Oh PUL-EEZE, Carla. You let your faith lapse LONG before Holy Father's trip.
Carla Bruni has issued a scathing attack on Pope Benedict XVI saying that she has allowed her Catholic faith to lapse because of his approach to contraception in Africa.
By Henry Samuel in Paris
Last Updated: 6:26PM BST 18 May 2009
Carla Bruni has criticised Catholic teachings Photo: AFP
France's First Lady said that the Church's teachings had left her feeling "profoundly secular".
She departed from her post's traditional religious neutrality to accuse the Pope of "damaging" countries like Africa with his stance on birth control.
The Italian-born former supermodel risked angering believers in France and beyond by declaring that the Pontiff's proclamations showed that the Church needed to "evolve".
In March, the Pope sparked controversy while on an Africa tour by saying that the AIDs pandemic which has crippled the continent "can't be resolved with the distribution of condoms; on the contrary, there is the risk of increasing the problem".
Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy said: "I was born Catholic, I was baptised, but in my life I feel profoundly secular.
"I find that the controversy coming from the Pope's message – albeit distorted by the media – is very damaging.
"In Africa it's often Church people who look after sick people. It's astonishing to see the difference between the theory and the reality.
"I think the Church should evolve on this issue. It presents the condom as a contraceptive which, incidentally, it forbids, although it is the only existing protection," she told Femme Actuelle, the women's magazine.
The comments will cause Mr Sarkozy embarrassment in a country where, despite the separation of Church and State, a majority of the population was born Catholic.
André Roux, a constitutional historian said: "It's unprecedented for a first lady to criticise the Pope. Charles de Gaulle's wife was very Catholic and would never had taken up position, remaining very discreet. The same was true of Bernadette Chirac, who never gave her opinion on religion or international affairs.
"Even Danielle Mitterrand, the wife of François Mitterrand who was not a believer and aired her political views, never attacked the Pope.
"In my view, there is a certain obligation to keep counsel when one is the wife of a head of state, such comments are not opportune. Given her public position the effects of her comments risk carrying more weight than just the personal views of Carla Bruni."
Mr Sarkozy wrote in a 2005 book The Republic, Religions and Hope: "I acknowledge myself as a member of the Catholic Church", even if his religious practice was "periodic".
When he visited the Pope in Rome shortly after his election in 2007, he left his then girlfriend Miss Bruni – a single, unmarried mother – in Paris to avoid embarrassment.
After becoming Mr Sarkozy's third wife last year Mrs Bruni-Sarkozy has campaigned against the spread of Aids in Africa. The Pope's stance against the use of contraceptives in Africa was roundly criticised in France – including by many Catholics. Some 43 per cent of them wanted the Pontiff to step down, according to one poll.