The New Faces of Persecution Against Christians in Europe

France has the highest number of hate crimes against Christians — who remain the country’s most targeted religious community — followed by Germany, Italy and Poland, a recent annual report finds.

Nuns pray near the Massabielle cave in the Sanctuary of Lourdes, south-western France on November 7, 2022.
Nuns pray near the Massabielle cave in the Sanctuary of Lourdes, south-western France on November 7, 2022. (photo: Charly Triballeau / AFP/Getty)

VIENNA — The Observatory on Intolerance and Discrimination against Christians in Europe (OIDAC Europe) found in its latest report for the year 2021 that social pressure and censorship targeting Christians in Europe is intensifying and taking on different aspects.

For the president of this nongovernmental Vienna-based organization, the general prejudice against religious commitment among the European elites is responsible for a large part of the growing intolerance and social hostility of which Christians are subjected.

As in previous years, France has the highest number of hate crimes against Christians — who remain the country’s most targeted religious community — followed by Germany, Italy and Poland.

These figures are, according to the authors of the study, which documented 519 anti-Christian hate crimes in 19 European countries, probably significantly underestimated because of the limited number of Christians who report the attacks against them.

Although vandalism, theft and desecration are the most common documented hate crimes, four people were killed in hatred of the faith and 14 were physically assaulted in 2021. The report’s numbers revealed an overall decrease in the number of hate crimes compared to 2020, which is in contrast to an increase in secular intolerance.

This circumstance provided an opportunity for OIDAC Europe to reaffirm that, while Christians face more serious forms of persecution for their faith in other parts of the world, the persecution taking place in Europe, although more underlying and subtle — and often manifesting itself in social exclusion, censorship or discrimination — should not be underestimated, as it has very profound consequences on the daily life of Christians and on the transmission of the faith to future generations.

African Cardinal Robert Sarah, prefect emeritus of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, highlighted this same reality in an interview with EWTN News that aired on Nov. 27.

“Threats against religious liberty take many forms. Countless martyrs continue to die for the faith around the world,” Cardinal Sarah commented. “But religious liberty is under threat in the West, too.”

“It is not often an overt threat, or hatred of the faith,” he added, but an “implicit bias against Christianity.”

The Damage of Secularization

The advanced state of secularization of most European societies constitutes the most fertile ground for the development of an anti-Christian climate. This phenomenon, which is distinct from formal separation between the state and the Church, has the effect of eliminating religion from all the other spheres of society, relegating it to the private sphere exclusively.

“More and more often, the principle of separation between church and state is mistakenly understood to require a separation between faith and politics, with the result that it is becoming less and less acceptable to base one’s political positions on religious convictions,” Dennis Petri, an expert in the field of religious freedom, wrote in the report.

Petri was also a leading expert of the June 2022 report on the increasing phenomenon of self-censorship in the Christian world. The report was produced by a number of international Christian organizations, including OIDAC.

This report showed that the rise of secular intolerance had the effect of generating a “chilling effect,” which impelled many Christians to refrain from expressing their views and beliefs in public. In addition to social pressure, legal actions taken against Christians to limit their freedom of speech are having a deleterious impact on religious freedom and the propagation and maintenance of the faith.

Among the 2021 high-profile cases was that of Finnish Member of Parliament and former cabinet minister Päivi Räsänen, a self-declared Christian who has been facing criminal charges for publicly questioning the official support of her country’s Lutheran Church for the “Pride 2019” event, quoting the Bible in support of her position. According to the authors of the OIDAC report, cases like Räsänen’s “send a chilling message to Christians, implying that the expression of their views comes at the risk of social exclusion, professional harm or even legal charges.”

Commenting on the latest report’s findings in an interview with the Register, Martin Kugler, head of OIDAC, warned that the new hate speech laws in Western countries are generating a dangerous trend whereby “certain groups can accuse Christians of hate speech for sharing their beliefs about marriage and family or sexual identity according to Christian ethics.”

“Some of these laws are written and interpreted so broadly that they are easily used to criminalize Christians,” he said.

Normalization of Intolerance

Kugler added that the thousands of severe or high-profile cases of hate crimes documented in their reports in recent years confirms that the increasing phenomenon of radical secularism is the basis for an overwhelming “secular intolerance,” seen both “in discriminatory or problematic laws for religious freedom, as well as in the hostile climate towards Christians in the various social spheres.”

Noting the interconnection between social climate and laws and legal decisions, he argued that laws targeting freedom of speech or religious freedom tend to “normalize” the idea that Christian views are no longer acceptable in society, and that the indifference of various European political classes towards the persecution of Christians is reinforcing an anti-Christian bias in public opinion, giving rise to even more secular intolerance.

Kugler observed that paradoxically, this secular intolerance towards Christians is accompanied by a widespread reluctance to condemn religious fanaticism and violence committed by Muslims in Europe.

“There is a strange blindness to the real dangers and at the same time an unwillingness to see the threats to religious freedom and other human rights when it affects Christians,” he said.

“We’ve analyzed a general prejudice specifically against Christian religious commitment among the European elites and even more so if such Christian commitment is critical of the societal developments in the Western world,” he continued, noting that this is particularly the case when the discussion touches on issues like marriage and family, gender ideology, abortion, human dignity in biotechnology, freedom of speech and education.

Concluded Kugler, “a radical intolerance is spreading in the West, especially among many liberal and left-wing media — always ‘in the name of tolerance.’”