By Clemente Ferrer
“The bishops of Europe are especially aware of the manifestations of discrimination and intolerance of religion confirm that some values and rights that are fundamental to Europe are far from a reality in some countries on the continent,” said Catholic Bishop András Veres of Szombathely, Hungary, in a comment on a 2011 report in Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano on discrimination against religion in Europe. “To live and give testimony to one’s religious creed within respect for the liberty and sentiments of others will benefit everyone, believers and unbelievers, Christian and non-Christians,” declared the report.
According to the Vatican study, Europe is witnessing more and more cases of intolerance and discrimination directed at Christians. At the same time, the growing interest on the part of the media has given a voice to the otherwise anonymous cases of person that now are brought to international attention. The statistics show the size of the problem: of 74 percent of those surveyed in the United Kingdom affirm that there is more discrimination directed at Christians than persons of other faiths. The study indicates that 84 percent of acts of vandalism reported in France are committed against Christian places of worship. In Scotland, 95 percent of the anti-religious violence is directed against Christians. “The report seeks to be an invitation to all Christian who have experienced any form of discrimination or intolerance because of confessional status to come out of anonymity and have courage: belief in God should not be perceived as an flaw or a sign of weakness.”
The study defines acts of intolerance and discrimination against Christians into various categories:
- Freedom of religion
- Freedom of expression
- Freedom of conscience
- Discriminatory policies
- Exclusion of Christians from public and social life
- Repression of religious symbols
- Insults, defamation and negative stereotypes
- Acts of hatred
- Hate crimes committed against individual Christians
The study also includes those cases in which Pope Benedict XVI was accused of “crimes against humanity” for professing the doctrine of the Catholic Church regarding sexual morality.
Also recorded by the report are episodes of intimidation committed against professionals who exercised their conscientious objections regarding issues such as abortion and euthanasia. One example cited was that of a pharmacy in Berlin, Germany, that was assaulted by vandals when it did not sell ‘morning-after’ pills because of Catholic beliefs. The report noted that that there are numerous cases of “vandalism and profanations of churches, places of worship and sacred objects” in Austria, France, Germany and Spain, besides the murder of a Catholic bishop in Turkey.
The study recommended that Europe’s governments should adhere to absolute respect for fundamental freedoms and to recognize and condemn intolerance and discrimination against Christians while ensuring their free participation in public life. The European Union was asked to adopt similar measures and to respect the autonomy of the churches, as established by the Lisbon Treaty.
During his visit to the United Kingdom, Pope Benedict XVI qualified that discrimination against Christians is a serious problem in Europe. “I can’t but manifest my concern regarding the increased marginalization of religion, especially Christianity, which is occurring in some places, even in nations that strongly emphasize tolerance. There are those who say that the voice of religion should be silenced, or at least relegated to the merely private sphere,” he affirmed.
Author and journalist Clemente Ferrer has led a distinguished career in Spain in the fields of publicity and press relations. He is currently President of the European Institute of Marketing.