Vatican Applauds New Era of Church-State Relations in France

Aide Says Talks Started Confidentially in 1992

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 15, 2002 ( The Vatican applauded the new era of contacts between the Catholic Church and the French government which began this week.

In an interview on Vatican Radio, Archbishop Jean-Louis Tauran, Vatican secretary for relations with states, noted with satisfaction the initiation of Church-state meetings that will focus on administrative and juridical matters.

In a country with a profound secular tradition and a center-left executive, the news was described as “historic” by experts and the media, including Vatican Radio.

Archbishop Tauran said the new platform of dialogue with French officials began in 1992 through “confidential contacts.”

“Authorities of the Church in France referred to many concrete problems that needed to be resolved, but the main problem was to find individuals in the state structure and the French administration capable of addressing these problems and proffering solutions,” the French archbishop explained.

At one point, there was talk of creating commissions composed of Church and state representatives “to resolve the ordinary problems of the Church as, for example, the use of cathedrals, churches, taxation, chaplaincies in hospitals and prisons, times for catechesis in the school timetable, etc.”

These mixed commissions have virtually no precedents in France since the early 20th century. Archbishop Tauran explained that “that Church may be separated from the state and, perhaps, should be, but the Church cannot be separated from society because man is a religious animal.”

“Therefore, the state must keep this dimension of man in mind, including transcendence and divinity, to speak in very general terms,” the archbishop continued.

This dimension “explains the need for cooperation so that each form of worship is known and respected on its own,” Archbishop Tauran added.

This new era of relations is not connected to the forthcoming presidential elections campaign, the archbishop stressed. The French go to the polls on April 21 and again on May 5.

In fact, the meeting between the French bishops and Prime Minister Lionel Jospin (a meeting supported by President Jacques Chirac) should have been held Jan. 10. It was delayed due to conflicting agendas. “All agree that there was no secondary electoral intention,” the archbishop clarified.

“A structured dialogue is being undertaken for the time being,” he added. “I would say that I see it as a modernization of Church-state relations in France, because one cannot pretend that a law that will soon be 100 years old is perfect, and in no need of modification. It would be a miracle.”

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