Kathryn Lopez

Even with its centuries-old roots throughout the region, is Christianity history in the West?

In a speech at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, D.C., the visiting archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schonborn, warned that "trends questioning the Christian foundation of Europe, and aggressively opposing it, are becoming stronger in several countries and in the European political arena in general.

"Christianity is for many a foreign element in a world determined by reason, enlightenment and democratic principles," he asserted. Interestingly it's this "foreign element" that Cardinal Schonborn sees as essential to Christianity's role in the modern world: "Europe can only play its role in the concert of world cultures when it retains Christianity, this foreign body, as a part of its identity."

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Across the pond, the British seemed to get the message, setting aside legislation that would put unprecedented restrictions on religious freedom in the name of a spurious liberty. It probably helped that the Brits were shepherded by the pope himself; during a gathering of bishops from England and Wales in Rome, Pope Benedict XVI heralded the UK's "firm commitment to equality of opportunity for all members of society." But he had critical words for pending UK legislation that could compel religious organizations to make hiring choices in conflict with their beliefs. "In some respects it actually violates the natural law upon which the equality of all human beings is grounded, and by which it is guaranteed," he said.

Mandates proposed by what is erroneously called the "equality bill" would remove existing exemptions for religious organizations on employment and services. Catholic officials in Britain believe that they could be forced to ordain women to the priesthood -- an untenable position for the Church and one that the government certainly has no business forcing it into.

The bill has been referred to as "an existential threat" to Christian churches in Europe. Sir Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi in the United Kingdom, said: "When Christians, Jews and others feel that the ideology of human rights is threatening their freedoms of association and religious practice, a tension is set in motion that is not healthy for society, freedom or Britain."

In the wake of the papal rebuke, Britain has put a stop to this -- for now.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.