French President Macron criticized for expressing interest in restoring government's bond with Catholics

France's President Emmanuel Macron expressed in a speech at the Bishop's Conference in Paris last Monday that he wants his government to restore its ties with the Catholic Church. His words, however, drew criticisms from his political opponents.

(Reuters/Philippe Wojazer)French President Emmanuel Macron attends a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, May 23, 2017.

The French president remarked that attending such an event was the start of the restoration between the state and the church. It's the first time a French head of state accepted the Catholic Church's invitation in a long while, as previous French presidents firmly kept the church and state separate.

"We share the feeling that the link between Church and State has been damaged," Macron said in his speech. "That the time has come for us, both you and me, to mend it," he added.

But critics such as Olivier Faure of the Socialist Party said that secularism is much valued in France, which Macron "should be defending." Jean-Luc Melenchon of the France Insoumise party also called Macron's speech "outrageous." The left-wing politician pointed out that the French fought each other in a civil war for three centuries to establish a secular nation only for Macron to discredit this in one statement.

France has been a secular country since laws imposed the state-church separation in 1905. It spawned from the 1789 French revolution.

Macron became a Catholic when he chose to be baptized into the religion at age 12. According to Voice of America, Macron's government has been evaluating the impact of Islam, the second largest religion in the country, amid terror attacks in France.

But Cardinal Georges Pontier, who was at the conference, regarded the president's statement as an invitation to dialogues with the Catholic Church and nothing more. Pontier said: "Some people imagine the [Catholic] Church wants to take power over people's minds and more, but that's not true."

Though France prides in secularism, around 63 to 66 percent are Roman Catholics, 7 to 9 percent are Muslims and there are smaller groups of Jewish or Buddhists, according to the Central Intelligence Agency. The government, however, hasn't collected any data on religion since 1872.