June 23, 2020 (LifeSiteNews) — As lockdown measures in France continue to be lifted, one of the most outspoken bishops in France against the “confinement” of public worship because of the COVID-19 crisis, Bishop Bernard Ginoux of Montauban, has given a interview to the independent television station TV Libertés.
Answering the questions of Jean-Pierre Maugendre, of “Renaissance catholique,” Bishop Ginoux insisted that the French State should not have interfered with the way in which Catholics worship and how Masses are organized.
Beyond this point of law, Ginoux accused the French State of having forgotten “the spiritual dimension” of the crisis and further underscored the specificity of Catholic worship in which Christ is truly present on the altar in the “bloodless sacrifice” of the Mass.
This point was in fact brought up by traditional priestly institutes and lay associations that obtained the reopening of public worship by a decision of the Council of State after a first series of lifting of lockdown measures on May 11 ignored that aspect of French citizens’ lives.
Bishop Ginoux also complained that discussions between the Catholic Church and the government were conducted bringing together not only the different religions present in France but also Freemasons and secularist organizations as well as the scientific council that dictates sanitary measures relative to the Wuhan coronavirus, although these last groups are against religious worship.
Bishop Ginoux raised other important issues such as the spiritual accompaniment of the sick and the dying and the “disturbing” symbolism of wearing face masks.
COVID-19 infections and related deaths have slowed dramatically in France, and many collective activities have been re-allowed over the last weeks. However, in a number of dioceses, assistance at Mass is still subject to prior registration; limited to one third of churches’ capacity; and, in theory, dependent on wearing masks.
In a ringing phrase, Bishop Ginoux said: “As a Christian, I proclaim that nothing is above God and that we are not to serve the State when it prevents us from serving God.”
Here below is LifeSite’s transcription and translation of Bishop Ginoux’s interview. He first commented on his letter to the faithful of his diocese on May 12, which was published by LifeSite here.
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Bishop Ginoux : I wanted to show at a time when everything was going to open up again that we were still in the midst of a great discussion about the resumption of public worship. While the churches have always been able to remain open, and I was very insistent that our churches in the diocese of Montauban should be open – I mean the main churches of course – and that there should be funeral celebrations whenever possible, in other words, all the time, we did not have the possibility of welcoming people for public worship. On the one hand, I wanted to reassure the faithful of the diocese, on the other hand, I wanted to remind them that everything was going to open up, such as supermarkets and activities, but that there were still uncertainties about the opening of our churches to the public. It was a distinct shortcoming; the State was forgetting the spiritual dimension of this crisis and the right of the human person to practice his religion fully, in a country of rights and freedom. My letter insisted on what religious freedom means, recalling also that the Second Vatican Council, sometimes misunderstood on this point, also mentioned this religious freedom. That is the summary of my letter to the faithful of the diocese of Montauban, to remind them that the Mass is the life of the Catholic Church.
Jean-Pierre Maugendre: What exactly do these three months of confinement teach about the relations of the Church and the State in 2020?
Bp. Ginoux: When looking at the relations between Church and State we see that there are a number of glitches. There were the words of a minister who showed a lack of understanding of what the Catholic Church is all about. There is also, since 2010, this is not new, the assimilation of all religions in a common dialogue with the State. The President of the Republic had a videoconference with all the representatives of religions and schools of thought: Freemasonry, the Secularist committee, et cetera, were part of it, and so was the scientific committee. Therefore atheists, people who do not want religion at all, are also part of the discussion, so that the specificity of each religious tradition is not taken into account.
This is particularly true for us Catholics: the specificity of the Mass, of the Holy Mass, that is to say the sacred presence of the Risen Jesus that we live out in every Eucharist and that we can also bring to sick people, to people at the end of life. This unique quality of the Mass is that it is not just any gathering, it is not a gathering to pray together. Of course we pray together, but it is much more than that. Minister Castaner said that we could pray at home – and of course we are in full agreement with that – but the Mass is not just a prayer, it is not just the paschal meal, it is the bloodless sacrifice of Christ on the cross; it is the foundation of our faith. The mystery of the faith is great. The mysterium fidei is present there, that is where we live the mystery: “This is my Body, this is my Blood.” And we need the spiritual food, the food that is the Eucharist.
