Tugdual Derville is one of the leaders of the pro-family and pro-life movement in France, and one of the chief organizers of the massive demonstrations in France during the past two years against legislation which would dramatically change the traditional definition of marriage. For his work in this important cultural struggle, for his personal witness in caring for the elderly, for his example as a husband and as the father of six children, we are pleased to honor him as one of our “Top Ten” persons of 2014.
Born in 1962, Tugdual Derville, 52, is a law graduate of the Institut d’Etudes Politiques de Paris and of the ESSEC Business School. He comes from a devout Catholic family. With his wife Raphaelle, whom he married in 1989, he has six children. His brother Guillaume Derville is a spiritual director in Opus Dei (Tugdual chooses a different spirituality). Tugdual Derville has worked for many years as a caretaker for older people, and has in recent years became a consultant in the medical and social field.
In 1986, he founded an “open arms” association to organize the reception in France by volunteer coaches of children, adolescents and young adults suffering from mental disability, for weekends or holiday stays. In 1994 he joined the Alliance for the Right to Life, association founded by Christine Boutin. This association is Alliance VITA, a leading pro-life movement in France which has as its objectives “respect for human dignity, particularly the most vulnerable.” He is the Chief Executive Officer and, as such, regularly appears in the media to discuss bioethical issues, recalling “the profound dignity of every human being and the right of each to have life be recognized and protected.” On October 23, 2012, during a demonstration in defense, he opposed the marriage of same-sex couples, citing the well-being of the child: “All children should have the opportunity to have a father and mother, if possible.”
In the past few years in the West, there has been an ever-strengthening push towards a so-called “anthropological revolution,” which is aiming to destabilize the family as composed of a man and a woman, and open to procreation. This revolution is attempting to create a society in which good and evil are interchangeable, with no reference points, no hierarchy of values.
What is the most evident and massive expression — on the part of a wide sample of the general population — of the refusal of this imposition?
The most meaningful and incisive reaction to this “revolution” has come from the French “Manif Pour Tous” (with its associated groups, such as the Veilleurs, the Sentinels).
This movement, strongly (though not exclusively) Catholic, was born as the result of an invitation to reflection given by Cardinal Vingt-Trois, then-President of the French Bishops’ Conference, in the summer of 2012. But what was it like at its origins, how did it develop, and what will it become in the future?
We spoke about all this with Tugdual Derville (whose first name, by the way, is of Breton origin). He is one of the main spokespeople for the Manif, a general delegate for the Alliance VITA (a co-founder of the Manif) and also one of the initiators of the recently-established Courant pour une Ecologie Humaine.
We were able to meet with the 52-year-old Derville, a practicing Catholic and father of six, in November at the Vatican, during Humanum, an international, interreligious convention on complementarity between man and woman, promoted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Here below is our interview with Tugdual.
Tugdual, in the 1980s, you began dedicating your life to helping others: first the elderly, and later the mentally disabled; more recently, with Alliance VITA (as a general delegate) you have been working for respect for the human dignity of the weakest members of society. What inspired you and the Alliance VITA to co-found the Manif Pour Tous in 2012?
Tugdual Derville: More than a “co-founder” of the Manif Pour Tous, I consider myself to be one of the main representatives of an immense social movement, one that has surprised its own initiators in expanding well beyond anyone’s expectations… As focus points in the media, we have done no more than channel and make visible an energy that comes from the heart of France itself.
In July of 2012, after the election of François Hollande to the presidency, Alliance VITA acted on its previously-made decision to commit its resources strongly to the battle against same-sex “marriage,” to defend children who were under threat by the proposed bill.
This bill included the possibility of adoption by two men or two women, completely depriving children of clear maternal and paternal reference points. The government intended to move swiftly, aided by the deceivingly simplified slogan “marriage pour tous,” which hid the matter of adoption from the public.
And so Alliance VITA was the first group to take to the streets, in October of 2012, with 50-odd symbolic demonstrations with the slogan “Un papa, une maman, on ne ment pas aux enfants” (“One Dad, one Mom: one doesn’t lie to children”) which meant we were placing children at the center of the debate.
It was such a great success (in the media, too) that many other groups and associations, encouraged by their own members, wanted to join in. That is how the two most important groups got together, and that explains the enormous success of the first regional rally, which took place in Paris on November 17, 2012.
Manif Pour Tous: a challenge full of difficulties. What were the main ones? How did you manage to mobilize so many varied parts of French society?
Derville: The movement that became Manif Pour Tous is typical of social movements that reflect three criteria: spontaneity, anarchy and ferment. Spontaneity: great numbers of people rise up at once, motivated by a common reason. Anarchy: no one is really able to dominate or control everything that is going on. Ferment: there is a constant ferment of initiatives that blossom and fade… The major stumbling block we were able to overcome, almost miraculously, was division among various groups. France is known for its Gallic tribes, characterized by warring among leaders or, rather, battles among narcissists. How did we manage to beat out this national tendency of ours, and unite under one flag?
