French hold dim view of Pope Benedict’s reign

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.

French hold dim view of Pope Benedict's reign
File photo: Arturo Mari/ Obseratore Romano / AFP

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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Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post

Pope Francis has broken with Catholic tradition to appoint a woman as an undersecretary of the synod of bishops, the first to hold the post with voting rights in a body that studies major questions of doctrine.

Pope appoints French woman to senior synod post
Pope Francis has appointed Nathalie Becquart as undersecretary of the synod of bishops. She is the first woman to hold the post. Photo: AFP

Frenchwoman Nathalie Becquart is one of the two new undersecretaries named on Saturday to the synod, where she has been a consultant since 2019.

The appointment signals the pontiff's desire “for a greater participation of women in the process of discernment and decision-making in the church”, said Cardinal Mario Grech, the secretary-general of the synod.

“During the previous synods, the number of women participating as experts and listeners has increased,” he said.

“With the nomination of Sister Nathalie Becquart and her possibility of participating in voting, a door has opened.”

The synod is led by bishops and cardinals who have voting rights and also comprises experts who cannot vote, with the next gathering scheduled for autumn 2022.

A special synod on the Amazon in 2019 saw 35 female “auditors” invited to the assembly, but none could vote.

The Argentinian-born pope has signalled his wish to reform the synod and have women and laypeople play a greater role in the church.

He named Spaniard Luis Marin de San Martin as the other under undersecretary in the synod of bishops.

Becquart, 52, a member of the France-based Xaviere Sisters, has a master's degree in management from the prestigious HEC business school in Paris and studied in Boston before joining the order.