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February 13, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) — Days before this year’s March for Life in Paris, the Catholic Rural Youth Movement (MRJC) published a communiqué violently distancing itself from the pro-life demonstration in which a number of associations and Catholic leaders had called the faithful to participate.

“As a Christian movement, we do not recognize ourselves in this call. (…) We condemn its message of guilt, as well as the intolerance and hate this march carries, under the disguise of Christian values. We do not want to impose a way of thinking the faith that we want to live out in openness and dialogue to help each other grow,” it stated.

The communiqué went on to say: “We defend the fundamental right of women and couples to resort to abortion. This right ensures the liberty of conscience. Abortion is a personal initiative that is sometimes complex and difficult, not least because of burdensome and guilt-creating administrative and medical procedures.”

This out-and-out rejection of Catholic teaching on human life raises serious questions about the MRJC’s right to call itself Catholic. Not unsurprisingly, the statement was met with grave concern by the pro-life movement, but it also sparked controversy within the Catholic hierarchy, which in a relatively unprecedented move hastened to condemn the public statement of a movement officially recognized by the Church.

The MRJC’s statement was immediately addressed by a tweet from the director of communications of the French Bishops' Conference, Vincent Neymon, who called the MRJC’s remarks on abortion “contrary to what the church teaches.” “One can only consider that they are result of one individual’s mistake and of the malfunctioning of an organization that did not check. The MRJC cannot extract itself from the Church in this manner,” he added.

Apart from the scandal created by the declaration that abortion is a “fundamental right,” the fact that the MRJC enjoys canonical recognition from the Church prompted immediate action. But as Guilllaume de Thieulloy, director of several French Catholic news sites, remarked, the tone of Neymon’s reaction as well as his demand that the statement should be removed demonstrated an unheard-of clarity in the French Bishops' Conference in the last 40 years.

On January 20, on the eve of the Paris March for Life, the MRJC published a second communiqué in which it reiterated its opposition to the pro-life demonstration in the same terms as in its first statement. While it left out its reference to abortion as a “fundamental right” and its previous call for better access to family planning and contraception, it did not clearly reject its pro-abortion stance, saying: “Today, in the Catholic Church and also in our own movement, people are still in a state of questioning as regards to abortion. Instead of an absence of debate, we as a Christian movement are hoping that a space for dialogue will open again inside the church about abortion.”

The MRJC receives funding from the Catholic Church. In 2016, it was given 574,000 euro (more than $700,000 US). The Bishops’ Conference had also just designated a member of the MRJC, Adrien Louandre, 22, to join the team of three young Catholics for the pre-Synod on Young People in Rome in March. This is despite the fact that the Catholic Rural Youth Movement is hardly a dynamic organization, given that a small minority of rural youth in France, even when baptized, can be considered practicing Catholics. Scouting, on the other hand, is mostly Catholic and attracts 170,000 boys and girls in France but will not be represented in Rome.

The news was followed by another firm reaction from the Bishop Bernard Ginoux of Montauban in southwest France. He called the MRJC statement “unacceptable,” unequivocally proclaiming that “respect for each human life from its conception until its natural end is not an option, a choice, an opinion among many.” He added that it is not a question of religion but of humanity, and that abortion, contrary to what “seemed to be said” in the communiqué, is not a matter of health services.

“Abortion is a grave act that kills a child and hurts a woman forever. If I can say that from personal experience, it is that for seven years I was a hospital chaplain and I met many women who had had an abortion and who had been destroyed by it in human terms,” Bishop Ginoux said. “They were not necessarily weighted down by some kind of religious guilt. Their most profound being had been hurt and they were suffering because they had killed their child. (…) Most often they reach that extremity in spite of themselves.”

Bishop Ginoux went on to say: “As for the C in your movement, I think it can best disappear. A movement which calls itself Christian, which receives funding from the Catholic Church and which advocates for abortion is in total contradiction with the Church’s teaching.” He also pointed out that the correction made “perforce” by the MRJC in its second communiqué in no way changed the fundamental issue.

“As a consequence, I no longer recognize the MRJC as a movement of the Catholic Church, and as a bishop, I will no longer give it any financial or material help,” he said. “As for letting it participate in the formation of the young, I will not take the risk.”

On January 24. Bishop Ginoux sent his letter to the leaders of the MRJC and to his brother bishops in France. It also appeared in the press at the same time. He said he obtained the support of some 15 French bishops before writing. He also later explained to the Catholic weekly Famille chrétienne that the Bishops’ Conference uses money coming in from dioceses to finance the national Catholic movements. This seems only natural, but only insofar as these movements are authentically Catholic.

The left-wing press in France picked up the story, with the anarcho-libertarian daily Libération taking up the MRJC’s cause and quoting its president, Brieuc Guinard, who said the first communiqué was a “blunder.” The newspaper presents the MRJC as not having backed off from its support for the French abortion law.

It is all the more surprising that a meeting of MRJC leaders with the Catholic hierarchy in Paris at the end of January resulted in a unilateral comminique by the bishops. They had not been called on the mat; the meeting was simply the annual encounter of Catholic movements with representatives of the Bishops’ Conference.

Signed by seven bishops, the statement reaffirms its appreciation for the MRJC’s work in rural areas in view of  “integral human development.” “However, this development finds its roots in a culture of life. That is why the bishops’ conference has questioned the MRJC. Because if the Church hears the suffering of people who are faced with the perspective of a difficult birth, it cannot consider abortion as an appropriate response.” It recalls that “in the tradition of the Catholic Church,” the principle of the dignity of the human person should be understood to cover not only the period between birth and death but between conception and natural death.

“An encounter was triggered today with leaders of the MRJC and their chaplain: it provided an opportunity to clarify those points on which it had been questioned, and to recover the pact of trust that a Church movement must commit itself to,” it concluded. It was not signed by leaders of the MRJC.

How, if and in what terms this clarification was received by the MRJC remains unclear. The only certainty is that Church funding has not been interrupted and no sanctions have been meted out.

In a separate statement published on Facebook, the MRJC said: “As a church movement, it recognizes that everything should be done to educate and to avoid abortion situations,” adding that its leaders need and will get specific training in the coming months.

All this has led Guillaume de Thieulloy to echo comments on social media in which indignant Catholics spoke of withholding their religious contributions from the Church of France as long as MRJC continues to receive funding without publicly and clearly retracting its pro-abortion comments and proclaiming respect for life.

Thieulloy said that at the very least Catholics could choose not to give to dioceses who clearly refuse financially to support, directly or indirectly, a movement such as the MRJC. He went to say that one of the favorable consequences of the controversy would at least clarify how Church money is used.

In a recent development, the MRJC is again under the spotlight, this time in the diocese of Viviers in the Ardèche south of Lyon. Having learned to that the local section of the MRJC is organizing a “militant weekend” on “gender, feminism, and sexual orientation in rural areas” in the small rural town of Annonay on March 3-4 under the title “Genre, voilà,” Viviers Bishop Jean-Louis Balsa published a firm statement on February 12 asking all pastoral workers of the diocese not to take part after having seen the flyer announcing the event:

“Given the gravity of what is being offered and also the obscene words on the flyer, I am in total disagreement with this project of the MRJC and I ask each and every pastoral youth worker of the diocese of Viviers, in the Ardèche, not to take part in this weekend and not to promote it.”