By Andrew E. Harrod, PhD, JD, Esq.
Speaking to a conference of priests in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI on February 9, 2013 described Christians as the “most persecuted people” in the modern world, as reported by the German edition of AFP. The Pope saw this persecution emanating from Christian non-conformity to an egotistical and materialistic world. “As Christians,” Benedict XVI elaborated, “we are everywhere lost and foreign.” Even in historically Christian countries, “it seems astonishing today that someone can still believe and live accordingly.”
The Pope’s comments follow a series of public statements in his native Germany highlighting hostility to Christians around the world already reported by the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). Speaking before her fellow Lutherans on November 5, 2012, for example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel caused national debate when she called Christianity “most persecuted religion in the world.” The Catholic archbishop of Freiburg, Baden-Würtemberg, Robert Zollitsch, then seconded Merkel on December 21, 2012, stating that “Christians currently are the most persecuted religion in the entire world.” As previously announced by the German bishops conference headed by Zollitsch before his statement, the Catholic Church in Germany observed a day of prayer for Christians persecuted worldwide on December 26, 2012, the Feast of St. Stephens, Christianity’s first martyr. Two days later Cologne’s Archbishop Joachim Meissner marked the Feast of the Holy Innocents (commemorating the Bethlehem children slaughtered by King Herod in an attempt to kill Jesus) with a sermon in which he called “persecution of Christians…the worldwide most prevalent form of human rights violation.”
Meissner in recent days has also discussed hostility towards the Catholic Church in Germany. In a February 5, 2013, letter published by Meissner’s local newspaper, the Kölner Stadtanzeiger, he described the Catholic Church in Cologne as having experienced in recent weeks in the “public perception a storm as I in my years as bishop have seldom experienced.” As referenced by Meissner, the cause of this outrage was twofold. First, two Catholic clinics had refused to give a presumably raped woman the “morning after pill” due to confusion over its potential for abortion and Catholic teaching (Meissner apologized to the woman for this refusal). Second, Catholic Church criticism of a criminology institute had led to church withdrawal from cooperation with the institute in studying clergy sexual misconduct and to the search for a new criminology partner.
In the reaction of “parts of the public” to these events Meissner saw “derision and aggression.” Meissner analyzed that the “decisiveness of the Catholic positions on protection of life, marriage, and the family as well as a clear representation of persons such as the Pope and bishops polarize ever more strongly in society.” Meissner quoted French scholars as having developed the term “Catholicphobia [Katholikenphobie]” amidst this situation in which “no other religion or confession is publicly attacked in such a targeted manner as the Catholic Church.”
Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, also told the German conservative newspaper Welt at the beginning of February 2013 that the Catholic Church in North America and Europe was subject to “targeted discrediting campaigns.” An “artificially produced rage” had led in some areas to a “public mobbing” of clergy that at times evoked the “mood of a pogrom.”
Taken together, Pope Benedict XVI and his German compatriots have described a Christianity increasingly besieged from without and within. Abroad outside of traditionally Christian countries, Christianity faces religious repression, often in Muslim and Marxist countries. At home in historically Christian societies, Christianity faces growing, interrelated trends of secularization and sexualization. In the coming years, Christianity will need the strength of character shown by the Pope and his fellow Germans, made conscious by their national history of just how hostile the political realm can be for Christians and others.
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