In his homily before the conclave that made him Pope Benedict XVI, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger coined the phrase “dictatorship of relativism.” When Rome’s La Sapienza University proved too hostile an environment to allow him to speak, he learned just how apt that phrase was.

“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism,” he said in that 2005 homily. “We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

If those words seemed harsh or extreme, they shouldn’t anymore.

Sapienza University is a Catholic school founded by Pope Boniface VIII in the 1300s. But its student body, and many of its professors, have strayed far from its charter. When the university’s rector invited the Pope to speak at the school to inaugurate the academic year, Benedict accepted. But the school proved too antagonistic to academic freedom to hear someone challenge its own worldview.

Protesters immediately threatened to deny the Holy Father the freedom to speak. They pledged to drown him out with loud music. Other students — about 100 — staged a sit-in in the university rector’s offices, determined to silence the Pope on their campus. Italy’s transsexual activists planned to mock the Holy Father during the visit.

In short, Western students who refused to allow the Church’s message to be heard were able to do what Muslim extremists in Turkey weren’t able to do: They forced the Pope into a situation where he had to either cancel or spend a fruitless, frustrating day being shouted down.

As Legionary Father John Flynn points out at Zenit, the incident is only the latest in a trend toward “Christianophobia.” He compiled a number of examples.

“Each year in December, there is a replay of the banning of Nativity scenes and Christian carols in public places and schools. In Europe, past years have seen numerous attempts to remove long-standing crucifixes from classrooms and public buildings.

“In Britain, an employment tribunal just upheld the 2006 decision by British Airways to prohibit Nadia Eweida from wearing a small cross on a necklace to work, the UK newspaper the Independent reported Jan. 9.”

Bishop Donal Murray of Limerick, Ireland, wrote about the phenomenon in a publication of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

“Many voices tell us that religion has no place in the variety, complexity and sophistication of modern life,” Father Flynn quoted him saying.

Society’s “religion-free zones” are rigorously enforced. Only religious controversies, scandals and personalities can be allowed to be heard. Bishop Murray said this has two consequences: First, that religion has no place in public discourse and that religion may be ignored. Second, that if a person’s views on social issues are inspired by a religious tradition, they can have no place in a rational discussion.

What we’re seeing, said the bishop, is not a conflict between religion and the secular — but between those who think God is irrelevant and those who think questions about the Creator just might relate to questions about his creation.

In other words, it isn’t secularists who are the “dictators of relativism.” Open-minded secularists aren’t the problem. It is extreme, radical secularists who want to snuff out any thought but their own.

Science certainly isn’t the culprit, says Father Flynn. He cites God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? in which Oxford mathematician John Lennox argues that science does not go hand-in-hand with atheism.

Galileo, Newton and most of the other great scientific figures of the past did not find belief in God to be inhibiting, Lennox points out. The idea that faith is completely irrational is also false. “Indeed, faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence,” he commented.

Science, Lennox continued, should neither be regarded as the only way to discover the truth, nor capable of explaining everything. For example, explaining why the universe exists, and why the laws of physics have the structure they do, is beyond science. Science can answer the question “how?” but never “why?” Perhaps it is the moral authority of the Pope that really frightens the dictators of relativism.

In his conclave homily, Cardinal Ratzinger explained that all the Church offers is Christ. “It is this friendship that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth,” he said.

Perhaps it is Christ, and not the Pope, that the extremists are really afraid of.

“Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way?” Pope Benedict said after his election. “If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that he might take something away from us?” He said the opposite is true. “If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. … Open wide the doors to Christ — and you will find true life.”

We can pray for the dictators of relativism. But we should also see to what degree they have duped us into thinking that the tiny closeted worlds of our own minds are our own fenced-in boundaries.

We know better. God became man to expand our horizons more than we ever thought possible; and he will, if we have the courage to follow where he leads.