France’s Catholic bishops urged citizens to use upcoming elections to restore basic freedoms and “rules of civility.”

“We are going through tough and perilous times, but fear is always a bad counselor, whereas hope opens the way to courageous and healthy choices,” said the Permanent Council of the Paris-based bishops’ conference.

“The risk of fracturing our national community is real, as is the resurgence of international tensions. We cannot allow ourselves to be locked into bitterness and discouragement.”

French citizens will vote for a president April 10, against a background of coronavirus restrictions and concerns over unemployment and national identity. Elections to the 577-seat National Assembly will be in June.

In a 60-page report, “Hope Does Not Disappoint,” the bishops said the Catholic Church had failed in its response to sexual abuse by clergy, which was exposed on a large scale in an October report by an independent commission. However, the bishops said they still wished to “offer reflections with humility” on the current situation, at a time when politicians were tempted by security concerns to “undermine freedom of expression, association, education and even worship,” as well as “the equality of citizens.”

“There will be no true and lasting security without scrupulous respect for personal freedom,” the bishops said.

They said Christians should be wary of the “idolatry of power,” as well as of politicians “promising more than they are able to offer.”

Among key priorities, they said Catholics should back policies “promoting liberty, equality and fraternity” and unconditional respect for all human life, as well as an authentically integral ecology, as urged by Pope Francis, to foster “a more sober way of life, less focused on consumption.”

The bishops said France’s rulers should seek “maximum humanity and political balance” in their handling of migrants and refugees and avoid saddling future generations with a “constantly increasing public debt” to “maintain living standards and consumption.”

“For Christians, the greatness of a society lies in helping its members respect the life and dignity of all, especially the most fragile,” the bishops said.

“The current economic and cultural globalization calls for a creative effort by everyone, so respect for histories, cultures, local ecosystems and people prevails over the logic of confrontation,” they said. “The building of Europe, so emblematic of a fight won against the temptations of confrontation and war, must be constantly reviewed so as not to fall into impotence, libertarian drift, technocratic excess and a renunciation of true moral values.”

Catholics make up about half of France’s 67.4 million inhabitants, according to church data, although only a small proportion practice their faith.

Asked why the new report had not warned against far-right candidates, the bishops’ conference president, Archbishop Éric de Moulins-Beaufort, told a Jan. 18 news conference that the document contained “elements of discernment,” not “voting advice,” adding that individual church leaders would issue separate statements closer to the elections.

“Catholics don’t need a tutor to tell them who to vote for,” the archbishop added. “What matters for us is to try to indicate to citizens and candidates the direction we should choose for ourselves in making our country’s Christian heritage bear fruit.”