From Drancy to Lourdes, a Church on its knees

What is a Church on its knees? A humiliated Church, fallen from its splendor, laid “bare”. But a repentant Church. Impressive, the request for forgiveness of the bishops, in Lourdes, before God, for the sexual crimes perpetrated within the institution recalled another repentance, that made in Drancy in 1997 by the bishops already, before God and the Jewish community. Of course, any comparison would be void, for nothing equals the terrifying enterprise of annihilating the Jewish people with the Shoah. However, there are some striking parallels. First, it was the same approach for the Church of a responsibility assumed even outside of any legal obligation. Already, at the time, there had been an internal debate to know whether it was necessary to move towards a recognition of a specific responsibility of the hierarchy, different from that of the faithful.

Institutional silence of the Church

What Drancy’s statement ultimately did, speaking of the “Institutional silence” of the Church of France under Vichy. And while recognizing that “Ecclesial interests had prevailed over the commandments of conscience”, than “Indifference had been stronger than indignation”, and had the effect of obscuring the biblical requirement “Respect for every human being created in the image of God”. And also, this question: why the bishops had not known how to listen to the faithful who alerted?

The declaration of Bishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, on November 6 in Lourdes, reveals the same mechanisms of protection of the institution. There again, it was a question of knowing why between consciousness and silence, it was silence that was preferred. This request for forgiveness is also based on the recognition of the institutional responsibility of the Church, which had been recorded the day before, on what this attitude could have had of. “Systemic”, that is, maintained by the ecclesial system itself. By this approach, the bishops signify that they are part of society, in a form of horizontality with it, and not apart or overhanging.

Future-oriented repentance

The Lourdes declaration has very harsh words for the institution, which will have to be taken the time to ponder: Bishop de Moulins-Beaufort described a Church which believed it could teach without listening, sanctify without depriving itself, govern without converting. Which led to “A human system of degradation, contempt, death”.

“The work on memory is not without suffering because the past is never neutral: it is alive, shadows and lights. The Church’s loyal return to the silences of yesterday is worth a commitment to risk the words of tomorrow ”, wrote in a magnificent editorial Bruno Frappat in 1997 after the declaration of Drancy. A conclusion that we want to repeat, almost word for word after Lourdes: last Saturday’s request for forgiveness for the attitudes of the past would be nothing if it were not oriented towards the future. And it is well from this triptych stated by the president of the bishops, “Listening, counting, converting”, that the Church must now move forward. Go forward, but on your knees.


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