Huh: fundamentalist Catholics protest provocative art

Sometimes we come across a story that could be called “The Onion, GetReligion style.” It’s so strange that you’re not even sure where to begin. We have a story like this from AFP, and it appears the media outlet released two versions of the same story yesterday.

Initially, the headline read “Catholic extremists target Champs Elysees theatre” but many of the websites hosting the AFP report later changed it to “Catholics picket Champs Elysees theatre.” Not only was the headline changed but the first few paragraphs were rewritten. Here’s the version that runs on Breitbart (bolded words are my own):

One of Paris’s top theatres was bracing Thursday for a showdown with Catholic extremists vowing to disrupt the opening of “Golgota Picnic”, a virulent on-stage attack on consumerism and religion.

French fundamentalist Catholics have been waging a sometimes violent campaign of protests in recent months against works they perceive as blasphemous, picketing plays and pelting theatre-goers with eggs.

Again. Where do we begin? Picketing plays and egg pelting just don’t seem to go with the “extremist” description. And you know how we feel about using the f word.

Let’s go through portions of the rewritten piece, looking at some of the reporter’s choice of words.

The Champs Elysees theatre was braced for a showdown after Catholic fundamentalists — who have been campaigning in recent months against works they perceive as blasphemous — vowed to disrupt the play.

Two men linked to the fundamentalist Catholic movement were arrested in the basement of the theatre Saturday as they tried to disable its alarm system.

“These people are crazy,” theatre director Jean-Michel Ribes said before the play began.

How, as a reporter or an editor, do you let that quote stand by itself?

The Catholic Church had distanced itself from those protests. This time, however, mainstream Christians have also voiced offence.

Answering a rallying call by the Archbishop of Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, some 4,000 Catholic faithful, including some 200 priests, joined a prayer vigil at Notre Dame Cathedral in protest at a play which the archbishop says “insults the figure of Christ”.

It’s helpful to distinguish between the official church leaders and those who have gone rogue. But why does AFP focus on the fringe group instead of the main one? It’s not as fierce to write about? A vigil of 4,000 people at Notre Dame Cathedral sounds like a story by itself, at least stronger in numbers than the “dozens” at the theater.

“Golgota Picnic”, a hard-hitting critique of consumer culture as well as religion, is peppered with provocative references to Christanity, with a musical epilogue performed by a naked pianist.

We went from words like “vowed” and “crazy” for the protesters to “peppered” and “provocative” for the artwork. Where’s the phrase “the artist perceives” in this sentence that we saw earlier about the protests? This piece was made for GetReligion.

Print Friendly

  • Julia

    I checked YouTube for this play and found a video of it being performed in German. It really was shocking and I hesitate to put the link here.

    It’s something like the “Sprockets” guy on SNL would produce. Truly bizarre. Also calls to mind the weird theatrical productions after WWI in Germany.

    The French version is probably just as classy. BTW more actors than the piano player are naked unless the French put clothes on some of them.

  • Will

    Ahem… “virulent” means “poisonous” or “toxic”. As in “virulent disease”.

    “Vehement”, perhaps?

  • Dave

    A physical attack is intrinsically more newsworthy than a vigil, if only because the former breaks the law and is often violent. If it bleeds, it leads.

    This cuts both ways. In the early days of second wave feminism, an extreme statement or action by a public feminist always drew more ink, rather to my irkedness.

  • Spencerian

    France counts an estimated half a million traditionalist and fundamentalist Catholics, according to the Christian newspaper La Croix.

    Wow. This article seems like it was written just for GR to take apart.

    The last line of this article (and the bulk of the report) shows the reporter’s failure to research how (1) the Church is not a political body and doesn’t behave as such and (2) terms such as “traditionalist” attempt to create factions in that faith that do not officially exist.

    I’d take the article apart more as soon as I can control my laughing spasms enough to type again.

  • Julia

    It’s possible that the French have adopted the US term “fundamentalists” for their flavor of Catholic Traditionalists who want to return to the days of monarchy and established religion.

    This conservative tendency in French Catholic thought is represented most forcefully by followers of Mgr. Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebrvre’s positions involve not only a return to pre-Vatican II practices—the Latin Mass, hierarchical social relations within the Church, etc.—but, more important, a larger rejection of lay society and an implicit (and at times explicit) return to a belief that religious authority and civil authority are or should be one and the same. This rejection of secular society very much puts the traditionalists in league with certain right-wing political parties.

    Lefebvre, now deceased, was the founder and leader of the SSPX which split from Rome over rejection of Vatican II and other matters. Its biggest stronghold is in France. The mainstream church in France keeps it at arm’s length. It sounds like the bold protesters are SSPXers.

