Rivista di etica e scienze sociali / Journal of Ethics & Social Sciences



This article continues that of the February 2001 issue of OIKONOMIA, where Emmanuel Mounier and Louis-Joseph Lebret were presented. The following introductory note was also published at the beginning of the February 2001 article: This exposition on Catholicism and politics in France is only an outline, aimed at an English-speaking audience 1. It does not constitute a complete treatment of the subject. For background on this subject matter, the excellent summary of Denis Pelletier on Catholics in France since 1815 is to be recommended. The sixth chapter entitled “Les catholiques et la politique (1925 – 1962)” treats the same topic as this paper in a comprehensive manner 2.

Robert Schuman and the Commitment to European Unity

1. An evocation of the figure of Robert Schuman

Robert Schuman was born on 29th June 1886 at Clausen in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg. His father was from the Moselle and his mother was from Luxembourg. He studied in Luxembourg, Metz, Bonn, Munich, Berlin and Strasbourg. He obtained his doctorate in law in 1910 and opened a legal practice in Metz in 1912.

As a student, he joined the Catholic movement Unitas. The bishop of Metz, Mgr. Benzier, entrusted him with the direction of the Union de la Jeunesse Catholique (Union of Catholic Youth) in 1913. After the First World War, he began his political career. In 1918 he was nominated to the Provisional Municipal Commission of Metz, and a year later he was elected as deputy (i.e. member of the National Assembly) for the Moselle, a mandate which he retained until 1940.

At the beginning of the Second World War, from March until July 1940, he was Under-Secretary of State for Refugees. He was arrested by the Gestapo in Metz in 1940 and placed in a residence under surveillance at Neustadt in the Palatinate (in Germany) in 1941. He escaped in 1942 and continued to live in hiding.

After the war, he regained his seat as a deputy, this time as a candidate for the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP). Schuman then became Minister of Finance (1946), and, in 1947 – 48, Prime Minister. But it was above all as Foreign Minister from 1948 to 1952 that he worked for the construction of European unity. In this capacity he involved France in 1948 in the constitution of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation (OEEC), by means of which the Marshall funds were transmitted to Europe. He negotiated the Pact of Brussels with his European partners and the United States (1948) and the Atlantic Pact (1949) which lead to the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) in 1952.

On May 9th 1950, he made an historic declaration, announcing the construction of Europe on the basis of a report prepared by Jean Monnet that was subsequently known as the Schuman Plan. A year later, the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was created, the first step towards the Common Market and thus to the European Union.

From 1953, Schuman no longer held a ministerial position, but he continued to be an indefatigable propagator of the European idea. He gave numerous public talks and published Pour l’Éurope (For Europe) in 1963, the work in which he synthesised his ideas.

On 27th March 1957, six European countries signed the Treaty of Rome, instituting the Common Market. A year later, during the first session of the European Parliamentary Assembly, Robert Schuman was elected its president. Suffering from illness, he retired in 1960 to Scy-Chazelles (in the Moselle) and died there on September 4th 1963 3.


2. The Signing of the Coal & Steel Treaty

The beginning of what one high-ranking French official, Robert Marjolin, calls “the great turnaround of French foreign policy” 4, namely, the signing of the Coal & Steel Treaty, was the work of Robert Schuman, strongly supported by Jean Monnet 5. The latter, from a commercial family of the Cognac region, had already negotiated with the Anglo-Saxon allies on behalf of the French government during the First World War and worked for the unity of Europe between the two wars. However, it was thanks to his meeting with Robert Schuman that he was able to play a decisive role in the future of Europe.

Monnet wanted to create a Europe provided with efficient institutions, resembling, even if distantly, the United States, a Europe which could take its decisions on a majority vote and which, consequently, could go well beyond the OEEC where all decisions required unanimity. He wrote to Robert Schuman: “All my reflections and observations lead me to the conclusion that now is the time for a profound commitment: the efforts of the countries of Western Europe to face up to their circumstances, to deal with the danger that menaces us, and also with the help arriving from America, need to become truly European, a form of self-help that only the existence of a federation of the West would make possible”.

