TV presenter Stéphane Bern, recently tasked by the president to save France's crumbling cultural heritage, kicked off the row by suggesting visitors to France's many cathedrals should have to pay an entry fee.
“There is an urgent need to charge the entry of cathedrals,” he told Le Parisien. “We are the only country where access to them is free. In London, entrance to Westminster Abbey is set at €24.”
After being hit with a backlash of angry remarks by politicians on Twitter Bern later qualified his remarks by stating he only meant that tourists visiting Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris should have to pay.
“I was only suggesting charging tourist visitors an entrance fee to Notre-Dame, because they prevent worshippers from gathering there,” said Bern on Twitter.
The TV presenter was responding specifically to French senator Nathalie Goulet who stated to him that charging people to enter cathedrals would be illegal as it would act as a tax on a place of worship and therefore breach France's 1905 laws on a separation of church and state.
The senator also suggested it would breach equality laws because entrance to synagogues, mosques and temples would remain free.
But Bern believes charging tourists to visit Notre-Dame would hardly be a scandal given visitors have to pay to visit cathedrals such as Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. “Foreigners find it normal,” he said.
Bern noted that certain tour operators in France charge their clients for trips to visit cathedrals like Notre-Dame and Sacré-Coeur even though entry is free.
There's no doubt Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris could do with some financial aid.
The cathedral is 854-years-old and attracts around 13 million visitors each year, but it is in desperate need of repairs.
Vital repair work needs to be carried out to fix, among other things, a toppling gargoyle, cracks on the facade and the support structure for the church's famed stained glass windows.