Civitas: what is this Catholic fundamentalist movement, threatened with dissolution by the French interior ministry?

Civitas: what is this Catholic fundamentalist movement, threatened with dissolution by Gérald Darmanin?

Gérald Darmanin has announced the start of proceedings to dissolve Civitas.

This far-right party has been accused of anti-Semitism following remarks made at its Summer Universities.

Since 2012, this fundamentalist Catholic movement has made a name for itself by demonstrating against marriage for all.

The fundamentalist Catholic milieu is about to lose its most virulent lobby. Following anti-Semitic remarks made by controversial essayist Pierre Hillard at the Civitas summer universities, Gérald Darmanin has announced that he has asked his departments "to instruct the dissolution" of what became a party, in 2016. 

"Anti-Semitism has no place in our country. I firmly condemn these ignominious remarks and refer the matter to the public prosecutor", declared the Minister of the Interior in his message published on X (formerly Twitter).

A movement rooted in fundamentalist Catholic circles

Presented as an institute, Civitas is a direct descendant of the "Cité catholique", an organization founded in the aftermath of the Second World War by Jean Ousset, a disciple of Charles Maurras, theorist of integral nationalism and director of the far-right newspaper L'Action française. In its early days, the movement was also close to the Priestly Fraternity of St. Pius X, a traditionalist Catholic movement founded in 1970 and opposed to the Vatican II Council, which was presented as a means of opening up the Church by simplifying its rites.

As a result, Civitas, whose emblem is a heart surmounted by a Cross representing the Sacred Heart of Jesus, brings together fundamentalist traditionalist Catholics whose aim is "the restoration of a Christian France", in the words used on its website. "Civitas is unquestionably on the far right of the political spectrum," Jean-Yves Camus, a specialist in far-right movements, told LCI. 

"Its aim is, and I quote from its program, to re-establish the social kingship of Christ, i.e. to make all the laws of our country dependent on something which is not the principle of secularism", also detailed the director of the Observatory of Political Radicalities, within the Jean Jaurès Foundation. This movement, chaired by Belgian royalist Alain Escada, is the only current political party to call into question the 1905 law, which established the separation of Church and State in France, and on which the principle of secularism is based.

The origin of several controversial actions

On the public scene, the movement made a name for itself by demonstrating its opposition to marriage for all, in 2012, a law that Gérald Darmanin was also opposed to. By becoming a political party in 2016, it became eligible for public funding from the state and began fielding candidates in elections. This attempt to establish itself on the political scene was a failure, leading the party to support Eric Zemmour in the 2022 presidential election.

In recent months, Civitas has re-emerged in the news with a number of controversial actions. In February, its president invited the movement's supporters to gather in Saint-Brévin, Loire-Atlantique, to demonstrate against a planned reception center for asylum seekers. These demonstrations led to the resignation of the mayor, who also saw his home set on fire.

In April, the associations Stop Homophobie and Mousse filed a complaint against Civitas for discrimination on the grounds of gender identity, after the organization obtained the cancellation of a concert by singer Bilal Hassani in a church in eastern France. Several dozen demonstrators close to the organization also prevented a concert from taking place on May 13 at the Saint-Cornély church in Carnac. The Lorient public prosecutor's office subsequently opened an investigation into the incident, accusing them of deliberate violence and obstruction of freedom of expression. Together with Pierre Hillard's anti-Semitic remarks, these actions may have contributed to the case for the dissolution of the movement.