Jean Monnet had sounded out the British, but they were not ready to enter into such a project, despite the memory of the generous offer by Churchill of a Franco-British union in 1940. As a high-ranking British official, Lord Plowden, later said to Jean Monnet: “we were a victorious nation with worldwide responsibilities, and we were not ready to establish special links with the continent”.

It was necessary to find a less ambitious formula. He therefore conceived the plan that gave rise to the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). All of his philosophy can be found in the following lines: “it is necessary to begin with working out more pragmatic and more ambitious proposals, to attack national sovereignty with greater audacity on a limited point” (i.e. in the limited area of the coal and steel industries). The word “federation” is mentioned in the manifesto that gave birth to the ECSC, not as a goal achievable in the short term, but as the conclusion of a long process of which the ECSC was the point of departure.

It was Robert Schuman who got such a project going. The proposition he made to the Germans on May 9th 1950 included three points:

all would meet around the table on an equal basis; there would no longer be victors and vanquished.

they would attempt to resolve common problems together, rather than each country doing this individually at the national level;

they would begin by putting in common the two main industries that allowed war: that of coal and that of steel, from which arose the ECSC.

As Jean Monnet reports it in his memoirs, Adenauer (the Catholic chancellor of Germany after the war) responded: “I envisage this enterprise as you do from the most elevated perspective. It belongs to the moral order. It is the moral responsibility that we have before our peoples, not our technical ability, that we must put into action in order to realise such a great hope” 6.

The origin of political construction is therefore in the ethical and political order. Monnet even uses the word “spirituality” in his summary of his meeting with Adenauer.


3. The geopolitical significance of the Coal & Steel Treaty

The great journalist André Fontaine wrote an article dedicated to the German problem for the journal La Nef in December 1952, with the title “The end of the history of France?”. He began with a question: “Has France got a German policy?” 7.The question was put in 1952, at the time of the signing of the treaty which gave its foundation to the ECSC and at the height of the debate on the European Defence Community, also known as the Pleven Plan. This project, which was never ratified by France (it was rejected in 1955 under the Mendès-France government), had been conceived to allow the re-armament of Germany in the context of the Cold War and to deal (in vain) with French sensitivities on this point.

In the year immediately following the capitulation of Germany, some projects were put forward for preventing Germany from becoming a centralised Reich again. In the first phase, the victorious allies of the Second World War discussed the possibility of the dismemberment of Germany (with the amputation of the provinces to the East of the River Oder and the Neisse), indeed, the transformation of the former country into an agricultural zone. With the rise of the Cold War, these ideas developed. The British government defended the idea of a return to the Weimar republic, that is, a federal state (Bundesstaat), while from 1947, the French government, which could not yet put aside the idea of the possible explosion of German aggression again, promoted the idea of a confederation of States (Staatenbund)

With the separation of the eastern zone controlled by the Soviets (the Berlin blockade of 1949) and the unification of the western zone through a fusion of the three zones of occupation (American, British, French) and the signing of the Atlantic Pact in 1949, the geopolitical situation completely changed. As Le Monde wrote in 1949, the Atlantic Pact brought with it the re-armament of Germany like “the chick in the egg” 8.

French foreign policy had to strip itself of three illusions:

the myth of a France being or becoming a great power;

the belief that the USSR was a democratic state like others;

the idea that peace could be guaranteed by an entente (understanding) between the victors of the Second World War.

In this geopolitical context, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Robert Schuman, could only see one possible solution: the integration of those who had until recently been two enemies (with three wars between them in under a century) within a higher community. Adenauer agreed: this was the way to give back some soul to an amputated Germany that wanted to be more Western, more industrial and more Catholic, that is, less Prussian, less agricultural and less Protestant. The Italian, De Gasperi, supported the idea. These three Catholics discussed these issues in the language that they held in common: German.

As André Fontaine wrote: “ France had from that moment one German policy, and she had no other” 9.In other areas, the approach of the Foreign Ministry was very hesitant, as when confronted with the problems of Indochina and North Africa. The problems of decolonisation were still to be resolved here. In comparison with this kind of impotence in the face of important decisions, the German policy seems remarkably sure and firm. This sureness remains to this day with the idea of the “Franco-German engine” of Europe.