    But why does AFP focus on the fringe group instead of the main one?

    The Lefebvrists are a big story in Catholic circles in Europe. You might remember when the Pope lifted the excommunication on 4 of their bishops in order to begin talks at the Vatican. One turned out to be a very talkative ex-Anglican anti-Semite.

    There is also Paix Liturgique, a Traditionalist Catholic lay group in France that vociferously works to make the Tridentine Mass available to all.

    So – I don’t think the reporter is identifying the protesters as “fundamentalists” just because they are protesting this play. The reporter is probably knows or is assuming the protesters are members of one or the other of the groups described above, who are not mainstream Catholics. Some editor is probably assuming “fundamentalist” is the English term for traditionalists.

  • Martha

    It’s just barely possible that the “fundamentalist Catholics” the reporter is talking about, if we’re going by “France counts an estimated half a million traditionalist and fundamentalist Catholics”, are members of Action Française, if not one of the other Restorationist movements. Even in these times of laïcité, I think there must be a few more than half a million Catholics remaining in France.

    Otherwise, this report would conflate Traditionalist (which has a certain meaning) and Fundamentalist (which, as you constantly point out, has a particular meaning in an American context and does not translate across denominational lines) with “orthodox” or even “basic tenets of the faith”, and no reporter worth his or her press pass tucked into the hatband of the fedora would do that, ha ha ha!

    Surely not?

    Ten seconds Googling of the persons mentioned in the report, the Institut Civitas, pulls up their website where my very basic French enables me to see that they are indeed Traditionalists (they quote “pape Saint Pie X”) and, like many French movements, there is a political element to their activism.

    I can see the temptation to treat these as a French version of the American “Moral Majority” or “Religious Right”, but please, reporters, tell Satan to get behind thee, because it just ain’t the same beast at all.

  • Jerry

    I wondered about the language used in any French reports but only found one that had a section that applied. I won’t paste the text here because Google translate generated a four-letter word. But I do wonder if anyone can find a report in the French media that might accurately reflect the beliefs of those that are protesting.

    But in a larger sense, as others have pointed out, words that are translated into English might not carry the correct meaning from the original language. Julia and Martha’s posts are apropos of this point.

  • R9

    Speaking as an extreme metal fan, I saw the picture and thought this was going to be something about anti-christian black metal! Oh well.

  • Hector

    Re: It’s possible that the French have adopted the US term “fundamentalists” for their flavor of Catholic Traditionalists who want to return to the days of monarchy and established religion

    Except there’s already a word for that, ‘Integralist’ (i.e. those who wish to ‘integrate’ church and state). If you take a European or Latin-American history class, that’s the way you’ll hear people like Action Francaise referred to. Not ‘fundamentalist’ (which is, as Alvin Plantinga or someone like that has pointed out, is a term of abuse, nothing more). The only semantically meaningful sense in which ‘fundamentalist’ can be used is the original meaning (Biblical literalism/inerrancy and so forth) which explicitly excludes Roman Catholics. ‘Catholic fundamentalist’ is a contradiction in terms.

    This stuff would be annoying if it wasn’t just sto tedious and boring.

  • Julia


    You are assuming that US reporters are familiar with all these different distinctions that don’t exist in the US.

  • Julia


    I checked out the following sentence for the original French:
    By dint of being afraid to mix our voices to the fundamentalists, we are ready for any compromises

    The original French word for fundamentalists was integistes.

    I ran that by babelfish and it wouldn’t translate integistes into English.

    But this is what I found when googling “integristes”:

    You have to use Google translator, but it essentially equates this term with Catholic Traditionalists.

  • Hector


    That Wiki article you link to explicitly distinguishes and differentiates ‘fundamentalism’ from ‘integralism’, and provides more evidence that the English article shouldn’t be translated ‘fundamentalist’.

    The excerpt from the article, below, says essentially (what i would say) that integralism refers to a political doctrine (that church and state should be integrated) while fundamentalism refers to an intellectual doctrine (that the whole Bible is to be interpreted as literal and inerrant).

    “L’intégrisme se distingue du fondamentalisme. Celui-ci regroupe les courants réactionnaires – particulièrement protestants – qui se réfèrent à la littéralité des textes sacrés, même s’il partage avec l’intégrisme des processus comparables[3]. Par analogie, le terme « intégrisme » peut désigner plus généralement toute attitude doctrinale de conservatisme intransigeant mais il demeure difficilement traduisible et n’a d’équivalent dans d’autres langues que par décalque du français.”

