Cardinal: Religious freedom will be Europe’s ‘great problem of the future’

Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich, S.J., pictured at the Vatican on Oct. 10, 2018 (before he was named a cardinal). | Daniel Ibáñez/CNA.

A leading European cardinal has said that the great problem the continent will face in the future is attacks against religious freedom.

In a June 16 interview with ACI Stampa, CNA’s Italian-language partner agency, Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich said he thought that “the problem of religious freedom will be the great problem of the future in Europe.”

“There is no persecution of the Church: it would be too much to say,” he said. “But, in some countries, there are, at different levels, small attacks against the freedom of religion, and we must be on guard.”

Hollerich is the archbishop of Luxembourg and president of the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (COMECE). He and other members of COMECE met with Pope Francis and other Vatican officials in Rome the week of June 7.

COMECE, founded in 1980, consists of bishops delegated by the bishops’ conferences of the 27 member states of the European Union.

Last year, COMECE spoke out against the long-term forced closure of churches during the coronavirus pandemic in light of the rights to freedom of religion and freedom of worship.

“COMECE takes this opportunity to restate that any erosion of fundamental rights in the current emergency context, including freedom of religion, must not become the new norm. These rights have to be fully re-established as early as possible,” it said.

Speaking with ACI Stampa, Hollerich called the number of Catholics able to attend Mass in Belgium during the pandemic “ridiculous.” He also criticized Ireland’s extended ban on public Masses.

The cardinal said that in these two countries the Church “has a bad reputation.”

“A just impression of the Church must be given to rebuild credibility,” he said. “After the cases of sexual abuse, it is urgent for society, but also for the faithful, because many have lost all hope in the Church. This must change, we must become very humble and do our best with great transparency.”

Earlier this year, Hollerich also intervened in a proposed law in Denmark requiring the translation of all homilies into Danish. He argued that “de facto, the impact would be of imposing undue hindrance on the fundamental right to freedom of religion.”

Hollerich said that COMECE was currently monitoring a report before the European Parliament, the EU’s law-making body, which seeks the recognition of a “right to abortion” and the redefinition of conscientious objection as a “denial of medical care.”

The report is an attempt “to get the European Parliament to vote on abortion as a human right and against freedom of conscience in institutions,” Hollerich said. “It is clear that we cannot agree.”

The report, which was presented to the European Parliament by Croatian politician Predrag Fred Matić, is due to be debated on June 23. A vote will take place the next day.

“I think we must make it clear that approving such a report is against subsidiarity, because abortion is a subject of national and non-EU legislation,” Hollerich said. “It would therefore be a grave sin for the European Union not to respect the subsidiarity of which it always speaks.”

The cardinal said he thought that this was the best argument for convincing EU politicians to vote against the report’s proposal.

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