French Catholics hold protests over ban on church services during lockdown

French Catholics protesting a ban on large church gatherings during a month-long partial lockdown held street prayers in several cities over the weekend.

French Catholics hold protests over ban on church services during lockdown
Protests demanding the resuming of Mass in Versailles, near Paris. Photo: AFP

While places of worship remain open during the second nationwide lockdown, which began on October 30th, regular prayer services are banned.

More than 300 worshippers gathered outside the cathedral in the south-western city of Bordeaux on Sunday to demand that mass be reinstated.

Some said prayers or sang hymns, despite the gathering being billed as a protest, prompting the police to call in the organisers for questioning.

A protester in Strasbourg holds a sign saying 'let us pray'. Photo: AFP

On Saturday, some 250 faithful gathered outside Rennes cathedral, where they also prayed. Similar protests were also held in the northeastern city of Strasbourg and Nantes in the west.

Most of the protesters wore masks.

In Paris, however, authorities banned a gathering outside Saint-Sulpice church, citing health concerns over the spread of the coronavirus and fears that some would illegally pray on the street following a smaller prayer gathering Friday at the site.

Under France's latest measures to fight the virus, churches can celebrate funerals and weddings, with a maximum of 30 people and six people present respectively, but larger gatherings are banned.

During lockdown places of worship remain open, but services are banned. Photo: AFP

France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, on Saturday rejected an appeal by Catholic groups against the ban.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin had warned he would not tolerate a second weekend of protests following

“Life is more important than anything else, and life is about battling the coronavirus,” he told France Info radio on Friday.

Opponents of the ban argue that people are more at risk of contracting the virus in supermarkets, which remain open, than in a church where social distancing is enforced.

Member comments

  1. What an extraordinary sentence : “fears that some would illegally pray on the street ” – is praying now illegal thanks to Covid? What is the difference between saying a prayer and shouting a slogan, I wonder….?

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.