Le CHESNAY, France — In the two decades from the first public mention of a possible LDS Church temple in France to this weekend’s dedication of the Paris France Temple, countless numbers of people on two continents have been involved in the property, planning, design and construction processes.
Among all contributors, three men from France — a bishop, a mayor and a CFO/publicist — played key roles in paving the way for what will become the 156th operating temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
The three are Bishop Gérald Caussé, the LDS Church’s first France native to be called as a general authority and who currently serves as the church’s presiding bishop; Philippe Brillault, mayor of Le Chesnay, the Paris suburb where the temple is located; and Dominique Calmels, a chief financial officer for a global management consulting and professional services corporation and national director for LDS Public Affairs in France for the past 17 years.
And all three are quick to wave off any such attention.
“There have been hundreds of thousands of people who have been involved in that process. None of us can say ‘I did it,’ because ," said Bishop Caussé, gesturing with a heavenward glance, " we all know who did it.”
A temple in France was first publicly discussed in June 1998, when then-LDS Church President Gordon B. Hinckley met with some 2,400 church members in Paris. “The time has come when you deserve to have a temple among you,” he said, “and we’ll look for a place to build one.”
Bishop Caussé remembers that day. He also remembers traveling as a youth with his parents to the closest LDS temple for French Mormons, first to Zollikofen, Switzerland, and later to Frankfurt. And he remembers dreaming as a young boy about when France might have its own temple.
Neither as a young boy nor years later with the 1998 temple mention could he imagine a future path of LDS leadership running alongside — even intertwining with — the development of a temple in Paris, which was formally announced in October 2011, with construction beginning the following August.
Consider his LDS leadership roles — President Caussé, as president of the Paris France Stake from 2001-07, with his involvement ranging from helping to identify potential property sites to personally driving President Hinckley around Paris.
Then it was Elder Caussé, first as a France-based Area Seventy in 2007, then as a General Authority Seventy in 2008, spending much of the next four years as part of the church’s Europe Area, to which France pertains.
His current title of Bishop Caussé has come with two different positions within the Presiding Bishopric, which administers the LDS Church’s temporal affairs and operations, including building projects. In 2012, he was called to serve as first counselor in the Presiding Bishopric, then in 2015 as the Presiding Bishop.
Bishop Caussé self-describes it as being “indirectly involved,” adding that as a member of the Presiding Bishopric, “I was blessed to attend the last of the process, signing the final contract.”
Elder Neil L. Andersen of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles sees him as much more involved. He highlighted the relationship between the bishop and Brillault.
“There was trust, there was mutual respect, and there was a feeling that if Gérald Caussé says something, it will be true. And he (the mayor) came to trust us as a church,” Elder Andersen said. “Gérald Caussé is a man of integrity and of intelligence and is respected here. We cannot acclaim him too much. He has been unbelievably important in its creation.”
From his public affairs vantage point, Calmels said of Bishop Caussé: “He’s excellent, and he’s the right man in the right place. He had the power to give it direction, to give instruction, to help conduct the project because of his position in the church.”
As newlyweds in the late 1980s, Gérald and Valérie Caussé lived on Missionary Street (Rue des Missionnaires), a three-minute walk from what would become the temple site. “I never would have imagined that would be the place for the temple. But the Lord made miracles happen,” he said, adding, “when there are so many miracles happening, you know that it’s not about you, it’s not anyone who did it, but God’s hand is all over the process.”
And what of Bishop Caussé’s boyhood dreams of a future temple in France? “I think the temple we have now is much better than any of my dreams,” he said. “It’s a better location, and it’s more beautiful than anything I have dreamed of.”
The southwestern Paris suburb of Le Chesnay was not an early choice to host an LDS temple, with the church first identifying possible land in Saint-Cloud and later Villepreux. As the church considered property, LDS leaders had to contend with public uncertainties, misunderstandings and even opposition.
Brillault, the longtime mayor of Le Chesnay, has admitted he initially had concerns and doubts when church officials contacted the city about possibly turning property previously leased by an electrical utility company into a Mormon temple site.
“He had heard all kinds of things,” Bishop Caussé said. “Like any political person, he has to understand what is happening in his city, and he listened to a lot of his people, and the people living in his city, trying to understand. I was very impressed that he would just tell us, ‘I want to learn what kind of church you are.’“
Saying “we’ll find out by ourselves,” the mayor assigned two city council members to do a survey of the Mormons and their church, attending meetings and interviewing neighbors of the Paris France Stake center in neighboring Versailles. When they made their report, Brillault invited LDS representatives to listen.
“And the report was quite positive,” Bishop Caussé said. “I remember one person saying, ‘this is the closest church to the church of Jesus Christ that we have ever heard of.’ They were impressed there were so many similarities between our church. So they didn’t see a reason to object.”
Said Calmels: “In front of the media, in front of the public, the mayor says that he did not have any choice. He’s a very good strategist, he knows very well French politics, so it’s very interesting to see how he works.”
Elder Andersen said Brillault expanded his trust in Bishop Caussé to include the church. “He’s been very involved in this project,” he said. “He stays arms-length because he is, of course, an elected mayor, but his heart is in this project, and he has been willing to do what other mayors were never willing to do.”
He has told the mayor just that. “When I was here the first time, I said, ‘We really want to thank you, Monsieur Mayor, for what you have done.’
“He said, ‘Oh, this is France, it’s a free country, you can do this.’
“And I said to him, ‘Well, we’ve tried several times and unless we have the backing of the mayor, it just does not happen.’
