French mayor snubs church state split with bullring Mass

The mayor of a town in southern France has sparked outrage after his town hall sponsored a Catholic Mass in a local bullring.

The mayor of Beziers, Robert Ménard, took part in a procession in the bullring, walking behind an effigy of the Virgin Mary.

France has strict laws on the separation of church and state.

But Mr Ménard dismissed what he deemed France’s “ayatollahs of secularism”, and said he was not stigmatising any other religion.

“No other mayor in France would imagine doing this,” Mr Ménard told the Guardian, speaking of his idea for the Mass.

It was, he said, about reaffirming France’s Christian roots.

The French League of Human Rights last year lost a court battle to stop him installing a large Christmas nativity scene in the town hall.

Mr Menard has armed local police with handguns, banned public spitting, imposed an 11pm curfew on minors and banned people from hanging washing from balconies in the city centre.

Left wing opponents have accused him of turning the poverty-stricken Mediterranean city into a “laboratory of the far right”.

He doesn’t like the term “extreme right”, preferring to talk of a rise in nationalist and patriotic feeling in a French electorate disgusted with traditional parties.

Mr Ménard is backed by the far right Front National, but he has stayed outside the party so he can speak independently.

His view is that immigration is France’s real problem. “Our immigration has to stop,” he said.

Meanwhile, the invitation to Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, a Front National politician, to address a Catholic conference in southern Var region last weekend sparked protest.

Some French Catholics believe the policies of her anti-Europe and anti-immigration party are incompatible with Christian values, despite the FN’s recent attempts to move away from its racist and anti-Semitic past.

But Bishop Dominique Rey insisted the FN, “whether you like them or not are part of the French political landscape, especially in the south of France”.

“It doesn’t mean we are condoning the FN . . . this is an opportunity to challenge the FN on its immigration policies,” the bishop said.

Sources

News category: World.

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