In France, criticism of a private fund-raising effort now seems to constitute a violation of the separation of Church and state: Catholic Clergy Attack French Telethon Over Stem Cell Aid.
The country’s Muscular Dystrophy Association runs an annual telethon to raise money for medical research, part of which is spent on research on embryonic stem cells. Some clerics said the telethon shouldn’t be supported for that reason. It seems that the most extreme statement was made by a member of the commission for bioethics and human life in one diocese, who posted a statement on the diocesan web site that said “It is no longer possible to participate in the telethon … Christians cannot cooperate with evil.” The statement has been removed, and the consensus among bishops is that the effort should still be supported,
The result? “For the secular French state, the attack by the country’s Roman Catholic hierarchy comes close to a declaration of war…. the separation of church and state is an unshakable pillar of the French Republic, and these attacks have been met with sharp resistance. Government officials and the leaders of the French medical establishment have made clear that the church has no business interfering in matters of state, especially when they involve a practice that is legal…. the current verbal assault by church leaders is exceptional in republican France. An analysis on Thursday in Le Monde called it ‘a polemic without precedent.'”
So what’s going on? Why is reluctance to support a voluntary charitable effort interference in matters of state? One possibility is that the article is simply incompetent, and the real story is quite different. The journalist, Elaine Sciolino, writes for the New York Times, so she’s not likely to be intelligent about anything involving religion, and she’s both American and female, so she may be unable to think about France as an actual functioning country rather than a fashion statement and symbol of something-or-other. In general, though, it’s likely there’s something to the story. It appears that
- Public life in the EU and particularly in France is based on ideals of social justice and solidarity.
- Social justice and solidarity mean that government is responsible for all aspects of human life that matter. It follows that it must decide everything, so that “separation of church and state” can only mean the abolition of religion in all settings that make a difference to anyone.
- The French bishops, on the whole, have accepted that situation. On the whole they have contented themselves with modernizing the Mass, praising social justice and solidarity, and otherwise doing what their social betters want them to do.
- They are nonetheless bishops, and at some point in the devolution of liberal modernity that will require them to act in ways now officially understood as grossly antisocial. Since the point is obvious, liberal moderns are extremely sensitive on the issue and quick to stomp on any signs of independence.