He added: “I cannot remain silent about another attack on the religious freedom of families in certain European countries which mandate obligatory participation in courses of sexual or civic education which allegedly convey a neutral conception of the person and of life, yet in fact reflect an anthropology opposed to faith and to right reason.”
The Pope's address was delivered to a group of diplomats representing the 178 nations that maintain relations with the Holy See in the picturesque Sala Regia at the Vatican.
In his lengthy discourse he said that it is time for world leaders to recognize that religion is a fundamental part of human nature.
"The religious dimension is an undeniable and irrepressible feature of man’s being and acting, the measure of the fulfillment of his destiny and of the building up of the community to which he belongs," the Pope explained.
Religious freedom is "the first of human rights," because it is about man's relation with his Creator, he said.
Freedom of worship, he reminded diplomats, is not full religious freedom. Believers must be able to practice their faith in all aspects of their life in society. Religious institutions, too, must be free to operate in society.
He pointed to a kind of double standard that exists in the way the world regards religious freedom.
“One cannot create a sort of scale of degrees of religious intolerance,” he said. “Unfortunately, such an attitude is frequently found, and it is precisely acts of discrimination against Christians which are considered less grave and less worthy of attention on the part of governments and public opinion.”
He urged the diplomats to remember that religion is a force for peace and development in their countries. He pointed to the example of the late Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcuta, whose 100th birthday was celebrated in many countries last year.
“People like her show the world the extent to which the commitment born of faith is beneficial to society as a whole,” Pope Benedict said.