Robert Schuman was a member of the Mouvement Républicain Populaire (MRP), which arose in the political life of France from among the Catholics involved in the Resistance. It was the movement through which Catholics were re-integrated into the political life of the French republic. The MRP is an exception in the history of France, which had not known a Catholic party of a kind like the CDU in Germany or the DC in Italy before. And even then, the MRP did not want to be a confessional party.

Seen with the hindsight of half a century, the figure of Robert Schuman appears as astonishingly prophetic. The construction of the European Union is without doubt the only genuinely new geopolitical project of the 20th century, which also offers prospects for the 21st century. It can be seen that this was not first of all an economic project, but a political enterprise. It was only after the setback of the EDC that the Treaty of Rome in 1957 re-launched the project of the construction of Europe, beginning with economic union. The basis of the European Union is not coal and steel, but the will for Franco-German reconciliation and for the project of a federal Europe. It is an ethical, political and spiritual project.


4. The figure of Robert Schuman

Robert Schuman is a great example of a Christian engaged in politics, who advanced in a modest and effective way, at the heart of a secularised democratic society, a new geopolitical idea (perhaps the only one of the 20th century). This idea was a union between countries, one no longer brought about on the basis of domination, of war, or on the model of an empire, but on the basis of democracy and respect for human rights, and on laborious negotiation and patient understanding at the service of peace.

In his biography of Robert Schuman, René Lejeune makes some remarks that throw further light on the great figure of his hero 10: “He finds his source of inspiration in the universality of Christian faith, and in his liking for history which goes back to his studies and his bilingual formation within two cultures”. Furthermore, “he [Schuman] shares Briand’s vision of peace and of international collaboration” 11.

With regard to his long stay at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, where he was from July 1948 until January 1953 – an exceptionally long period of office – Lejeune notes the unusual presence of a pious and frank Christian in a bilingual ministry. Nevertheless, he still needed to make some deft moves to get the Coal and Steel treaty signed in 1952, since on 10 December 1944, de Gaulle himself had signed an anti-German pact with the Soviet Union for 20 years. The American Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, said of Schuman that “he possessed his vision of a united Europe at a time when it was difficult in France to have such a vision”. Lejeune notes that Schuman had been strongly influenced by the philosopher Maurice Blondel who underlined the profound unity of the human person around being and acting, around contemplation and action. But the other pole of his philosophical inspiration was Jacques Maritain, for he was a great reader of Thomas Aquinas and well-acquainted with a humanism rooted in God, along the lines of Integral Humanism. He was clear on the question of decolonisation, but he could not do much against the army and other factions of the government and even of his own party. In 1954 he said: “the construction of Europe has a future, but the colonial system has not”.



Eugène Descamps and the Creation of the CFDT

The last figure to be discussed in these two articles is that of this Christian unionist, formed by the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne (Young Christian Workers), the celebrated movement of Catholic Action created by the Belgian priest Fr Cardijn in 1925 and supported by Pope Pius XI.

1. The personality of Eugène Descamps 12

Eugène Descamps was born at Lomme in the North of France in 1922. His father was socialist, a member of the CGT from the beginning of the century, a textile worker and then a fireman on a steam engine. Eugène was marked by the worker milieu to which his family belonged, with its traditions and culture and the industrial town where he grew up. At thirteen, the influence of a young priest turned his life upside down. He converted to Christianity and joined the Jeunesse Ouvrière Chrétienne. He worked for 15 years with the JOC, which was a genuine school of formation for him. He climbed up the different levels of the hierarchy and developed there his principal qualities: generosity and a taste for doing practical, concrete things.

On the professional level, he tried a little of everything: errand-boy, assistant weaver, assistant grafter, waiter, butcher, operator in a ceramics enterprise – where he refused to join the CGT and held firmly to his Christian convictions.

