BEIRUT: Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Butros Sfeir responded on Thursday to what he described as former Minister Suleiman Franjieh’s "misplaced" verbal attack on a bishop. Sfeir said he regretted Franjieh’s comments and wished the former MP had not made them.

"We know that … Franjieh is the son of the Maronite Church and a citizen of Zghorta, and that he is concerned about the Maronite Church, its children and its respect, so when he attacks a bishop I believe the attack is misplaced," Sfeir said. The prelate’s response came ahead of his departure on a visit to the United States expected to last at least 20 days. During his visit Sfeir is expected to participate in a commemoration of the Maronite Church’s founding in the US 40 years ago.

While the patriarch noted the importance of resolving the issue before it escalated, he stated unequivocally that "a bishop must be respected." On Wednesday, Franjieh accused Bishop Youssef Beshara of having sided with MP Saad Hariri, the leader of the parliamentary majority.

The staunchly pro-Syrian Franjieh alleged that Beshara, the secretary general of the Maronite Bishops Council, had caused many of the Christian community’s woes.

"Bishop Youssef Beshara is a big problem in Bkirki," Franjieh said, accusing the bishop of having misled Sfeir.

Franjieh took pains to assert his respect for the patriarch despite their political differences. 

Franjieh’s attack was triggered by comments Beshara made Saturday during an interview with Voice of Lebanon radio station. During the interview, Beshara suggested support for the French government’s reported role in arranging a boycott of President Emile Lahoud at September’s Francophone Summit in Romania.

Nassib Lahoud, leader of the Democratic Renewal Movement, was outraged by Franjieh’s comments. He slammed the criticism of Beshara as "totally unacceptable because it sought to defame one of the stalwarts of the Maronite Church and a leading national figure."

"Although former Minister Franjieh is free to change his options and political alliances, he does not have the right to attack symbols of the Maronite Church or the right to address Patriarch Sfeir with such words," he added. "Patriarch Sfeir – who enjoys … wisdom, pride and is the national conscience – leads but is not led, and orders but is not ordered around, and all Lebanese and Arab and international leaders are unanimous on that."

Former MP Camille Ziade was equally inspired in his defense of Beshara.

"In addition to his responsibilities and pastoral achievements in the Antelias Bishopric and his responsibilities in the Qornet Shehwan Gathering … Beshara led the patriarchal community to safety’s shores and laid the foundations of the Antiochian Maronite Church’s spiritual renewal track, all with the approval of the patriarch, children of the church, Lebanese and observers," he said.

Franjieh’s Marada Party released a statement denying that he had attacked Sfeir.

"All Lebanese heard Franjieh’s statement, which was reported accurately and objectively by all media, except those owned by … Hariri," the statement said. "Therefore we do not find the confused response made by MP Nassib Lahoud odd because he only reads, listens and is influenced by these media."