- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

From combined dispatches

PARIS — A Vatican diplomatic campaign is trying to have “Christianophobia” recognized as an evil that is equal to hatred of Jews and Muslims.

The discreet drive, which the Roman Catholic Church first mentioned publicly on Friday, seeks official recognition by the United Nations and other international organizations of discrimination against and persecution of Christians.

The Holy See is pressing the point despite two setbacks this year — when the European Union refused to refer to the continent’s Christian heritage in its new constitution and when it turned down a new commissioner because he was a conservative Catholic.

The campaign has had more success at the U.N. Human Rights Commission in Geneva, a body that was sharply criticized in a U.N. report last week. A panel named by Secretary-General Kofi Annan said the commission “suffers from a credibility deficit” after admitting countries such as Cuba, Libya and Sudan as members.

Nevertheless, when discussing religious bias, the body now speaks of “anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and Christianophobia” — terms that the General Assembly in New York is due to approve later this month.

This campaign has been so discreet that the term was hardly known until the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Giovanni Lajolo, said on Friday that the Holy See had insisted that the United Nations include it along with anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.

“It should be recognized that the war against terrorism, even though necessary, had as one of its side effects the spread of ‘Christianophobia’ in vast areas of the globe,” he told a U.S.-organized conference on religious freedom in Rome.

Objections have been raised, however, that it is unfair to single out some religions for protection while ignoring others, such as Buddhists, Hindus, Confucians or followers of traditional religions in Africa.

The State Department complained on those grounds when the Congress passed legislation in October requiring it to monitor and report specifically on anti-Semitism around the world.

“There is always a risk with these kinds of labels,” said Peter Weiderud, international affairs director of the World Council of Churches (WCC), which also is based in Geneva and unites more than 340 Protestant and Orthodox churches around the globe.

Questions also have been raised about the coinage of a new word. In the United States, a major evangelical Protestant publisher and a prominent religious rights activist told Reuters news agency that they had never heard the term.

The Vatican has suggested the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, based in Vienna, Austria, include Christianophobia as an evil to be monitored, diplomats there say. But the OSCE annual session under way in Sofia, Bulgaria, is unlikely to fully back such a move.

“We don’t want any more terms ending in ‘phobia,’” a diplomat there said. “Once you single out something beyond racism and xenophobia, you have to list so many of them.”

Doudou Diene, the U.N. special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia, said specifying certain religions was acceptable if the universal nature of religious discrimination also was noted.

He said the problem arose because some countries tried “to put a hierarchy among different forms of discrimination.”

Vatican officials privately said they could not stand aside while Judaism and Islam got special attention at the United Nations, which demands regular status reports from member countries on issues officially recognized as problems of international concern.

Christian minorities are persecuted in predominantly Muslim nations. Suspected Christian converts from Islam are killed in nations such as Pakistan and Iraq and throughout the Middle East and South Asia.

Churches also have been bombed, and missionaries are targeted for assassination.

“I think there is Christianophobia out there, and it’s not recognized,” said Drew Christiansen, deputy editor of America magazine in New York. “Christians have a sense of being a privileged majority, so we don’t see ourselves as victims.”

But even he had to confess that he had not heard the term “Christianophobia” until the U.N. Human Rights Commission invited him to discuss the issue at a meeting last month.

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