Christianity Contemporary and Social Issues

A Religion in Crisis – The Existential Predicament of the Catholic Faith in France


A. G. Jahangeer Khan, United Kingdom

With a paternal grandmother of French ancestry and an Irish mother, Abdul Ghany Jahangeer Khan has a decidedly Catholic background. Many of his relatives still identify as Catholic today, though mostly non-practising. He has lived in France for many years and currently heads the Central French Desk for the International Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.Recently France’s President Emmanuel Macron described Islam as a religion in ‘crisis.’ The Head of the Worldwide Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) responded in his Friday Sermon delivered on November 6, 2020 by saying that Islam is in fact a flourishing religion, and to label the whole religion as being in ‘crisis’ based on the actions of a handful of individuals is an injustice. His Holiness (aba) further stated that if anything, it is Christianity which is in crisis. A. G. Jahangeer Khan provides an insight into the current state of Christianity in France. 

Atheism is on the rise around the world – and this is particularly the case in Europe. As a case in point, France was once, “la Fille Aînée de l’Eglise” (the Eldest Daughter of the Catholic Church) but is now a nation where the Catholic faith is in rapid decline. ‘If France used to be the eldest daughter of the Church, she is perhaps not the most faithful one.’ lamented Pope Francis while meeting a group of young French Catholics in 2015.[1]

Indeed, a 2017 Pew Forum survey [2] showed that only 18% of the people interviewed in France were church-attending Christians – which means that the crushing majority of French nationals no longer feel the need to pray or listen to sermons in a house of worship. No less than 46% identified as non-practising Christians and 28% as unaffiliated, including people who are atheists or agnostics. If the current trend continues, it is likely that there will soon be twice as many French atheists and agnostics as there are churchgoers in France.

The gains to atheism and agnosticism are significant. Of the persons interviewed in France, 75% said they had been raised Christian – but only 64% identified as Christian. This means the Church had lost 11% of its French followers within the interviewees’ lifetime.[3]

These figures are echoed in the growing number of Catholic churches and other houses of worship that have been put to other uses in recent years. While the number of churches that have been demolished remains relatively low (between 2000 and 2019, 44 were demolished [4]), more and more are having to reinvent themselves to remain relevant. Some are allowing associations and businesses to operate on their premises, and some have even been turned into nightclubs.[5]

When asked why they left religion, the majority, 68%, of non-practising Europeans (and this is reflective of the French) stated that the main reason was that they had gradually drifted away from religion. In other words, their religious practice had weakened over time. However, 58% also said that it was due to their disagreement with religion’s positions on social issues, such as abortion and gay marriage. 54% said they no longer believed in their religious teaching. 53% said they were unhappy with scandals involving religious institutions and leaders. And 26% said their spiritual needs weren’t being met.[6]

If the main reason for abandoning religion – and in France, this mostly means the Catholic faith – is a weakening of religious practice, this spells doom for the Church: already, almost half of the people interviewed are non-practising. This lack of practice will foreseeably lead many more to abandon religion altogether.

Moreover, in this age of science and reason, the dogmas and mysteries of the Catholic Church are an intellectual hurdle for many in France. The Trinity, God being born as Man, bizarre episodes such as the sending of demons into a herd of swine [7], resurrection from the dead, and the physical ascension of Jesus and Mary into space are but a few of them.

However, these are not the only problems facing Catholicism in France. To say that the Catholic Church has been rocked by sex scandals in recent years would be an understatement. The magnitude of these scandals prompted Pope Francis to hold an unprecedented three-day Roman Catholic Church summit on paedophilia in February of 2019 in which he said that clergy guilty of abuse were ‘tools of Satan’ and that child sex abuse reminded him of the ancient religious practice of child sacrifice in pagan rites.[8] In a country where the legal age of sexual consent remains somewhat ambiguous [9], and where certain members of the leading elite are considered by some to be either guilty of, or conversely the victims of, paedophilia [10], it remains to be seen how the Church will combat sexual deviances that are becoming increasingly normalised by an irreligious society.

Increasingly unpopular for its positions on social issues, the Church, instead of standing its ground confidently, has capitulated to social pressure. For example, Pope Francis recently shocked the religious world by showing sympathy for same-sex unions [11]. For any practising Catholic who believes homosexuality to be a mortal sin leading to Hell, this new position is unthinkable. The Church is clearly losing her courage and her soul.

Under constant threat in France from “laïcisme” – militant State antitheism – masquerading as “laïcité” – a more peaceful and pacifying secularism that is supposed to be neutral when dealing with religions – the Catholic faith is in the middle of an overwhelming existential crisis within and without: a calamity that it will most likely not be able to survive.



[1] La Croix, 12.6.2015 : The Pope mentions France



[4] Churches and chapels destroyed in France since the year 2000

[5] La Croix, 25.6.2017: Are there too many churches in France?


[7] Mark 5:1-17



[10] [1]