The Catholic community mounts a petition, while the Church relies on an old French law.
After weeks of wrestling with plans to sell a 12th-century abbey church, the French town of Châteaudun has decided to call off the deal. The city’s proposal was rejected after the Catholic community came together to submit a petition. In addition, the Catholic Church was able to rely on an ancient law that names them beneficiaries of property.
Aleteia reported on January 2 that the nearly 900-year-old La Madeleine church had caught the eye of Julien Cohen, an auctioneer and host of the French television show Deal done. Cohen remarked that the church was just what he needed for the site of a new second-hand goods mall. The plan was to use the new store as a boon to the local economy, but the problem was that no one informed the Church.
The diocese of Chartres, which includes Châteaudun, was only informed of the planned sale indirectly when the affair broke out in the press at the end of December. They expressed amazement at the plan.
The tablet explains that the law cedes ownership of all pre-20th century Church structures to the government, but the Catholic Church retains the rights in perpetuity:
Under French law, the state owns religious buildings built before 1905 but assigns them to the Church for “legal, exclusive, free, permanent and perpetual” use, he reminded the prospective buyer. “There can therefore be no de facto dismantling.”
While the law was most likely enough to halt the efforts on its own, Catholics in Châteaudun also filed a petition to stop the sale. The petition has garnered some 2,800 signatures, which is all the more impressive considering the city has fewer than 13,000 residents.
For his part, Julien Cohen did not try to fight against the public outcry. He explained that he never wanted to court controversy with the acquisition. He said in a statement:
“I’m not going to fight to build an antique auction house in Châteaudun. If it’s Châteaudun, so much the better, otherwise we’ll go elsewhere.
Cohen moved to set his sights on another site in Châteaudun, a medieval-era hospital called Hôtel-Dieu, or Auberge de Dieu. This location shouldn’t cause the same altercation as the Madeleine Church, but if he can’t get it, he can move to another town. There are plenty of former Catholic properties available in France, where an estimated 30 disused churches are sold every year.