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French Catholic bishops elect new leader

Diocèse de Marseille

France’s Catholic bishops have chosen a new leader – Archbishop Georges Pontier takes over from Cardinal André Vingt-Trois at a time when the church is deeply involved in opposition to the government’s gay marriage bill.


Pontier was elected president of the French Episcopal Conference on Wednesday to succeed Vingt-Trois, whose three-year mandate had run out.

Catholicism is France’s most widely followed religion, with 64 per cent describing themselves as Catholics in 2009, compared to 87 per cent in 1972.

But the number describing themselves as practising was only 4.5 per cent, compared to 20 per cent 40 years ago.

Pontier, 70, became a bishop in 1988 and is currently archbishop of Marseille.

He is regarded as consensual and advocates interfaith dialogue, notably with Islam, France’s second-largest religion. 

But, like his predecessor, Pontier opposes the gay marriage bill, which is likely to be passed on 23 April after several months of angry protests backed by the political right.

In his last speech in office on Tuesday Cardinal Vingt-Trois once again attacked the proposal, crticising “the temptation to deny any difference between the sexes” and warning that “the inability to accept that there are differences between genders” would lead to “a society of violence”.

On the website of the Marseille diocese Pontier called on the faithful to send personal letters to their MPs opposing the measure.

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