Pope Benedict always links the church’s past with his present action. This coming week he links his
lecture at the University of Regensburg, Germany with his speech to be given at the Collège des Bernardins in Paris. President Sarkozy may be the Pope’s unlikely ally in a country that has dropped to less then 10% attendance for Mass. I suspect that the increase in Muslim population also at 10% may pose problems for the extreme secular state. So I would say the President is using the pope to create a bit of historic French nationalism with cultural Catholicism and the Pope is hoping to rekindle the faith in the country that was traditionally called the first daughter of the church.
Another interesting take on it comes from America
The first is that the radical exclusion of religion from the public sphere known as laïcité is increasingly being questioned. There are many reasons: social breakdown and high levels of Muslim immigration are causing the French to see the Church as “theirs” more than they did, while church-led social movements are among the most prophetic and energetic in France.
Whatever the reasons, it is France’s own president, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is recognising this shift in his call for a “positive laïcité“, calling for the state to have a “structured dialogue” with faiths and for Catholics and others to play a greater role in public life. This is an attempt, not without its risks, to move the French model more in the direction of the American one — towards Church-state separation as a means to protect the freedom of faith rather than to put it into a box marked ‘private’…
The second contemporary paradox is that France is the Catholic country with the strongest-declining congregrations and clergy while also being the Catholic country with most vigorous Catholic “revivals” and movements.
And finally John Allen over at National Catholic Register provides a broader view to the issue of B16 and the ‘creative minority’ of French Catholics.