Some of us gave a real example of humility. Others showed authority. All of us showed devotion. It is true, too, that Alliance VITA and the Catholic Family Associations provided a strong framework for unity and organization.
An important factor for success was the internet, with its social networks: here was the perfect instrument for organizing quickly and without running up against other media’s boycotting.
In any case, the internet wouldn’t have been enough, if there hadn’t been very serious motivation to begin with…
Derville: The liberal-libertarian revolution of 1968 had an enormous impact on France: this saw the emergence of widespread individualism and secularism, one of whose many consequences is Attorney General Taubira’s marriage pour tous law… If that law unleashed such a movement of protests, it is because it has shaken people on a very intimate level: the tampering with sexuality in procreation. In other words, the most deeply-rooted anthropological base in human history. With Taubira’s law, the father and the mother become interchangeable!
Moreover, whoever thought that this law only concerned a small minority within a minority — that is, those rare homosexual people who want to marry someone of the same sex — made a serious miscalculation. For us, this was not a matter of “opening” marriage, but rather of distorting it and destroying it. And, more specifically, ruining the process of filiation.
It was natural for the general public to rebel. That is part of French tradition: when those in authority abuse their power, the people rise up… I believe that the fire of rebellion had been smoldering for years, completely ignored by the dominant media and the ruling powers. Instead, a network of resistance had been consolidating, through associations, communities, publications, events of various kinds, symbolic gatherings… This humanitarian, social, religious and cultural fabric suddenly announced the fact that it existed, and that it was a vital force. Countering the liberal-libertarian, power-holding elite, which has been becoming more and more bourgeois, a vast crowd, motivated by altruism has sprung up: it seemed intolerable to us that future generations be deprived of that precious reference point that is the sexual otherness that characterizes all of us. This points to the fact that freedom is never so precious to us as when it is threatened.
While working against the approval of Taubira’s law, I have often said that this unjust law has, in any case, given life to a great social movement: France has woken up!
What members of French society have brought the Manif Pour Tous to life? How much weight does the Catholic sphere have in it?
Derville: The origin of the Manif is Catholic (according to one of our spokespeople, Caml Bechikh, a Muslim) but it has attracted more and more people who agree with its anthropology rooted in truth. In fact, the government has been shocked by this union among groups that previously hadn’t really known each other… The “silent majority” has always supported us: surveys consistently show that over 50% of French citizens are against adoption rights for homosexual couples, even after the approval of Taubira’s law.
The persistence of mass mobilization challenges the usual parameters of judgment, and confirm my analysis of ours being a true social movement that finds its strength in roots that are impossible to eliminate. The governing powers, in purposely ignoring us or humiliating us, and trying to erase us, have, paradoxically, strengthened us… The year 2013 gave experience in the “school of life” for thousands of young people. In France, more than in other countries, the public square is a school of democracy. I must clarify, though, that our social movement is not based only on demonstrations, although, of course, they have produced their good fruits. French people of all ages have realized that they are not alone, that protesting is not only the monopoly of libertarians, that it is well worth it to sacrifice for the common good, and that it is important for every single citizen to be committed to influencing the course of history. Instead of being scared and keeping quiet, there are now many French citizens who dare to speak out, even if that means putting their career in jeopardy, and thus freeing themselves from fear and conventionality…
The Manif Pour Tous has given rise, among other groups, to the Veilleurs, who keep a silent, motionless vigil in front of government buildings, with a book in their hands and a candle at their feet… What is your opinion on this kind of demonstration?
Derville: The Veilleurs, who later inspired the Italian Sentinelle, started after the demonstrations of March 24, 2013, which was the most massive and most repressed one. We came close to serious chaos, that day. On my part, I had urged the crowd to maintain non-violence. But some groups maintained that the government would never have ceded if not in the face of violence. I believed the opposite: the government’s intentions were to show that we were an obstacle to democracy: they wanted to taint our image.
After March 24, while demonstrations were still going on throughout the country, some young people who had been unjustly detained by the police wondered what course of action they should take next. They decided to start the Veilleurs, based on the practice of non- violence. This movement spread like wildfire throughout France. It is very promising.
Authentic vocations do not begin in agitation, but rather in reflection, in meditation. There can be no spiritual life if there is not interior life, and there can be no interior life without silence. It is simply marvelous that these young people have been able to inspire the crowds to this silence. Thus we broke the vicious circle of violence that too often characterizes social movements in our country. No matter what is said, a fact remains: our movement has lasted over two years now, without any one of us ever having burned a single car, broken a single window, or put up a single barricade. This is our strength. We are the antithesis to the barricades put up in May of 1968.