The Pope has appealed for Europe not to let its Christian heritage fall away, calling for what he called more “open secularism.” His comments have come at the start of Benedict XVI’s first visit to France as pontiff, and already there has been controversy over how he was received by President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The opposition Socialists and Green Party are among those criticising the President, who broke a political taboo by openly discussing religion. Sarkozy said he believes there is a role for religion in public life, despite the country’s strict separation of church and state that goes back more than 100 years.
The opposition voiced dismay that the President broke with protocol to greet the pontiff on his arrival in Paris, and then invited Benedict to speak alongside him at the Elysee Palace. They say the function of the President of a secular state is not to promote Christian ideology or highlight his own faith. In a country where Catholic churches are struggling to attract worshippers, the pontiff is also due to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes.