ROME January 11, 2011 ( – Pope Benedict XVI struck back at European secularists this week who have mandated anti-Christian sex education and civics classes for young people and who are attacking the conscience rights of health care workers.

In remarks to the assembled diplomatic corps of the Vatican on Monday, Benedict warned that although free religious expression is a constitutionally recognized right in most European countries, the religious freedom of believers is threatened by a heavily secularized statism.

The pope highlighted an irony that exists in countries where “a constitutionally recognized right to religious freedom exists,” but religious people and communities are threatened “because the legal or social order is inspired by philosophical and political systems which call for strict control, if not a monopoly, of the state over society.”

The pope decried an increasing “tendency to consider religion, all religion, as something insignificant, alien or even destabilizing to modern society” across European societies. He warned that there are attempts “to prevent it from having any influence on the life of society.”

“Christians are even required at times to act in the exercise of their profession with no reference to their religious and moral convictions, and even in opposition to them, as for example where laws are enforced limiting the right to conscientious objection on the part of health care or legal professionals.”

In the light of these problems, Benedict praised a Council of Europe resolution adopted last October “protecting the right to conscientious objection on the part of medical personnel vis-à-vis certain acts which gravely violate the right to life, such as abortion.”

He called on governments to ensure “that Catholic communities be everywhere guaranteed full autonomy of organization and the freedom to carry out their mission, in conformity with international norms and standards in this sphere.”

Using unusually strong language, the pope said, “I cannot remain silent about another attack on the religious freedom of families in certain European countries which mandate obligatory participation in courses of sexual or civic education.”

The blunt comment has been interpreted as being directed at Spain where a government-mandated sex education program has raised the ire of Christians.

The pope, who has throughout his papacy emphasized the Christian roots of European societies, also decried the habit of secular governments of banning recognition of Christian religious holidays out of fear of “offending” religious minorities.

This not only restricts the rights of religious believers, but is an attack “on the cultural roots which nourish the profound identity and social cohesion of many nations,” he said.

He expressed his gratitude to the Patriarchate of Moscow and the other representatives of the Orthodox hierarchy and the countries that stood up for Italy in the notorious crucifix case at the European Court of Human Rights.

In earlier remarks, the pope also decried the increasing violence against Christians in Islam-dominated societies such as Pakistan, northern Nigeria and on the Arabian Peninsula. He mentioned again the massacres of Christians in Iraq and Egypt over the Christmas season, saying that these attacks have “troubled us deeply.”


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