French President François Hollande makes delicate visit to Pope Francis

January 24, 2014

(Pope Francis (R) talks with French President Francois Hollande during a private audience at the Vatican, January 24, 2014. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi )

French President François Hollande met Pope Francis on Friday, making a delicate visit against the backdrop of undenied allegations of infidelity, low popularity ratings and clashes with Catholics over gay marriage.

Hollande and Francis held 35 minutes of private talks in the Apostolic Palace, which he now uses only for official visits after he moved into a modest apartment.

Security was beefed up and the exclusion zone around the Vatican was widened, a police source said, after a small makeshift explosive went off near a French church in Rome in the early hours and police received an anonymous call about two more bombs in the Vatican area. None were found.

Hollande seemed nervous as he was introduced to the pope and Francis, who does not speak French well, did not appear to give him a particularly warm welcome compared to other heads of state.

The Socialist president’s decision to rush through the legalisation of same-sex marriage last year provoked several huge protests in Paris that were strongly supported by the Catholic hierarchy.

Some Catholics in France have accused the government of paying more attention to minority Muslims and Jews, visiting their communities and denouncing attacks on them while all but ignoring provocations against France’s majority religion.

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