VATICAN CITY, DEC. 19, 2005 ( To Benedict XVI secularity means a "healthy separation," not an opposition, between powers.

The Holy Father made reference, in his speech delivered in French, to the recent 100th anniversary of the approval of the French law for the separation of Church and state.

"As my predecessor John Paul II recalled in a letter addressed to French bishops," Benedict XVI said, "the principle of the lay state lies in a healthy distinction of powers."

"It is by no means antagonistic and does not exclude the Church's ever more active participation in social life," the Pope added. Such an approach, he said, is careful to maintain "full respect for the competencies of each side."

"This concept," the Holy Father went on, "must promote the Church's autonomy, both in her organization and her mission."

For this reason he deemed "very positive that these opportunities for dialogue between the Church and civil authorities at all levels are created."

The Pope said, "I am certain that this will allow all forces concerned with the well-being of society to unite their efforts for the good of citizens."