VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron drew a polite silence from Pope Francis on Tuesday when he quipped that folk from Brittany were the “mafia” of France.
The French leader cracked his joke as he introduced the pope to his foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, a Breton who moments earlier had hugged the Vatican interpreter, an old school friend from France’s westernmost region.
“He’s a Breton. Bretons are everywhere. Bretons are the French mafia,” Macron told the pope in jest.
The pope has condemned Italy’s gangsters throughout his five-year papacy.
Brittany regional daily Ouest-France, France’s most read newspaper, called it a ‘bad joke’.
Bretons have no history of organized crime. Rather, they are renowned for their networks that span politics, business and Catholic religious circles, giving the region outsized influence in Paris.
Famous Bretons include billionaires Vincent Bolloré and Gucci-owner Francois Pinault, as well as the Leclerc retail dynasty.
Macron has courted controversy with attempts at humor before. In Africa last year, he drew criticism when he quipped with students that Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Kabore had left the room to fix the air-conditioning.
Additional reporting by Michel Rose and Jean-Baptiste Vey in Paris; Editing by Richard Lough and David Stamp