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Outrage as French far right invited to Catholic conference

AFP archive | Marion Maréchal-Le Pen is the far-right party's youngest National Assembly member

French Christian groups were outraged this week after a member of the country’s far-right National Front (FN), and granddaughter of the party’s founder Jean-Marie Le Pen, was invited to speak at a Catholic summer conference.

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Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, at 25 the FN's youngest National Assembly member, is due to attend a “round-table” discussion group Saturday on the topic of “politics and the media” at Plan-d'Aups-Sainte-Baume in the southern Var region.

The annual discussion group was founded by Bishop Dominique Rey, who heads the Fréjus-Toulon diocese and is known as a conservative figure in French Catholic circles.

Many French Catholics are unhappy that Maréchal-Le Pen has been invited, saying 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 Rey insisted the FN, “whether you like them or not are part of the French political landscape, especially in the south of France”.

“I admit that this is a new approach to the FN which has been wilfully sidelined in the past,” he told right-leaning French daily Le Figaro. “It doesn’t mean we are condoning the FN, but on the contrary, this is an opportunity to challenge the FN on its immigration policies, and its vision of how we can live together in our increasingly multicultural world.”

Rey added that the “most important values of the Christian faith were welcoming others, respecting foreigners and seeing society without fear”.

“These are not at all ideas shared by the FN,” he said. “If the FN claims really to have moved on, it is time for them to demonstrate that they have done so.”

Catholic group “Cathos de Gauche” (left-wing Catholics), which includes lawyer and friend of President François Hollande Jean-Pierre Mignard, on Friday vented their anger at Bishop Rey for giving Ms Le Pen a platform that would lend her movement legitimacy in the eyes of some French Christians.

“We call on France’s Catholic leaders, and responsible members of the Church, to end their shameful silence and to stand up against this dangerous normalisation of a party that actively promotes hatred of foreigners,” the group said in a statement.

The statement added that the conference “throws a light on a section of the French Catholic Church that is sliding inexorable towards the hardest of the hard right”.

Indeed, an Ifop poll last year showed that 20% of French Catholics had voted for the FN in the 20XX European Elections.

Abbot Pierr-Hervé Grosjean, an active blogger who has organised his own summer conference in the Paris region, told AFP that “in principal I would not object to an FN participation”.

“Who on this earth is perfectly aligned to Christ?” he asked. “No one. To invite a speaker is not to condone their ideas, rather to challenge their thinking, whatever partisan label they happen to have.”

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