French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet Pope Benedict during his trip to Italy in October, the Vatican has confirmed. Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi has said the meeting is scheduled for October 8.
One of the issues expected to feature during the meeting is France’s crackdown on and deportation of thousands of the country’s Roma and Gypsy populations.
In July this year Mr Sarkozy announced that he had asked his interior minister to “put an end to the wild squatting and camping of the Roma”, linking the community to crime, prostitution and child exploitation.
The French president’s comments led to the Holy Father himself addressing French pilgrims about the need to “accommodate legitimate human diversities, just as Jesus came to assemble men from all nations and speaking every language”.
This was seen as a rebuke of the French administration’s policies, which was also being criticised by the European Union and human rights groups.
Soon after, Alain Minc, an adviser to President Sarkozy, attacked the Pontiff, saying: “Anyone can say anything about the Roma situation, but not a German pope. John Paul II perhaps, but not him.” The French daily La Croix reported that the Vatican was unhappy about the comments.
The meeting with the Pope is being interpreted as an attempt by Mr Sarkozy to improve his approval rating among French Catholics, which has fallen drastically over the last year.