At the time of the explosion of the war, he was employed in a bar and was the leader of a local JOC section. In 1942, he was its regional head. The following year, to escape from the obligatory work service organised by the Germans (STO), he went into hiding. At the liberation, the movement of which he was one of the animators had some 30,000 members on the Nord and Pas de Calais areas of France. The young communists were also very well established in the region. From his contacts with these “competitors”, he drew the conclusion that he articulated thus: “Since I am lead to work with them, I must be strong to be able to discuss with them” 13. He knew that the communists would react to events always keeping in mind the relevant power relations. Such was the reflection of a Young Christian Worker who was a reader of Emmanuel Mounier and the journal Esprit. This journal inspired his conduct vis à vis the Parti communiste Française (PCF) throughout his life, at the CFTC and in the Socialist Party.

In the spring of 1946, Descamps was sent as a JOC leader to Lorraine and soon after moved on. He buckled down to constructing a strong organisation, despite working as an assistant mechanic in a factory in Hagondange. During 1947, he began to weigh up the CFTC, but without investing any activity in it. His principal commitment was with the JOC, and the following year he was called to Paris by the Secretary General of the organisation. Thus, he was able to get to know Michel Debatisse from the Jeunesse Agricole Chrétienne, the Young Christian Agricultural Workers (JAC) and Jean Boissonnat and René Rémond from the Jeunesse Etudiante Chrétienne, the Young Christian Students (JEC).

It was only as a result of this journey that he accepted a permanent position with the CFTC, with responsibility for the iron and steel industry of Lorraine, both industries of which he knew well.


2. Descamps, General Secretary of the CFTC

The French Confederation of Christian Workers (CFTC) was created after the First World War along the lines of the teaching of Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum. Its Christian identity was very strong from the beginning and it placed itself at the service of the re-conquest of the working class for the Church, which, it was said, the Church had lost. In the eyes of the Confédération Générale du Travail (CGT), created at the beginning of the century in the heart of the socialist and anarchist movement which was strongly anticlerical, it appeared from the beginning like a “yellow” union, that is, compromised in its relations with the employers and ready to promote collaboration between all classes.

But history shows that things turned out differently. The CFTC had been vitalised by the JOC, a movement which was strongly identified with the young working class and which had furnished the CFTC with its principal leaders. Another influence came from the group of militants organised around Reconstruction which, through its research and publications looked forward to a deconfessionalisation of the CFTC with a view to transforming it into a democratic union, open to all who refused to belong to a CGT that was simply a “transmission belt” of the Communist Party.

Reconstruction was lead by Paul Vignaux, founder of the General Union of National Education (SGEN) which belonged to the CFTC and brought together largely teachers in state schools, the point of principal conflict between the Church and the secularising movement of the 19th century. In this context, the deconfessionalisation of the union was particularly pressing. Paul Vignaux was also a great university professor, a specialist on the Franciscan theologian William of Occam, one of whose theses was a clear distinction between the temporal and the spiritual, anticipating in the 14th century the idea of an escape from Christendom. The work of the group Reconstruction involved, on the one hand, the study of Marxism and communism, insisting on the necessity for workers to be more favourable towards democracy, and on the other hand, the study of economic questions, the strong determining factors of which, in their eyes, needed to be taken into account by militants who were always tempted by a utopia which they wanted to bring about immediately. This group was a meeting place for remarkable personalities like Marcel Gonin 14, Albert Detraz and Edmond Maire, and were the minority of the CFTC that became more and more the majority as the Congress on Deconfessionalisation in 1964 approached.

A remarkable event was the CFTC’s 1959 adoption of a report on democratic planning. Between the wars, the CFTC had been marked by a suspicion of the state while refusing to accept liberalism. The 1936 Plan of the CFTC took up the application of the social teaching of the Church with the formula “the free union in the organised profession”. The text called for the control of the economy in a corporative, egalitarian and decentralised manner. With Reconstruction, the Plan became an indispensable instrument in the reconstruction of France after the Second World War. The union had to bring this about in the interest of workers, but it could not ignore the requirements of a modern economy. Thus Marcel Gonin, influenced by Économie et Humanisme, and by Fr. Suavet (of the EH group at Saint-Etienne), drew attention from 1950 to the importance of capital and the function of investment (“a never ending choice between the present standard of living and that of the future”). Against the demagogic behaviour of the communist unions in matters of pay, they also called for either direct or indirect government control of investment.

