03 January 2017, The Tablet

Front National launches scathing attack on French bishops over refugees

Far-right party denies declaring war on Catholic Church in France after broadside ahead of spring elections

Three leaders of France's far-right Front National (FN) have used post-Christmas interviews on leading radio stations to criticise French bishops for urging Catholics to support refugees. They argue that the clergy should focus on filling up their churches rather than interfering in politics.

FN vice-president Louis Aliot said a “large majority of bishops” had “spit in the face” of the party by “systematically denigrating the FN, its leaders and its policies”.

Gilbert Collard, one of the Front’s two MPs in the National Assembly, said the Church was “disconnected from reality — in the name of welcoming others, they reject us”.

Party secretary general Nicolas Bay denied the interviews were a “declaration of war” but said the Front “didn’t need to hear any lessons from the clergy about migration”.

The three-pronged attack came as France gears up for presidential and parliamentary elections in the spring with the race for head of state shaping up between Front leader Marine Le Pen and conservative François Fillon.

Fillon’s strong support among Catholics in his party’s primary has highlighted tensions within the National Front between leaders such as Le Pen and Aliot, who have little time for the Church, and others — including Le Pen’s niece Marion Maréchal-Le Pen — who have been wooing traditionalist Catholics.

Pollsters have registered rising support among churchgoers for the FN in recent years but an internal dispute over the Catholic vote could harm its chances at the polls.

“I've never seen a large majority of Catholics voting for us … I've seen a large majority of bishops spit in our face, one has to say, and systemically denigrate the Front National, its leaders and its policies,” Aliot said.

"Catholics should concern themselves with filling their churches — which is not certain they can do, let me tell you— and should let the political parties manage public affairs."

Collard said the Church was “represented today by political bishops, who are opponents of the faith”.

Bay said the FN would prefer to hear bishops “remind people of the social doctrine of the Church, which is very far from the ultra-liberalism we see today”.

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