Christian crusader born again as web sensation

She was once a French government minister, but her bible-waving and penchant for drama make her a target for ridicule. On Sunday, Christine Boutin became an internet phenomenon - that's why she's our French Face of the Week.

Christian crusader born again as web sensation
Christine Boutin (centre), receives care next to the Champs Elysées at an anti-gay marriage rally in Paris on March 24th. Photo: Eric Feferberg/AFP

Who is Christine Boutin?

Christine Boutin is a 69-year-old politician and leader of France’s Christian Democratic Party, known for her controversial, socially-conservative views.

Why is she in the news?

At an anti-gay marriage rally in Paris on Sunday, Boutin claims she was sprayed with tear-gas by riot police after 100 to 200 protestors allegedly breached a police cordon to access the Champs Elysées.

A photo of Boutin slumped on a pavement after having apparently fainted went viral in France this week and gave birth to its own internet craze.

Tell me more.

Well, Boutin is a socially conservative, Catholic voice in French politics, and has been an opponent of President François Hollande’s controversial legislation to legalize same-sex marriage.

Boutin was one of the hundreds of thousands who descended on Paris last Sunday to call for a referendum and to vent their opposition.

In short, a small but rowdy group of demonstrators tried to breach a police barricade and access the Champs Elysées. They were pushed back by riot police, who then deployed tear gas to keep them away from the barrier.

Then what happened?

Of course, it’s impossible to know for sure. But it seems likely that Boutin was close to the Champs Elysée when tear gas was deployed, and she fainted from the effects.

Her claims appear to be borne out by photographic evidence and the account of an AFP photographer who took shots of her on the ground.

Almost immediately after the protest on Sunday, one French journalist claimed that Boutin had been 800 metres away from where the tear gas was sprayed, and was merely acting up.

Boutin sent out a tweet that night, denouncing “the use of tear gas on families, children, politicians, and myself,” and calling for the resignation of Paris’s police commissioner, as well as the country's Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

And how did she become an internet phenomenon?

Her ‘fainting’ photo sparked an online meme of others imitating her, in various mocking poses (see below), with many holding books, a nod to her iconic bible-clutching speech in 1998.

There is even a Tumblr account dedicated to the meme, called ‘Joue la Comme Boutin’ (“act up like Boutin”) in the spirit of last year’s “Die Like Marion Cotillard” phenomenon.

Boutin showed her good-natured side on Twitter during the week, though, thanking the creators of the #JoueLaCommeBoutin trend for their “very funny scenes”, but cautioning, “for me it was very real.”

What else is Boutin known for?

She was born Christine Martin in Levroux, central France in 1944, and after studying law at the Sorbonne, worked as a journalist and married her first cousin Louis Boutin along the way.

Boutin became an Assemblée Nationale deputy (MP) with the centrist UDF party in 1986, but burst into French living rooms in 1998 when she spoke for five hours and 25 minutes in a parliamentary debate, opposing PACS, a Socialist government plan which allowed civil unions for same-sex couples.

Brandishing a bible, and labelling same-sex adoption “a narcissistic fantasy”, Boutin became a polarizing figure in France – ridiculed and marginalized by her ideological opponents (she was reduced to tears in parliament by then Socialist PM Lionel Jospin), but lauded by conservative supporters.

Boutin has been a fiery opponent of euthanasia, abortion, and same-sex civil unions, marriage and adoption, which she once compared to paedophilia.

In 2002 she ran for president of France, coming last out of 16 candidates, and in 2007 she caused a stir by claiming it was possible that US President George W. Bush had planned the attacks of 9/11.

via @WSafonenkow

via @Mathias_Nieps

The Local's French Face of the Week is a person in the news who – for good or ill – has revealed something interesting about the country. Being selected as French Face of the Week is not necessarily an endorsement.

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Pope refuses resignation of French cardinal convicted of child abuse cover-up

The Pope has rejected the resignation of France's top cardinal, who has been convicted of a cover-up over child sexual abuse.

Pope refuses resignation of French cardinal convicted of child abuse cover-up
Pope Francis and Cardinal Philippe Barbarin. Photo: AFP

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin travelled to the Vatican on Monday to hand in his resignation after being handed a six-month suspended prison sentence for failing to report sex abuse by a priest under his authority.

However the Cardinal revealed on Tuesday that Pope Francis had refused to accept his resignation.


(Pope Francis has refused to accept Barbarin's resignation, according to the Cardinal. Photo: AFP)

“Monday morning, I handed over my mission to the Holy Father. He spoke of  the presumption of innocence and did not accept this resignation,” said Barbarin in a statement.

Barbarin, 68, is the most senior French cleric caught up in the global paedophilia scandal that has rocked the Catholic Church.

The court in the southeastern French city of Lyon earlier this month found Barbarin guilty of  failing to report allegations that a priest, Bernard Preynat, had abused boy scouts in the Lyon area in the 1980s and 1990s.

The priest, who was charged in 2016, is expected to be tried this year.   

The pope had previously defended the cardinal, saying in 2016 that his resignation before a trial would be “an error, imprudent”.
Barbarin's lawyer immediately announced plans to fight the landmark ruling, which was hailed by abuse victims as ushering in a new period of accountability in the French Church.

Barbarin, an arch-conservative took over as archbishop in Lyon in 2002.

He had long been accused by victims' groups in Lyon of turning a blind eye to child abuse in his diocese, which blighted dozens of lives.

“I cannot see what I am guilty of,” Barbarin told the court at the start of the trial in January. “I never tried to hide, let alone cover up, these horrible facts.” 

But the court found otherwise, saying the archbishop, “in all conscience”, chose not to tell authorities of the abuse allegations “in order to preserve the institution to which he belongs”.