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MONTAUBAN, France (ChurchMilitant.com) - A French bishop is saying that the escalating attacks on Catholic churches in his country are coming from at least two fronts.
In a July 24 interview with the New Daily Compass, Bp. Bernard Ginoux of Montauban said the convergence of secularist forces and Islam is resulting in unabated hostility towards Christians across France.
Bishop Ginoux reacted to the alarming statistics of the interviewer that cited a 250% increase in anti-Christian acts in the last 10 years, with thousands of attacks on French churches in the past three years alone.
"When did France stop being, taking up a quote from de Gaulle, the 'eldest daughter' of the Church?" the interviewer asked the bishop rhetorically.
Ginoux noted that the language the State uses (or fails to use) in describing attacks on churches helps explain the increased hostility.
For example, President Emmanuel Macron made "no mention of Christian identity" in his reactions to the fire of Notre Dame. Instead, he spoke of "literature," of the "imaginary" and even of "fate," Ginoux noted.
While this description is not false, the bishop pointed out that Notre Dame "is above all the expression of the Christian faith of our ancestors and of these centuries that have shaped France, that is to say, the 'Christian roots' of our nation."
The State's failure to hunt down the perpetrators of crimes against the Church also reflects an animus towards the Church, according to Ginoux. For example, the investigation into the recent fire in the Nantes cathedral, he noted, lacks conviction, with one man taken into custody and then released, and the prosecutor merely saying the investigation for "arson" continues.
Investigations are "surrounded by silence," Ginoux lamented.
"We are in a moment of strong dechristianization in which the Christian tradition no longer irrigates contemporary culture," warned the bishop. "Young people for the most part totally ignore the religion of their fathers. They can therefore be dragged into deadly dead ends."
On top of such realities, French society is increasingly marked by not only the presence of Islam but by favoritism towards it, Ginoux observed.
"The Islamic veil has become widely accepted, halal products have very important shelves in supermarkets, which, like the media, publish special advertisements for Ramadan, while Christian symbols 'such as crosses' are forbidden to be worn in public offices," he said.
In addition, the law separating Church and State works against the Church.
According to French law, cathedrals built before 1905 are owned by the municipalities responsible for maintaining these buildings.
But "increasingly, when buildings or chapels present risks to users, it is easier to close them than to find the necessary funds for their restoration," he said, with many arguing that "the State should not finance the maintenance of religious buildings" to begin with.
These arguments are made while the building of mosques continues at a healthy clip: 2,000 have been built in the last 30 years.
Ginoux says he intends these remarks not to be seen as a criticism of Islam per se because "Muslims must be full citizens."
"But if secularism is a struggle against religion, it must avoid the systematic prejudice of attacking the Catholic Church. Otherwise, it is a purely ideological attitude," he countered.
Though he advocates interfaith dialogue, Ginoux cautioned between "dialogue with Muslims, in mutual respect and listening, from dialogue with Islam, whose essence is conquest."
As an example of the latter, the French prelate pointed to Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who recently declared Hagia Sophia a mosque. Dialogue with Erdoğan is "impossible" in light of this, Bp. Ginoux warned: "I think so because the Turkish president is implementing a policy of expansion and hegemony in the Mediterranean in the name of Islam."
The secularist media also plays a role in entrenching anti-Christian sentiments, according to the bishop.
"The power of the media paralyzes many Church leaders," he said. "We know that the media can destroy anyone, and we have seen it widely in the political arena."
To what he claims is the media's unbalanced coverage of clerical sex abuse and cover-up, he noted, "It is true that we are not free from sins and defects, but for 2,000 years the Church has brought to the world a good of which it lives (equality, brotherhood, respect for life, attention for the weakest) even if there is still much to do."
The bishop's observations in many ways resonate with those in the book Will the Bells Still Ring Tomorrow? by former minister Philippe de Villiers, who questions whether France is no longer the eldest daughter of the Church but the eldest daughter of Islam.
But Ginoux manages to end the interview hopefully, even while he alludes to de Villiers' troubling question: "Yes, the bells will ring again tomorrow!"
"France, like Europe, is going through a painful period in which the Christian Faith is no longer the point of reference," he explained.
"The laws of society called bioethics want to be the triumph of a world without God. Contemporary man wants to believe in his self-realization. ... This is the ancient original sin: 'You would become like God,'" he continued.
"When he thinks he has reached this fullness, man will see his failure. But the ever-present God sent him a Savior. At that moment the eyes will open and see God," he added. "This is unshakable Christian hope."