“We won’t be standing a candidate,” Hollande joked when asked about the Pope’s resignation at a joint press conference with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan on Monday evening.
Although the president also judged the Benedict’s decision “eminently respectable”, Guéant found the joke disrespectful and went on to condemn Hollande’s perceived hostility to the Church.
“Making a joke about such a dignified decision, that’s not good, it’s inappropriate,” Guéant told Canal+ television on Tuesday.
Reminded that Hollande has yet to visit the Vatican, which Sarkozy did, he commented, “Everybody knows that François Hollande is not very favourable towards religion in general and the Catholic religion in particular.”
At the time of his visit, Sarkozy attracted criticism for arriving late and reportedly sending text messages during the meeting.
Guéant also laid into junior minister Michèle Delaunay for tweeting, “I have to admit that, rightly or wrongly, Benedict XVI neglected to consult me before taking his decision #Age#JobsforSeniors.”
Delaunay withdrew the tweet, explaining that it was a response to requests for comments on the news.
That did nothing to mollify the former interior minister.
“They made jokes about such a person of such significance,” he commented. “That’s not good, I find.”
Guéant’s party the UMP has joined many Catholic groups in opposing the Socialist government’s bill to legalise same-sex marriage, an alliance that has brought tens of thousands onto the streets in protest at the proposal.
Fifty-eight per cent of respondents to a French opinion poll approved of the Pope’s decision, while only five per cent opposed it; 38 per cent refused to comment, according to the CSA polling organisation.
Commentators and British and Irish bookmakers suggest that Italian Archbishop Angelo Scola is most likely to succeed Benedict.
Some Catholics, including former French president Jacques Chirac's wife, Bernadette, believe he should come from sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America.
Cardinals Peter Turkson from Ghana, Odilo Pedro Scherer from Brazil and Leonardo Sambri from Argentine are believed to be in the running, while Canadian Marc Ouellet has also been mentioned.