“And he just smiled, he knew what I meant.”
Reunited again at a special gathering at the temple site last month, the mayor greeted the apostle with a question: “Do you remember the prayer we had in my office?”
Prior to their initial meeting, Elder Andersen’s wife, Kathy, said that if the feeling was right, that perhaps they might have a prayer with the mayor. At the end of the meeting, the LDS leader acted on the suggestion, recalling that Brillault — a Roman Catholic — responded with a stunned look.
The mayor was told he needn’t say anything, simply to bow his head. He agreed, and Elder Andersen expressed appreciation for the mayor and his city, leaving a blessing on the city, the mayor and his posterity.
“He hasn’t forgotten it, and he’s been a true friend of the church,” Elder Andersen said. “I told him (last month) in a private meeting that when we’re all before the bar of God, if he needs anyone to speak for him, I’d be there to speak on his behalf.”
Dominique Calmels’ cellphone ringtone — the unmistakable theme song of “Mission: Impossible” — could suggest his heavy personal workload, or perhaps the challenging task of protecting and forwarding the Mormon image in the French media.
Actually, it’s Mission: Possible for the national director of LDS public affairs in France. That’s just his church assignment, which came 17 years ago just after his release as a Paris stake president. He’s worked alongside his wife, Francoise, who started in public affairs a year before he did.
Calmels’ profession is chief financial officer for Accenture, a global management consulting company, for its operations in France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and the Mauritius Islands.
Add to that his 28-month tenure on the tax and fiscal advisory team helping former France prime minister Francois Fillon in his recent presidential campaign, along with Calmels’ numerous involvements with several think tanks and financial-consulting groups. It’s no wonder he’s juggling calls, texts, emails and demands coming from all angles.
He has directed local LDS public affairs efforts — “systematically,” as he says — through numerous opportunities and challenges with a French media that sometimes comes off critical and other times sarcastic. And trying to develop long-term relationships with the media can be difficult, since Calmels estimates more than 75 percent of the French media he works with are freelance journalists and not salaried beat reporters.
Soon after starting, Calmels reached out to Olympics reporters from France traveling to Utah for the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Games. Despite initial pushback — “these are not your (Mormon) Olympics,” journalists said — he found success in providing beneficial conference calls and press kits for Utah-bound French media.
Not long after, the French media caught wind of the LDS Church eyeing property for a temple site, and with it came all sorts of questions and concerns, fueled by opponents of the temple efforts.
“We’ve had a fantastic, fortunate opportunity to explain who we are, what we believe,” Calmels said, adding “I would say the opponents helped us because we progressively were able to explain more and more about the temple and what happens in the temple.”
Since it’s difficult to detail the church, its temples and its gospel tenets in a dozen lines of a newspaper article, Calmels planned to provide the media short, simple messages.
For example, an early message was to explain to reporters how Mormon couples in France would be required to drive 5-6 hours to the closest temple in Frankfurt to participate in a 20-minute temple marriage ceremony, and then to make the long return trip home.
“The journalists would respond, ‘Ah, I understand, you need a temple in France,’” Calmels said. “’You need your temple because it doesn’t make sense to drive 10 hours for a religious rite.’”
Another simple message was that the temple would not be the first Mormon building in France, that the LDS Church already has 110 chapels it maintains and finances by itself, and that a temple is different from a regular meetinghouse, without the late Saturday and all-Sunday traffic and meetings.
At the same time, Calmels led a parallel training of local stake and ward leaders, again with simple messages and responses to questions. “You move from a missionary introduction, where in 15 minutes you’re trying to explain all the gospel, all the commandments and everything in 15 minutes,” he said. “Nobody will join the church listening to that.”
The biggest onslaught of media attention came with the 2012 and 2016 U.S. presidential campaigns of Mitt Romney, who as a young man, served an LDS Church mission in France. In the latter election year, Calmels handled more than 260 requests from French journalists, who were particularly interested in missionaries, proselyting and the cities and towns where Romney had been as a missionary.
And they wanted to talk to the current missionaries.
“It’s good to talk to the missionaries — I love them, and they converted me,” Calmels said. “But it can also be very dangerous.”
For example, if a missionary speaks of the church’s Primary program, which begins training children at age 3, the French press may call that manipulative. Or if a missionary mentions he or she isn’t allowed to watch TV or call home regularly, the French press call out the restrictions and question if the church is a cult or a sect.
The result was a training program for most of the missionaries in France’s two LDS missions — debriefing on how the French press works and how to answer, suggesting some messaging and talking points, and helping to avoid surprises.
“We focused on what missionaries do and why they’re on a mission,” he said. “We want to be sure they will be welcomed by the public when they ring their door and make sure nobody will push them out. And it worked.”
Said Bishop Caussé of Calmels: “He has been a man who helped a lot. He’s contributed a lot to the understanding of what is a temple and what is the church about. We are very grateful for his help.”
In addition to working with the media, Calmels has developed strong relationships with segments of France’s government that deal with religion and religious matters, including officials with the Ministry of the Interior and the prime minister’s office as well as with key legislators.
One drawback with the governmental relations — the Paris France Temple open house was scheduled during a time when campaign laws restricted government officials and candidates from making many types of public visits and appearances. It severely diminished the number of government representatives who were able to visit the temple and grounds in April and May.
Calmels has seen the perceptions of Mormons and the LDS Church improve over his public affairs tenure. “We’ve seen journalists coming to us over the past three to four years with a much better understanding of the church,” he said. “The image has changed, or course, because the image is more precise.”