Most readers, even those who, like me, don’t follow politics too closely, will have noticed that there is a new president in France. François Hollande, who indeed has Dutch forebears, does not only win the highest political office in the country, but also a whole raft of religious titles and privileges, as the Belgian Church news website Kerknet reports, taking information from French newspaper ‘La Croix’. France is often said to be the ‘eldest daughter of the Church’ and that has consequences, although mostly ceremonial, even for an agnostic president.

The most important title, which the president inherits from the French monarchs, is that of honorary canon of the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome. King Louis XI first received this title in 1482, and it was reinstated when King Henry IV renounced Protestantism and donated the Benedictine monastery of Clairac (and all its income) to the basilica in 1064. Since 1957, the title is given automatically to all French heads of state. President Hollande can also use the title of proto-dean of the cathedral of Embrun and of the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Cléry near Orléans, and that of honorary dean of Saint-Jean-de-Maurienne in Savoie. He is also automatically honorary dean of Saint-Hilaire in Poitiers, Saint-Julien in Mans, Saint-Martin in Tours, Saint-Maurice d’Angers, Saint-Jean in Lyon, Saint-Étienne in Cahors and Saint-Germain des Prés in Paris.

Politically, the French president is head of state of Andorra, a position he shares with the bishop of the Spanish Diocese of Urgell, Archbishop Joan Enric Vives i Sicília.

Lastly, the president of France can give the red cardinal’s hat to the Papal Nuncio in Paris, if the latter is created a cardinal. That happened, for example, in 1953 with Cardinal Angelo Roncalli (later Pope John XXIII) and in 1959 with Cardinal Paolo Marella (later the archpriest of St. Peter’s and vice-dean of the College of Cardinals). That won’t be happening anymore, though, since new cardinals generally receive their hat from the pope directly. But, in theory, it is still an option.

It just goes to show that the separation of church and state isn’t always simple.

Photo credit: Jean-Marc Ayrault/Wikipedia/Flickr

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