Politics, Society and Christianity in Vichy France

By W. D. Halls | Go to book overview

4
The Man of Destiny

The shock experienced by Church and State as, like a flood tide, the invaders rolled across France, had had a mobilising effect. Baudouin, Pétain's first Foreign Minister and a practising Catholic, had recently reread Renan's essay, written after the debacle of 1870, La réforme intellectuelle et morale de la France. For him its condemnation of materialist doctrines and demand for 'intelligent' public institutions were just as applicable to the defeat of 1940. 1 General Weygand, a like-minded Catholic and perhaps one of those closest to Pétain at the time, shared Baudouin's concern. He had been a sympathiser with Colonel de la Rocque's Croix de Feu, drawn originally from ex-soldiers of the First World War, whose 1936 programme had proclaimed a mystique based on 'Travail, famille, patrie'. 2 The desire for a spiritual and moral renewal of the nation was strong among prominent Catholics.

As well as the belief that Marshal Pétain could prove the saviour of France, the Church wished to press home the material advantage it could derive from the new situation. In the face of the advancing German armies Cardinal Liénart in Lille and Cardinal Suhard in Paris, like most of their priests, had not fled. They expected their steadfastness to be rewarded. Thus the bishops welcomed Pétain's assumption of power. Already on 27 June Cardinal Suhard had dubbed him 'the unimpeachable Frenchman'. 3

There was no mourning the death of the Third Republic: parliamentary democracy had not favoured the devout; the left-wing dogmas so often associated with it were held to be anti-Christian. Now, in the aftermath of defeat, which many Catholics believed France had merited by turning its back on God, the hour of repentance would prelude a national renaissance. From a negative, or at best a neutral, stance towards secular authority, the Church at last felt it could adopt a more positive attitude.

At first, however, prudence was the watchword. The 'internal migration' of the Church under the Popular Front had bred caution. Meanwhile, the presence of numerous Catholics at Vichy, where the

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