Gay rights groups in France have reacted angrily to the Roman Catholic Church after it issued a call to prayer to protect the sacrament of marriage from same-sex couples. The controversial “Prayer for France” has been sent out to churches across the country to be read out on August 15 to mark the feast of the Assumption.
Although many European countries have legalised same-sex marriage or are in the process of doing so, the European Court of Human Rights ruled in June that states are not obliged to recognise same-sex marriage. The question "is left to regulation by national law", the Strasbourg court said.
The French prayer’s subject matter is designed to mobilise Catholics against François Hollande’s Socialist Party government, which recently affirmed plans to open up marriage and adoption to gay couples. Minister for Families Dominique Bertinotti told French media this week that a bill legalising gay marriage will be voted on in parliament in early 2013.
In a thinly-veiled reference to the proposed gay marriage bill Cardinal André Vingt-Trois asked church goers to pray for “newly elected officials” to put their “sense of common good over pressure to meet special demands.”These words have angered gay rights groups across France, who have slammed the church for "homophobia" and interfering in politics.
The annual “Prayer for France” was a centuries-old custom but died out after World War Two. It was first uttered in 1638 after King Louis XIII decreed all churches would pray on August 15 for the good of the country.
Church spokesman Monsignor Bernard Podvin said its revival was timed to “raise the consciousness of public opinion about grave social choices.”
As well as opposing gay marriage, the prayer also makes clear the Catholic Church’s resistance to gay adoption. Children should "fully benefit from the love of a father and a mother," it says.
The Prayer for France follows the hard line taken by the leader of the Catholic Chuch, Pope Benedict XVI who in January said gay marriage threatened “the future of humanity itself”.
Gay Christian groups have also reacted angrily to the Cardinal’s prayer. “Most of our members are really upset by this terrible prayer, which reinforces the fear certain catholics have towards homosexuals,” Elisabeth Saint-Guily of gay christian group David and Jonathan told Europe1 radio. “France’s bishops and above them the Vatican are expressing homophobic words. The Bible says “love thy neighbour as yourself”. We would like the bishops to apply this maxim. They should love all their neighbours including homosexuals,” she said.
Cardinal Philippe Barbarin of Lyon defended the church’s position, saying that marriage, defined at the start of the Bible, was created by God to join man and woman. “Nobody should be surprised if we Catholics think that the first page of the Bible is right, even more so than a parliament,” he told radio station Europe1.