Far-right French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen has said she is 'angry' at the Catholic Church and criticised Pope Francis and bishops for political 'interference' while ignoring 'what [they] should really be concerned with'.
The National Front leader told La Croix: 'Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. The Conference of Bishops of France sometimes gets involved in what does not concern it: in particular, giving political directions. I don't get involved with what the Pope should say to his followers. I don't think religions should tell the French people how to vote.'
Characteristically, Le Pen also hit out at Muslims, saying she supports a ban on 'conspicuous religious symbols' in public places because 'the Muslim religion has arrived in our country like a tidal wave and radical Islam has begun to apply pressure by means of the veil'. She added that 'veils are everywhere in the streets. This is a significant breakaway from our idea of secularism, and from our conception of women. This offends French people.'
On her own relationship with religion, she said: 'I have a strong faith and I am fortunate in that I have never doubted it. However, I admit that I am angry with the Church because I think that it interferes in everything except what it should really be concerned with...I have found that, in some personal circumstances, the Church has lacked compassion. But this doesn't mean that I have no respect for some of the priests I meet.'
Le Pen added that if she is elected as president, she would invite Pope Francis to France 'with great pleasure' and 'will tell him exactly what I have just told you'.
She added: 'It does not surprise me that [Pope Francis] appeals for charity and the welcoming of migrants. Charity, however, is up to each individual. He asks that states go against the interests of their own people by not placing conditions on the acceptance of significant numbers of migrants. To me, this falls within the realm of politics and even interference, since he is also a head of state.'
Le Pen, who is relatively socially liberal on the issue of abortion, says that if elected she would replace same-sex marriage with civil partnerships, which existed in France from 1999 to 2013.
The first round of voting in the French presidential election takes place this Sunday. The centrist Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen are seen as the front-runners, followed by the centre-right candidate Francois Fillon and the leftist Jean-Luc Melenchon.