Quick on pledges, slow on cash: France’s mega rich in no hurry with promised donations to Notre Dame

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Only €38 million of the promised €850 million have been received so far for the reconstruction of the fire-damaged Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, the city’s Catholic archbishop of Michel Aupetit has said.

This is less than five percent of the amount promised.

Aupetit told Radio France Internationale he remains confident that more money will be forthcoming. “It always takes time to get money from the big contributors,” he said.

It’s been nearly three months since a fire devastated the iconic 800-year-old cathedral, with France’s richest families having promised to donate hundreds of millions of euros to reconstruct the landmark.

As of June 14, the so-called big donors hadn’t donated a cent, Andre Finot, senior press official at Notre Dame cathedral, told the Associated Press at the time. “They want to know what exactly their money is being spent on and if they agree to it before they hand it over, and not just to pay employees’ salaries,” he said then.

Last week the Fondation Notre Dame announced that France’s Arnault and Pinault families, who’d pledged to donate €100 million and €200 million respectively, have each contributed €10 million so far.

The majority of the funds have come from American and French individuals who have made contributions via the cathedral’s Friends of Notre Dame charity.

READ MORE: Cigarette, electrical fault among possible causes of Notre Dame fire – Paris prosecutors

The charity, along with the Paris-based Fondation Notre Dame, have so far contributed €3.6 million to the reconstruction project. Friends of Notre Dame de Paris, established in 2017 to support ongoing structural maintenance at the cathedral, said 95 percent of the €1.8 million it received in donations came from American individuals and corporations.

Celia Verot, director general of the Fondation du Patrimoine, told Associated Press (AP) that wealthy French don’t seem to be eager to help fund the clean-up work. Donors have particular visions and are waiting to see how they align with the government’s plans to repair the cathedral, she said. “It’s a voluntary donation, so the companies are waiting for the government’s vision to see what precisely they want to fund.”

Another foundation official also said that the clean-up tasks currently underway aren’t an appealing cause for wealthy donors. Rather, they’ll more likely be vying to fund the construction of new architectural features for posterity, the unnamed official said.

According to Olivier de Challus, a chief guide and architectural expert at Notre Dame, the direction of the reconstruction work has yet to be defined and the fire’s damage is still being assessed. “It doesn’t matter that the big donors haven’t yet paid because the choices about the spire and the major architectural decisions will happen probably late in 2020,” he told AP. “That’s when the large sums of money will be required,” added Challus.

A jewel of medieval Gothic architecture, the Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the world’s best-known and most visited monuments. The 13th century historic landmark went up in flames on April 15. While firefighters managed to save the main bell towers and outer walls from collapse, the roof was completely gutted.

A preliminary report by the Paris prosecutor’s office which was released last month, said that negligence could be the cause of the catastrophic Notre Dame fire. The report has ruled out criminal wrongdoing, but said that “certain failings” by one or more parties could have contributed to the devastating amount of damage done.

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