With the terrible fire at Notre Dame Cathedral last week many questions have arisen on the real ownership of the Cathedral, who is responsible for its rebuilding, where has the one billion dollars that has been pledged come from, should that amount of money be spent on a church building? I am want to spend a little time on trying to explain France’s separation of Church and State.
Before the French Revolution of 1789, Roman Catholicism had been the state religion of France. Church and State was welded together with both interfering in the administration of the other. The revolution not only ended with the French King being beheaded, bishops and priests were also executed. Between1789 and 1879 various laws and articles were enacted that separated the Catholic Church and the State. Beginning in 1879 the French state began a gradual national secularization program starting with the removal of priests from the administrative committees of hospitals and boards of charity and the substituting of lay women for nuns in hospitals. In 1882 religious instruction in all schools was forbidden. What follows are the next steptaken to secularize the country of France:
-the introduction of divorce and a requirement that civil marriages be performed in a civil ceremony
-legalizing work on Sundays
-making seminarians subject to conscription
-secularizing schools and hospitals
-abolishing the law ordaining public prayers at the beginning of each Parliamentary Session and of the assizes
-ordering soldiers not to frequent Catholic clubs
-removing the religious character from the judicial oath and religious symbols from courtrooms
-forbidding the participation of the armed forces in religious processions
In 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State declared that cathedrals remained the property of the state and smaller churches that of the local municipal government under the leadership of laymen, instead of putting them directly back under the supervision of the church hierarchies. These laymen associations created under the 1905 French law on the Separation of the Churches and the State were independent legal entities having rights and responsibilities in the eyes of the law in all matters appertaining to money and properties formerly owned in France by organized religions: churches and sacred buildings, ecclesiastical property, real and personal; the residences of the bishops and priests; and the seminaries. These laymen associations were also authorized by the law to act as administrators of church property, regulate and collect the monies and the legacies destined for religious worship. The resources furnished by Catholic funding for the maintenance of Catholic schools, and the working of various charitable associations connected with religion, were also transferred to lay associations.
Some changes have slowly occurred since the Second World War, but the from my research 32 Cathedrals are still active houses of worship and they are owned by the state, Notre dame being one of those Cathedrals and it is the responsibility of the French government to rebuild it if the money can be found. The French government has been in financial trouble for years, but the president of France also understands that Notre Dame is a major draw for tourists.