Presented by Gilbert Declercq, the leader of the CFTC in the Loire-Atlantique region who had lead major strikes at Saint Nazaire and at Nantes, Eugène Descamps got the programme of democratic planning accepted at the 1959 Congress. How should one interpret this change? For some, it was the abandonment of reference to the social teaching of the Church and thus the moment when the question of the deconfessionalisation of the organisation became a possible question to address. For others, it was the repositioning of this doctrine as a source of inspiration and no longer as a programme, along the lines suggested by Maritain: a Christianity inspiring and bringing forth life from within secular institutions which are no longer officially Christian.


3. Deconfessionalisation: Identity Rethought

(1960 – 1965)

The deconfessionalisation was a complex operation which extended over four years, without mentioning what happened subsequently (the legal proceedings between the new CFDT and the continuing CFTC). Details on this can be found in the thesis of Georgi.

The essential points to note are as follows:

A – The context of the Algerian war

For the CFTC, the process of deconfessionalisation was a chance to distance itself from the political powers that were failing in the decolonisation of Algeria: the setback of the return to power of Mendès-France and the ending of the success of the Front Républicain in 1956, the return of Guy Mollet who intensified the war with the Algerian rebels, the return to power of General de Gaulle in the ambiguous conditions of May 1958, the widespread practice of torture by the French military and the crisis of conscience that this provoked among CFTC militants in particular. In this context, the CFTC participated in attempts to create a new political group, during which it had to keep its distance from the Christian Democrats in power (MRP) who had become largely compromised by the disastrous colonial policy of the Fourth Republic.

B – The necessity of renewing the Union Movement

All alternatives to the centrist governments of the Fourth Republic, and then to Gaullism, required a strong political force with a democratic union movement capable of prevailing over the CGT, which was tightly linked to the Communist party. The deconfessionalised CFTC offered the constitutional matrix for this force. Today, the programme is partly realised with the CFDT being the premier French union. The CGT, distancing itself from the weakened Communist party but still suffering the effects of the economic revolution (the end of big mass-producing industries), has lost many of its members.

C – The Second Vatican Council

The Council offered a favourable context for deconfessionalisation. As a result, the episcopate was in some ways prepared to accept this move on the part of the CFTC. Furthermore, the bishops had faith in Eugène Descamps, who had been one of the leaders of the JOC. The personal equilibrium of this leader was a determining factor in this regard. The strategists of the union, like Marcel Gonin, were well aware of this.

D – The Influence of Maritain

Eugène Descamps had never been part of the group Reconstruction. The question of the deconfessionalisation had been entrusted to Gérard Espéret who held a very particular position in the union. He was charged with action abroad, namely, the development of the CFTC in Africa; he was also a member of EH. He took charge of a vast and very varied consultation (on the subject of deconfessionalisation), but it was not useful in taking a decision because the opinions expressed were so diverse and nuanced. Descamps thus decided to take matters into his own hands. He entrusted to an older worker, André Demonchaux, who was highly qualified in metallurgy and who had been a Dominican from 1955 to 1959, the job of putting together a personal report on the theological and philosophical problems raised by possible deconfessionalisation. This study remained confidential to the centre of the organisation but it inspired the work of the metallurgy federation on this issue, with which Demonchaux was associated. This “Theoretical Note on the Possibility of the Deconfessionalisation of the CFTC” is a 35 page document which presents itself in the tradition of Aristotelian philosophy and Thomistic theology and points to Jacques Maritain as its source of principal inspiration. This “enlightened deconfessionalisation” comes, according to Demonchaux, “from authentic and self-aware Christians who dispute nothing as to the doctrinal basis of the CFTC. None of them calls for a deconfessionalisation that would mean ideological regression. They are not looking for a common denominator between Christians and non-Christians, nor the establishment of a “doctrinal average”. They are not orienting themselves towards a neutral unionism, that is, breaking with the most intimate sources of energy of the person” 15. Eugène Descamps never made out that there was any mystery about his Christian faith and it was he who was the General Secretary of the CFTC when it “invented” the CFDT. We can find the spiritual theology of such an attitude in the work of Fr. Suavet of EH entitled “The Spirituality of Commitment”, which came out in 1959 with a preface by Gérard Espéret 16.


