François Fillon failed to go beyond the first round of the presidential elections, but he could have a decisive role in the final stages of the presidential race. The Catholic vote might, at least in part, decide the future of French democracy. Although it is difficult to say precisely how much it weighs in terms of real consensus, in a country where any kind of religious census is forbidden. In any case, it’s a few million voters, between 3 and 5 million define themselves as “practicing Catholic.”
The point is that during François Hollande’s five-year term, a fierce minority Catholic community dominated the scene. This strongly conservative group, tied to the political right, seemed, at times, to speak on behalf of a much larger number of faithful. This is the circuit of groups and committees that gave birth to the movement of ”Manif pour tous” that opposed the same sex civil marriages law enacted in 2013.
This mobilization, which has often assumed an openly homophobic character and has even seen the convergence of violent sectors of the radical right, in addition to Sarkozy’s Républicains and National Front sectors close to the Midi representative Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, also founded an association, Sens commun, a sort of “pro-traditional family, anti-abortion and opposite to the gender ideology” lobby.
In the presidential campaign, this circuit backed the centrist candidate Fillon. It supported him even in times of greatest difficulty due to the Penelopegate scandal, for example filling the Trocadéro in Paris with tens of thousands of people March 5.
Fillon only got 20 percent of votes and therefore was excluded from the second round ballot. The conservative politician urged his supporters to stop the National Front and vote for Macron, but the leaders of Manif and Sens Commun said they were not willing to support what they termed as an “openly anti-family candidate.” This is not yet an explicit endorsement for Marine Le Pen, although it looks like it.
A statement issued by the former organizers of the anti-gay marriage groups declared: “We refuse to give any voting indications. Our only ‘candidate’ is the family.” Thus, “for the families, for the children, for the future, on May 7 [the date of the second round of voting] we say ‘no’ to Macron.” This, even though in the same scenario there are those who imagine this is more likely to mean an abstention, as a refusal to the alleged continuity of Hollande with Macron than the extremism of the Front National.
Christine Boutin, head of the small Christian Democratic Party and former minister during the Sarkozy presidency, broke the hesitation. She has been trying for some time to build a political front “in the name of defense of Catholic values.” She explained how “opposing Macron who goes against the ideas I, and many like me, have fought for all my life, we have to vote for Marine Le Pen.”
Something is moving in the circles of the Catholic right ahead of the second round. This is also evident in the tide of fake posters that invaded the Paris metro stations this Wednesday depicting the presidential candidates as against abortion legislation. Commuters challenged the ads, and the RATP issued an apology.
At the center of this is the hesitation of the French episcopate, which in the past had openly called to vote against the extreme right and that, in this case, appears to be far from Le Pen’s anti-immigrant line, which has also recently attacked the Pope on this topic. It seems distant from the liberal and individualistic Macron, too. “The bishops seem paralyzed, almost do not dare to intervene,” says Father Nicolas de Bremond d’Ars, a sociologist of Ceifr, the institute that studies the religious presence within the transalpine society. He adds: “However, in the absence of a clear word from the episcopate, an important group of Catholics is likely to vote for Le Pen.”