Europe is currently experiencing “an atmosphere of intolerance in relation to Christians, as well as to representatives of other traditional religions” according to one of the most influential figures in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Metropolitan Hilarion of Volokolamsk, head of the Moscow Patriarchate's department for external Church relations also said that Europe needs to “discuss openly the violation of the rights of Christians”.
He was speaking in Rome to a meeting organised by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) to address the issue of discrimination against Christians.
The meeting, entitled “Preventing and Responding to Hate Incidents and Crimes against Christians”, was organised by Lithuania, which currently chairs the OSCE.
Metropolitan Hilarion said that, while European civilization “is a culture that has developed on a Christian foundation” it had “acquired a clearly expressed multicultural nature, having become a place of contact between peoples and religions from all over the world”.
But he denied that this situation threatened Europe's Christian roots.
Instead, he warned that the danger lay in attempts “to use religious diversity as an excuse to exclude signs of Christian civilization from the public and political realities of the continent, as though this would make our continent friendlier towards non-Christians”.
He added: “I am convinced that society, which has renounced its spiritual heritage under the pretext of the radical separation of religious life from public life, becomes vulnerable to the spirit of enmity in relation to representatives of any religion.”
He cited the example of the Lautsi case, in which a Finnish woman attempted to force the Italian government to remove the crucifix from classrooms in Italian state schools.
“The resolution of this problem in favor of Christians was possible thanks only to the united efforts of a whole number of countries that spoke out against the Court’s original decision,” he said.
He also cited the example of governments in Europe, such as that of Spain, introducing courses for primary school pupils which include radical sex education.
Metropolitian Hilarion said: “Within this course pupils are indoctrinated with views on sexual relations, which are totally inconsistent with the religious beliefs of their parents. This practice of the course has already resulted in mass appeals to the courts, locally and internationally, but the problem remains unsolved at the European level.”
He added that there were regular reports within OSCE countries of cases “of persecution of Christians who criticise social evils, albeit that they are legally recognised”.
“For example, clergy and lay believers who criticize homosexuality as sinful often face public ostracism or severe discrimination. Statutory guarantees of freedom of speech laid down in international law are always ignored in such cases,” he said.
Christians in the OSCE region were being “consistently attacked because of their position on abortion and euthanasia” Metropolitan Hilarion added.
“Opponents not only fail to see that behind their false justifications lie the deprivation of human life, but they also question Christians’ right to present their views and their democratic efforts to have them reflected in European legislation,” he said.
He said he had been encouraged by the recent recommendation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe to uphold the right to conscientious objection for medical workers who refuse to take part in such operations.
He said: “The analysis of research of cases of an intolerant attitude towards Christians demonstrates that the cases, as a rule, bear an anti-religious motive.
“People who ignore or infringe on the rights and legitimate interests of Christians are often guided by secular maximalism, that is, they proceed from the notion that religion is no more than the personal affair of the individual and does not have a social dimension.
“In recent years, the OSCE has come to realize that the dominant factor of radical secularism is as dangerous to religious freedom as religious extremism in all its manifestations.”