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  • December 2020: The Roman Catholic Church in France weakened by confinement

The health crisis of 2020 caused the total or partial closure of places of worship for several months. This has had a significant impact on the Roman Catholic Church in France, which announced that in 2020 it has suffered a "real financial shock", recording a 30 to 40% drop in its resources. The "denier du culte", the financial participation of the faithful collected during religious services, constitutes an important part of the resources of this Church.

See the press release of the Conférence des évêques de France (French Bishops’ Conference), and an article in Le Monde.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • December 2020: The Catholic Church, Religious Freedom and the Pandemic (continued)

On 16 November 2020, the representatives of the religious denominations met with Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin to study possible changes in the modalities of religious practice in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, on 24 November, when President of the Republic Emmanuel Macron detailed the measures for easing the second containment that France has been undergoing since 29 October, he announced that attendance at religious services would be limited to 30 people. The leaders of the different religious groups expressed their surprise and their regret that they had not been given a better hearing, judging this limit to be unreasonable and inapplicable.
Because of the importance they attach to participation in mass, the Catholics in particular have strongly advocated for this. Launched during the first weekend of confinement, the petition had collected more than 100 000 signatures in one week. The demand came from the most traditionalist circles, and was finally supported by the French Bishops’ Conference, which on 27 November filed a reference to the Conseil d’Etat (Council of State), along with several other associations.
In its decision of 29 November 2020, the President of the Court ordered the government to modify this limit of 30 people within three days, by adapting it, for example, to the surface area of the establishments or to their capacity, so that it is strictly proportionate to the health risk. The Conseil d’État found that "the particular nature of religious ceremonies is not sufficient to justify the 30-person limit imposed on all religious establishments, regardless of their size", that this limit was disproportionate to the objective of preserving public health and that the government had seriously and manifestly unlawfully infringed the fundamental freedom of worship.
He called for consultation with the representatives of the principal religions.
On 2 December, in a press release, the Minister of the Interior, Mr. Darmanin, stated that in the context of the discussions with the representatives of the various religions, "a new presence gauge in the religious buildings has been established". Religious ceremonies are authorised on condition that two seats are left free between each person or family, as well as having only every second row occupied.
Discussions are to continue, in order to prepare the evolution of the containment measures expected by 15 December.

See Decree N 2020-1505 of 2 December 2020 modifying decrees n° 2020-1262 of 16 October 2020 and n° 2020-1310 of 29 October 2020 prescribing the general measures necessary to deal with the covid-19 epidemic in the context of a state of health emergency

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • November 2020: The Catholic Church, Religious Freedom and the Pandemic

Since 29 October, France has been experiencing a second period of containment, due to the resumption of the Covid-19 epidemic. Religious groups have once again been called upon to cease face-to-face religious gatherings. However, members of the Roman Catholic Church (laity, associations and bishops) are invoking freedom of worship to demand the resumption of masses. Demonstrations have taken place, with the faithful organising prayers in the streets in a number of cities in France. Numerous recours en référé have been filed. Most of them are from the traditionalist current of the Roman Catholic Church (the association Civitas, close to the fundamentalists of the Parisian church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet, the Fraternité de Saint-Pierre, a traditionalist religious organisation), but there are also several bishops.
Already, at the end of the first confinement, the traditionalists had lodged an appeal before the Conseil d’Etat, refusing to wait to resume their activities, which the government demanded. They had won their case, and on 18 May the Council of State had asked the government to lift the ban on religious celebrations.
In November, however, the interim relief judge of the Council of State did not suspend the provisions of the decree of 29 October 2020 which temporarily restrict, within the framework of confinement, the possibility of gathering in places of worship.
The demonstrations continued, but only concern the Roman Catholic Church. It is true that regular attendance at mass is an important requirement of this religion, and that the first confinement seems to have caused this Church to lose many of its regular followers, although it is not yet clear whether they will resume their regular practice when the epidemic is over. However, we note that the Catholic episcopate is acting in this case without the support of the other religions, obviously expecting special treatment from the public authorities.
Prime Minister Jean Castex and Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin met on 16 November with the religious leaders, as requested by the Council of State; they explained that the sanitary conditions did not allow the resumption of public celebrations. A controlled resumption will have to take place from 1 December, depending on the sanitary conditions. The French Bishops’ Conference calls for this decision to be respected and for patience.
It is not certain that this call by the bishops will be followed by all the faithful, and other demonstrations are still taking place at the weekend, despite the Interior Minister’s warning that he would not hesitate to "send the police to issue fines", in the event of "repeated acts", to the people who would demonstrate for the reopening of masses.
These "street prayers" are incomprehensible to many people. First, some of them criticised the demonstrators for taking too lightly the health rules restricting gatherings. But the question of the legality of these public religious events in a secular France is often raised, especially after the tensions of 2017 when many elected officials had opposed prayers in the streets by Muslims who demanded the opening of a mosque.

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • May 2020: Religion and the Covid 19 epidemic

An article by Jacqueline Lalouette takes stock of religions in France at the time of Covid 19 (Jean Jaurès Foundation).

On 18 May 2020, the President of the court of the Council of State ordered the Government to lift the general and absolute ban on assembly in places of religion and to enact in its place measures strictly proportionate to the health risks and appropriate at this beginning of "deconfinement".

Anne-Laure Zwilling
  • March 2020: Facing the coronavirus epidemic

In the face of the coronavirus epidemic currently affecting most European countries, many religious groups have provided guidance on following the containment guidelines during this health crisis.

Catholicism: the Conférence des évêques de France has decreed that no Mass should be celebrated with an assembly. Funerals may be celebrated with a congregation of less than 20 people, who should be spread throughout the church; finally, confessions should be made in places that allow a distance of one meter and not be face to face.
Islam: The Conseil français du culte musulman has called on all mosques to "suspend the organization of Friday prayers" starting next week and "until further notice". Chems-eddine Hafiz, rector, announced the closure of the Grand Mosque of Paris. The CFCM invites the faithful to do their ablutions at home, before going to the mosque. The ritual cleansing of the deceased is also suspended.
Protestantism: most Protestant churches have announced the closure of places of worship: the Eglise protestante unie de France asks to limit activities as much as possible, the Union of Protestant Churches of Alsace-Lorraine cancels all worship services, the Baptist and Adventist churches have asked to close.
Judaism: the Consistoire central israélite has announced the closure of the synagogues.
Orthodoxy: Orthodox religious services have also been suspended. (See the communiqué from Métropole de France calling for the closure of the churches.)

According to a YouGov poll published by, 93% of respondents approve of the containment measure, which is considered necessary to combat the pandemic.

This year, the religious feasts of the monotheisms will all take place in April (Pesah from the 8th to the 16th; Easter around the 12th of April for Catholics and Protestants and for Orthodox on the 19th; Ramadan around the 24th of April). On 23 March, the President of the Republic brought together by audio conference the leaders of the main religious denominations (Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Buddhist, Orthodox) as well as lay and Freemasonry associations, and announced that these future religious holidays would have to take place "without gathering".
The president also said that there was no question of cremation becoming widespread for those who died of Covid-19. However, the question of funeral spaces will have to be taken into account, knowing that several Muslim squares are reaching saturation point.

Anne-Laure Zwilling

D 11 October 2022    AAnne-Laure Zwilling

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