- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 6, 2004

ROME — Rocco Buttiglione, the European commissioner-designate rejected by Brussels because of his Catholic views on abortion and homosexuality, plans to form a religious lobby group to “battle for the freedom of Christians” in Europe.

Mr. Buttiglione bowed to pressure a week ago and withdrew from the commission team proposed by incoming President Jose Barroso, after vehement opposition from members of the European Parliament.

Scandalized by the hostility shown by European lawmakers toward his religious views, the Italian minister for Europe now hopes to create a Christian network to exert pressure on “totalitarian” institutions such as the Strasbourg-based body.

In Rome last week, Mr. Buttiglione said: “There are a lot of people, including politicians, who have been ringing me not only from inside Italy, but also from Spain, Britain and Germany.”

He added that he had been inundated by thousands of letters and e-mails from well-wishers and had received support from Italy’s Jewish and Muslim communities as well.

“They are asking me not to let the matter drop,” he said, “but to get something going through political and cultural initiatives. There are some positive elements to come out of this affair.”

European parliamentarians argued that Mr. Buttiglione’s personal opposition to abortion and homosexual relationships made him unfit to serve as the EU’s justice, freedom and security commissioner.

Senior aides to the Italian minister told the Sunday Telegraph that the new Christian network would not take the form of a political party, but would be a kind of “movement or association” committed to a greater role for Christian principles in public life.

They added that the political professor, who will remain in the Italian government, was inspired by the role of Christian voters in America last week.

One close adviser said: “Mr. Buttiglione is thinking of a novel idea: a kind of resurgent Christian political movement in Europe. The success of President George W. Bush in mobilizing the Christian vote in America last week is a sign of what can be done.”

In a reference to the American election, Mr. Buttiglione wrote in the conservative Italian newspaper, Il Foglio: “In Europe, our intellectuals were always convinced that modernity brings with itself the extinction of religious faith.

“Now America, the most advanced country in the world, shows us that religion may be and indeed is a fundamental element of a free society and modern economy.”

On Friday, Mr. Buttiglione began a series of public speaking engagements before a packed house at the Teatro Nuovo in Milan. During a talk, titled “The trial of the Catholic Witch. Why we cannot say we are Christians,” he said:

“They want a Catholic witch to burn. Well, here I am. What happened in the European Parliament is extremely serious. What they did was to say to someone that, since you adhere to your religious faith, you’re not suitable to be a European Commissioner.”

On Friday, in a widely publicized interview with the European press, Mr. Buttiglione said: “What I am thinking of is a group to battle for the freedom of Christians, which is the freedom of everyone. A group to fight against the kind of creeping totalitarianism, which has emerged recently regarding my personal situation.”

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