French Catholics played a surprisingly large role in the campaign. They now have a fight on their hands

Despite the French bishops urging Catholics to vote, many will have abstained yesterday: a record 26% of the overall population stayed away from the polling booths as Emmanuel Macron won an easy victory.

How will he govern? Macron presents himself as a centrist, while his programme – outlined in his book Révolution – promises to fix the economy and make France great again. The country has lagged economically, and promises of reform have repeatedly failed. Macron believes he can be the CEO who can turn this around; his priorities will be economic more than social.

That platform won the French minds on yesterday’s ballot, but Macron didn’t win French hearts. The primaries showed the true picture of a nation divided. Macron’s victory has managed to make a France where traditional political parties have become disaggregated. There is an opportunity here for Catholics to find a voice in this revolution.

Catholics had played a large, some suggest disproportionate, role in the primaries and they had a candidate in François Fillon. It was even suggested by Le Monde that this was “the emergence of a Catholic and patrimonial right.” To two French sociologists, Emmanuel Todd and Hervé Le Bras, it was proof of what they termed les zombies catholiques. Todd and Le Bras argued that “Catholicism seems to have attained a kind of life after death. But since it is a question of a this-worldly life, we will define it as ‘zombie Catholicism.’”

The authors defined Zombie Catholics as those who live in the regions (where resistance was greatest to the French Revolution), are highly educated and meritocratic, and prefer a traditional ordering of professional and domestic duties between husbands and wives, believing in strong attachments to social, community, and family activities. They are also concerned about the role of the state in private and community affairs, including “free schools,” the Catholic private schools.

Many of these Zombie Catholics and Fillon voters cast their final vote for Le Pen, helping her to double her father’s vote and get a bloc of 11 million voters. Catholics have long been less likely to vote for the National Front, but an IFOP poll taken after last year’s regional elections revealed that 32 percent of practicing Catholics voted for the National Front. This was higher than the national average of 28 percent and more than double the percentage of Catholic votes in 2014. We can expect similar, maybe even higher, statistics when yesterday’s numbers are crunched.

In his speeches, Macron implies that he wants a dialogue. He has a lot of persuading to do. Next month, France will go to the polls again to elect the 577 members of the National Assembly. Macron has a month to turn reluctant voters into a country united behind him. Otherwise he will be overwhelmed by the dysfunction of the National Assembly.

Another test will be Macron’s nomination of a prime minister – which he will have to make without having a party. Many of those who held their noses against voting for candidate Macron will no doubt make their feelings known about President Macron.

The key thing to watch is whether Macron succeeds in reinventing French politics, and kills off the old socialism and intellectualism that typified French secularity. If so, what will this France look like? Catholics have a role to play in such a dialogue. The optimist might say they should be very active in helping to form this new France, while the pessimist might say this is an elitist president who won’t change anything and will form a new socialist-based bloc.

Either way, Catholics have a fight on their hands. If Catholics have reawakened from their slumber as Fillon’s campaign suggested, they should not feel too disconsolate that they didn’t turn that victory into a new presidency yesterday. Even revolutions take time.