European Parliament Backs Persecution Report Criticized by Catholic Church

The EU’s only directly-elected institution has also faced criticism from Catholics for its advocacy of abortion.

The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
The European Parliament in Strasbourg, France. (photo: fotogoocom / (CC BY 3.0))

The European Parliament voted on Tuesday in favor of a report on the persecution of religious minorities that was strongly criticized by the Catholic Church.

Members of the European Union’s law-making body formally adopted the report, “Persecution of minorities on the grounds of belief or religion,” at a plenary session in Strasbourg, France on May 3.

The Christian legal group ADF International said that the original draft highlighted the extent of anti-Christian persecution around the world, but the European Parliament’s Committee on Foreign Affairs made substantial changes to the text.

“The persecution of Christians in the Middle East and Africa was omitted and all but one reference to Christians was deleted,” ADF International said.

“The report does include multiple references emphasizing protections for atheist, secular or humanist belief minorities.”

The vote took place after the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE) suggested that the report treated the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to life as “second-class rights.”

COMECE general secretary Father Manuel Enrique Barrios Prieto said on May 3: “Any attempt to undermine the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and the right to life through abusive interpretations that unduly restrict their legitimate scope or to subject them to newly created and non-consensual ‘so-called human rights,’ including abortion, constitute a serious violation of the international law that discredits the European Union before the international community and before millions of European citizens.”

He added that the text would not “be of help for millions of religious believers who are victims of persecution because of their faith, in particular vulnerable women and girls, as their situation will be obscured and rendered invisible by prioritizing other political interests.”

The adopted text expresses “deep concern about the misuse and instrumentalization of belief or religion to impose discriminatory policies, laws, including criminal laws, or restrictions that contradict and undermine the rights of LGBTIQ people, women and girls and restrict access to basic services, such as education and health, including sexual and reproductive rights, criminalize abortion in all cases, criminalize adultery or facilitate religious practices that violate human rights.”

Adina Portaru, ADF International’s senior counsel in Brussels, Belgium, argued that the text undermined the role of the EU’s religious freedom envoy, which became vacant in September 2021.

The adopted report calls for “a transparent and comprehensive assessment of the effectiveness and added value of the position of the Special Envoy.” It adds that the envoy should also focus on “the rights to non-belief, apostasy and the espousal of atheistic views, while also paying attention to the situation of non-believers at risk.”

Portaru said: “We regret that the hijacked report fails to call on the European Commission to take all necessary steps to appoint a new Special Envoy.”

“The Special Envoy has played a crucial role in bringing the horrors of religious persecution to light at the European level. The role has created awareness around some of the worst and most persistent violations of fundamental rights around the world and helped focus EU efforts to counter them.”

“The EU should not only continue but intensify efforts to protect freedom of religion or belief around the world. The reappointment of a Special Envoy for the promotion of freedom of religion or belief outside the EU is now more necessary than ever.”

The European Parliament was accused of ignoring the plight of Afghanistan’s Christian minority in a resolution on the South Asian country adopted in September 2021.

The EU’s only directly-elected institution has also faced criticism from Catholics for its advocacy of abortion.

It voted in June 2021 in favor of a report describing the practice as “essential healthcare” and seeking to redefine conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”