of François Hollande’s recently announced plans to reform French family law as it applies to gay marriage and adoption. The proposed reforms would give gay couples in France the same rights as heterosexual couples.
In the distributed prayer, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the Catholic Archbishop of Paris, asks churchgoers to pray for France’s “newly elected officials” to put their “sense of common good over the pressure to meet special demands”.
The opposition of France’s Catholic Church to an expansion of gay rights in the area of matrimonial and family law echoes a similar campaign by the Catholic Church in Scotland to recently announced plans by the Scottish government to legalise gay marriage. There, the Catholic Church had called upon the Scottish government to hold a referendum on proposed legislative changes.
The wording of the Prayer for France has alarmed French gay rights groups who have accused the Catholic Church of "homophobia" and of interfering with politics. In France, there is a long running tradition, embodied in the French constitution since 1905, separating the powers of Church and State.
Speaking to France 24, Nicolas Gougain of the Inter LGBT activist group countered, “(President) François Hollande is committed to these reforms and they have been reaffirmed by his government. We can count on getting a majority in parliament and no prayer will be able to block this necessary legislation. Religion has no place in politics.”
The ‘Prayer for France’ is something of an anachronism and the strength of feeling on the issue of gay marriage on the part of the Catholic Church in France can be gauged from this tradition having died out after World War II. Prior to that, the ‘Prayer for France’ was a centuries-old custom which originated in the 17th century when King Louis XIII of France decreed that all churches would pray on August 15 for the good of the country.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church, Monsignor Bernard Podvin said the revival of the prayer was intended to “raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices”. In addition to opposing gay marriage, the Prayer also makes clear the Catholic Church’s resistance to adoption by gay couples. In the issued text of the Prayer, the Cardinal asks congregations to pray that “children cease to be objects of the desires and conflicts of adults and fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother”.
Inter LGBT was particularly angered by this section of the prayer, their spokesman Gougain stating, “He is implying that it is dangerous for a child to be brought up by same-sex parents. The text of the prayer is homophobic. The church’s definition of family is far from the reality of the diverse families we see today – same-sex, mixed or single parents. We are asking that all different types of families are recognised, in the interests of both child and parent.”
The Irish Times refers to Pope Benedict saying last January that same-sex marriage threatened "the future of humanity itself," and reports one of France’s other leading Cardinals, Philippe Barbarin of Lyon, speaking to Europe 1 Radio, as saying that marriage was defined at the very start of the Bible as created by God to join man and woman. "Nobody should be surprised that we Catholics think the first page of the Bible is right, even more so than a parliament."
Love thy neighbour
The Cardinal’s prayer has also provoked an angry reaction amongst Gay Christian groups in France. “Most of our members are really upset by this terrible prayer, which reinforces the fears certain Catholics have towards homosexuals,” Elisabeth Saint-Guily of Gay Christian group David and Jonathan told Europe1 radio, reports France 24.
She continued, “France’s bishops, and above them the Vatican, are using homophobic language. The Bible says, 'Love thy neighbour as yourself'. We would like the bishops to apply this maxim. They should love all their neighbours, including homosexuals.”
France’s Minister for Families, Dominique Bertinotti, told French media last week that a bill legalising gay marriage would be voted on in the French parliament in early 2013.