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Head of French bishops welcomes Macron’s election

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PARIS — The head of the French bishops’ conference welcomed the election of President-elect Emmanuel Macron and said he hoped June legislative elections would not place the country “in an ungovernable situation.”

Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president of the French bishops’ conference, told Vatican Radio May 8 that French Catholics had also been left “divided like the rest of French society” and said he counted on Macron and his new government “being able to function.”

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrates at his victory rally near the Louvre in Paris May 7. (CNS /Christian Hartmann, Reuters)

French President-elect Emmanuel Macron celebrates at his victory rally near the Louvre in Paris May 7. (CNS /Christian Hartmann, Reuters)

“Macron has been elected in an important manner; we must hope he succeeds for the good of our country, otherwise it will be catastrophic,” said Archbishop Pontier.

“Priorities for his new five-year term must include struggling against unemployment, which is so destructive for families, for prospects and for projects, as well as the necessity of staying in Europe and giving this Europe the means of retaining the respect of every people.”

Macron won the second-round presidential ballot with 66.1 percent of votes against 33.9 percent taken by Marine Le Pen, head of France’s National Front. Macron ran on a pro-market platform that included support for the European Union and cuts to public administration, as well as lower corporation taxes and measures to defend secular values.

At 39, the new president is France’s youngest head of state for two centuries. He swept to victory just a year after setting up his 200,000-member movement, En Marche! (On the move).

In a May 3 interview on his diocesan website, Archbishop Pontier said the Catholic Church had sought to encourage “reflection and discernment” among voters, rather than “taking sides for one or another candidate.”

However, the French daily Le Monde said May 4 that the church’s refusal to back Macron against Le Pen had “provoked a deep discontent among the faithful.” France’s highest-circulation Catholic newspaper, La Croix, declared support for Macron and accused church leaders in a May 5 editorial of lacking will “to put an end to extremism.”

Born in Amiens, northwest of Paris, Macron was educated at Jesuit-run La Providence high school, before studying at the capital’s prestigious Ecole Nationale d’Administration and joining Rothschild and Cie Banque in 2008 as an investment banker.

In 2007, he married his former La Providence drama and literature teacher, Brigitte Trogneux, who was 24 years older and had three children from a previous marriage.

Macron worked as an economic adviser to President Francois Hollande and was appointed economy minister in 2014, deregulating some branches of industry and liberalizing Sunday trading. He resigned last August to pursue his presidential bid.

French writer Samuel Pruvot, who interviewed the new president at length for a book, said Macron sought baptism at age 12 under the influence of his Jesuit teachers, but viewed the Catholic faith “more intellectually than spiritually” and would “distance himself as much as possible from church, faith and Catholicism” as president.

“He’ll be diplomatic with the church, treating it like an elderly aunt whom he hasn’t seen for a long time, and who’s left his life, but for whom he still retains some affection,” Pruvot told the Catholic online portal Aleteia May 4.

“Macron recognizes there’s a law of God and a law of people, which aren’t the same and reflect a different hierarchy of values. … He recognizes this, but doesn’t adhere to it, since he considers that the truth is inaccessible and one must simply seek a consensus so people can calmly live together.”

In a joint declaration published May 5 in La Croix, 38 Catholic organizations urged voters not to support Le Pen and warned that the National Front’s program posed “a danger to democracy, social peace and Europe’s future.”

However, leaders of France’s pro-family “La Manif Pour Tous” movement, whose nationwide protests against same-sex marriage, assisted suicide and other liberal changes have been supported by some Catholic bishops, warned citizens that Macron would “continue the anti-family policy” of Hollande.

Both Macron and Le Pen visited Catholic cathedrals in Rodez and Reims respectively during their final day of campaigning May 5. Polling experts said both attracted a substantial number of Catholic votes.

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French archbishop criticizes bill that would make anti-abortion websites illegal

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PARIS — The president of the French bishops’ conference wrote French President Francois Hollande to express his worries about fast-tracked legislation that would extend illegal interference on abortions to websites. Archbishop Georges Pontier of Marseille, president, said the bishops think the legislation questions the very foundations of liberties in France, and he urged Hollande to not allow the bill’s passage.

The archbishop said the idea of illegal digital interference could have an impact on a woman’s decision to get an abortion. Referring to the oft-used French expression for abortion, “voluntary pregnancy interruption,” Archbishop Pontier added that the bill would make it less “voluntary,” simply because it would make it “less and less free,” calling it a “serious infringement to democratic principles.”

Earlier this fall, the French government presented a draft law regarding the creation of illegal digital interference on abortion. France’s National Assembly passed the bill Dec. 1, and the Senate is expected to consider it Dec. 7, with a final vote in February. If it passes, it would condemn websites for “intimidating and/or putting psychological or moral pressures” in order to dissuade someone from getting an abortion. The text modifying an already existing abortion law raised acrimonious political debates in France.

Politicians backing the legislation say it is mostly aimed at websites that look very similar to official or neutral websites, but do everything to discourage women from getting an abortion, thus tricking users with disinformation. The bill would institute penalties of up to two years of incarceration and a 30,000-euro ($31,820) fine.

Laurence Rossignol, France’s minister for families, said it is time for the government to react to websites offering biased information. Opponents say it would violate free speech.

In the Nov. 22 letter, released Nov. 28, Archbishop Pontier said the legislation does not take into account a woman’s distress regarding her decision to get an abortion, especially since the abolition of a mandatory one-week waiting period earlier this year.

“In other words, women don’t find … official support to their questions in conscience,” said Archbishop Pontier. He said websites are more than ever an essential part in helping women find some answers.

“Some of our fellow citizens, joined in associations, have decided to give their time, particularly through digital instruments, to listening to hesitant or distressed women regarding a possible choice for abortion,” he wrote.

The success of such listening websites “proves that they fill a need. Must we worry? Many women turn to these sites after an abortion because they need a place to put words on what they lived. Others persevere in their plan to abort. Finally, others decide to keep their child. This diversity of expression and behavior is made possible by this place of liberty that are these websites. Their positioning calls for reflection, and this is precisely what they are being criticized for (in the legislation). It’s as if they should adopt at once a favorable positioning toward abortion. However, such a grave matter cannot be constrained in militant positions,” the archbishop wrote.

“Should we necessarily exclude every alternative to abortion to be considered a model citizen? Can the slightest encouragement to keep one’s child … be called a ‘psychological and moral pressure?’” he asked.

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