President François Hollande remained tight-lipped over his private life and alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet as he met with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Friday, where talks focused on issues including the family and international security.
An embattled Hollande shook hands with a glum-looking Francis at the start of the private audience, and a high-ranking prelate told AFP he expected that there would be "no holds barred" in their conversation.
The two met amid increased security measures after a homemade bomb exploded in front of a French church in Rome hours before Hollande’s arrival.
At least five cars were damaged in the blast, which took place in the city centre, but there were no reports of casualties.
Police said it wasn’t clear if the bomb was related to Hollande’s visit and that no one had as yet claimed responsibility.
Family and respect for religious freedom
Once the talks got underway, the topics included issues about the “family, bioethics and respect for religious freedom”, the Holy See said in a statement. The Vatican and the Catholic Church in France vigorously opposed France’s gay marriage and gay adoption law, which was a cornerstone of Hollande’s election manifesto.
Hollande and Pope Francis also discussed the security situation in the Central African Republic, currently embroiled in sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims, as well as the status of Christian minorities in the Middle East.
Hollande said he had asked for the Vatican to receive Syria's main opposition group, the Syrian National Coalition, as the first talks between Syria's warring sides, which began in Switzerland on Wednesday, got off to a rough start.
"The Geneva II conference should be aimed at transition. We need to do everything to stop the fighting and dispatch humanitarian aid," Hollande said.
Hollande has previously said that the Pope, a "great moral authority", could help "find a political solution" to Syria's devastating civil war.
Visit overshadowed by affair allegations
Hollande’s Vatican visit has been somewhat eclipsed by the scandal surrounding his private life, following allegations by French gossip magazine Closer that he’s been enjoying a lengthy affair with actress Julie Gayet.
The rumours have led to speculation over the status of France’s de facto first lady, Hollande’s partner, Valérie Trierweiler.
Although Hollande has acknowledged “painful moments” in his relationship with Trierweiler, he has so far refused to answer questions on the issue and maintained his silence on the matter in brief remarks to reporters after his meeting with Francis.
Hollande had previously said he would clarify his domestic situation before a February 11th state visit to Washington, when Trierweiler would normally accompany him.
Meanwhile Trieweiler, who spent a week in hospital for “exhaustion” in the wake of the affair allegations, is due to travel to India on Sunday in support of a humanitarian charity, despite the continued confusion over her status.
Aid group ‘Action Against Hunger’ had invited Trierweiler to India in her “official capacity” before the scandal erupted.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP)
Date created : 2014-01-24