4. The Invention of the CFDT

This is not the place to recount the whole evolution of the CFDT since its deconfessionalisation. One can find this story in the work of Hamon and Rotman, but here we can say that it has become the biggest and the most creative French union 17. Along with experts from the Commissariat du Plan, it put forward the idea of an incomes policy; it participated in the renewal of the French left in the 1970’s and 1980’s; it has influenced the policies of economic integration in Europe and the creation of the single currency.

A – Incomes Policy

This starts from the principles of democratic planning, that is, from a combination of market freedom and of the role of the state in fixing overall objectives for the common good. It requires knowledge of economics and statistics, deemed valid by all social partners, of the evolution of incomes, of production, of prices and of productivity, allowing the establishment of a collective national agreement. This agreement would give to each person his just part of the surplus of value produced by increases in productivity. This would allow the interests of the politically weak, those excluded from sharing directly in economic growth, and of poor families to be included in the policy, but it supposes that the stronger parties commit to a collective agreement, renouncing a game of force when this might be favourable to them by diverting more to their profit. The coming together of the representatives of the business owners, who did not want to make such a commitment, and of the CGT, who refused to give up the benefit it could gain from relations based on force, notably through the strike, brought about the collapse of the policy. It nevertheless remained, on the conceptual level at least, something quite remarkable, but it supposed a society much more transparent and civilised than the one we find today.

B – The Renewal of the French Left

Since the beginning of the century, French Catholics had largely taken refuge in opposition to the Republic, despite the attempts of Pope Leo XIII at the end of the 19th century towards a “ralliement”. The social Catholics, the disciples of Marc Sangnier (who was condemned by Pius X in 1910) had worked for their reintegration. The condemnation of Maurras in 1926 confirmed instead the orientation of Leo XIII. But Catholics continued to vote en masse for right-wing parties. The slide towards the left was begun by Christians influenced by Emmanuel Mounier and by the movements of Catholic Action and all those who accepted the dialogue with the Communists, and who, like the worker-priests, practised this dialogue every day. When a significant number of Christians began to vote for the Left, the reversal of the majority brought François Mitterand to power as President of the Republic in 1981. This allowed the decline of the Communist party, a necessary element if the Left was to be able to maintain itself in power.

C – Economic unity in Europe

The CFDT adopted a critical attitude towards the Common Programme of the Left, especially its statist aspects and its heavy programme of nationalisation, even if at the same time they supported the opposition to the government of the Right in the 1970’s. It criticised the reduction of hours of work from 40 to 39 hours per week with salary compensation and without negotiation in 1981. It supported the policy of economic rigor of Jacques Delors in view of a favourable entry into the single European currency thanks to the adjustment of France to German economic policy. It has therefore played an essential role in the economic union of Europe, all the time guarding its freedom of action as a union and improving its place relative to other unions in France so as to become the leading one among them.



What can we conclude from these four figures illustrating the relationship between Catholics and politics, starting with the influence of Jacques Maritain’s Integral Humanism?

One sees first of all through these four personalities the presence of Catholics on the political scene. This is a new phenomenon in France, and put an end to the withdrawal that characterised the previous period with its nostalgia for the restoration of a sacral society. The fields of involvement of Catholics have been remarkable, especially with regard to the key question of Franco-German reconciliation, of peace in Western Europe and the beginnings of the construction of Europe. Robert Schuman stands out among them, supported by the Christian Democratic party and Christian unionists. Also, the question of international solidarity, with the prophetic work of the Dominican Lebret went beyond the wars of decolonisation. On this last point, it needs to be emphasised that Catholics were very divided: the Christian Democratic party participated in coalition governments that pursued unjustifiable colonial wars, while Christian union militants opposed this, and Lebret looked towards new forms of international solidarity, beyond the policy of decolonisation, and denounced in advance any form of economic neo-colonialism. As far as the militants of Esprit were concerned, they were involved in all kinds of political battles, both within and beyond the country.

