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PARIS (ChurchMilitant.com) - The French president has sparked outrage from secularists by encouraging greater engagement between the Catholic Church and government.
President Emmanuel Macron told a gathering of French bishops in a meeting at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris on Monday that "the link between Church and State has deteriorated and that it is important for us and for me to repair it" through a "dialogue of truth."
"A president of the French [R]epublic who takes no interest in the Church and its Catholics would be failing in his duty," said Macron, who called for Catholics to "engage once again with the French and European political scene."
Secularism does not have the function of uprooting from our societies the spirituality that nourishes so many of our fellow citizens. To deliberately blind myself to the spiritual dimension that Catholics invest in their moral, intellectual, family, professional, social life would be to condemn me to having only a partial view of France; it would be to ignore the country, its history, its citizens; and affecting indifference, I would derogate from my mission.
But the president's comments angered some of his left-leaning critics, including Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the head of the left-wing France Unbowed party, who considered Macron's comments as "irresponsible."
"Macron in full-on metaphysical delirium. Outrageous. One expects a president, one gets a little priest," insisted Mélenchon.
The newly-installed First Secretary of the French Socialist party, Olivier Faure, defended secularism, saying, "Secularism is the jewel in our crown. That is what a president of the republic should be defending."
Rightwing leaders also blasted Macron for appealing to conservatives, including president of the Republican's group in the Senate, Bruno Retailleau, who asserted, "If it's about acknowledging the Christian heritage of our civilization, that's a historical and cultural fact. If it's actually a strategy for winning back voters, that's something else."
Macron's speech comes as Parliament is debating over whether to change its bioethics laws regarding euthanasia and in vitro fertilization (IVF). Currently, euthanasia is banned and IVF, which the Church condemns as a grave evil since it destroys human life that begins at conception, is available to infertile heterosexual couples.
Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who in charge of governmental relations with religious groups, said the president's words were not meant to threaten the secularism prevalent in France but rather to elevate the spiritual nature of man.
"What he is saying is that for human beings there is not only the material world but also the search for absolute values, for spirituality, to find meaning in life," Collomb remarked. "It is perhaps a new tone but in no way does it break with the great tradition of secularism."
Despite the secularization of France, Mass attendance remained high until the 1960s when over a third of Catholics attended the liturgy. Since then, the number of Catholics attending Mass has fallen to five percent even though 53 percent of the population self-identify as Catholic, according to a 2017 poll.
Macron, who was raised in a non-religious home, converted to Catholicism when he was 12 years old. He does not regularly attend Mass.