The billionaire French donors who publicly promised flashy donations totaling hundreds of millions to rebuild Notre Dame have not yet paid a penny toward the restoration of the French national monument, according to church and business officials, USA Today reports.
Instead, it’s been mainly American and French citizens, via charitable foundations at Notre Dame, that have footed the bills and paid salaries for the up to 150 workers employed by the cathedral since the April 15 fire that devastated the cathedral’s roof and caused its masterpiece spire to collapse. This month they are handing over the first payment for the cathedral’s reconstruction of 3.6 million euros ($4 million).
“The big donors haven’t paid. Not a cent,” said Andre Finot, senior press official at Notre Dame. “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.”
Almost $1 billion was promised by some of France’s richest and most powerful families and companies, some of whom sought to outbid each other, in the hours and days after the inferno. It prompted criticism that the donations were as much about the vanity of the donors wishing to be immortalized in the edifice’s fabled stones than the preservation of church heritage.
Francois Pinault of Artemis, the parent company of Kering that owns Gucci and Saint Laurent, promised 100 million euros, while Patrick Pouyanne, CEO of French energy company Total, said his firm would match that figure. Bernard Arnault, CEO of luxury giant LVMH that owns Louis Vuitton and Dior, pledged 200 million euros, as did the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation of the L’Oreal fortune.
No money has been seen, according to Finot, as the donors wait to see how the reconstruction plans progress and fight it out over contracts.
The reality on the ground is that work has been continuing around the clock for weeks and, with no legal financial mechanism in place to pay the workers, the cathedral has been reliant on the charity foundation to fund the first phase of reconstruction.
The Friends of Notre Dame de Paris was founded in 2017, and its president, Michel Picaud, estimates that 90% of the donations it has received have come from American donors. Indeed, Picaud has just returned from a fund-raising trip in New York.