At the level of French society, Catholics have played an important role in the political developments of the nineteen eighties and beyond. The different forms of laicité à la française demonstrate that the phrase: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” can be the object of several interpretations. The “secular Christendom” of Maritain or the “Goodbye to Christendom” of Mounier are not ways of abandoning the Gospels, but formulas that seek to mix the yeast in the dough more authentically and more profoundly than ever. As the lawyer Marcel Prélot has rightly noted with regard to the evolution of Catholic militants: “Paradoxically, politics has been secularised (laïcisée) by religious fervour”.

Moreover, the importance of the worker-priest movement is never emphasised enough in the development of the relationship between Catholics and politics. Immersed through their work and the conditions of life in a proletariat largely estranged from the Catholic Church, they transformed the image of the Church in the eyes of French public opinion, making the Church appear to be of the people, different from the hierarchical Church that was anticommunist almost to an obsessive level.

Movements of Catholic Action are strongly present in the lives of the four figures presented here in illustrating the relationship between French Catholics and politics. It will be up to the historians of the future to evaluate and compare with them the new religious movements that have arisen after Vatican II and the new relationship to modernity that comes out of the “dream of Compostella” 18 and the strategy of the “new evangelisation” of the reigning Pope.




1 This presentation was conceived as part of a course in the FASS on Catholic Politics in Europe, for a group of US exchange students. It was originally written in French. Translation by Helen Alford op.

2 Denis Pelletier, Les catholiques en France depuis 1815, collection Repères, Paris, La Découverte, 1997, 128 pp.

3 On the personality of Robert Schuman, see the June-July number of Missi, 1991, which is dedicated entirely to him.

4 Robert Marjolin, Le travail d’une vie, Mémoires 1911 – 1986, Préface de Raymond Barre, Paris, Robert Laffont, 1986, p. 268.

5 One can read the impassioned Mémoires of Jean Monnet, Paris, Arthème Fayard, 1976 (2 volumes in pocket-sized editions).

6 These last four citations are taken from the Mémoires of Jean Monnet, chapter 11 “L’Europe se cherche”, chapter 12 “Une action profonde, réelle, immédiate” and chapter 13, “La conférence du Plan Schuman”.

7 André Fontaine, "Le problème allemand", La Nef, Editions Julliard, Paris, décembre 1952, p. 134.

8 Editorial of April 6th 1949.

9 André Fontaine, op. cit., p.145.

10 R. Lejeune, Robert Schuman, Père de l’Europe, 1886-1963, La politique, chemin de sainteté, Paris, Fayard, 2000.

11 Both quotes from Lejeune, p.141.

12 See his book Militer: une vie pour un engagement collectif, Paris, Fayard, 1971. See also for all that concerns Eugène Descamps, two fundamental works, that of Frank Georgi, L’invention de la CFDT 1957 – 1970, preface by Antoine Prost, Paris, CNRS – L’Atelier, 1995, and that of Hervé Hamon and Patrick Rotman, La deuxième gauche, Histoire intellectuelle et politique de la CFDT, Paris, Le Seuil, collection Points, 1984.

13 This phrase is taken from the interview of the journalist Alain Duhamel with Eugène Descamps, published under the title “Militer. Une vie pour un engagement collectif,” cited in H. Hamon et P. Rotman, p.77.

14 On Marcel Gonin, see Madeleine Singer, “Marcel Gonin et le groupe Reconstruction au sein de la CFTC”, Cahiers Les amis du Père Lebret, n°11-12, September 1995, pp.31 – 46.

15 Cited by Georgi, p.128.

16 Th. Suavet, Spiritualité de l’engagement, Paris, Economie et Humanisme et Editions Ouvrières, 1959.

17 See note 12 for details on Hamon and Rotman.

18 See the book with several contributors published under this title (Le Rêve de Compostelle) by Editions Bayard-Le Centurion, 1989.


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