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School chaplaincies, little religious “enclaves” unrecognized

Ⓒ AFP/Archives – SEBASTIEN BOZON – | Secular secondary education hosts chaplaincies, little known confessional enclaves

To cross a Roman collar priest in a public high school or college? This is possible since secular secondary education welcomes chaplaincies. Small confiscated “enclaves” unrecognized and a right that Islam, second cult of France, has still not argued.

Born in 1802 with the concordat, the chaplaincies of the public education, which offer catechesis and other religious activities, were not challenged by the law of 1905 separating the churches and the State.

If families so request, their creation is by right in the institutions sheltering a boarding school, in the name of the free exercise of the cults. Where there is none, the rector of the academy decides. It must justify any refusal.

Numbers are lacking on the chaplaincies, a sign of the prudence of the administration to inform about devices perceived sometimes as a sprain to strict republican secularism. In 2003, the national education system estimated that more than 3,000 school chaplaincies, and the only Catholics were attended by some 120,000 young people, a number dropped to 75,000 in 2014, according to the daily La Croix.

The Catholic chaplaincy of public education (AEP) is today in a quasi-monopoly position, even if its numbers follow the declining curve of the faithful of the Sunday masses.

“It is not the only way to reach young people but it is an important means, an enclave of the Church in a secular setting,” AFP Béatrice Lefèvre told AFP. By entering public institutions, even though its activities often take place outside, chaplaincy “affects young people who would not see a notice board in front of a church,” she said.

Principals and principals are required to advise new students of the existence of a chaplaincy and to ask them in writing if they wish to receive information about their activities.

“The law is law but the problem is that it is not known,” regrets father Arnaud Gautier, episcopal vicar for childhood and adolescence in Paris. However, in an institution where information is properly given, between 5 and 20% of young people are in chaplaincy, otherwise one falls under 1%, “he said.

– “Spiritual request” –

For sociologist Benjamin Farhat, “chaplaincy is seen as an anomaly, but above all it is not seen: teachers, principals do not even know that it is a right, there is a place for religion in secular space “.

This researcher, who plagues against a “misguided” secularism, identifies a form of “political will to maintain this silence and ignorance on a subject associated with an erroneous triptych: religion equals islam equal problems”.

Moreover, the Muslim faith has no service of chaplaincy. For a long time, the question did not really arise, the second religion of France being without a representative body until the creation of the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) in 2003. Then the CFCM, without means or great efficiency, had other tasks, such as the recruitment of prison chaplains to deal with the jihadist shift in prison.

Do Muslim families really want school chaplaincies? In Paris, “no request has reached the rectorate”, answers one to the office of the rector. “To say that there is no demand is to take the problem on the wrong side,” said an expert on the record, on condition of anonymity: “There is indeed a spiritual demand, and there can be drifts, the subject should be taken in arm-to-body, “he said.

Former CFCM President Anouar Kbibech is of the same opinion: a Muslim school chaplaincy could help prevent the radicalization of young people. “It should not be interpreted as a desire to proselytize, but to preserve pupils against false interpretations of Islam,” he cautiously argues.

From there to see tomorrow Muslim cadres walking in djellaba in public establishments … The Catholic chaplains can wear them the shirt of clergyman, the neutrality being imposed only to the personnel and the pupils. “We make it an argument of secularism,” says even Father Gautier. “Students know that they are priests, and are free to go to them.”

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