Father Pierre Vivarès, a priest in Paris, denounces the media's manipulation of the case of an obscene TikTok video that was illegally filmed in his parish church.
I was wondering what I was going to write this week, having been a bit busy with this young man who “twerked” in my church in a crop top and the media storm that followed. And then I thought that this is finally the only space I have to tell the truth publicly and show the sequence of facts, the manipulations of some and others, and all the pitfalls that come up when you try to be fair and loyal.
To start, we have the illegal act of a young person who films himself and broadcasts his video filmed in a church, with the media repercussion that follows (30 million views to date). When I was first informed of this, I said to myself that there was no point in taking out the legal arsenal immediately and that we would favor dialogue. So I send an e-mail to this young man asking him to withdraw his video.
His colleague, Queen-Paul, removed it from his account the same day and apologized to those he may have hurt, for which I would like to thank him. I’ll be happy to show him around our beautiful church any time he wants. Some might say that we should have reacted immediately and taken legal action right away. But the words of the Gospel are clear: “If your brother has committed a sin against you, go and reproach him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Mt 18:15).
As the situation gathered momentum, and the only reaction of the person concerned was to say that he did not apologize, we published a press release. Several pitfalls had to be avoided: We couldn’t appear as if we were denouncing a blasphemy since blasphemy does not exist in French law. A blasphemy can only take place in a culture with uniform values, and since France does not recognize any religion, there can be no blasphemy according to our law.
This false debate on the right to blaspheme or not is nonsense. Legally speaking, there are only infringements of the rights of individuals or groups. And this young man has trespassed, infringing on the use of a church provided for by the law of 1905.
The other mistake would be to suggest that we are reacting because this boy is homosexual. The issue is not the sexuality of this boy in this case. What he did is illegal and that is the point of law that matters.
So we are walking this fine line between being accused of blasphemy and homophobia, two realities that are totally unrelated to the story but are actually going to become the media story, because everyone wants to use this situation for personal gain.
The dictatorship of images and hype
Threatened physically and verbally — which I have always strongly condemned and still condemn — the boy complained on the set of “Touche pas à mon poste,” hosted by Cyril Hanouna, with lawyers. This scene makes him a victim of freedom of expression and homophobia.
But his freedom of expression cannot be exercised in a church. No one raises this issue on the show…and this is the very substance of the question at hand.
But his freedom of expression cannot be exercised in a church. No one raises this issue on the show … and this is the very substance of the question at hand. Instead, the television host wanders around these topics: “for or against,” “violence and freedom of expression,” “victims and culprits,” “homophobia and religious fundamentalism,” etc. Consequently, the debate at this point badly framed in the media, a position of retreat is necessary and I contacted TikTok to assert my right of use on the church without intervening elsewhere than here, on Aleteia, to explain the facts.
After three days I finally received an email with a form (in English) saying that I can report how I think the video infringes upon my rights. We might as well say that in front of these global social networks, we, actual citizens, are absolutely nothing. We are simply crushed by a machine that can be likened to a dictatorship of image and hype. Having duly filled in the forms in question, I am still waiting for any response from them. The justice that we are going to seize will perhaps make them react.
Moving further from the substance of the case
The following Monday, between two funerals celebrated in the church, the boy filmed himself again in the Calvary chapel. For you to understand, this chapel is located on the side of our church; the interior is not visible from the nave. It is a place for personal prayer before the cross of the Lord. Thus the trespasser can quickly film himself (or be filmed by an accomplice) without being seen. He appears again on Mr. Hanouna’s show the same evening and, although everyone tries to make him understand that his attitude is not right, he complains that he continues to receive threats at home.
To further spice up the debate, the host brings in a Catholic sectarian who tells him “that your father should shove a pie in your face.” So the only Catholic on duty who is brought out to debate is a violent man who makes no secret of it. Of course, all of this lends credence to the division between, on the one hand, “the evil fundamentalists who complain about blasphemy” and, on the other hand, “the poor little victim of the evil ones who has only expressed himself awkwardly about what he has the right to do.” But the public is deceived and the debate is moved further from the substance of the case.
A politicized “street prayer”
On Tuesday morning I received an e-mail from a man asking me if I would agree to host a group of young people who wanted to pray the Rosary in the evening at 8 p.m. or the following Thursday at 6 p.m. in the chapel in question. I have no reason to object to a Catholic prayer in the church; however, I inform him that that evening we already have Eucharistic adoration and prayers for the sick scheduled at the same time and I therefore suggest Thursday evening at 6 p.m. But then we learn at noon, by a post circulating on social networks, that a demonstration has already been organized on the steps of the church in the evening at 8 p.m.in order to pray a Rosary “in reparation for the desecration of the church by the crazy twerker” [sic].
I did not want my church to become a place of confrontation between the LGBT community (we are in the heart of the Marais) and Catholic sectarians, so we informed the Paris police prefecture about this event so that some security forces could be present to watch over the safety of all.
This initiative is directed by an abbot whose name appears on the post and whose favorite slogan is “Fight, fight, pray.” You may or may not appreciate the slogan. However, it is out of the question that I would encourage this initiative (which the same people have no problem denouncing when it is undertaken by Muslims) and organized by people who don’t care, like the twerker in the crop-top, about the instructions I might give them. I did not want my church to become a place of confrontation between the LGBT community (we are in the heart of the Marais) and Catholic sectarians, so we informed the Paris police prefecture about this event so that some security forces could be present to watch over the safety of all.
At the same time, I was forced to cancel the prayer for the sick that had been planned for that evening and to close the church before the demonstrators arrived so that all this would not further desecrate the church. One could say that I could have welcomed them inside but — as they claimed the next day in “Touche pas à mon poste” — they wanted the reparation to be public and in the street in order to give it media visibility, which they managed to do.
As a point of fact, I had agreed to the other proposed day and time (Thursday at 6 p.m.) but they did not even respond. So instead of making reparation, they use prayer for political purposes as has become their custom.
Finally, I don’t see why I should have replaced the time of prayer that we had planned and that I informed them about earlier just because they suddenly want to pray a Rosary. So I am, once again, denied the legal use of St. Paul’s Church, this time not by a twerker in a crop top but by shaved heads in Barbour. Of course, some of the Catholic media are scandalized that the local clergy did not participate in such a beautiful action…
A twisted affair
The next day, Wednesday, I had to file two legal complaints. The first was for Benjamin Ledig’s two videos, and the second for the street prayer in front of the church. The same evening, again on Hanouna’s show, the debate was about the street prayer, featuring as the only representative of the Church a member of Civitas who had participated in the Rosary, and as another guest, a Muslim student who also demanded a reflection on the prohibition of blasphemy.
The media continue to lead people astray, taking them further from the substance of the case, indulging caricatures of people who do not represent us and who create problems where simple respect of the laws we have would bring a solution.
But I wanted to tell you this sequence of events to show how, in the absence of a reflection on the substance with qualified interlocutors, any event can be distorted, diverted, and twisted.
While a war rages in Ukraine, all this is quite anecdotal. But I wanted to tell you this sequence of events to show how, in the absence of a reflection on the substance with qualified interlocutors, any event can be distorted, diverted, and twisted. Even Christians of good faith are being manipulated and scandalized without knowing the facts. The abundance of images and information requires an abundance of discernment and reflection.