President Emmanuel Macron has hinted at controversial changes in France’s bioethics law this year at the same time as he invited the country’s religious leaders to participate fully in the public debate about reforms the Catholic Church opposes.
Addressing senior clergy at a New Year’s reception, the president said his role was to ensure both that France debated the bioethics reforms seriously and that it adapted its laws responsibly to changes in technology and society.
His speech on 4 January came a day after the Catholic daily 'La Croix' published a new survey showing strong public support for assisted procreation, surrogate motherhood, genetic engineering and legalised euthanasia — all procedures renounced by the Church.
Two days later, Archbishop Michel Aupetit was installed as new head of the Paris archdiocese. As a former physician and now the country’s most senior Catholic leader, he is likely to take a leading role criticising any reforms Mr Macron eventually backs.
But neither man framed the coming debate as a confrontation. Macron, delivering his first extended reflection on France’s trademark secularism, or laïcité, echoed criticisms made by faith leaders of a certain left-wing tendency to see the policy as a philosophy fit to replace religious belief.
“This French secularism, which sometimes surprises our neighbours, is a powerful cement in a country torn by so many wars of religion,” Macron said. Its official neutrality means the state favours no religion and churches back no political parties.
The president said he would organise several closed-door discussions about the reforms with ethicists and religious leaders. “This will be important work and I count fully on your commitment in this matter,” he said.
After the meeting, French Protestant Federation President François Clavairoly said Macron had showed "an attention to the spiritual and religious question like we have never heard before”.
Macron has said he favours assisted procreation, including for lesbian couples and single women, but opposes introducing surrogacy.
Archbishop Aupetit did not mention bioethics in his homily. In an interview with the archdiocesan weekly Paris Notre-Dame, he said he would speak out about the issue. “But my passion is not bioethics, it’s the Gospel, it’s Christ,” he added.
PICTURE: French President Emmanuel Macron presents his New Year wishes to the press at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, on January 3, 2018 ©PA