France may be a predominantly Roman Catholic country, but it is also officially secular, with separation of church and state one of its most sacred tenets.
So while the death of Pope John Paul II has brought widespread mourning, there has also been pressure on the French Republic not to honor him officially.
For the moment, the political instinct to please voters has won out: the government is marking the pope's passing in a variety of ways across France, and President Jacques Chirac and his wife, Bernadette, will attend the funeral Mass at the Vatican on Friday.
But defenders of the country's republican tradition as well as some foes of the center-right government have charged that by doing so, the French state is violating a 100-year-old law dictating church-state separation. They contend that any gesture that gives the appearance of favoring one religion over another is forbidden.
French Republicans are very different from American Republicans.
I got into a conversation with my Mother recently about the difference between Irish Republicans and American Republicans. Among my Irish family, Republicans are the good guys. They admired America for accomplishing what they couldn’t – ousting the oppressive English rule. Their version of freedom of religion involves the right to be Catholic and not be murdered, raped, kept out of the most respected schools, etc. In Ireland, it’s the Republicans who focus more on social injustice, as most of it is directed at them.
They’re overwhelmingly Catholic, you see. Not like DeLay or Cheney. Or the Bush family.
So we have three groups in three countries who call themselves Republicans. They are all fighting for their definition of a Republic. They each want very different things for their republics.
I’d love to get George Danton and Robespierre in a room with Padraic Pearse, Constance Markiewicz, George W and Ken Mehlman. Heck, let’s throw in Gerry Adams, “good” Catholic Alan Keyes and the guy who published “L’Amie du Peuple” for the fun of it. How I’d love to be a fly on that wall.