As Pledges Pour In For Notre Dame Cathedral, Some Are Critical

By Fayçal Benhassain | April 17, 2019 | 9:38 PM EDT

Parisians prayed near Notre Dame Cathedral as the fire raged on Monday. (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)

Paris ( – Two days after the fire that ravaged the Notre Dame cathedral here, pledges of money to restore the historic church have exceeded $1 billion, although some voices on the political left are critical of the huge sums promised.

France’s wealthiest family, the Arnaults, has pledged $225 million, while Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo announced that the city hall would contribute $56 million to the project. In total, public and private pledges by late Wednesday stood at more than $1.1 billion.

Some politicians and labor union leaders were critical of the pledged contributions. Manon Aubry of the leftist movement Rebellious France said instead of a high-profile donations in order to get one’s name inscribed in stone at the Notre Dame, those companies and wealthy individuals should “start paying their taxes in France.”

Philippe Martinez, the head of the leftist CGT trade union, said the huge offers of money underscored inequality levels in French society.

“If they are able to give tens of millions to build Notre Dame, they have to stop telling us that there is no money to satisfy the social emergency,” he said.

“You see that there are billionaires who have a lot of money and in one click they give 200 million, 100 million,” Martinez told French radio. “It also shows the inequalities that we denounce regularly, the inequalities in this country.”

A “Yellow Vest” demonstrator camping along a highway as part of the movement’s protest campaign told the Franceinfo television network, “Just a few hours after the fire of Notre Dame we can find one billion euros. We are wondering what is wrong in this country.”

Since last October, the protestors have gathered along highways, in shopping centers and elsewhere in French cities, with weekend demonstrations in Paris, to draw attention to economic grievances, targeting issues ranging from energy taxes to a loss of purchasing power, wages, and pensions.

Many here are unhappy that companies and wealthy people get large tax cuts in exchange for funding cultural heritage and historic monuments.

Joel Rigaud, a lawmaker in President Emmanuel Macron’s Republic In Motion party, said if people wanted to fund such projects “in good faith” they should do so not pureful for tax breaks but to gain a return of a positive image for themselves or their companies.

Monday’s fire caused severe damage to parts of the cathedral, which has played an important role in French history over the past eight centuries and was undergoing major restoration work at the time of the blaze.

Paris prosecutor Rémy Heitz has confirmed that there is no evidence currently to point to the fire being deliberately caused. Laurent Nunez, state secretary of interior, told reporters experts were still trying to determine the origin of the fire, and that he expected to investigation to last for “months.”

Thirty people involved in restoration work on the cathedral have already been questioned, but all released without any charges laid.

Despite lack of evidence to the contrary, conspiracy theories about a deliberate act continue to be aired on social media, with some suggesting a plot aimed somehow at benefiting Macron in his attempts to quell the social crisis that has rocked the country for more than six months.

Macron has pledged to ensure the cathedral is restored quickly and that it will be more beautiful than before. He also said he wants the work finished within five years, although experts have warned it could take up to 20 years.

Macron hosted a special meeting of the government Wednesday to discuss issues linked to the fire and repairs.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe afterwards announced new tax breaks for organizations or individuals contributing to the work. He said restoration would begin as soon as investigators have established the cause of the blaze.

On Wednesday night churches across France rang their bells is a show of support for Notre Dame.

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