Pope to deny that the Church has been the foe of reason in speech in Paris

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Since his election three years ago, Pope Benedict XVI has devoted considerable time and intellectual effort arguing that religious faith and reason can coexist in modern society.

This week he will take that argument to France, one of Europe's most deeply secular states, which long ago segregated religion from public life.

The strict division between church and state in France began in the French Revolution with a bloody purge of Roman Catholic clergy from the political establishment and reached its pinnacle in 1905 with the expropriation of church property by the state.

To this day, the Vatican accuses France of cutting the pulpit out of public discourse. Vatican officials denounced France's 2004 decision to ban religious symbols, such as Christian crucifixes and Muslim head scarves, from schools and other public spaces. Unlike in Italy and Spain, the Catholic Church, its charities and schools aren't eligible for public funding in France, nor do they receive generous tax breaks, as in the U.S.

French secularism "assumes that religion has no real social dimension, that it must remain private and doesn't have the right to publicly express itself," Bishop Fortunato Baldelli, the Vatican's ambassador for France, says.

During his visit, which begins Friday, Pope Benedict will try to bridge that 200-year-old chasm, seeking common ground between the corridors of the Vatican and the cafes of Paris. The pontiff, a former professor and theologian, is scheduled to go before members of France's highest academic institutions on Friday evening, when[THERE,] he will argue that history has wrongly labeled the Roman Catholic Church as a foe of scientific and rational inquiry, according to Vatican officials.

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