The problem: it's worth a third less.
To avoid that confusion, and the consequent drop in revenue, the church has launched a new drive to convince Catholics to donate two euros on Sundays, instead of one. "If you gave 10 francs, be aware that by giving one euro you decrease your gift by 30 percent," said Bertrand de Feydeau, economic director for the Paris archdiocese, as he explained the new euro drive to a group of Catholics.
As church attendance has slumped in recent years, so too has revenue from church collections. In the case of the Paris archdiocese, yearly donations just barely cover operating expenses, according to a survey published earlier this year by Le Figaro newspaper. The average priest in France makes about 5,000 francs a month--less than $700.
"French Catholics aren't always aware of the donations necessary to keep the church alive," said Bruno Dardelet, head of the BD ad agency that launched the euro drive. Dardalet wrote a book on the church's financial problems. "The only thing we can do is to remind people, regularly, that the Church has no other resources than what Catholics are giving."
France's Catholic hierarchy isn't the only one fretting. In Ireland, church officials fear Sunday collections may initially slump by up to 20 percent with the euro's introduction. Once again, the problem centers on simple mathematics: Irish parishioners might simply switch their one-punt donations to a less valuable one-euro coin.
In France, Catholic parishes launched the two-euro appeal in October, through flyers and church newsletters. Some hired Christian ad agencies. Others relied on local media, and France's Catholic radio and TV stations, to spread the word. The church has also hit on the idea of collecting foreign coins and French francs that will soon disappear from use.
"There are coins coming from everywhere in the world," de Feydeau said of the coin drive launched this month. "The West Indies, Thailand, Japan. People brought all what they had at home." So far, local dioceses have amassed more than 2,000 pounds worth of foreign currency, which will then be converted to euros. The collections are more striking in their weight, church officials say, than their monetary value.
More importantly, they say, the solicitations illustrate a larger effort afoot to make France's Catholic church more businesslike, and more open in its financial dealings. "Church and money have not gone well together," wrote the French Christian newspaper, La Croix, in a recent article. "Even today, [the Church] isn't at ease addressing the subject."
De Feydeau agrees. "I think the tradition in the French church was to keep very confidential about money and economy," he said. "Now, we try to give more information -- to tell people what we are doing with their money, how we invest in the church, and so on."
Similarly, priests are being encouraged to discuss finances with their parishioners -- and to solicit the two-euro donations. "Very often, I see it is very difficult for priests to speak about money and their needs," de Feydeau said, blaming divinity schools for emphasizing theology and philosophy, but ignoring bread-and-butter basics like balancing accounts.
But Father Marc Lambert, for one, is not convinced. At Notre Dame de Clinancourt church, in a working-class Paris neighborhood, the 51-year-old priest said he had not talked to his parishioners about the church's euro campaign.
There were more important things -- "like our society, which is egotistical, individualistic, and which has forgotten to fundamentals of humanity" -- to talk about, Father Lambert said. "People aren't stupid," he added. "Money is part of their life. They know exactly what to do with their money."