Those who travel to France visit this nation’s beautiful churches as much as its museums.

In fact, tourists — and the French — consider churches to be must-see places. They reflect France’s history and culture through the centuries.

However, in recent decades, these aesthetic places of worship have been allowed to deteriorate.

It is not for the Vatican to appropriate money for their repair, but the French government, which has owned Catholic Church property since 1905.

Whilst churches are in dire need all over the country, those in Paris receive the most visitors and worshippers. The centrist news site L’Atlantico reports that more and more buildings have tape fencing off dangerous areas. These comprise crumbling frescoes, leaky ceilings, fragile stained glass windows and other unstable aspects that people need to avoid. Some neighbourhood churches have closed because they are structurally unviable. They serve as public toilets and graffiti canvases.

As is true with any other building, the longer a church deteriorates, the more expensive it is to repair. Yet, in some cases, especially in Paris, local governments are slow to release money for this purpose.

Patrimoine en blog reported in 2013 that since 2000, more than 24 French churches have been demolished. The number is no doubt higher now.

Priests and worshippers can sometimes save churches via petitions to local councils or by private subscription to have them restored.

Some churches end up, as in other Western countries, being sold for conversion into flats, restaurants or other venues.

In larger cities, churches have a donation box dedicated towards ongoing maintenance. However, the money that well-intentioned visitors leave is but a drop in the bucket.

In 2014, Le Figaro gave us an idea of what repairs actually cost:

[Our] frescoes are deteriorating … and they could disappear within four years,’ Father Thibaut Verny, parish priest at Notre Dame-de-Lorette stated, estimating that it would cost €800,000 to restore the cupola and two chapels.

In Paris, churches are seen internationally as public monuments. A private organisation, World Monument Fund, maintains a list of churches in danger.

You would think that Paris’s mayor and local government officials would find that embarrassing.

However, Maxime Cumunel, spokesperson for l’Observatoire du patrimoine [heritage] religieux, told Le Figaro:

In 12 years, the mayor’s office [Socialist] preferred to finance the Jean-Bouin stadium and the Gaîté Lyrique [cultural centre]. Everything is a question of priority when you’re managing a budget of €8 billion.

€8 billion and practically nothing for churches!

The commenters at L’Atlantico said the same thing. One wrote that in recent years over €800 million went to Paris’s community organisations and minority groups. A secularist said that, even if the day comes where there is only one Christian left in France, church buildings must be preserved as national monuments. Another reader, however, took a dark view of the situation, saying that Parisian officials might want to see churches demolished to wipe out France’s Christian history in an effort to make it more secularised, communitarian, multi-cultural and inoffensive.

Last year, Le Figaro contacted the mayor’s office in Paris. The response was frosty:

… it was ‘particularly mistaken to purport that churches are in a state of deterioration, even worse to speak of a declining budget’.

This month, Patrimoine en blog analysed a recent statement from Paris’s Socialist mayor Anne Hidalgo, who succeeded Bertrand Delanoë. She promises an ‘unprecedented’ plan to restore the city’s churches. Patrimoine cites La Tribune de ‘Art‘s explanation:

Unfortunately, even if some believed it, this trick is too transparent to be credible for long. The €80 million involved in this plan is nearly equivalent to the year to the €157 million from Bertrand Delanoë’s two terms in office (€90 million, then €67 million). These numbers, the €80 million and the €157 million, aren’t ours. €157 million is what the Mayor’s office said via Danielle Pourthaud, the former deputy in charge of Heritage, in 2013. The €80 million announced by Bruno Julliard and Anne Hidalgo are promised between now and 2020.

Whilst certain churches are being refurbished and restored, La Tribune de l’Art says it is unclear how these tens of millions of euros are being spent on other Parisian churches — or, indeed, if they will be.

For now, the battle continues. And if you find Paris’s churches in a deplorable state, this is the reason why.