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Traditionalism’s Proving Ground

How bad have things gotten in the Catholic Church in France? According to a report in La Croix, they’ve never been worse. The French Catholic weekly has published the results of a recent survey taken by the Institut français d’opinion publique (IFOP). Among other startling statistics, IFOP found that the number of Frenchmen who identify themselves as Catholic fell from 81 percent in 1965 to 64 percent in late 2009. What’s more, the number of self-identified Catholics who attend Mass at least once a week fell from 27 percent to an appalling 4.5 percent during that same time period.

To put it in perspective, those of us who observe trends in the U.S. Church have expressed concern that average weekly Mass attendance in this country hovers around the 30 percent range (which represents a slight uptick, according to the latest data from Georgetown’s Center of Applied Research in the Apostolate). That’s roughly the same as France’s high at the close of Vatican II, when the “extraordinary form” of the Mass — the Tridentine Latin version — was still the ordinary form. The Eucharist is supposed to be the “source and summit” of Catholic life, but for French Catholics it’s long been a source of ambivalence. Perhaps we have here an inkling of why Church Fathers in the mid-20th century thought a reform was necessary. Unfortunately, Vatican II made an already bad situation worse. Nowadays, if not for tourists, the great historical cathedrals of France would be like empty airplane hangars.

On the catechetical side, things aren’t much brighter. A whopping 63 percent of French Catholics believe that all religions are the same — that is, they profess the heresy of indifferentism. Seventy-five percent want the Church to reconsider her teaching against artificial contraception; 68 percent want the Church to do the same regarding abortion. These are staggering figures for a country that was once referred to fondly as “the Church’s eldest daughter.”

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