Bishops elect new head of French Catholic Church

French bishops on Wednesday elected Georges Pontier, the archbishop of Marseille, as the new head of the French Catholic Church.

The 69-year-old will begin a three-year term at the helm of the Conference of Bishops on July 1.

He succeeds Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois, the 70-year-old archbishop of Paris who has been an outspoken critic of the Socialist government's legislation allowing gay couples to marry and adopt children.

Pontier is seen as a consensual figure who is concerned with social issues: he has been a regular visitor to Marseille's troubled northern districts and supports dialogue with France's large Islamic community.

Nearly two out of three of the French describe themselves as Catholic but less than five percent regularly attend church.