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Pope's plan to visit France stirs protest Resentment focuses on papal authority, Vatican policies


TOURS, France -- Pope John Paul II's planned visit to France from Sept. 19 to 22 has revived long-simmering resentment of the power of the papacy in a country many Roman Catholics have long thought of as the "eldest daughter of the Church."

The pope plans to go to the tomb of St. Martin here on the eve of the 1,600th anniversary of the saint's death in 397, and to go to Rheims on Sept. 22 to commemorate the 1,500th anniversary of the baptism of Clovis, the Frankish king who founded France's first royal dynasty.

In Tours, city and church authorities expect 50,000 to 80,000 people to turn up at an open-air Mass planned at an air force base near here.

But a group here is leading a countrywide campaign calling on the millions of French Catholics who disagree with the pope on birth control and the ordination of women to renounce their baptisms in a protest against the visit.

"I haven't had time to do it myself, I've been too busy running the campaign against the visit," said Eric Sionneau, a postman who said the protest, supported by groups that defend legal abortion and freedom from religious strictures, was unlikely to mobilize more than a thousand people.

"The immense majority of the people are for the visit," said the archbishop of Tours, Jean Honore, "but one strain of the opposition comes from Christian critics who view the pope as a reactionary and consider themselves in rebellion against Vatican authoritarianism."

Opposition within the Church to the pope's conservative policies peaked early last year when the Vatican removed a left-wing cleric, Bishop Jacques Gaillot, from the Diocese of Evreux and gave him a defunct see in Africa instead.

Ecclesiastical authorities also insist that they will not allow the visit to be appropriated by right-wing nationalist parties that want to use it for their own political gain.

As far as officials of the city of Tours are concerned, a papal visit to a city that used to be an important place of pilgrimage is not only welcome but also long overdue.

The last time a pope came to Tours was in 1162, a year before construction started on the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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