A group of French Catholics has lined up behind the Pope, issuing a stirring call to all the faithful to commit to Franciscan reforms.

– Support for the Pope’s diagnosis of clericalism at the root of the Church’s problems today

Former member of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace Michel Camdessus and ten other prominent French Catholics have written a manifesto – Transformer l’Église catholique (“Changing the Catholic Church”) – in response to the crisis still shaking the Church in the aftermath of the worst of the clergy sex abuse scandals.

Right from their foreword, world-renowed economist and former managing director of the International Monetary Fund Camdessus and his ten other co-authors emphatically back Pope Francis’ diagnosis of the ills of the Church today – in his 2018 Letter to the People of God on pedophilia – as residing in that clericalism that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.

Camdessus and his colleagues state that the accuracy of the Pope’s diagnosis “leads us to publicly express our desire to support his action together with the vast majority of priests and religious men and women”.

– The need to fight clericalism, rethink sexual morality and implement full synodality

Conscious of the clericalisation they themselves have submitted to – but pledging themselves and inviting others to make “full use of their freedom as baptised persons” – the French Catholics set out a three-point program for Church change that is throughly Bergoglian in inspiration and – the book writers state – binding on all serious Catholics. Their points are as follows:

  1. The duty of all the baptised to support the structural reforms of Pope Francis in order to combat and overcome clericalism.
  2. The need for the Church to reconsider its discourse and its prescriptions concerning affective life and sexuality which seem to us to be wrong on the human and Christian level.
  3. Our wish to see the full implementation of the synodality desired by the Second Vatican Council. Before the Second Vatican Council, the Church was presented as “holy, catholic, apostolic and… Roman”; the renewal we wish to support should enable her to call herself “holy, universal, apostolic and synodal, in communion with the successor of Peter”.

– A Church rebuilt “on the absolute priority of the Gospel”

The bulk of the 56-page Transformer l’Église catholique is devoted to teasing out the meaning and implications of those three theses against clericalism, a “narrow” Catholic sexual morality and Roman centralism.

Camdessus and company’s arguments are supported by historical and theological appendices penned by well-known ecumenist and ecclesiologist Hervè Legrand which give academic and canonical heft to the concerns of the self-identified lay “committed Christians”.

By the end of the manifesto, Camdessus and his fellow French Catholics have traced the outlines of the Church they would like “to see emerge from the ‘great trial’ we are going through” due to the abuse crisis, the distrust of wider society, internal divisions and myriad other plagues – but which they are convinced Pope Francis’ leadership can deliver.

The Church Camdessus and his co-authors envision is “a Church where the tolerance of the institution and the silence of the laity no longer allows the abuses that have deeply wounded innocent people; a Church that is freeing itself from a clericalism that has weakened it; a Church that is progressing towards a synodal life where clerics and laity dialogue and jointly assume their responsibilities to live the Gospel and bear witness to the Word of God”.

“This Church would base its reconstruction on the absolute priority of the Gospel and on the holiness sought by all its members, beyond a rigid distinction between clerics and laity”, the authors of Transformer l’Église catholique continue.

“Finally, it would be a Church in which all the faithful, men and women, single or married, could assume many of the responsibilities now reserved to priests. Transformed, it would present itself as a people of the baptised, fully implementing the orientations of the Second Vatican Council. A Church which, rather than repeating ethical rules and a sometimes abstract doctrinal discourse, would solicit the hospitality of a world it loves and whose sufferings, hopes and joys it shares”, the French Catholics conclude.

The authors of “Changing the Catholic Church” are aware that the task of remaking the Church according to Francis’ vision will not be easy, above all due to the “obstacles” of “systemic resistance, fear, inculturation of the laity, conservatism, preservation of acquired positions [and the] risk of divisions”.

But Camdessus and company are confident that the time for conversion is now.

Not only because the race is on to save Catholicism in France – “What face will our Church have in thirty years’ time, when in France 80% of children are no longer baptised?”, the French Catholics ask – but above all because they are convinced that only a Church “transformed” by the invitation and inspiration of Pope Francis “can resume its journey under the breath of the Spirit and enlighten that of men with the light of the Gospel”.

More stories on Novena on French Catholics:

French archbishop welcomes woman’s bid for episcopacy, warns it would be “grave not to engage it seriously”

Vatican female deacons commission member: “Why not include women in the college of cardinals?”

French Catholic women push bishops for German-style ‘synodal path’ “to envision the Church of tomorrow”

Female deacons commission member warns of danger of Church “where women exist only in the imagination of men”


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.