Relax, everyone, we’re talking about France. In a post on Religio Blog, the insightful religion correspondent for Le Figaro, Jean-Marie Guénois, reports on a survey of French participants at the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day, currently underway in Madrid. The poll reveals the extent to which young French Catholics see themselves as conservative. Almost half describe themselves as on the “right” or the “far right”; only about eight percent say they are on the “left” or “far left.” Guénois cautions that there are nuances in the responses and one should avoid simplistic labels. Still, he believes that these figures show a major shift in French Catholicism. Since the 1970s, he writes, the Catholic intelligentsia in France has been decidedly progressive; conservativism has been highly frowned upon. But les cathos de gauche are now the party of grey hair (des cheveux blancs) and they have not had a lasting impact. Indeed, Guénois argues that the poll results indicate the end of the Left’s decisive influence in the French Church.
I’m no expert on the sociology of French Catholicism, but I wonder how much one can read into this survey. Kids who attend the World Youth Day are seriously committed to Catholicism; it’s not surprising, for example, that they would report widespread agreement with the moral teachings of the Church. One wonders what those young Catholics who aren’t attending the conference would say. And of course many young French have left the Catholic Church altogether. Still, people tend to be more liberal when they are young and to become more conservative as they get older, so the fact that so many young French Catholics already identify as conservative suggests that the future of the French Church, as Guénois writes, will be more conservative than its recent past. – MLM