Notre-Dame de Paris on fire, April 15, 2019. Credit: Wandrille de Preville via Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0)

The world watched as the roof of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris burned earlier this week.

The world watched, and the world sometimes has a big mouth.

Most reactions to the Notre Dame fire, from Catholics and non-Catholics, were those that sympathetically mourned the loss of a beautiful building and a landmark of faith and culture at the heart of Paris. (Thankfully, much was saved, though much restoration work remains.)


But then, there were also those sentiments that were, well, less good.

Here’s a roundup of the good, the bad and the ugly takes on the Notre Dame fire:

The Good

1. The Bishop Barron take

Are there Catholics in the U.S. who don’t look for Bishop Robert Barron’s reaction when something happens in the culture and in the world?

In a video following the fire, the good auxiliary bishop of Los Angeles aptly summed up the heartbreak that so many experienced: “The beautiful speaks to us of God, and so when a beautiful thing like Notre Dame, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world is destroyed, then something is deeply hurt in us too.”

2. The significance of the fire during Holy Week take


From M. Jean Duchesne, who cofounded the French edition of the Communio international theological journal and served as special assistant to the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris for more than 25 years.

“On top of it all, this happens just at the beginning of Holy Week, the most sacred time of year for Christians: Where will the Archbishop gather his priests for Chrism Mass? And finally, why did God allow this?”

Read the full commentary on CNA.

3. The CNA Newsroom take 

Ok so we’re biased. Listen to two hunchbacks (aka J.D. Flynn and Ed Condon) discuss the Notre Dame fire on this week’s bonus episode of the podcast always bringing you the good takes on Catholic news:

The Bad

4. The “Use the flying water tanks!” take 

No bad take list in 2019 would be complete without a tweet from U.S. President Donald Trump, amiright?

As Trump watched Notre Dame unfold, he offered his advice to firefighters:

But French firefighters later Tweeted that they were doing exactly everything BUT that, because water dumped on hot stone could cause it to explode and the whole structure to collapse:

5. The “destruction of Western Civilization” take

The problem with this take is that it’s too reductionistic (also there are Christians in the East so let’s not turn this into a competition). Is Notre Dame one of the greatest architectural achievements of Western Civilization? Of course. Is that all that it is, or even primarily what it is? Of course not. The heartbroken Parisians who crowded the streets while “Our Lady” (Notre Dame) burned sang “Ave Maria”, not “Ave Western Civ.”

Political commentator Ben Shapiro, who typically seems a little more sensitive about religious subjects, caught some flak for his Western Civilization take, which didn’t mention Notre Dame’s primary significance as a house of God in this Tweet:

The White House also released a statement in which they said: “We stand with France today and offer our assistance in the rehabilitation of this irreplaceable symbol of Western civilization.” However, it also recognized the Cathedral as “a spiritual home for almost a millennium.”

The Ugly

6. The “let’s rebuild, but in a new way” take

One of the most horrific moments of the Notre Dame fire was watching the beautiful spire fall. Now, some people are questioning whether the spire and the roof of Notre Dame could be rebuilt not exactly as they were, but in a new and modern way.

France has even announced a design contest for the new spire.

“Many buildings of Christian architecture have been damaged or destroyed by catastrophes throughout history,” writes Marc Vacher from France in La Croix International.

“These have very often been reconstructed by builders who were convinced that the most beautiful gift for God and those who praise him was to rebuild by making use of the art and techniques of the current era and even to learn to create and innovate through these monumental projects. Are we still capable of innovating for God?” he asks.

Well Marc, I have my doubts. Have you seen some of these modern churches? They more resemble spaceships than they do beautiful places of worship that will be treasured across cultures and throughout the generations.

7. And finally…the “destruction is freedom” take 

Rolling Stone wins the prize for publishing the ugliest take on Notre Dame we’ve seen, in an article that questions whether the Cathedral should be rebuilt:

“But for some people in France, Notre Dame has also served as a deep-seated symbol of resentment, a monument to a deeply flawed institution and an idealized Christian European France that arguably never existed in the first place. ‘The building was so overburdened with meaning that its burning feels like an act of liberation,’ says Patricio del Real, an architecture historian at Harvard University.”

No one in 2019 would doubt that the Catholic Church is flawed – and deeply. But that “overburdened with meaning” could be lobbed as an insult at an 850-year old Cathedral that has survived the French Revolution and two World Wars, and houses the Body of Christ along with the relics of saints, feats of architecture and irreplacable artwork baffles the mind coming from anyone, but especially from an architecture historian. The fact that the whole building didn’t crumble is a testament in and of itself to the brilliant work of medieval architectures who had the foresight to fireproof Our Lady as well as they could.


CNA blog posts are the opinion of their authors, and do not represent the editorial position of Catholic News Agency.