In this cartoon by Plantu, Pope Francis says ‘who am I to judge’ as the French president, François Hollande, arrives for his audience. Photograph: Plantu/Le Monde
When your morals are under the spotlight, your love life appears to be in turmoil and your every step is observed by a disapproving Anglo-Saxon media, it is just about the last place in the world you want to be: in the Vatican, with the holy father.
But, along with celebrity magazines and opinion polls, François Hollandehas another bete noire to curse this week: the cruel fate of diary scheduling, which decreed this Friday,he would enjoy a private audience with Pope Francis.
The encounter – the French president’s first with the Argentinian pontiff – was announced just before his troubled presidency exploded in l’affaire Gayet.
But once done, a papal date is not easily undone. Gleefully, the French daily Le Monde on Thursday ran a cartoon of Hollande on a motorcycle with two women on the back, and Francis, smiling benevolently and declaring: “Who am I to judge?”
The papal audience is not expected to last more than half an hour, with the president’s private life not the only potential cause of friction.
A petition signed by almost 115,000 French Catholics and for the attention of the pope calls on Francis to raise their “deep unease and growing concern” with Hollande over government policies such as the legalisation of gay marriage.
But the president was thought more likely to steer conversation towards subjects of possible agreement, including the conflict in Syria and the Geneva II talks, the Israel-Palestine peace process and climate change.
On Thursday Francis showed that even at 77 he is up to speed with the digital age, praising the immense possibilities of the internet and describing it, in part, as “a gift from God”.
But he also warned about its potential for social harm, adding: “The desire for digital connectivity can have the effect of isolating us from our neighbours, from those closest to us.”
In Paris a lawyer representing Hollande’s official partner Valérie Trierweiler told a French newspaper she wants to come out of the scandal of the president’s alleged affair with actress Julie Gayet “with dignity”.
Frédérique Giffard said it was hard for her client to remain “serene faced with such media and political pressure” but added that “she is aware that a clarification is necessary”. She accused “certain” media of crossing legal limits “without any scrupules” for Trierweiler or her family and suggested legal action might be taken.
Giffard rejected suggestions from some journalists that Trierweiler was engaged in emotional blackmail in order to remain with Hollande. “To imagine that she would want to use her distress in this way goes against her personality and her way of viewing human relations, which is based on frankness,” she said, adding: “She really hopes that this affair can resolve itself and to come out of it with as much dignity as possible.”