Being an Honorary Canon of The Basilica of Saint John of Lateran is an honor enjoyed by French leaders since Henri IV. Most don't care much (Presidents FranÃ§ois Mitterrand and Georges Pompidou skipped the trip to Rome altogether). Not so current President Nicolas Sarkozy, who has been gaining a reputation as France's chief sermonizer. Last December, as he received his title, he made a long speech to the gathered clerics, expounding on "France's essentially Christian roots."
"A man who believes is a man who hopes," said the president. "And the interest of the republic is that there be a lot of men and women who hope." He advocated a new "positive secularism" that "doesn't consider religions a danger, but an asset." And he declared, "In the transmission of values and in the teaching of the difference between good and evil, the schoolteacher will never be able to replace the priest or the pastor."