France's National Front presidential candidate, Marine Le Pen, slammed Pope Francis for welcoming migrants and attacked the Catholic Church for meddling in French politics.
With just over a week to critical national elections, the far-right candidate said April 14 she was "extremely religious" but "angry" with the church for getting involved in matters over which it had no concern.
In an interview with the Catholic daily La Croix, Le Pen, whose campaign is based on a forthright anti-immigrant and protectionist platform, openly attacked the pope's views on migrants.
"The fact that he appeals for charity, for welcoming others, foreigners, does not shock me," Le Pen said. "But charity should only be personal."
If states go against the interests of their own people by welcoming migrants it raises questions of "interference," she said.
France's presidential race looked closer on Friday than it has all year. Voting begins on April 23 and two polls put the four frontrunners within reach of a runoff on May 7.
The latest voter polls also increased speculation that Le Pen may face the hard-left candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in the final round of an election that is considered by many pundits too close to call.
An Ipsos-Sopra Sterna poll showed independent centrist Emmanuel Macron and Le Pen tied with 22 percent in the first round of voting (with Melenchon and conservative Francois Fillon with 20 and 19 percent respectively).
In the La Croix interview, Le Pen also accused France’s bishops of trying to influence voters’ political opinions.
"The French Bishops' Conference sometimes meddles in what does not concern it, in particular by giving political instructions," she said.
If elected, Le Pen said she would "with great pleasure" meet with the pope and tell him exactly what she told La Croix.
The pope has appealed for greater compassion for migrants and refugees throughout his pontificate and in February spoke of the moral imperative "to protect asylum seekers and undocumented workers and their inalienable rights."