It seems likely that France will make at least some forms of euthanasia and suicide legal later this year, which is why President Macron’s explicit invitation to Catholics to participate in the French public debate on bioethics leaves me feeling conflicted:
French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the importance of a Catholic voice in the country’s political debates, particularly on bioethical issues, in an address to the French bishops April 9.
“What I want to call you tonight is to engage politically in our national debate and in our European debate because your faith is part of the commitment that this debate needs,” Macron told French bishops in a rare public meeting between Church and government leaders in France.
While France was once referred to as the “eldest daughter of the Church,” the country’s legal secularism has required strict neutrality of the state in religious matters since 1905.
In his speech Monday, however, Macron spoke of the important philosophical need for the Church’s voice.
“What strikes our country … is not only the economic crisis, it is relativism; it is even nihilism,” said Macron.
“Our contemporaries need, whether they believe or do not believe, to hear from another perspective on man than the material perspective,” he continued, “They need to quench another thirst, which is a thirst for absolute. It is not a question here of conversion, but of a voice which, with others, still dares to speak of man as a living spirit.”
Father Joseph Koczera, an American priest based in Paris, told CNA that in some ways, Macron’s speech “was quite remarkable.”
“This is a clear challenge to a particular style of French secularism that suggests that, [since] the state must remain neutral, perspectives informed by religion should not be invoked in political debates,” Koczera said.
Macron stressed that “Secularism does not have the function of uprooting from our societies the spirituality that nourishes so many of our fellow citizens.”
“To deliberately blind myself to the spiritual dimension that Catholics invest in their moral, intellectual, family, professional, social life would be to condemn me to having only a partial view of France; it would be to ignore the country, its history, its citizens; and affecting indifference, I would derogate from my mission,” he said.
Macron’s speech comes as bioethical debates continue in France, with parliament preparing to reform its bioethics laws.
It’s a great thing that President Macron is inviting Catholics back to a place in public discourse. But if it ends up merely being a further way to condone an anticipated legalization of forms of euthanasia and suicide by underscoring that “Catholics were given a chance to voice their positions,” after all meaningful decisions had already been made, then it would be an example of cynical political use, rather than meaningful outreach and dialogue. We’ll see.