French Pope tribute sparks row

10/01/2019 Posted by admin

The decision is seen as contrary to the government’s recent banning of Muslim headscarves in state schools, a move intended to reinforce the message of the need to separate religion and the state.

Socialist senator Jean-Luc Melenchon and Yves Contassot, a senior Green party member on the Paris City Council, said the government had abused its powers in ordering the official tribute to the Pope, who died on Saturday.

The teachers’ trade union Unsa accused the government of double standards, having ordered schools to take part in the tribute to a religious leader after banning Muslim headscarves in state schools in a drive to keep schools firmly secular.

“Let the Christians pay tribute to the head of their church, it’s a private matter,” Mr Contassot told France Inter radio.

“Today, we have a government and a head of state who, clearly, for political reasons, are trying to take advantage of an issue that is a private matter,” he said.

Once so Catholic it was known as the “elder daughter of the Church”, France has imposed a strict separation of church and state for 100 years to keep religion from provoking the bloody strife it sparked in previous centuries.

While the leaders of most major political parties have avoided comment, the row also underscores the unpopular government’s weakness as it struggles to convince hostile voters to back the European Union Constitution in a referendum next month.

Millions of French are Roman Catholics, and there has been a public outpouring of grief over the Pope’s death.

But Mr Melenchon told Europe 1 radio the state was duty bound to observe strict neutrality and that the flag tribute was a “favour awarded to one particular religion.”

In a statement Unsa said the order “to mark the death of a foreign head of state is unusual and constitutionally counter to our principles when it is a question of a representative of a church”.

A spokesman for Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin defended the government’s move, saying exactly the same tribute had been paid in 1978 on the death of popes Paul VI and Jean Paul I.

“It’s a republican tradition … that applies to heads of state in office with which France has special relations or is friendly,” the official said.

“The Pope is head of the Catholic Church and head of the Vatican City State” and flags would again be to half mast on Friday when the pontiff is buried.

France also ordered its flags lowered in 1991 on the death of Norway’s King Olaf V and in 1989 when Japanese Emperor Hirohito died, the official said.

Comments are closed.