- September 2016 : Laïcité, once again
In a context of constant debate around the issue of secularity (laïcité), reignited this summer by court decisions on the wearing of the burkini (see debates of August 2016), the Observatoire de la laïcité (whose mission it is to “assist the Government in its work to ensure respect for the principle of laïcité in France”) has just published two documents.
The first, entitled Déclaration pour la laïcité [lit. declaration for secularity], is set out following the motto of the French Republic : liberty, fraternity and equality. It stresses that secularity must above all evoke freedom - freedom of conscience and of religious practice, even if its public manifestations take place within a legal framework. Laïcité makes it possible to ensure equality among citizens through the principle of separation of the State from religion. It also seeks to contribute to the ideal of fraternity.
The second, Libertés et interdits dans le cadre laïque [lit. freedoms and taboos within the secular context], sets out in a more detailed way how the principle of secularity implies taboos and limits, varying according to the place, but also guarantees rights and freedoms.
In 2014, the Observatoire had published a guidance note, which initially recalled the history of the construction of the principle of laïcité, then explained the legal meaning of laïcité as well as its repercussions for society, finally detailing the application of the principle of secularity to modern realities.
- April 2016 : The Catholic church and the affairs of sexual assaults on children
A case of child abuse sparked significant media agitation recently in France. Beyond the legitimate outrage provoked by this information, this case raises the question of the responsibility of the hierarchy of the Church.
Bernard P., a priest who admitted committing sexual assaults between 1986 and 1991, was indicted in January 2016 ; the judges ruled that these acts were not prescribed. A victims association has filed a complaint, saying that Mgr Barbarin, appointed in 2002 Cardinal Archbishop of Lyon, had known of the pedophile actions committed by the priest of his diocese without reporting it to justice, and even allowed the priest to continue to work in contact with children. Cardinal Barbarin was also said to have been aware of similar acts committed by another priest, Jerome B., between 2007 and 2009. He is, therefore, within the scope of a legal investigation for failing to report sexual abuse of a minor (see Le Monde and Libération).
Since then, other cases of clergymen accused of sexual assault have surfaced again in the diocese of Lyon. The media agitation was increased by the statements of Prime Minister Manuel Valls calling the archbishop of Lyon to "take responsibility", and of the Minister of Education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem. Cardinal Philippe Barbarin said in response that he had "never covered any act of paedophilia."
This controversy affects the image of the Catholic Church, especially by revealing defensive mechanisms still at work, which can sometimes lead to give precedence to the protection of the institution over the consideration of victims. However, failure to report such facts incurs a penalty of three years in prison. In 2001, the bishop of a priest convicted for rape and assault of minors has been given a three-month suspended prison sentence for failing to report the crime of sexual molestation. The Bishops’ Conference of France recalled in 2003 the obligation for all, including Church leaders, to denounce a fact of sexual assault to their knowledge (see La lutte contre la pédophilie republished in 2010). Progress is still needed, obviously, and the Permanent Council of the Bishops’ Conference of France has taken up the issue. They announced in April a set of dispositions destined to prevent child abuses in the Catholic Church and to improve the management of these facts. A national expert committee against paedophilia (Commission nationale d’expertise contre la pédophilie) is also set up by the Catholic Church.
On this question, read an article of Stéphane Joulain, "La pédophilie dans l’Eglise catholique : un point de vue interne", Esprit, October 2011, p. 28-39.