Emmanuel Macron has blurred a line that has kept French government free of religious intervention for generations, critics said, after he called for stronger ties between the state and the Catholic Church.
The French president attended a meeting of the Bishops' Conference of France (CEF) at College des Bernardins in Paris, France, April 9, where he delivered his remarks.
The issue is particularly sensitive in historically Catholic France, where matters of faith and state were separated by law in 1905 and which is now home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish communities.
The president’s remark might have raised fewer eyebrows had he left it until later in a one-hour speech to Church dignitaries in Paris, where he began by saying that just arranging such a gathering was an achievement in itself.
“If we’ve done so, it must be because somewhere we share the feeling that the link between Church and State has been damaged, that the time has come for us, both you and me, to mend it,” he said.
Critics, many his natural political opponents, took the president to task.
“It took three centuries of civil war and struggle to get to where we are and there’s absolutely no reason to turn the clock back... because of an intellectual whim of the president’s,” said hardline leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon, a candidate in the election that brought Macron to power last May.
Former prime minister Manuel Valls and Socialist Party head Olivier Faure said the separation of church and state must remain a mainstay of political life, in a country where public service employees are banned from wearing Muslim veils and other dress with religious connotation.
Gay rights groups, who fought a bitter campaign against the Church over the introduction of same-sex marriage in 2013, were also critical.