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    STUDIA HISTORIA - Issue no. 2 / 2005  

  Abstract:  Catholics and Republicans in the Disputes over Laicization. The Discourse of Alterity in the Press of Nice. A statistic from 1877 shows that more than 50% of French students were being educated in institutions belonging to religious congregations. Confessional schools were considered by the republican governments as the last bastions of the Ancien Regime. That is why, between 1880-1904 they have initiated a series of laws which have led, finally, to their dissolution. These events have created, in the French press and political life a lively debate between Catholics and republicans. In the department of the Alpes Maritimes (newly created in 1860, by integrating into France the Italian territories around Nice) politicians have generally had a position in favour of the government regarding laicization but have avoided taking, at local level, harsher steps against congregations. However, the most important publications within Nice itself have fully taken part in the debate which had ensued at national level. It is the case of republican newspapers, Le phare du litoral and Le petit nicois and of the Catholic periodical, La semaine religieuse. Each tried to persuade its readers of the justification of their own opinions, resorting to strong attacks against political adversaries. From the pages of these periodicals, one can outline the image of the ‘other’ beyond which we can glimpse the expectations of French society at the end of the nineteenth century. The French clergy is depicted, by the republicans as ‘attached to earthly goods’, selfish, perfidious, conspiring, the enemy par excellence of the Republic and of progress. Sometimes the image is more refined: the representatives of the church are not all seen in a negative light in equal measure. Some articles make a distinction between the monks, the higher and the lower clergy. The former represented absolute evil, incarnated especially in the Jesuits, while the lower clergy is presented as being victims of their superiors. Some priests and even bishops desired the reformation of the Church in agreement with a liberal spirit. Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) himself makes a number of concessions to the principles of the French Revolution. The republicans, as they appear in the pages of the periodicals La semaine religieuse are ‘Godless people’ who hold nothing sacred, not even their own principles: liberty, the right to life and property, which are often trespassed through the laws adopted against the religious orders; they are as despotic as the people of the Ancien Regime. In broad outlines, the portrait of Catholics seen by the republicans and that of republicans seen by Catholics is the same: conspiratorial, corrupt, despotic, disloyal to their own principles. This demonstrates that the factions in conflict addressed an imagined public, attached to the same values, having the same expectations and the same fears. The republican newspapers, although anticlerical are not anti-religious, taking into account that public opinion from Nice had remained, to a great extent, either from conviction or through the force of habit, catholic. The catholic periodical comes across as a discourse deeply marked by liberal ideas, reflecting in fact the acceptance of the statements of modernity by a clergy who realised that only in this way they would be able to maintain their position in society.  
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