  • Hector
  • Julia

    BTW that French wikipedia entry on “integristes” has an extended discussion of “fundamentalism” and how the Catholic version, particularly in France, dating from the early 20th century dealing with “modernism” is different from the Protestant term from the same general era dealing with Biblical innerancy, etc.

    It appears that “integristes” is also the word used in French for Islamists.

  • Julia

    Hector: You need to read the French article in wikipedia on


    . It does indeed use the word “fundamentalist”; although it distinguishes the European from the US types.

    So it is not surprising to read US news articles that are translations from the French where “fundamentalist” is used as a cognate of traditionalist/far-Right French Catholics.

    Something is being lost in translation, for sure. Americans are rather ignorant of the intellectual threads of French thinking.

  • Julia

    The Action Francaise website says the folks protesting are from a group called “Culture and Faith”.

    The Italian newspaper La Stampa addressed the situation mentionining a group of young protesters – the “French Renewal”. The SSPX are quoted:

    The Lefebvrians criticised the French press on their website. “The press as a whole, protests against censorship and speaks about “fundamentalists, a term used by bishops in France, who apart from a few exceptions, keep quiet…And yet, the media has recently shown great enthusiasm for the “Indignants” movement: Do Christians for some strange reason, not have the right to be indignant? Will the famous “freedom of expression be officially reserved exclusively for the Church’s enemies?”

    The reporter decided to opine:

    The French newspaper, “La Croix”, has defined “integralists” as people who have protested and continue to protest, and this proves that they are, how should I say, second rate Catholics, with some kind of original sin they have never been punished for; and according to the newspaper, French bishops “are distancing themselves” from the demonstrations.

    It seems a person would need to know the intricacies of French thinking to correctly translate and understand what those involved are calling each other.

    Sacre bleu!

  • Julia

    Sorry for the excess posting. I spent some time at the Sorbonne and got carried away trying yet again to ravel the French psyche.

  • Julia


  • Karl

    So, what exactly do these protesters believe? Are they all associated with SSPX or some group without Rome’s blessing? Are they Gallicans or French Monarchists? I would doubt that everyone who goes to an SSPX parish is a Catholic monarchist.

  • Karl

    Perhaps the term “fundamentalist” is appropriate insofar as some Catholic traditionalists promote positions (and use arguments) that are similar to those supported by people who consider themselves fundamentalists. For instance, some traditionalists claim that the Clementine Vulgate and the Douay-Rheims Challoner Bible are textually superior to modern Bible translations, which parallels “King James Onlyism.”

  • Martha

    The article Julia refers to mentions, in the letter from the priest about the protests with the first play ” des intégristes catholiques, des royalistes, des extrêmes droites catholiques et des fondamentalistes chrétiens”, so right there is a distinction between “Catholic Integralists, Royalists, extreme right-wing Catholics, and fundamentalist Christians”.

  • Will

    Karl, the “Fundamentalist” term derives not from “what anybody at random considers fundamental”, but from “The Fundamentals”, the pamphlet series published early in the 20th century.

    As somebody in a Father Brown story, “a radical is not a man who lives on radishes, and a conservative does not mean a man who conserves jam.”

  • Julia

    I’m betting these Europeans have never heard of “The Fundamentals” pamphlet series.

  • Hector


    I believe that the King James version (and other versions based off the received text, like I’m told the modern Greek Orthodox use) are textually superior to modern translations (in other words, I believe the received text is the best histrical source). That doesn’t make me a fundamentalist, does it? I agree with the principle ‘don’t call people fundamentalist unless they self identify that way’ (or unless they closely parallel early 20th century protestant fundamentalism).

    FTR, ‘King James Only’ is silly. I like/value lots of different versions- RSV, New American Bible, KJV, and others.

  • Karl


    No offense intended. The purpose of this thread is not to argue whether the KJV has a superior textual tradition or not or whether the textual tradition is preferable for theological reasons (like that it’s based on manuscripts used by the Byzantine Church).

    Some Protestants believe that it is sinful to use modern translations or to even go to church with people who use modern translations, and they are often labelled “Fundamentalists.” Others just prefer the KJV or think it is based on a better textual tradition. Some Catholics argue, for instance, that the Novus Ordo Mass is invalid, while others only prefer the old Mass or think that it is better. In disputes like this, a “Fundamentalist” can be a person who takes an “extreme” position that alienates him from others.

    This definition has problems. For instance, a Catholic priest could be considered “Fundamentalist” if he preaches against artificial contraception and denies communion to people who use it.