The leader of the Catholic Church in Scotland has accused the U.K. of adopting an “anti-Christian foreign policy,” after the government announced it would double foreign aid to Pakistan without setting any conditions to help the Islamic country's endangered religious minorities.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the Archbishop of Edinburgh, said on March 15 that U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague should “obtain guarantees from foreign governments before they are given aid,” ensuring that Christians and other religious minorities in countries like Pakistan would not be deprived of their basic religious rights.
The cardinal made his remarks at the Glasgow launch of a new report on religious persecution, compiled by the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need. Their report “Persecuted and Forgotten?” shows that 75 percent of all worldwide anti-religious activity is now directed against Christians.
These “shocking and saddening” figures, the cardinal said, should prompt a reconsideration of how the U.K. distributes foreign aid. Currently, however, no such conditions will accompany the country's latest contribution of 445 million pounds (over $700 million).
“To increase aid to the Pakistan government when religious freedom is not upheld and those who speak up for religious freedom are gunned down is tantamount to an anti-Christian foreign policy,” said Cardinal O'Brien, in an evident reference to the March 2 murder of Pakistani religious minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti.
Bhatti, a Catholic who could be declared a martyr, predicted his own death after dedicating his life to opposing Pakistan's “blasphemy law.” A branch of the Pakistani Taliban said they killed him for criticizing Islam and supporting the law's repeal.
“Here in Scotland,” Cardinal O'Brien noted, “we value our freedoms, particularly the freedom of religion and the right to practice our faith free of persecution.”
But this freedom, he said, is far from universal. “In countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, Christians face violence, intolerance and even death because of their beliefs,” Cardinal O'Brien stated. “This issue is perhaps the biggest human rights scandal of our generation.”
Iraqi Archbishop Bashar Warda of Erbil, who is visiting the U.K. this month, welcomed the “Persecuted and Forgotten?” report. He said it would contribute to building “international support and solidarity” for Christians in countries “where our human rights and our religious freedom have been stripped away.”
“In many countries, like Iraq, the situation for Christians seems to be worsening, sometimes to the point were we wonder if we will survive as a people in our own country,” said Archbishop Warda. “There is no doubt that the political turmoil and growing nationalist struggles in Iraq are contributing to the loss of our religious freedoms.”
Archbishop Lawrence Saldanha of Lahore, head of the Pakistan bishops' conference, has previously stated that foreign governments should demand protection of religious minorities and respect for their rights as a precondition of foreign aid. He told CNA on Jan. 6 that it would be a “very effective” means of getting Pakistan's government to take human rights concerns seriously.