Term referring to the policy of adhering to the directives given by Pope leo xiii to French Catholics in 1892. For historical reasons dating from the french revolution, the Third Republic (1870–1914) began with most of its supporters hostile to the Church and most Catholics eager for the return of the monarchy. anticlericalism and laicism characterized the outlook of Gambetta and other republicans who gained control in 1879, and legislated the expulsion of religious congregations, restrictions on Catholic education, and other laws inimical to the Church. From the beginning of his pontificate Leo XIII (1878–1903) pursued a prudent, cautious policy toward the Third Republic, illustrated notably by his encyclical Nobilissima Gallorum gens (Feb. 8, 1884), which asked French Catholics to defend the Church without opening themselves to accusations of hostility to established government. After the Boulanger crisis (1888–89) the pope judged that the moment had come to prescribe that Catholic political activity seek to improve the regime, not to destroy it. This policy of rallying to the Republic was launched by Cardinal lavigerie, who, at papal request, pronounced a toast in Algiers (Nov. 12, 1890) in which he praised adherence unreservedly to the existing form of government. These words struck French Catholics as scandalous. The other French cardinals spoke out in favor of neutrality rather than of ralliement. Leo XIII waited until Feb. 16, 1892, before publishing the encyclical Au milieu des sollicitudes, whose contents can be resumed by a comment of the pope himself in a letter to the cardinals (May 3): "Accept the Republic… submit to it as representing power come from God."
These instructions provoked in elite Catholic circles a long crisis of conscience. Reactions were diverse and complex. As a rule only the young generation, especially among the clergy, comprehended Leo XIII, who was acting in virtue of his indirect power in temporal matters. Many laymen openly resisted the pontiff, arguing that this matter pertained to the temporal sphere entirely outside the pope's domain. Albert de Mun, Jacques Piou, Étienne Lamy, and Domenico ferrata, nuncio (1891–96), were the leading ralliés. Leo XIII would have preferred to see Catholics allied with moderate republicans to form a large conservative party; but in the 1893 elections the ralliés won only 35 seats. However, the ralliement triumphed for some years by agreeing with an appeasement policy of the moderate republicans, called "the new spirit." Then the Dreyfus affair, which saw the great majority of Catholics ranged against Dreyfus, reopened religious conflicts, especially from 1902 to 1906, and led to an expulsion of religious congregations, the rupture of diplomatic relations with the Holy See, and the separation of Church and State. Cardinal merry delval, secretary of state to Pius X, countermanded Leo XIII's instructions (1909). For the time being the ralliement had collapsed.
Slowly the Republic took root, and monarchical restoration appeared more and more chimerical despite the success in certain quarters of the action franÇaise movement. After World War I, moreover, the former combatants no longer wished to renew religious struggles. Relations with the Holy See were renewed. A measure of agreement was reached in the application of the law separating Church and State. In 1924 a return of anticlericalism hung fire. benedict xv had renewed Leo XIII's policy, and pius xi continued to do so. He overcame the resistance of the assembly of French cardinals and archbishops, condemned Action Française (1926), and renewed Leo XIII's directives through the secretary of state Cardinal gasparri. This is called the second ralliement. It succeeded because the arguments that had blocked the first no longer held. (see france.)
Bibliography: a. debidour, L'église catholique et l'état sous la troisiàme république, 2 v. (Paris 1906–09), laicist viewpoint. j. tournier, Le Cardinal Lavigerie et son action politique (Paris 1913). j. piou, Le ralliement et son histoire (Paris 1928). w. gurian, Die politischen und sozialen Ideen des Französlischen Katholizismus, 1789–1914 (München-Gladbach 1929). Lecanuet Égl France v.2, 3. j. brugerette, La Prêtre français et la societé contemporaine, 3 v. (Paris 1933–38) v.2–3. Dansette v.2. p. castel, Le P. Picard et le P. Bailly dans les luttes de presse (Rome 1962). a. sedgwick, The Ralliement in French Politics 1890–1898 (Cambridge, Mass. 1965).