Some days ago we celebrated the feast of the Blessed Sacrament, Corpus Domini. It is to remind us that Jesus is there and that we celebrate His presence, and that He is there for us to give Himself to us so that we may give ourselves to others. This is what should have been expressed.
The lockdown has led in the Church's relations with the State to a certain attenuation, not to say equalization, of the state's behavior with regard to all religions and all their forms. Above all, it has put in second place the participation of religions in the crisis, i.e. the spiritual help that we can provide, particularly the Catholic Church at the moment of death. The Catholic Church in its accompaniment of the end of life, the Catholic Church in its accompaniment of the sick has been put aside, since in most of EHPADs [nursing homes for the dependent elderly) it was forbidden for priests to visit the sick at the end of life. This is non-assistance to persons in spiritual danger. These people were left to die alone, and this is not appropriate, it is not humanly just.
J.-P. M.: Civil legislation includes the obligation that civil marriage must precede religious marriage. By the simple fact of prohibiting civil marriages, the political authority has prohibited religious marriages, in a way interfering in an aspect of religious worship. What are your comments?
Bp. Ginoux: Yes, this dates back to Napoleon. It reminds us that there is a discrepancy between religious commitment and civic commitment and that there are people who would like to avoid having to pass through the town hall in order to get married. In fact, that is what happens with other religions. The so-called customary law marriage, which is recognized and takes place in foreign countries, is exactly that: it’s a marriage that is only religious. So we could consider changing the law. This law is not an obligation. But doing so would call into question the sacrosanct law of 1905 that proclaimed the separation of Church and State. What is disturbing is that in these times of crisis, some people have had to postpone their marriage, and that is all the more troublesome because even in civil matters, marriage has lost much of its raison d’être, particularly with the PACS [civil unions which are overtaking marriages in France]. Here too, we are witnessing what is indirectly a way for the State to govern religious denominations and to put itself above them. But as a Christian, I proclaim that nothing is above God and that we are not to serve the State when it prevents us from serving God. We need to have a reserved attitude. It is not a question of wanting to place ourselves outside the law, but of keeping the right degree of reserve and the necessary distance. The State has no right to oblige us, for example, in the way we worship. Some people thought that we should no longer celebrate Mass, not because of the lockdown but rather because of the number of people participating. This is totally wrong: the State should not intervene in the way we celebrate a person’s funeral, with or without Mass.
J.-P. M.: As a bishop, what is your assessment of this ordeal?
Bp. Ginoux: As in all trials, there are joys and sorrows. As regards the joys, there were the gatherings by videoconference, by technical means, of a certain number of people, even priests. They allowed me to hear very directly from each priest… oh, there are not many of them in this diocese, but it was a need both for them and for me. It was also a joy for some priests to pray together by Skype or by videoconference.
There were also signs of charity, of help. The Diocese of Paris served a very large number of packed lunches to destitute people because the crisis also has this very painful economic consequence that we are going to see a lot of new poverty, in fact we are already seeing it.
What remains negative is the great panic. Most of the doctors I meet and know are alarmed by the panic that has gripped the public. We see it in our Masses: people are masked, they don't dare move. Of course, precautions have to be taken, still a few. But gestures of fraternity could not be made because of the panic, while the systematic announcement of the count of deaths every evening was a way of demoralizing people, as if every day the deaths of cancer or myocardial infarction were being announced.
J.-P. M.: It is totally anxiety-inducing, and even more so for people who are alone.
Bp. Ginoux: The treatment of the elderly in EHPADs was shameful and out of all proportion to what was happening. The same goes for the suspension of public worship: we saw that with the decision of the Council of State, which explained that the suspension was disproportionate, and overturned the government's decision, in the same way that it overturned the decision to send drones to monitor what we were doing.
On the other hand, there have been double standards. Look at the demonstrations we have seen in recent weeks, which are beyond comprehension, in the face of the crowds they entail, and the promiscuity that develops there. There is really a great deal of inconsistency.
Also, contrary to what is sometimes said, there have been denunciations and suspicious attitudes which have shown that man often remains a wolf to man. These are situations that develop an individualistic tendency which opposes others and which causes people to turn inwards to themselves. Masks mean that the other is my potential enemy since he can potentially harm me. Symbolically, this is very disturbing. That is why as a celebrant I refuse to wear this kind of thing when I celebrate Mass.
There is truly a fracture, a fracture in the relationship between people and in the construction of society.