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Europe

France has no candidate for Pope, Hollande joke sparks right-wing ire

media Benedict XVI says he is resigning due to failing health Reuters/Stefano Rellandini

A former French interior minister has blasted President François Hollande for making a joke about Pope resignation. Claude Guéant, who was minister under Nicolas Sarkozy’s presidency, claimed that Hollande’s quip that France would not stand a candidate for Benedict XVI’s successor revealed his hostility to Roman Catholicism.

I think he was a pontiff who was memorable, and very positive. He was able to ensure the continuity of Christianity and Catholicism in a difficult era, without ceding to various pressure groups.
Michel Gugenheim, chief Rabbi of Paris

“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.

We hope [...] the Church will become even more sensitive that the world is not entirely Christian. And we hope the talk of tolerance and friendship can highlight the values that unite us, in the face of God, and of men.
Dalil Boubakeur, rector, Paris Mosque

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.

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