Quantcast
Get breaking news alerts via email

Click here to manage your alerts
Mormons running into French resistance
Religion » Plans for temple near Paris trigger fears of a growing LDS presence.
First Published Feb 16 2012 12:36 pm • Last Updated Feb 16 2012 12:36 pm

Chesnay, France • Past clusters of houses and frozen fields in this Paris suburb, the Palace of Versailles sparkles in the evening sun. But Mayor Philippe Brillault has his eyes set on a different landmark: an abandoned, asbestos-choked power plant.

It’s the spot where the Utah-based LDS Church would like to build France’s first Mormon temple.

Join the Discussion
Post a Comment

"We weren’t overjoyed, because Mormons have an image that’s pretty much negative," the mayor said. "But for what can we reproach these people? Not polygamy. Proselytizing was the biggest concern."

With 36,000 members and a history stretching back to the 1850s, France’s LDS community is among the biggest and oldest in Europe. But while U.S. Mormons are asserting their clout with Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, their faith mostly draws blank stares here.

That is changing, partly due to French media coverage of the U.S. elections and Romney’s stint as a young Mormon missionary in France during the 1960s. And partly because of concerns about the temple project.

"It’s a form of opposition that’s sometimes manifested because people don’t know us," said LDS spokesman Christian Euvrard. "But when people get the real information, of course, they will see that most of those false ideas will fall by themselves."

Mormons in France currently attend services at one of more than 100 meetinghouses around the country. But they must travel to temples in Germany, Britain or Switzerland to take part in the faith’s most sacred sacraments, including eternal marriages and proxy baptisms. Across Europe, the church counts nearly half a million members.

"Going to the temple is a wonderful experience — it’s a time to contemplate things going on in our lives, things we’ve learned in the gospel and scriptures," said 40-year-old Tucson, Ariz., native Darla Pape, one of a handful of American ex-pats who attend a Mormon church in the neighboring town of Versailles. "Church members in France would see many blessings to have a temple close by."

The mayor ultimately granted the building permit after finding no grounds to refuse it. Mormon officials hope to complete the temple — along with gardens and a guesthouse — within the next few years.

But opposition is growing. An online petition has already gathered 6,000 signatories against the project, although the mayor says most are not locals.


story continues below
story continues below

"Would I have preferred something else?" asks Brillault. "Sure. But because I’m a Catholic and they’re Mormons is no reason to say no."

Political opponents disagree. They claim the mayor rammed the project through with little debate and that the site is better suited for other purposes, such as public housing.

"This is a way for the Mormons to plant themselves on national territory for the long haul," said municipal councilor Berengere Brunel. "There are examples of sectarian currents in this movement. This goes way beyond Chesnay."

Marie Drilhon, local chapter head of UNADFI, a nongovernmental group that fights religious extremism, is also skeptical about Mormons and their project.

"It’s a demanding church for the faithful," she said, describing some cases of members who have left the faith and were pressured to return. "People who are more fragile don’t do well in this church."

But the controversy also illustrates a larger wariness of non-mainstream religions in France, where a government watchdog group monitors cults. While the LDS Church is recognized here, others — like the Church of Scientology, which lost a recent appeals ruling on fraud charges — are considered sects.

"The United States was built in large part on the belief in religious freedom," said political analyst Nicole Bacharan. "The French Republic was built against the church, and the value of separation of state and church is extremely strong. Whenever there seems to be some infringement, [the] French get all fired up."

"Mormon temples tend to be really big," she added. "And only Mormons can attend ceremonies in temples — so that can also create suspicion."

On the streets of Chesnay, opinions are divided.

Next Page >


Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Top Reader Comments Read All Comments Post a Comment
Click here to read all comments   Click here to post a comment


About Reader Comments


Reader comments on sltrib.com are the opinions of the writer, not The Salt Lake Tribune. We will delete comments containing obscenities, personal attacks and inappropriate or offensive remarks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. If you see an objectionable comment, please alert us by clicking the arrow on the upper right side of the comment and selecting "Flag comment as inappropriate". If you've recently registered with Disqus or aren't seeing your comments immediately, you may need to verify your email address. To do so, visit disqus.com/account.
See more about comments here.
Staying Connected
Videos
Jobs
Contests and Promotions
  • Search Obituaries
  • Place an Obituary

  • Search Cars
  • Search Homes
  • Search Jobs
  • Search Marketplace
  • Search Legal Notices

  • Other Services
  • Advertise With Us
  • Subscribe to the Newspaper
  • Access your e-Edition
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Contact a newsroom staff member
  • Access the Trib Archives
  • Privacy Policy
  • Missing your paper? Need to place your paper on vacation hold? For this and any other subscription related needs, click here or call 801.204.6100.