The Catholics and Sarkozy and his government are at loggerheads. Media write of "divorce" between church and political leadership in France. The controversy over Roma deportations in front of cameras and criticism of it from Pope Benedict XVI. have now brought the differences clearly to light.
For Bruno Gollnisch, a member of the European Parliament for the Front National (FN) and a competitor for the presidency of the far-right party, the matter is clear: "Let the Roma settle in St. Peter's Square," he said on French radio. "Then we'll keep talking."Gollnisch's tip aims at Pope Benedict XVI., which most recently reminded French pilgrims that people must be accepted in their legitimate diversity. In France, the word was understood by almost everyone – except government officials – as barely veiled criticism of the recent expulsions and deportations of Roma. Old resentments The intellectual and political advisor Alain Minc also rejected the Pope's statement. As a German, Benedict XVI. no right to talk like that, he declared on the radio station "France Inter". As such, he is not guilty, but he is heir to his people's history. Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, president of the French Bishops' Conference, rejected the criticism. Minc pretends that French have never been guilty of anything in their history. For the past four weeks, church dignitaries have been iing an increasing number of warnings denouncing discrimination against and stigmatization of the Roma and calling for respect for human dignity. Orders of merit are being returned, a clergyman from Lille who works with Roma even wished President Nicolas Sarkozy a heart attack: "The president needs a Damascus experience like Saul who became Paul," Arthur Hervet justified his failure. Although the clergyman was immediately called off by his bishop, the French bishops are united in their rejection of the evictions and deportations staged in front of running cameras. Country where the needy find a home Already at the end of July, the bishops had warned against making scapegoats of minorities. In mid-August, Vingt-Trois called for making France a country where those in need can find a home. And at the beginning of the week, French Caritas even described the authorities' actions as "institutional violence" – a term that seems more suited to banana republics and dictatorships than to the country that, with its motto of liberty, equality and fraternity, sees itself as a stronghold of human rights. In the Catholic electorate, 47 percent of respondents currently approve of Sarkozy's policies – shortly after taking office in 2007, the figure was 61 percent. Admittedly, the expansion of Sunday work, the French president's divorce and remarriage, his initial ostentatious flaunting of luxury, the planned increase in the retirement age – many reasons come together to alienate Sarkozy and the Catholic electorate. As far as the Roma are concerned, however, the criticism extends into the conservative and government camps. Among those who publicly quarreled were ex-Prime Ministers Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Dominique de Villepin. The latter, long a die-hard opponent of Sarkozy, spoke of a "stain of shame on our flag". Spectacular Media Staging Sarkozy and his Interior Minister Brice Hortefeux nevertheless want to stick to their tough line. Some 120 illegal Roma camps have now been cleared out. By the end of the month, Hortefeux wants to have deported 950 illegal Roma to their countries of origin, Romania and Bulgaria – from where they can immediately re-enter France, legally, at least for three months. Church and Caritas therefore call for permanent solutions for integration instead of spectacular media productions. The churchmen received applause from unusual quarters – the Greens and the Left applauded the bishops. The weekly newspaper "La Vie" amusedly recalled a warning ied by left-wing politician Jean-Luc Melenchon at the beginning of 2008 about a "return of the religious to politics" under Sarkozy. Now the same Melenchon suddenly finds it "perfectly okay" for church representatives to take a position on social ies.