authorisation to the vast majority of religious communities and sought to close down their schools. His persecution culminated in the passing of a new law in July 1904 which banned even authorised orders from teaching. At the same time he encouraged discrimination against practising Catholics in certain sectors of the bureaucracy and, infamously, as the affaire desfiches revealed, sought to prevent them from being promoted in the army.
Yet not even Combes wanted to dispense with the concordat, which he valued as a tool to keep the clergy under control. On the other hand, he was rash enough to threaten the Vatican with its abolition when the new pope, Pius X (1903-14), proved a much more intractable opponent than his predecessor over the question of episcopal appointments. Anticlerical parliamentarians, including the leading socialist Jean Jaures, took Combes at his word and seized the opportunity to force through a Separation Bill which became law on 9 December 1905. It was a unilateral act on the part of the state, motivated primarily by a desire to break the power of the church as a political force.
By the terms of the Separation Law, the state ceased to pay the salaries of the clergy (and of pastors and rabbis). Church property was to be transferred to associations cultuelles, representative bodies made up of parishioners from each parish in France. The chief architect of the law, Aristide Briand, intended not to suppress the Catholic religion but rather to free Catholic laypeople from the domination of the hierarchy. Nor was the law aimed at the expropriation of the church (as under the Revolution): the intention was rather to place church buildings under the care of the faithful provided they set up the stipulated religious associations in each parish to guarantee their upkeep. However reluctantly, most French bishops and lay Catholics accepted the law and wanted to comply with the obligation to establish associations cultuelles. Rome, however, had other ideas. Pius X, egged on by his equally intransigent secretary of state Cardinal Merry del Val, was convinced that the law would undermine the hierarchical basis of the church and also feared that a tame surrender before the French state would encourage similar anticlerical legislation in other countries. Accordingly, he forbade the formation of associations cultuelles, with the consequence that until 1924 the church did not exist as a legal entity capable of taking ownership of its own property. In the interim, much of that property was converted to other use: many episcopal palaces became museums, libraries or other municipal buildings. Rome's intransigence on the matter of associations cultuelles proved highly costly for the French church.
The influence of Rome continued to shape the French church up to 1914, and beyond. Unrestrained by the French state, Pius X and Merry del Val
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