French government policy towards the Roma community has provoked the anger of the Catholic church – from the Vatican itself to individual priests like Father Arthur Hervet.
A renowned defender of Roma rights, Father Arthur is returning the Order of Merit he was awarded four years ago by way of protest.
Describing current policy he said: “For the last three months this minority has had a real war being waged against it.”
But he has apologised unreservedly for his most controversial comments.
“I pray, and I beg your pardon for this, that President Sarkozy has a heart attack,” he told stunned reporters.
Later he emphasised he did not want the president dead, but meant to say he wanted God to touch his heart.
Meanwhile Pope Benedict XVI has also spoken out. Although he did not actually name France, he chose to make the following address in French:
“Scripture tells us again and again that all men are called to salvation, and the scriptures are also an invitation to receive amongst us all legitimate human differences, as did Jesus who gathered together people of all nations and all languages.”
The French government has intensified its deportation of illegal Roma since a violent incident involving the Roma community last month.
It insists these are voluntary deportations and the Roma are even given an allowance to go home. The policy is supported by many in France.
But the showcasing of the issue and some of the comments made by the President and his ministers have upset not only human rights groups and the Catholic church but also some members of the ruling UMP.