Marseille Archbishop Georges Pontier, the president of the French bishops’ conference, has clearly rejected the far-right National Front without actually mentioning the party that leads the polls for the first round of France’s presidential election on 23 April.
The growing popularity of the nationalist Front, whose anti-immigrant, anti-EU and anti-Muslim policies go against long-held church views, overshadowed discussions at the bishops’ regular spring session in Lourdes. "We cannot think about our future if everyone is turned in on himself," Archbishop Pontier told the meeting. "Some people think we can. It's an illusion.”
Citing Pope Francis’s frequent appeals for solidarity with migrants, he said that “our conviction as Christians and citizens calls us to be generous.”
"Our society is hesitant about making a place for the Muslim religion in our country," he added. "We know that only dialogue and meeting each other can help us grow in mutual knowledge and respect."
The election campaign has highlighted the splits among Catholic voters. While many would agree with Pontier’s indirect rejection of the Front, a growing number of Catholics have drifted into its support base in recent years and a stronger line could be divisive.
Party leader Marine Le Pen has made gestures toward Catholic voters recently, stressing France’s Christian roots and championing the rights of Middle Eastern Christians.
The Front is still expected to lose the 7 May runoff vote.
Meanwhile, Paris Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, 74, whose views would be expected to be heard at such a time, has been on medical leave for the past month.
The Paris archdiocese announced last week that he has been diagnosed with the rare neurological condition known as Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rapid-onset muscle weakness, possibly brought on by a virus. Recovery times can be long.
PICTURE: French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen campaign tour in Bordeaux