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French hold dim view of Pope Benedict's reign

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French hold dim view of Pope Benedict's reign
File photo: Arturo Mari/ Obseratore Romano / AFP
10:07 CET+01:00
A quarter of French people believe the strength of the Catholic Church has plummeted during the reign of Pope Benedict XVI, according to a survey published on Thursday, the day the pontiff officially steps down.

The poll, carried out two weeks after the Pope's shock resignation by CSA for the channel BFMTV, indicates that almost a quarter of the French population over the age of 18 (23 percent) believed the Catholic Church had been “weakened” under Benedict’s leadership. 

Only 6 percent of the 1,000 people questioned actually thought that the Church was strengthened during his time as the pontiff. That figure reflects a dramatic drop from the 43 percent, who when asked a similar question in 2005 - the year when Pope Jean-Paul II died, believed the power of the church had been reinforced under Benedict's predecessor.

However priest and prominent blogger on Catholicism Stephane Lemessin dismissed the notion the church had become weaker under Benedict.

"It's just like St Paul said 'For when I am weak, then I am strong," Lemessin told The Local.

"Under Benedict we faced up to a lot of issues, including sexual abuse in the church and the question of contraceptives. 

"He has helped us advance the church. There may be less Catholics today but those that are in the church are much clearer about its direction and they are stronger. Catholics have been reinvigorated.

"Relations with the leaders of Islam are also much better thanks to Benedict," Lemessin added.

The remaining 48 percent of respondents thought that the Church was “neither strengthened nor weakened” under Benedict.

Of those questioned, women and young people appeared to be most critical of the pontiff, with just 4 percent of women and 2 percent of young people believing the Catholic Church to have been strengthened. This is in sharp contrast with 8 percent of men and 11 percent of French people over 65.

French Catholics also appear to be overwhelming critical of their leader with only 10 percent saying the institution had gained strength.        

Unsurprisingly, regular practicing French Catholics were the most positive about Pope Benedict with only 25 percent believing that Catholicism had suffered as a result of his resignation on February 11th.

Earlier this month, French President François Hollande hailed Pope Benedict XVI's decision to step down due to old age as "eminently respectable".

"After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," Benedict said in a statement released by the Vatican.

Among those speculated to replace the pontiff is Cardinal André Vingt-Trois, currently the Archbishop of Paris.

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