News / Europe

France's First Mormon Temple Sparks Controversy

Drawing of Mormon temple planned for Paris
Drawing of Mormon temple planned for Paris
Lisa Bryant

The United States may get its first Mormon president this year, if Republican candidate Mitt Romney prevails in his bid. But in France, the Mormon faith is viewed with deep suspicion and a project to build the country's first Mormon temple in the Paris suburb of Chesnay is proving to be controversial.

Until recently, Chesnay was mostly known because of its proximity to Versailles, the dazzling 18th-century palace that was home to French "Sun King" Louis XIV.  But today, this small town west of Paris is making news because of another monument, a 7,000-square-meter Mormon temple, expected to be built here in the next few years.

From his office window, Chesnay Mayor Philippe Brillault points to an abandoned, asbestos-filled energy plant.  This is the property the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has acquired for its temple.  Further away, the spire of the Versailles palace church sparkles in the sun.

Brillault admits he was not thrilled to receive the church's request to acquire the property.  He says the Mormons have a negative image in predominately Catholic France, even if they may not deserve it.  Brillault says he granted the building permit after an investigation he commissioned found no reason to refuse it.

With 36,000 members, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in France is among the oldest and largest of Mormon churches in Europe.  Missionaries arrived from the United States in the 1850s.

But only recently have ordinary French become aware of the Mormon faith, partly through media reports about U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who spent time in France as a young Mormon missionary.  And partly because of the controversy surrounding the Chesnay temple.

Political analyst Michelle Bacharan says that unlike the United States, French history has shaped a public deeply wary of any religion invading public space.

"Mormon temples tend to be really big, you can not miss them.  You can have some architectural disagreements with that and some people in a particular town may not like it.  And only real Mormons can attend ceremonies in temples, so that can create suspicion of what is going on there," Bacharan said.

Today, France's Mormon community gathers in ordinary churches, like one in the neighboring town of Versailles.  But church spokesman Christian Euvrard says there are special services that can only take place in temples.

"A temple is a place for communion.  It is a place for spiritual retreat.  It is a place where families will come once or twice a year," Euvrard said.

For now, Mormons like 40-year-old American Darla Pape, who attends the Versailles church with her family, must travel to Britain or Germany to go to temple.

"For us, going to the temple is a wonderful experience ... so I think that for church members in France to have a temple close that they could go to more regularly, they will see many blessings in their lives from that regular attendance," Pape said.

But opposition to the temple project is growing.  An Internet petition circulated by a Chesnay group has gathered 6,000 signatures, although Mayor Brillault says most are not local residents.  The mayor's opponents criticize the project, mostly it appears, for political reasons.

Others, like Marie Drilhon, local chapter head of UNADFI, a group fighting religious extremism, view the Mormon faith with skepticism.

Drilhon says the Mormon church demands a lot from its members, both financially and spiritually.  It uses marketing methods to proselytize, which Europeans are not used to.  And she doubts the temple will benefit the local community.

But Michelle, another local resident, has no objections to a Mormon temple in Chesnay.

Michelle says she has visited Salt Lake City in Utah, the headquarters of the Latter-day Saints, and she knows about the religion.

Church spokesman Euvrard says the Chesnay temple will allow other French to discover his faith.

"For us, it is a great opportunity to explain who we are, to introduce ourselves and to say 'yes,' we have been here for a long time, we are here and we are very present in society," Euvrard said.  

Euvrard says the temple project includes gardens that will be open to the public.  With time and greater awareness, he believes, French fears about the Mormons will disappear.

You May Like

DRC Tries Mega-Farms to Feed Population

Park at Boukanga Lonzo currently has 5,000 hectares under cultivation, crops stretching as far as eye can see, and is start of ambitious large-scale agriculture plan More

Video Survivor Video Testimonies Recount Horrors of Guatemalan Genocide

During a conflict that spanned more than three decades, tens of thousands of indigenous Mayans were killed More

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Areas are spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, source of livelihood for fishermen and herders who have called the marshes home for generations More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOAi
X
August 31, 2015 2:17 AM
Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video Nobel Prize Winner Malala Talks to VOA

Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai met with VOA's Deewa service in Washington Sunday to talk about women’s rights and unveil a trailer for her new documentary. VOA's Katherine Gypson has more.
Video

Video War, Drought Threaten Iraq's Marshlands

Iraq's southern wetlands are in crisis. These areas are the spawning ground for Gulf fisheries, a resting place for migrating wildfowl, and source of livelihood for fishermen and herders. Faith Lapidus has more.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Rebuilding New Orleans' Music Scene

Ten years after Hurricane Katrina inundated New Orleans, threatening to wash away its vibrant musical heritage along with its neighborhoods, the beat goes on. As Bronwyn Benito and Faith Lapidus report, a Musicians' Village is preserving the city's unique sound.
Video

Video In Russia, Auto Industry in Tailspin

Industry insiders say country relies too heavily on imports as inflation cuts too many consumers out of the market. Daniel Schearf has more from Moscow.
Video

Video Scientist Calls Use of Fetal Tissue in Medical Research Essential

An anti-abortion group responsible for secret recordings of workers at a women's health care organization claims the workers shown are offering baby parts for sale, a charge the organization strongly denies. While the selling of fetal tissue is against the law in the United States, abortion and the use of donated fetal tissue for medical research are both legal. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.

VOA Blogs