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Will France rebuild Notre Dame as a Catholic church?

Martin M. Barillas Martin M. Barillas Follow Martin

PARIS, April 18, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) — On Wednesday, the French government announced an international design competition for a new spire at the fire-damaged Notre Dame de Paris cathedral, leading to fears that it will reflect secularism rather than Christian values.

After President Emmanuel Macron publicly pledged that Notre Dame would be rebuilt within five years, donations have reached nearly one billion Euros since the ravaging fire on Monday. While committing to reconstruction, Macron said, "We will rebuild Notre Dame even more beautifully and I want it to be completed in five years. We can do it."

Questions have arisen over the expense of the restoration and whether the millions of euros collected should otherwise be spent on France’s poor. “The international competition will allow us to ask the question of whether we should even re-create the spire as it was conceived by Viollet-le-Duc,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said. “Or whether, as is often the case during the evolution of heritage, we should endow Notre Dame with a new spire that reflects the techniques and challenges of our era.”

The prime minister said the government will present legislation offering a 75 percent tax deduction to private donors giving up to 1,000 euros. The deductible will remain at 60 percent for larger sums.

While construction of the famed church began in the mid-12th century, the lead-covered spire was designed by architect Eugene Viollet-le-Duc and built in the mid-1800s. Since the Revolution of the 1790s, the iconic church has been the property of the French government, having served for a time as a pagan temple and nearly demolished in the early 1800s.

Notre Dame was at the beginning of an extensive and costly restoration at the time of the fire. Catholic Church officials had long deplored the condition of the iconic cathedral, pointing out needed repairs and asking for donations and government funding.

Leftists’ sensibilities were piqued when Jean-Jacques Aillagon,  an adviser to luxury brand Kering CEO Francois-Henri Pinault, suggested a 90 percent tax deduction rather than the normal 60 percent deduction rate for corporate donations.

On Thursday, Bernard Arnault reacted to critics of his decision to donate millions of euros to the restoration of the cathedral. The Arnault family and LVMH — the luxury goods company it founded — announced a pledge of 200 million euros, just hours after the devastating fire. Speaking to investors, Arnault told shareholders that his company is not eligible for a tax deduction for charitable deductions.

“It’s an empty controversy,” Arnault said. “It’s pretty dismaying to see that in France you are criticized even for doing something for the general interest.”

The Arnault family’s contribution came after rival Francois-Henri Pinault had pledged 100 million euros. Other French companies are offering pledges, as are companies of other countries.

“Can you imagine, 100 million, 200 million in one click!” said Philippe Martinez, head of the militant CGT labor union, on a French radio show. “It really shows the inequalities in this country.”

He added, “If they’re able to give dozens of millions to rebuild Notre Dame, they should stop telling us that there is no money to pay for social inequalities.”

Echoing secularist and leftists, Rolling Stone magazine reported that John Harwood — an architectural historian who teaches at the University of Toronto — believes that it would be a mistake to restore Notre Dame as a church. The article suggested:

Any rebuilding should be a reflection not of an old France, or the France that never was — a non-secular, white European France — but a reflection of the France of today, a France that is currently in the making. “The idea that you can recreate the building is naive. It is to repeat past errors, category errors of thought, and one has to imagine that if anything is done to the building it has to be an expression of what we want — the Catholics of France, the French people — want. What is an expression of who we are now? What does it represent, who is it for?,” he says.

Rolling Stone reported that Harwood wants a redesign of Notre Dame to reflect modernity, arguing, “(I)t’s literally a political monument. All cathedrals are.” The magazine also quoted Harvard professor Patricio Real, who said, “The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation.”

Christian commentators have dismissed the idea that Notre Dame is a symbol of French culture or a call for unity in a nation fractured by politics. In an article titled “Notre Dame Isn’t Just A Symbol of Western Civilization: It’s a Symbol of Heaven,” John Daniel Davidson wrote at The Federalist, “The burning of Notre Dame is not a challenge to restore a jewel of Western civilization, it’s a call to repent and believe the gospel.”

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