By Hilary White

ROME, March 23, 2009 ( – A pair of polls released in France show that increasing numbers of French people want Pope Benedict to “step down.” According to Catholic commentators, the polls come at a time of unprecedented hostility in the media to the Pope’s reiteration of Catholic sexual morality.

According to a poll published in France’s Le Journal du Dimanche weekly, 43 percent of French Catholics want Pope Benedict XVI to resign or retire. The poll was divided into “practising” and “non-practising” Catholics, with 47 percent of the latter, and only about a third of the former wanting Benedict to “step down.”

More than 80 percent of those polled said they want the Church to “modify its position” on contraception and abortion. Le Journal du Dimanche reported that “significant majorities” want the Church to change the teaching on remarriage after divorce as well as homosexuality. Another poll published in Le Parisien daily found that 57 percent of respondents have a negative opinion of the pontiff.

The IFOP poll showed twenty-two percent saying he is doing a good job; 28 percent said it was “neither good, nor bad” and one percent declined comment. Although France is a traditionally Catholic country, less than ten percent of the population attends weekly Mass.

The polls were released at the same time that an anti-Catholic demonstration was staged in Paris. About 30 demonstrators, described by Reuters as “ecologists and Communists” and members of the radical homosexualist group Act-Up Paris, disturbed Mass-goers and threw condoms on the ground outside Notre Dame cathedral on Sunday. These demonstrators were confronted by reportedly “far right” papal supporters carrying placards saying “Leave my Pope alone.”

Claiming that Catholic opposition to condoms in AIDS prevention has “killed millions,” Act-Up Paris also organised a “die-in” outside Notre Dame on Sunday. Far from denouncing the anti-Catholic demonstrations, French officials attacked the pope. Human Rights Minister Rama Yade said she was “dumbfounded” at the Holy Father’s opposition to condoms.

Damian Thompson, the editor of Britain’s Catholic Herald, wrote this weekend that despite the attacks in the secular media, Pope Benedict’s “worst enemies are Catholics.”

Thompson wrote on his blog on the Daily Telegraph website, “It’s payback time for Pope Benedict XVI’s most dedicated enemies, who are not militant secularists, hate-crazed Muslims, diehard Protestants or the liberal media.

“The people who most dislike the Pope are Catholics, or people who have the nerve to describe themselves as such.” Thompson pointed to a piece appearing in the Telegraph in March quoting anonymous “Vatican insiders” who told Nick Squires they think Benedict is a “disaster” for the Church.

These sources cited the pope’s comments on condoms and the media frenzy over the lifting of the excommunications of four “traditionalist” bishops last month as well as his “previous inflammatory remarks on Islam and homosexuality.”

“It’s true,” Thompson commented. “They do think that. He’s a disaster for them, and their determination to turn the Catholic Church into a touchy-feely forum in which uncomfortable teachings and traditions are ‘modernised’ to impress non-Catholics.”

“Benedict’s most relentless critics, the ones who are determined to extract every last ounce of rhetorical advantage from his predicament, are liberal Catholics,” he wrote.

Fr. Tim Finigan, a priest and theology professor and the UK’s most popular Catholic blogger, wrote that the pope’s reiteration of Catholic teaching on condoms shows he has “nerves of steel.”

“Were he a politician,” Fr. Finigan wrote, “I am sure that the Holy Father would have been advised to keep quiet about AIDS and condoms, to evade the question or simply to emphasise the positive work that the Church does.”

“In the spirit of martyrdom, the successor of St Peter chose not to take the easy path but to speak the truth boldly. At a time when he has been recently subjected to sustained assaults in the world’s media, his courage and determination are an inspiring example of genuine love for the suffering.”