The shift has lead some commentators to lament that the nation once known as the eldest daughter of the Church can no longer be considered Catholic.
"In its institutions, but also in its mentalities, France is no longer a Catholic country," writes Frederic Lenoir, editor in chief of Le Monde des Religions, according to a report cited by the Christian Post.
Among the respondents who did identify themselves as Catholics, only 10 per cent attend church services regularly, the poll showed. More remarkable, only half of the self-identified Catholics say that they believe in God. Some respondents indicated that for them, Catholicism involves a social or cultural identity rather than a religious commitment.
"Catholicism will remain the most important religion," adds Frederic Lenoir, but "in its institutions and in its mentality, France is no longer a Catholic country".
In an interview with Le Figaro, French Jesuit Fr Henri Madelin agreed.
"All the values that France has stood for, which went beyond religious ownership and which had been appropriated by the whole of society, are under attack today," he said.
"If we continue along this path, the practice of the Catholic faith is going to become a counter-culture... One Belgian bishop recently said that his Church would soon become as small a minority as the Church in Turkey..."
However, the poll also showed that many people have a high opinion of Pope Benedict XVI.
According to Fr Madelin, this is characteristic of "cultural Catholics".
"The Pope stands for values that they believe in: humanitarian, humanist, etc. He also gets the benefit of the previous papacy (of Pope John Paul II). However, in a world threatened by a clash of civilisations, Benedict XVI is also seen as a bulwark against forces such as Islam," Fr Madelin explained.
Nevertheless, Fr Madelin finds the situation "troubling for Europe and for Catholicism".
"If Christians no longer see the extraordinary gift that was given to them historically by the Orient, then other continents, other Churches will pick up this richness which is considered here as a poverty. Here I am thinking of Africa, or Vietnam and India in Asia and undoubtedly also China in the future... The Church doesn't belong to Europeans or to the French.
"They received it but if they reject it, it will go elsewhere," he said. "The image of God will then evolve with the different cultures and will liberate itself from its European tutelage," he concluded.
France is no longer Catholic, survey shows (Catholic World News, 11/1/07)
La foi catholique devient t-elle une contre-culture ? (Catholique.org, 11/1/07)
Poll: France ‘No Longer a Catholic Country’(Christian Post, 10/1/07)
LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Le Monde des religions (French)
Roman Catholicism in France (Wikipedia)
Eglise catholique en France (French)
World Cup founder's Catholic roots (CathNews, 14/6/06)
Charles de Foucauld beatified in Rome (CathNews, 14/11/05)
Pope shocked at slaying of Taizé´s Brother Roger (CathNews, 18/8/05)
Catholic chaplains affected by French veil law (CathNews, 8/10/04)
French leader supports ban on religious symbols in schools (CathNews, 18/12/03)
Church in France worried about threat to secrecy of confessional (CathNews, 8/11/01)
12 Jan 2007