Obituary: Georges Hourdin

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
WHEN GEORGES Hourdin celebrated his hundredth birthday on 3 January this year, this ever-active journalist was interviewed by many of his colleagues. To one of them he confided (or did he assert?), "I am always having trouble with the Pope!" This was persistently the problem with the left-wing Catholic ("catho de gauche" was his proud description of himself), particularly in his interpretation of how he should follow the decisions and implications of the Second Vatican Council; it was also the problem for French Catholics.

Everyone agrees that French Catholicism has declined over the last half- century in certain matters of personal belief and behaviour, but there is wide acceptance of the role the Church should play in expressing its opinions on certain subjects that concern society. Thus the Church's views on conditions in the Third World, on racism, unemployment or nuclear weapons are respected. Hourdin saw himself both as expres-sing church opinions and discussing their value and their relevance.

He was born into a part of France where the Church was always strong, at Nantes. His mother was exceptionally devout. She believed in the anti- revolutionary tradition of the Vendee, she was a monarchist who hated the Republic. At the College Stanislas in Nantes he received his education under the disturbing influence of Jansenism.

The paradox in Hourdin's family was that his mother was devoted to her husband, who earned his living as a timber merchant and was determinedly Socialist and Republican in terms of belief. Under his influence Hourdin studied law and economics at the Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques in Paris and became acquainted with the excitements of politics.

The discovery that he suffered from epilepsy prevented him from seeking an active career as a politician and from 1927 he worked as a journalist, having associated closely with the Dominicans who had brought him a gentler version of Christianity and the necessity of working for social reforms. He was therefore attracted to the Parti Democrate Populaire, founded in November 1924. He worked in its press office, issuing statements and definitions of policy.

Hourdin was to adhere to the principles of this party all his life. That is to say that democracy should also be social and economic; that there should be co-operation between employers and workers; that the individual should be a member of different communities, such as trade unions or religious associations, but the family was of the first importance; that there should be co-operation and friendship between nations.

He wrote for the party's Le Petit Democrate, a weekly paper with a circulation of 20,000. He also collaborated with papers such as L'Aube and Sept, and worked with famous Catholic writers such as Francois Mauriac and Charles Maritain. Their enemy was the extreme right of Charles Maurras.

Hourdin married Genevieve Oriolle, with whom he had eight children. One daughter was killed by an American bomb in 1943. He had become the editor of the Catholic review Temps Present but this was suppressed in 1940. He therefore devoted himself to social work, with particular reference to families living in the occupied zone. He supported the pro-Natalist movement and worked with Emilien Amaury, who had escaped from a German prisoner-of-war camp and begun a resistance group based in the Rue de Lille in Paris.

Hourdin's life was transformed in January 1945 when the weekly magazine La Vie Catholique Illustree was launched, with himself as the chief editor. It soon had a circulation of half a million and it was said that 12 per cent of the population read it. It set out to be a family paper, hoping to make people conscious of Christianity rather than being specifically doctrinal.

Hourdin believed that an editor should stimulate controversy. The paper's journalists had violent discussions and this was communicated to the readers. Thus the Communists were attacked, but worker priests were encouraged; the Soviet Union was criticised but the Cold War was rejected; good Frenchmen were fighting and being killed in Indo-China and Algeria, but decolonisation was both inevitable and desirable.

Readers were often lost, Hourdin himself was frequently attacked. He claimed he was totally free. He was also very energetic. He published 23 books on such subjects as Camus, Simone de Beauvoir or notably, in 1969, a book entitled Les Chretiens contre la societe de consummation ("Christians against the Consumer Society"). In 1951 he published another magazine, Radio-Cinema, which became, inevitably, Telerama.

He wanted to bring the Gospels into line with modern life. This brought him much controversy. But he sought to protect those who suffered. His book Le Malheur innocent (1976), based upon the cruel disability of one of his daughters, sought to protect the handicapped and was everywhere recognised as having great value. He was a determined man and he did much good.

Georges Hourdin, journalist: born Nantes, France 3 January 1899; married Genevieve Oriolle (deceased; four daughters, three sons, and one daughter deceased); died Paris 29 June 1999.