François Fillon had major backing from traditional Catholics throughout France
by Christine Niles, M.St. (Oxon.), J.D. • ChurchMilitant • February 15, 2017
PARIS – Catholics are reeling in France as the presidential candidate they’ve backed deals with the fallout of a financial scandal. Recent reports show François Fillon, head of the Center-Right Party Les Républicains, paid his wife nearly 1 million euros for work she did as presidential attaché, though she allegedly did little to merit the money. Fillon also acknowledged paying his two school-aged children 84,000 euros to be his assistants during the years 2005–2007.
Fillon has apologized for the payments, claiming the practice was widespread and accepted during his time as senator, and understands it’s largely frowned upon now. But the scandal may be too much for him to recover from, as the former frontrunner in the presidential elections is now trailing in the polls, and internal calls for his resignation from his party are increasing. Tuesday, about 40 members of Les Républicains demanded that Fillon step down, calling for him to find a “political solution” to the scandal.
Fillon is standing firm, however, saying Tuesday that “there is no better alternative solution” to his candidacy, and that to step down would lead to “a major crisis.”
Traditional Catholics throughout France have supported Fillon, previously enjoying his highest scores in the most strongly Catholic regions of France, particularly Brittany and Pays de la Loire. Fillon — father of five, married to his wife of 30 years, and a practicing Catholic — was seen as a sign of hope to traditionalists, who saw in him the resurgence of conservative morals in the country called the “Eldest Daughter of the Church.”
Fillon voted against gay marriage when it was initially proposed, has vowed to fight adoption rights for same-sex couples, has voted against IVF babies for single mothers and lesbians, and has fought against radical Islam, supporting a ban on burkinis and speaking out on behalf of persecuted Christians in the Middle East.
A large chunk of Fillon’s supporters come from La Manif Pour Tous (“Demonstration for All”), a secular initiative begun in 2013 as a reaction to French legislators’ decision to ram through same-sex marriage, contrary to the will of the people. The Manif’s purpose is to defend the right of children to both a mother and a father, and its annual rallies are some of the largest pro-family gatherings in Europe, with numbers reaching well over a million (although they are consistently underreported in the secular press). Each year, atheists march alongside Catholics, Protestants and Muslims in protest against what they see as French legislators’ destruction of the family.
The wildly popular Manif gave rise to a traditional Catholic political movement, Sens Commun (“Common Sense”), which has backed Fillon from the beginning.
Although Fillon had been leading in the polls, the scandal has caused his numbers to plummet, with the latest opinion poll showing the 62-year-old will trail beind in third place in the April 23 first-round vote. If so, that takes him out of the race, leaving Marine Le Pen of the Front National to go up against Emmanual Macron of the social-liberal party En Marche!
Les Républicains have until March 17 to nominate a new candidate if they choose to do so.